Self-love, the Golden Rule, and the Triangulation Trap

One of the most annoying characteristics of my pathological relationship with the boy in my story was his repeated plea: “I NEED you to love me.”

The first time he said it I was annoyed and responded, “That’s sad, because I don’t NEED you to love me.”

I was ready to leave the relationship when he said this the first time. How pathetic must a person be to make such a ridiculous statement? But as his crocodile tears fell and his wails and cries overtook my senses, I was fooled into thinking that real love was about needing each other, and I should need him as much as he needed me. He proclaimed that I was heartless and cruel if I didn’t see it that way.

Being considered heartless and cruel was not how I wanted to leave the relationship. I was hell-bent on proving I was neither of those things. BIG MISTAKE!!! I should have been okay with his assessment of me, but I wasn’t okay with it. I had my own doubts and insecurities. My self-love was definitely not where it should have been, which allowed me to be so vulnerable to the boy’s abuse in the first place.

After escaping, it took me many months to re-build the self-love that was lost and to finally establish the extra self-love that had eluded me for so many years. I now have the confidence to accept and to be okay with the negative opinions others have of me.

Sometimes the negative reactions come from someone I love dearly (like my husband) who sometimes disagrees with something I have said or done. His words are accepted as constructive criticism, and I roll with it and change the way I express myself and communicate. We both do. Valuable and healthy relationships require work and natural give-and-take.

Other times I learn that the person who has reacted negatively and often OVER reacts negatively to things I say or do (like the wife of a friend) has always been fishing for reasons to lash out and point a shameful finger my way. Why? Because she didn’t want to build a friendship or relationship with me in the first place. She is sadly disordered and immature. Instead of engaging her, I choose to ignore her. Nothing I say or do will change her mind. I’m okay with that. I choose my battles, as they say.

In addition to learning how to be okay with what others think of me, my journey of healing and change has also taught me how to protect myself from future harm and to avoid harming others. I admit to inflicting harm upon the boy. I called him nasty names and yelled at him and avoided him. I even tossed a chair at him on one occasion. I behaved badly and regret my part and am accountable for it.

But there is no excuse for abuse even when it is reactionary. No one deserves to be called names even if they called us names first. No one deserves to be ignored even if they choose to ignore us first. No one deserves to be made to feel like trash even though they tossed us outside as if we were garbage ourselves.

We learn how we should treat others as early as grade school. It’s the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Unfortunately, I lost sight of this valuable lesson when I was thrust into a crazy-making relationship with the boy. Everyone loses sight of this lesson with abusers because no one is immune to the negative effects a relationship with a disordered and pathological person has on our spirits. There are no exceptions. We are all susceptible.

Fortunately, there is a way to never lose sight of this rule again: learn to recognize the warning signs of abusers BEFORE establishing a relationship.

Below is an example of a technique used by nearly every abuser in the early “get-to-know-you” period: Triangulation. (By no means is this the ONLY technique. It’s just the most common and one I have read and heard repeatedly from victims.)

Triangulation is used by abusers to assess your vulnerabilities and your ability to empathize. How you react immediately cues the abuser in to whether or not you’re a good target and easily influenced. The more moldable you seem, the more likely the abuser will be attracted to you and pursue a deeper connection. A successful triangulation sets the stage for future interactions and manipulations. If you recognize this happening, run in the opposite direction.

Example of Triangulation

You meet someone. He talks negatively about a person you have never met and uses phrases like “Don’t you think?” and “Can you believe it?” The abuser wants you to agree with his negative assessment of someone else’s behavior. He wants you to make an unfair judgment about someone you haven’t even met!

Why? For starters, he needs validation. Abusers are insecure losers, remember? In addition, he needs ammunition. More than likely you’ll one day meet the person he is talking about, and you’ll probably like that person. If you do end up becoming friends with that person, the abuser can use your initial opinion of the person against you even though it wasn’t an opinion at all. It was just you being conversational.

Triangulation techniques are unfair, but they’re meant to be. Don’t get sucked in!! Instead of nodding in agreement and adding fuel to his negative fire, say something like,

“It’s too bad you feel the way you do about your sister-in-law. Maybe you should talk to her about how you feel. I don’t know her, so I don’t think I can help you.”

Maybe throw in another statement like,

“It seems like it can be easily resolved between the two of you.”

I know what you’re thinking. “Who are you trying to fool, Paula?!” We know abusers aren’t interested in a resolution; they enjoy their crazy-making, but suggesting this might cause a disordered and pathological abuser to run from YOU! Who knows. It’s worth a try.

Remember, if the abuser is willing to throw a close relative under the bus, he’ll surely have no hesitation in throwing you under it, too. And once you’re IN the relationship, avoiding agreement in a discussion built on triangulation techniques will simply make the abuser rage at you. Triangulation is a repeated technique and tool used to get validation. If the abuser doesn’t get it, you’re in for an evening of pain and suffering.

Don’t play this game in the first place. Maintain your self-love and remember the Golden Rule when you find yourself being triangulated. Your dedication to behaving well will be a total turn off to the abuser. Go you!


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