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Triangulation - Why is 3 So Hard?

In therapy 3's are dangerous.  The potential for triangulation is rife.  Three means exclusion, secrets, pairs and pains.  Like the original three (mom, dad, baby), or in religion; jealousy or competition.  I learned a hard lesson about three many years ago when two of my friends "boxed me out" because of some nonsense with the kids.  I was mortified.  It took me years to get over it.  I still get nauseous when I see them out together, so I can only imagine how a teenager must feel, seeing friends on social media without even an invitation. My client yesterday informed me that this very thing had happened. She marched right up to those girls and demanded, why was I not included?  I don't think I would have had the guts to do that in high school. Then again, we didn't have exclusive, hierarchical  "friend groups."  You were free to float to your heart's content, and that worked well for me. As a social creature, I could manipulate things so that groups overlapped and I was never too lonely.  It worked as an insurance plan against feeling left out.  Why being on your own is so awful, it's hard to say.  I wasn't particularly bothered about being alone at times in my life.  In fact, I think I'm the rare exception - I could be an introvert or an extrovert on many occasions.  But knowing you were deliberately left behind is surely torture.  As my 10th grade client from an affluent suburb said, "I looked like I had no friends."  What does that mean?  Why does it matter what it looks like? Kids really and truly think that people are watching them.  It's no wonder they're upset and paranoid.

Three came up in another instance in my work with a younger child, a middle schooler.  I had been working with this highly verbal and precocious child for close to two years.  Whenever I suggested we were done, she insisted, no-- call me next Wednesday.  Here was a kid who was being asked by her mom to be a kind of investigator-in-training against dad, and his problems.  She could describe in minute detail his every move, whether at home or out at a party.  How many drinks he had, how many times he went to the restroom, how many times he lost his balance, where he hid his keys, etc. "She's good at it," said mom.  The kid is 12!!  Do you think this job contributes to her anxiety? (I wondered rhetorically).  Now I'm the detective.

Finally, after several weeks of me not sleeping, I asked the mom, with whom I have a relationship, could we have a family meeting.  "I'm too stressed out," she replied.  "I can't nail him down," she replied.  On my third attempt, she blew me off completely.  I asked the child permission to reach out to dad.  Upon calling him, and putting him at ease, I explained my concerns.  By elevating the child to the triangle she essentially was too scared to do anything but her mother's bidding. By alerting the dad, he spoke with her and alleviated her responsibilities in this regard.  "You're fired!" he said to her.  With my help, he also told her, if it happens again, simply say, I can't do it anymore, I'm busy.  When I next talked to her, she was beyond relieved.  It was as if she was experiencing childhood again.  She was taken out of triangulation and put squarely into 7th grade again.  Let the dyad work it out.  And note to therapist/self: do not wait to engage parents when you get a red flag.  Soon you'll be triangulated if you don't!


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