The Power of Three

We are heading into deep winter folks! Deep winter means the holiday season is upon us. And with the holidays we can look forward to fun, merriment and stress!  

I have always found this time of year a bit of a struggle. The natural inclination is to turn inward. It is a time to slow down and be cozy. It makes sense that we would seek the comfort and companionship of friends and family. But sometimes that drive feels antithetical. There are days where I would prefer to be left alone with my dreary, winter self rather than make merry. Plus, for me, living with four different people with four different thoughts, wants and needs means there are going to be clashes. And being cooped up indoors for days on end is going to throw wood on that fire no matter how much yoga I do!  

Chances are, like me, you are going to find yourself in closer than normal quarters. This intimacy may come with challenging personalities. That is why, over the next few weeks I am dedicating my emails to sharing tools I have found for managing the “season of togetherness.” My hope is that it will help you manage your togetherness, help you feel more in control of your experience, and find genuine joy. 

A couple of weeks ago I talked about listening (click here if you want to read that one). This week I am focusing on triangulation. 

Three is a magic number. Religions, philosophers and marketers all understand that three is where it’s at because one is an anomaly, two is a mistake, but three is a pattern. And we love patterns. We count on them to give us boundaries and perimeters. They help our “brain hole” function better. When we learn a new skill or start a new routine, it is as if we are trying to sprint through a dense forest. We have to use more brain energy to forcefully navigate the terrain and stay upright. Like a sprint, that brain stuff burns out quickly. Routines, however, create a trail in our brain forests. When we step on the trail the pitfalls are minimal, the mental fatigue lower. 

Routines are coping mechanisms as well. They help us feel secure and help us relate to one another. This is one of the reasons why triangulation is so seductive; like the number three, triangles, with their three points, three angles and three lines, tend to be satisfying. Triangulation taps into our love of threes, it creates dramatic swings in emotions and it relies upon familiarity and pattern to yield results. 

So, what is triangulation? Triangulation is a form of manipulation where a person uses at least two other people to control the narrative of a situation with the “triangulator” at the center. It is a means of maintaining power and control by creating divisiveness. Although it is largely viewed as a tool of narcissist, it is not exclusive to narcissists. 

Gossip is the most common form of triangulation. For example; someone in your job gets a promotion that someone else wanted. Rather than go to the hiring manager and ask, “why didn’t I get the job?” The triangulator will go to a colleague and say, “Sally only got the job because she is a suck up! I can’t believe they fell for it, I thought they were smarter than that!” As long as the other person continues to talk to the triangulator, the triangulator retains power and control. The triangulator is both the messenger and the creator of the message. 

Most likely we have all found ourselves in, or been the perpetrator of, this dynamic. And while this behavior is absolutely toxic, it is important to note that this behavior has created a connection for the triangulator. This choice, feeble and toxic though it may be, allowed the triangulator to feel connected to another person. And that feeling, the feeling of being seen and heard, is satisfying. 

So, what should we do with triangulators? First of all, it is impossible to change anyone. The only control we have is over our own reactions. Therefore, we must change the message. 

For me, yoga has been very helpful with triangulation because yoga teaches us compassion, patience and possibility. Triangulation is generally caused by trauma. It is born from pain and suffering. I try and remember that when I am confronted with a gossip. This is not the same thing as excusing a person’s behavior. Pitting people against each other is never OK. But it does help me remember that everyone is doing the best they can. 

And I have compassion for that. 

With these three (there's that number again) tools, compassion, patience, possibility, I use this formula (note the 3’s!):

1.     compassion, 
2.     sympathy and/or option, 
3.     leave

Let’s Role Play!

Triangulator: “I can’t believe they gave the job to Sally! She is the worst suck up I have ever seen! How can they not see that?!”

Target: “You are upset that Sally got the job.” 
TRI: “Yes! I feel completely betrayed.”
Target: “I am sorry you are so hurt.”
TRI: “Yes, she is the worst! She – “
Target: “I’m so sorry you are so hurt. That is hard. I hope you are able to speak with the hiring manager about this. It sounds like you need closure. Excuse me.”

Then LEAVE. 

It is important at this point to extract yourself. By not allowing the triangulator to continue, you are changing the message. You are telling this person that you are interested in them, sympathetic to their pain, but not interested in this conversation. 

Of course, this is harder when dealing with family members or friends, because triangulating family/friends is intimate. We have been participating in that triangle for a long time. When dealing with triangulation with a loved one, it is important to discover for ourselves what we get out of the triangulation. What need is being “satisfied” by both the triangulator and by me? Often it is a fear of abandonment or shame. Once we understand our triggers, we can address them, i.e. “Mom, it sounds like you are upset. I love you. I am not going anywhere, but you need to talk to them about this, not me.” Compassion, sympathy and/or options, leave.

The key to this technique’s success - you need to actually feel compassion. When I say “I am sorry you are hurt” I mean it. I do not wish anyone to suffer. Likewise, I sincerely do not wish to participate in this destructive behavior. That is why I am comfortable with leaving. It is not working for me. And a conversation, if it is successful, needs to work for both people. 

Yoga is practical and applicable. As you head onto your mat in the coming weeks, I encourage you to practice these steps on your mat. When you find yourself saying “why can’t I balance today!” offer yourself compassion, give yourself sympathy and/or options and, if necessary, give yourself the room to take a break. Sometimes loving is hard work, so start with you. 

Good luck out there yogis! I believe in you!