Navigating the high conflict divorce: Protecting yourself and the children from triangulation and parental alienation

Mark Randall Havens
The high conflict divorce is a battleground between warring parents, but the children are the casualties.Photo bycottonbro studio.

The tactics of the narcissistic parent may be familiar to you if you know someone going through a high-conflict divorce. They try to isolate and undermine the other parent by triangulating the community and making false accusations of abuse. Do you know how to protect yourself from becoming an enabler?

A manipulative technique often used by narcissistic individuals, particularly during and after divorce, is triangulation. An attempt to destabilize relationships by leveraging a third party can profoundly impact children and lead to the loss of a relationship between one parent and their child.

As a part of divorce and custody disputes, triangulation can involve false allegations of domestic violence, which can be used to alienate the victim’s parents from their children and their community.

“False allegations of domestic violence are an under-recognized problem in custody disputes and divorce cases,” says Avieli, a criminology researcher at Ariel University, Israel in an article titled: False Allegations of Domestic Violence: A Qualitative Analysis of Ex-Partners’ Narratives. These false allegations can be used to manipulate the legal system, child protective services, health providers, and even whole communities, and are often used to further triangulate the relationship between the victim parent and their children. When these false claims are made, the victim parent may struggle to maintain a relationship with their children and may experience “considerable pain,” as described by Avieli.

In addition to these false allegations, narcissistic individuals may use other tactics to triangulate their relationships with their children, such as enlisting the help of therapists and other health providers. In another article, Avieli argues that “when therapists join with custodial parents as sympathetic allies, they can become involved in a perniciously triangulated relationship. As a loyal advocate, the therapist responds more to the agenda of the custodial parent than to the children involved, overlooking sound judgment and ethical practice.” This triangulation can limit the effectiveness of therapy and can harm the children involved.

Despite the widespread impact of triangulation, there is still much to learn about this phenomenon, particularly in divorce and custody disputes. According to Jennifer Harman, et al. in their paper, Developmental psychology and the scientific status of parental alienation, the scientific state of parental alienation has met three criteria of a maturing scientific field: the literature is growing, quantitative studies are becoming more prevalent, and theory-generated hypotheses are being tested in a growing body of research. This growing body of research is helping to shed light on the ways in which triangulation and parental alienation can impact children and families, and is helping to provide a clearer understanding of the associations between interparental conflict and the breakdown of parent-child relationships.

For community members who know someone going through a divorce with these issues, it is essential to be aware of the potential for triangulation and to be vigilant against being used as an enabler of false claims.

Ultimately, triangulation by a narcissistic individual during and after divorce can have a profound impact on the children involved and can result in the loss of one parent’s relationship with their child. In order to protect children and families who are faced with these difficult situations, community members need to stay informed and avoid being used as pawns in these manipulative games.

Overt Narcissist Warning Signs

Here are some tips for spotting an overt narcissist trying to manipulate you during a divorce or custody fight:

  1. Narcissists often present themselves as superior and demand special treatment. They often exaggerate their accomplishments and try to make themselves the center of attention.
  2. To get people on their side, narcissists often manipulate others by twisting the truth, playing the victim, or using guilt trips.
  3. Narcissists are easily threatened. When criticized, even with constructive criticism, they may lash out or become angry.
  4. Often, narcissists lack empathy and are unable to see things from other people’s perspectives. They may seem insensitive or uninterested in other people’s feelings.
  5. In order to win over others, narcissists usually shower them with excessive flattery in order to gain their validation and attention.
  6. If they have strained relationships with friends, family members, or former partners, this may indicate that they have a pattern of manipulating others.
  7. Become aware of narcissists who ask for help or support. They may pretend to be the victim, while in reality trying to manipulate the situation to their advantage.

Covert Narcissists Warning Signs

Here are some best practices for spotting a covert narcissist trying to manipulate people during a divorce or custody dispute:

  1. You should be on the lookout for subtle signs of grandiosity, such as excessive self-importance, a sense of entitlement, and a tendency to disregard others’ opinions and feelings.
  2. You should pay attention to the way covert narcissists behave in group settings. They may be overly charming and overly helpful, but they may also spread rumors or gossip about others.
  3. You can spot covert narcissists by looking for signs of manipulation, such as lying, gaslighting, and blaming others.
  4. The covert narcissist may appear charming and likable to manipulate others, but when they don’t get their way, they may quickly become angry and hostile.
  5. Children can be manipulated by covert narcissists into rejecting the other parent and becoming loyal to them.
  6. If someone lacks empathy, they are unable to understand the perspectives of others or to put themselves in their shoes.
  7. Observe their tendency to exploit others’ vulnerabilities, such as kindness or compassion.


Divorce and custody disputes can result in severe and long-lasting consequences for children and families when a narcissist triangulates. Parental alienation and false allegations of domestic violence can result in these consequences, preventing or delaying the other parent from having a relationship with their children.

The community should be aware of the signs of triangulation, such as gaslighting and manipulation, and avoid being used as an enabler of false claims by narcissists. In order to prevent the spread of false accusations and other forms of abuse and protect the well-being of children and families, community members can use best practices for spotting a narcissistic parent.

In addition to shedding light on this complex and challenging issue, parental alienation and triangulation are providing a better understanding of how they affect families and children.

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Mark Havens is a serial entrepreneur and writer with a Master of Science in Management and a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science. He is the founder of the Dallas Maker Community, Dallas Makerspace and the Director of COPARENT. A cult and abuse survivor, Havens uses his personal journey and technical expertise to explore relationships, mind control, and healing in his writing, inspiring others to find their own voice. Recognized for his work in the maker community, Havens received a Ph.D. fellowship from the University of Texas at Arlington and resides in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex with his mother and two children.

Dallas, TX

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