What is New?


November 26: How to Gray Rock Narcissistic Family Members at Thanksgiving: post here and updated with a video by Dr. Ramani Durvasula (more about dealing with holidays here)
November 20: the first petition I have seen of its kind: Protection for Victims of Narcissistic Sociopath Abuse (such as the laws the UK has, and is being proposed for the USA): story here and here or sign the actual petition here
November 10: Psychologists are discussing whether Narcissism is an autism spectrum disorder. Link to one article here about it, with my comments afterwards
September 22: After seeing my images on social media unattributed, I find it necessary to post some rules about sharing my images
September 1: my newest movie review on Mommie Dearest, the quintessential child abuse movie

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

triangulation, karpman's triangle, scapegoat triangle and abuse triangles

In this blog post, I talk about different kinds of triangles that exist in describing relationships. At the end of the post, I show my own contributions to dysfunctional triangular relationships. 

(Please note: this is a general post about triangulation, triangles in relationships, and karpmans triangle. For more on abusive narcissist's triangulations (particularly concerning the family, go here)

In topics about relationships in psychology and social work literature, triangles seem to abound. Most triangles in the early days of psychology theory started out by describing toxic relationships, but then ways to heal relationships started taking on the triangular shape as well.

Then there is the word triangulation.The definition of triangulation is about talking about one person to another person to keep from directly communicating to the person you are talking about. "Usually this communication is an expressed dissatisfaction with the main party" (Wikipedia quote). 

Abusers love triangulation and use it often. I found this blog to explain best how an abuser uses triangulating in order to control information and people, smear a scapegoat's or victim's reputation and sway others against someone:

Triangulation depends on one person sitting in the middle controlling information flow between others. The person in the middle is the arbiter of information: she tells people what she wants them to hear and often does her level best to prevent the others from talking to each other and comparing notes. She channels information between parties, removing stuff she doesn’t like, twisting—or even outright fabricating—information that will tend to cause her “correspondents” either take the bait and form opinions that mirror her own or be kept in the dark as to what is really going on ... 

... In the dysfunctional family, particularly a family driven by a narcissist, the deduction based on how normal people think and feel will be largely inaccurate, simply because the narcissist does things the rest of us would never do—like damage Uncle Bob’s reputation out of spite or as an exercise in the narcissist’s power. You think all of those people saying bad things about Uncle Bob cannot be wrong? Actually, they can—it takes only one narcissist feeding ugly misinformation and accusations about Bob to a lot of people over an extended period of time for people, especially those who do not see Bob often, to become indoctrinated to the idea that Bob is bad news. Those who have no frame of reference will uncritically accept the information they receive as truth because, after all, why would anyone lie about this stuff? ~Violet 

But triangles also abound in other ways too.
This is the most well known one:

The typical Karpman Triangle
(taken from this page where there is also a good explanation for how it works):

The Wikipedia article on the Karpman triangle is here.

Here is a variation on how the Karpman Triangle (with emotions identified in all three roles):

(taken from this page with explanations about how each party
uses negative emotions in an unsatisfying way, creating a situation with no resolution, 
catch-22s, switching roles and a thankless, pointless nonsensical cycle)

I thought this triangle (from this post by a minister) described it pretty well by putting in a boundary:

This triangle (from this post by Rhoda Mills Sommer, LCSW, ACSW) shows how to get out of the Karpman's triangle:

She goes into detail about how it can work in her post. Basically, there is an agreement between all three people to stop trying to manipulate and blame each other. Each party has to be willing to agree that the status of the unhappy relationship takes two people and the only way to resolve it is to recognize your own part in the conflict. 

Persecutors have to be right at all cost; it is all-or-nothing, even if their style is hurting others and they use lying and manipulation to get their way. They send the message that it is "their way or the highway". They use anger and intimidation to get their way. In addition, guilt and shame are used as whips and chains to ensure compliance. 

Writers of the Karpman's triangle state that victims can operate on the premise that "you have no integrity; I have the integrity." They are often too committed to pleasing others, can have poor boundaries, can be too eager to forgive and be self effacing, and try to control their own negative emotions (like anger) to always appear perfect, without reproach. They expect to be loved based on their integrity alone. Many analysts of the Karpman's triangle state that victims often use tears to get their way (victims are usually the least manipulative, but in the Karpman's triangle the point is that the 3 people can be, and often are, in interchangable roles: with the victim acting like a perpetrator to get the original perpetrator to change his rigid manipulative stances). 

