Somehow I missed the fact that April was National Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention Month in the US–do they even have such a thing in Italy? I ought to find out.
As I prepare to return the US next week, especially to my family’s home, I have been reflecting on family and communication. To be specific, I have been trying to strategize a method to deal with pervasive triangulation.
What is triangulation? Simply put, it is a method of communication that is passive-aggressive, such that information is rarely stated directly between the two (or more) people involved . In a real life family situation, it would sound something like this:
Sister: “So, I heard from Mom that you took her car without asking. Didn’t you know that she would be upset?”
Brother: “Well, I heard from Dad that Mom told him that you didn’t do well on your last exam and that you’re just a failure waiting to happen.”
In other words, information that should be stated directly from “Mom” and “Dad” to the “Sister” and “Brother” is instead being communicated just between the siblings. Neither Mom nor Dad state their (negative) feelings to their children, rather they have the children do it for them, which in turn tends to create disharmony between the siblings.
This method of communication is standard in families where narcissistic tendencies feature actively in either (or both) parent. Triangulation serves to control communication, foster distrust between siblings, continue drama and undermine self-esteem. The idea that parents can be trusted to maintain privacy is annihilated, and a lesson is learned that information is a useful weapon.
I’ve experienced three decades of this type of communication…enough to know that there is only one person who benefits from it: the parent(s) with narcissistic traits/tendencies/personalities.
Approximately 10 years ago, I decided not to get involved in it anymore. When family members approached me to listened to “what so and so did,” I declined the conversation and redirected the person to speak directly with that person instead of me. I have no interest in being a flying monkey for anyone.
What pray tell is a flying monkey? Well, let’s do it this way:
You know you’re a flying monkey if…
- You listen to gossip about others and then spread it (usually from a family member about another family member).
- You take up arguments on the behalf of someone (usually a family member).
- You bully others on the behalf of someone (usually a family member).
- You feel a sense of belonging when you gossip/argue/bully others for someone.
- You take an intense interest in keeping tabs (spying) on the doings of others for someone, and then spend time gossiping about the “failings” of the people upon whom you have spied.
- You are invasive. When visiting other people’s homes, you will go through their belongings and then report back to someone about it, particularly focusing on what the home lacked.
- You are inauthentic in your dealings with other people. You seek out information from them to share it with someone else…and you are more than likely to use it against them.
I could go on with this list, but let’s leave it here for now.
I imagine some people wouldn’t even know themselves if they stopped being flying monkeys or stopped using triangulation, etc. And not knowing yourself can be a very scary experience. Still, if you are either instigator of triangulation or complicit by acting as a flying monkey and perpetuating this type of communication, please work to find another way.
It is possible to speak directly to someone about your feelings. You don’t have to use others to do your bidding. At least, know that you are choosing to triangulate, especially using your children or other family members, you are engaging in an emotionally abusive act. Children, particularly, need to learn how to express their feelings in a direct way. This type of communication breeds secret-keeping, low self-esteem, and a compromised ability to trust self and others.
It is possible to allow other people to do their own dirty work. It’s not your job to speak on someone’s behalf (unless that person is a child and is somehow unable to speak). It is never your job to engage in aggression for someone else. Why should you? Why would you want to?
Just to wrap this up (finally), please, take a moment to consider your method of communication today. Do you triangulate? Or are you on the receiving end of it? Or do you foster it?