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Divide and Conquer


Triangulation - Gaining an advantage over perceived rivals by manipulating them into conflicts with each other.


Some people who suffer from personality disorders, particularly the Cluster B disorders Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Antisocial Personality Disorder, Histrionic Personality Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder have a tendency to view or judge themselves in terms of how they see themselves in competition with others.

This competitive or "win-lose" attitude occasionally turns malevolent and will lead the person who suffers from the personality disorder to seek ways to sabotage, manipulate or otherwise undermine the position of others whom they see as a potential threat.

One of the ways they can do this  is to attempt to steer those they regard as a threat into a confrontation with others. This is a passive-aggressive “Divide and Conquer” approach, as it makes use of a proxy rather than generating a direct conflict with their target.

When it works, the Personality Disordered individual gets a feeling of control, superiority or gratification from gaining control over or lowering the social status of a ‘rival’. This also has the effect of making that person more vulnerable to being more directly controlled by the perpetrator.

Examples of Divide and Conquer:

  • A woman lies to a friend claiming that another friend doesn't like her.
  • A parent shows favoritism to one child, creating a rivalry with the others.
  • A woman flirts with a co-worker in front of her boyfriend.
  • A boss tells a subordinate that the others don't respect him.

What it feels like:

When you experience Triangulation you may fear what other people might think of you. You may feel humiliated, concerned and self-protective.

You might feel the urge to “clear your name” or “set the record straight”. You might want to confront the people involved or even retaliate. However by doing that, you take the bait. It is sometimes the perpetrator’s hope that you will lose control and act out in anger or fear.

Learning to Cope:

When dealing with a Divide and Conquer attack it's important to remember that only you have control over what you do, not the person who is provoking or baiting you.

As the adage says: "Nobody can make you feel bad about yourself without your permission."

What NOT to do:

  • Don't believe everything you are told by a person who suffers from a personality disorder. They may just be telling you something false as a means to an end.
  • Don't react quickly to surprising news. You have the prerogative to think for as long as you want and to react how and when you want.
  • Don't lose your temper or lose control of your emotions. You can't control other people but you always have control over your own words and actions and that is where you have the most power.
  • Don't sit still and allow someone to rain down on you insults or criticism in the name of another person. If the room is a painful place to sit, then it is perhaps a good time to go sit in a different room.
  • Don't make promises, commitments or contracts that will hurt your relationship with people whom you trust, you love, people whose company you enjoy, old friends, and trusted relatives. No-one who truly loves you will want to take healthy, supportive, positive relationships away from you.

What TO do:

  • Objectively verify anything you are told before acting on it.
  • Keep in touch with those you love and trust and tell them about any problems or issues you are hiving.
  • Maintain a healthy balance between family, friends, work and play. You need them all in the right measure to keep a healthy balance.
  • Politely refuse to engage in Divide and Conquer without starting a fight about it. Remove yourself from a conversation if it is an unhealthy or dysfunctional one.
  • Maintain your self-control. This is how you keep your power and demonstrate that you are not going to be manipulated like that.

Related Personality Disorders:

Paranoid, Schizotypal, Antisocial, Borderline, Histrionic, Narcissistic

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