In the Karpman's triangle, both persecutor and victim are said to be childish in their agendas and thoughts. Meanwhile The Rescuer tries to get the two people to make up, or to see each other's perspectives, or manipulate both of them for his own agenda, depending on intentions. Many rescuers, even those with the best of intentions, get swallowed into the drama instead, and sometimes they choose sides and perspectives that aren't to the best benefit of the individuals. The Rescuer then becomes blamed by one or both parties, the victim seeing the rescuer as another persecutor perhaps, and the persecutor seeing the rescuer playing another victim, because the rescuer failed to fix the situation between the persecutor and the victim. This keeps the persecutor and victim locked into a perpetual drama of blaming each other because it is the rescuers fault for not having produced the fix that both parties were looking for. The victim looks to the persecutor to stop persecuting and hurting him, and the persecutor looks to the victim to stop being recalcitrant and do exactly as the persecutor wants and demands.

The roles can stay fixed forever. However, the Karpman's triangle is about roles not being fixed, of being interchangable where the victim can act like a persecutor, and where the persecutor can act like a victim, and where the rescuer can act like a perpetrator in defending the perpetrator's actions, and another victim to defend the victim's actions.   

In Rhoda's triangle, the two people resolve to give up "dodging, deflecting and blaming" to "honestly face painful situations" and "take responsibility" and "negotiate". These are the basic rules of the healthy triangle she made:

Honesty: Say what you mean, mean what you say. There is greater soul in honestly facing painful situations. Look fearlessly within. The people you love the most are the ones to risk more honesty with.

Respect for Self & Others: Balance both. Take Responsibility. Learn boundaries. Have empathy and self-protection. Do not be either too self effacing or too narcissistic.

Make Agreements That Work: Negotiation/middle ground leads to possibilities. More able to handle complexity. There has to be room for both people’s wants and agendas. Solve problems together.

This triangle might seem like a simple alternative, it is not. This triangle requires risk taking, vulnerability and authenticity. This triangle is about developing greater self awareness about your own dark side instead of hiding out in blaming others. This triangle is about being open to dialogue instead of self protective monologues. This triangle is about the courage to work hard at relationships instead of being dramatic to get your way.  -- 
Rhoda Mills Sommer, LCSW, ACSW

This takes a lot of emotional enlightenment, especially if the triangle has been happening between, say, a mother and daughter for several decades or more. If the persecutor mother refuses to give up the role of persecutor if the daughter does not do exactly as she is told (even if the daughter is an adult), then as the daughter becomes more independent (which is the natural progression of all children, sooner or later), the relationship between the two becomes more and more locked in a toxic, strained and distant relationship with no resolution. The blaming between the two parties remain fixed and locked as well. Sometimes mother and daughter remain in this toxic bitter struggle until both die very old women. 

As the persecutor parent blames the victim child for not doing what she is expected and told to do, and escalates the anger and rage to get her way, the victim blames the mother for holding her back (infantilizing; i.e. not respecting that the daughter is an adult with her own way of doing things which may be separate from the mother). The persecutor is blamed by the victim for not loving her enough to stop hurting her, and the victim is blamed by the persecutor for not loving her enough to capitulate to all of the persecutor's demands. Triangulation is typical in alcoholic and narcissistic families.

My own perspective on blame is that it is rarely a simple one-way deal and is healthiest when it is shared among all parties. 

I'll use Shakespeare's plays to demonstrate:

King Lear: Who is at fault for King Lear dying of exposure in a storm? Cordelia for not pleasing her father? Goneril and Regan for lying to their father about their feelings and intentions? King Lear for expecting the flattery of his daughters to ensure his happiness and care in old age? Everyone has a part, but can any one person be blamed for the unfolding of events?

MacBeth: Who is at fault for the tragedy here? MacBeth, the witches, Lady MacBeth, Banquo or the murderers? It seems like there are a lot of people who contribute to the tragedy; one person would be hard-pressed to do it all alone.

Romeo and Juliet: Who is at fault for the lovers double suicide? Mercutio, Tybalt, Lady Capulet who insists that Juliet marry Paris, the prince of Verona who banishes Romeo, the nurse who insists that Juliet forget all about Romeo and do what her parents desire by marrying Paris, Friar Lawrence for giving Juliet a fake vial of poison, the reluctant Apothecary who gives Romeo some real poison, the entire families of Capulets and Montagues, or Romeo and Juliet themselves? 

