How do people with BPD use triangulation?
People with borderline personality disorder are focused on getting reassurance that they are lovable and avoiding feelings of abandonment. They may use triangulation to manipulate a lover to feel jealous as a way of getting proof of their love or as leverage to get some form of commitment.
Example: Jim is madly in love with Marsha, who is a very needy woman with BPD. Marsha cannot really believe that anyone loves her, let alone Jim. She is more focused on getting proof she is loved than actually caring about the needs of the specific man with whom she claims to be in love.
When she met Jim, everything was blissful—at first. But no matter how Jim tried to reassure her, Marsha could not internalize the sense of being loved. Marsha kept devising new tests of his love for Jim to pass. When they had been dating for three months, Marsha wanted to get engaged. She believed that having a ring on her finger would be proof that Jim really loved her and would relieve her fear of abandonment.
However, Jim thought getting engaged after only knowing someone for three months was rushing things. He reassured Marsha that he loved her and that he hoped that their relationship would lead to marriage, but he also said that he wanted them both to have more time to get to know each other better before taking that step.
Marsha felt rejected, and she immediately started another relationship with someone else. The first Jim knew that something was wrong was when Marsha posted pictures on social media of herself and another guy. When Jim confronted her and asked what was going on, Marsha said, “Well, he wants to marry me, and you don’t. He is ready to give me an engagement ring right now.”
Jim knew intellectually that he was being manipulated and that he should run for the hills, but he was emotionally too hooked to do the sensible thing. Instead, he proposed to Marsha then and there, and they went shopping for a ring.
When I last heard from Jim, it was because Marsha had upped the ante and was threatening to leave him for another man who (drumroll) was willing to move to another state and immediately buy her the house of her dreams.
What just happened?
Every time Marsha felt insecure, she used triangulation to get Jim to prove his love. It was never about acquiring material possessions. The whole point was to use Jim’s proofs of his love for her to fill an inner sense of emptiness that could never be filled.
How do people with schizoid personality disorder use triangulation?
People with SPD lack basic trust and are afraid of intimacy. They sometimes use triangulation to dilute the growing intimacy with their partner and create some safe interpersonal distance.
Example: My client Michael has SPD. He wants to be in an intimate relationship, but as soon as he is in one, he becomes frightened. Right now, he has been dating Rita for a year, and he has just agreed to move in with her.
However, the whole idea makes him very nervous. He is worried that he will feel trapped and under Rita’s control once they are living together. This has happened to Michael before. He often becomes attracted to a new woman just as he is committing to the one already in his life. Michael now decides that he is polyamorous. Before he moves in with Rita, he tells her that he needs his freedom to have sex with other people, and she can too.
What just happened?
The reality is that Michael’s polyamorous desires are not rooted in his sexual desires but are use of triangulation to dilute the intimacy of his romantic relationships. He feels a need to add a third party to the relationship to give himself a sense of control and some breathing space.
Triangulation is a strategy that is used by many different sorts of people who all have one thing in common: They feel insecure or overwhelmed and are willing to manipulate other people in hurtful ways to get more attention, sabotage a competitor, or feel safe in a relationship.
Written by Elinor Greenberg
Originally appeared: Psychologytoday.com and is republished here with permission.