In alcoholic and narcissistic families sometimes an authority figure decides who is to blame for everything that goes wrong in a family: a scapegoat. In King Lear, for instance, Cordelia would be blamed for everything that went wrong. So, to keep with a scapegoating agenda, the play would have to be rewritten so that Shakespeare and all of the characters he created would all blame Cordelia. What she was blamed for would not stop at not flattering her father, the king, but would grow by leaps and bounds. Perhaps Cordelia would be blamed for too much honesty, and through default for inspiring her sisters to lie. Cordelia would be termed ungrateful for choosing honesty over dishonest flattery as her two evil sisters had done. The sisters would have been seen as doing what is best by casting Lear out into a storm. Cordelia would somehow be blamed for her father being in the storm and exposed to the elements, perhaps because she was also cast out and thereby should have magically found her father and taken responsibility for him. Cordelia would also be blamed for Lear's death, of course. Anything else that might have implicated another character in the play would be Cordelia's fault as well. The writer would desperately grasp at anything that would always make Cordelia responsible for the events in her family, while making everyone else innocent. A glance, rolling eyes, a feeling by Cordelia would be blackened by the narrator to make her motives seem sinister. She would be villianized and tortured for all of it. It might not have been enough that she was merely banished. The rack and the screw might have been used too. Meanwhile Goneril and Regan would have been exonerated, held in the highest regard. This is typical alcoholic, narcissistic dysfunctional family thinking. 

Shakespeare is smarter than this: he knew that there are nuances that go into the making of a family tragedy: everyone has a part that contributes to the ultimate ending of the story.

… for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. --William Shakespeare

As Rhoda Mills Sommer, LCSW, ACSW states in another post

Relationships require disagreements in order to remain authentic. People who are black and white in their thinking need to be right and never want to be questioned which is a very defensive position. This impairs any possibility of longevity. Relationships by their nature, require dialogue, instead of one person caving into the other’s long monologue.

Anyway, I made triangles to explain the scapegoat dynamic, which is one of the most simplistic of family tragedies. Issues are not resolved. Instead, one person in the family is picked by the other family members to serve as a scapegoat. Every issue that comes up which is embarrassing, heated, causes pain, is uncomfortable, shows lack of integrity, makes someone look bad, is the scapegoat's fault:

What the Alcoholic Family Triangle is saying:

As long as blame is fixed and unchanged with the enabler(s) and alcoholic, with the scapegoat doing all of the work at trying to find a creative solution to the problems, the alcoholic family disease of scapegoating stays fixed as well. Once one scapegoat has left the family and gone "no contact", another family scapegoat usually is adopted from whomever is left within the family.

It is rare for alcoholic families to change this dynamic on their own. Only through counseling does the situation seem to change for the better, even for the alcoholic. Otherwise, alcoholic families are generally very splintered, with one or more members who no longer associate with the family. Some even dissolve entirely.   

What the Narcissistic Family triangle is saying:

Usually during episodes of sibling rivalry, parents try to break up fights and try to discipline with an even hand. In narcissistic parenting, the parent manipulates the children to get what he or she wants out of them. Narcissists are addicted to flattery, praise, and power and control over others and will do just about anything to get it. Unlike normal parents, narcissists like to pit children against each other to ensure that the children compete for parental love and reward. This makes it likely that one child will try to get the upper hand and the source of his competition out of the way, the competition usually being another sibling. The parent eventually becomes focused on and rewarding one child, while punishing and rejecting the other child. The likelihood of bullying is almost a given in a situation like this. When the bullied child complains to the narcissistic parent that he is being hurt by his sibling, the narcissist looks at it as infuriatingly unflattering. Narcissists cannot stand to feel criticized and will severely punish anyone who dares to even come close to suggesting the narcissist is less than a perfect parent, in all situations, all of the time. In addition, these kinds of parents are extremely defensive if they are ever confronted, and will deny conversations and situations to appear perfect. The narcissist will act as though they are deeply wounded and that the criticism deserves nothing but an all-out lengthy soul-destroying retaliation. 

The narcissistic parent rewards the bullying by punishing and ostracizing the bullied child for speaking out. Eventually, the bullied child learns to keep quiet about the abuse, often dealing with feelings in silence and secrecy. The bully then has free rein to do anything to his sibling. Since the hurt child can't express what his feelings are about, it gives the narcissist an excuse: the child is insane and cries over nothing, abandons situations over nothing, runs away over nothing, and so on. No one has to figure anything out; he gets the convenient label of difficult child, otherwise all else is a perfect family doing well. The label is hauled out to garner sympathy from others: "I feel for you having to deal with such a difficult child!" This reinforces the narcissist being right and flattered by the attention of others. The bullied eventually becomes the scapegoat for all that goes wrong in the family, for every family blemish, and is treated with disdain, called names, belittled, shamed and shunned and hated at every turn, and for any act of disobedience or rebellion even when an adult, while the bully golden child is touted as the child who can do no wrong, is continually rewarded, gains favor and keeps in good standing by flattering the parent and gaining the parent's confidence. All the while he is continually ensuring the scapegoat's reputation is down in the family honor system by lying about his sibling to the parent, as well as keeping his sibling on eggshells with threats and bullying. If the SG is gaining in prestige and stature, taking attention or favor from the parent that the golden child feels entitled to receive, he simply escalates. 

The more the scapegoat tries to rise out of his role, the more the family tries to bound him to his role: the dysfunctions of bullying, name-calling, hyper-criticizing and ostracizing are unleashed with a vengeance if the role is not entirely accepted. Everything is done to keep the scapegoat tightly contained. This is so the scapegoat can conveniently be abused and used over and over again by the family as the dumping ground for all that is embarrassing and dishonorable within the family system. 

Scapegoats usually leave their families as they become more and more educated and enlightened, usually during periods when they are ostracized. Since narcissists cannot hear complaining inside the family, scapegoats take their complaints outside the family. The SGs grow weary of being emotionally abused and rejected by their families and at some point it is easier to live without the family. This presents a dilemma. Since the golden child wants to remain on top, and the parent wants children competing for love and reward, a scapegoat is always needed. The parent who only has a golden child left can feel that the power concentrated into one child is not safe for the parent, especially since it becomes clear at some point that the golden child may be as narcissistic and manipulative as the parent. If the scapegoat can't be hoovered back into the family, a replacement scapegoat needs to fill the void. Replacement scapegoats have been talked about all over the web. There are some links and references about that from my earlier post here. If no new scapegoat can fill the void, and the golden child is the only one left, the parent will alternately scapegoat and reward the GC. Eventually, even the golden child gets worn down by the constant ups, downs, co-dependence and enmeshment of his parent. Going from being rewarded consistently to alternating between scapegoating and all-out love bombing (i.e. wild swings and walking on eggshells) can be shocking to a golden since they have spent their lives with only unconditional love and admiration, plus feeling entitled to absolutely everything the parent had to offer. 

Sometimes, another parent, particularly a parent who is divorced from the narcissistic parent, can help change a scapegoat's situation for the better. The other parent becomes protection and refuge from the emotional pain, suffering and living in fear. Sharing similar stories and getting distance from the N parent allow for healing. The child also experiences not being a scapegoat. This gives a lot of new perspectives and a chance to feel love without conditions. Interests and ambitions flourish. In turn, the narcissistic parent has a harder time keeping the scapegoat down, i.e. tightly controlled, unsuccessful, living in an impoverished state of wanting, disturbed and unhappy, with a shattered self esteem. Sometimes the N parent feels unfavored, which escalates more rejecting and abuse than before, though they quickly realize this is driving the scapegoat away for good, and towards sympathy, understanding, backing and success -- all through an ex they have been slandering to all of their friends. Can't have that! An N knows that a hankering for parental approval is the only way a scapegoat can remain a scapegoat, so the ostracisms have a planned obsolescence. Sometimes the narcissistic parent tries to win back the scapegoat from the former spouse with rewards which won't catapult the scapegoat into success, but will allow the scapegoat just enough comfort and approval so that the narcissist doesn't lose their precious source for blame altogether. They may try to convince the scapegoat, by acting concerned, that the scapegoat needs the N parent. The help is in the guise of generosities and advice designed to get through the pitfalls of life via helping a scapegoat decipher good intentions vs bad intentions of others (since narcissists are notorious for using gaslighting, so that their victims feel insane and can't decipher what is the truth and not the truth), decipher abusive suitors (since narcissists have an almost psychic perception about types of people who prey upon others), but the real intention is to get the scapegoat back in role again, punishing criticisms and emotional outbursts and rewarding flattery. The N parent is also known for rewarding failures and discouraging success, dreams and ambitions in scapegoats.       

My full length post about scapegoating in alcoholic families and narcissistic families (where I provide a lot of sources and links) can be found here


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