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Emotional Manipulations used by Narcissists
Narcissists frequently use emotional manipulations in their interactions with those around them. Manipulations are crazy making. Manipulations are how the narcissist gets inside your head and turns your own mind against you. You start to doubt your own sense of perception of reality, your decision making abilities, your judgment, your emotions, even your own five senses. Because understanding the manipulations which are being played on you is such an important part of healing, I have created a comprehensive list. Because the list is so long, they are listed alphabetically for easy reference.
(I’m often asked if narcissists know they do this. For the most part no, they don’t. Narcissists usually come from a family of narcissists, borderlines, or antisocials (commonly referred to as sociopaths/psychopaths). The dysfunction is intergenerational and the behaviors passed down from generation to generation. Their behaviors are largely learned in their home as a child and feel normal to them. Can they know what they are doing? Absolutely. But, in general they are functioning on automatic pilot, doing what was done to them, with very little insight.)
Real life examples are in italics. Specific information has been altered to protect the privacy and confidentiality of clients and survivors.
Table of Contents
Catch-22 (Double Bind)
Discussion as a Manipulation
Freezing You Out
Moving the Goalposts
Victim, Playing the Victim
Abandonment (Constant Threats of Abandonment)
This is a really serious manipulation that causes severe psychological damage to children of narcissists and is seen in adult survivors. It can be part of the idealize/discard cycle (see below). Because of this constant fear of abandonment adult survivors of narcissistic parents may have anxious or avoidant attachments styles or they may decide to avoid relationships altogether. It can also create a great deal of anxiety in other adult relationships. If you have conflict with a friend you may fear they will stop being your friend. If your boss gives you constructive criticism you may fear being fired. You may go through life trying to keep everyone happy and avoiding conflict for fear they will leave you because that is what the narcissist would do.
It can take several forms; refusing to talk to you, breaking off the relationship, throwing you out of the house, or even threatening to commit suicide. It can either be outright abandonment or threatened/implied abandonment.
"I hate people like you. If you weren't my daughter I'd have nothing to do with you."
To the oldest child: “Children should be like pancakes, you throw the first one out.”
"When I don't like you or you disappoint me, I want to run away and not have anything to do with you."
They will also project their abandonment onto other people and try to convince you they will abandon you.
"If you keep acting like this, nobody will want to be your friend."
Bait covers a hook. It is used to lure you in to hook you. Baiting is the practice of offering something which appears to be tantalizing, but in reality it is actually something else. It may be absolutely nothing. Example: the narcissist who creates a lot of drama and cries wolf in order to get your attention then you find nothing is actually going on. It might be a bait and switch which appears to be one thing but in actuality is something completely different. Example: the narcissist who fills you full of compliments and sweet nothings to lure you back into the relationship then proceeds to abuse you again. Baiting can be totally benign, as in the case of the narcissist creating drama to get attention, or it can be completely nefarious, as in the case of the narcissist trying to lure you back into an abusive relationship with them. Whatever form it takes it is always a manipulation. This is an emotional form of seduction. They seduce you back into their drama.
Baiting for Attention
Narcissists must have attention. It drives almost everything they do. And they will do anything to get it. If they can compliment and cajole you into giving them your attention that is fine. However, if that doesn’t work they will lash out and hurt you, provoking a response that way. Since they have no empathy they don’t care whether they charm you or hurt you - whatever it takes to get your attention. They often bait you with a loaded statement in order to pull you closer to them with the tantalizing offer of drama. They will fill your ear full of sweet nothings, complimenting and charming you. They make an emotionally loaded statement, but fail to finish it. They drop a tantalizing tidbit, but refuse to say anything until you beg them to continue. They say something they know will upset or anger you. They accuse you falsely. They will say something they know will start a fight. They will negatively compare you to others. They will inflame your jealousy. They will contort reality or outright lie.
On Facebook, Michelle posts about herself and her boyfriend Ted, “Ted and I have made a big decision, text me!” Instead of honestly, openly stating, “We got engaged!”, she baits people to contact her.
My neighbor always Facebooks me things like, “The police were here last night…”. That’s it. He never finishes it. He waits for me to beg him to tell me more. If I don’t respond, he throws out another piece of bait. “They were at #124…” Then he waits for my response. If I don’t respond, he throws out some more bait, “They arrested someone…” When I used to respond to these ploys, I would then find out nothing really happened at all. It was just drama. After all that baiting, the “police” turned out to be a security guard and a friend of someone who lived in 124. And there was no arrest or anything. I finally stopped responding and he found someone else to play his games on.
They will also bait you to get a reaction. This is especially true if you have cut them off or have stopped responding to their manipulations. This form of baiting may be through actions or words. Because their empathy and remorse is impaired they often don’t care if they get a loving response or an angry response. They just want a response because a response is attention. If being nice to you doesn’t work, they will provoke you. As long as you acknowledge them, they know they’ve got you.
“My mom would fake worry to bait me into telling her things. Then she would use them against me. If she was worried about where my sister went she would fake worry until I told her, then she would go to where my sister was and create a huge scene. They even had to call the police once because she was so out of control and screaming. She totally fooled me."
Another form of baiting involves feigned attention, affection, empathy or compassion, or love. They will bait the child by telling them how much they are going to help them. They may shower the child with accolades and tell them how wonderful they are. If they are the adult survivor’s partner, they may seduce them with courting behavior, attention, compliments, gifts, or sex. But it’s all a lie. They don’t actually feel these things, they merely offer them as bait to draw their partner or child back into the relationship.
This often happens when they’ve been confronted with their abuse or neglect. It can happen when they realize they’ve stepped over the line. They then sweet talk the child or partner to suck them back into the relationship. They are nice just long enough to pull you back into the relationship, then it abruptly stops and they resume their usual behavior. This is often referred to as the “mean/nice cycle” and is discussed below.
"We didn't kick your sister out. We told her to leave and she did, but she wasn't supposed to take it seriously. She's such a disobedient girl."
Nothing is ever a narcissist’s fault. The blaming, the gaming, the gaslighting, the mind games, the denial, the contorting of reality, the rewriting of history; it’s never their fault. They will blame everyone else, anyone else. They will casually throw people under the bus; devoted family members, their own children, loyal friends, even hard-working employees. Whatever they have to do to avoid taking responsibility for their behavior will be done.
They will blame you for everything that is wrong in their lives. They will blame you for things which happen elsewhere. They will blame you for the acts of other people. They didn’t get that promotion at work? It’s your fault for not being more supportive. They live in a city they hate? It’s your fault for “making” them move here (even though it was their idea to move). They lost their temper and hit you? It’s your fault for irritating them when you know they are tired. The extent to which they will contort reality to avoid being wrong can almost be comical. However, when they are throwing you under the bus or attacking your sanity it can be utterly devastating.
One of the most maddening games they play is blaming you for your own abuse. You drove them to it. If only you weren’t so difficult. You upset them so much they couldn’t think straight. Your backtalk pushed them over the edge. Your nitpicking is driving them to distraction. They abuse you until you get upset, then they blame and shame you for being upset. Why do you always overreact? Why do you take everything so personally?
Many times their blaming is so subtle you don’t even know it’s happening. You came to them to talk about how they were mistreating you and walked away convinced you were mistreating them, and you don’t even know how it happened.
You tell your mother your stepfather has been inappropriately touching you. She yells at you, tells you to stop “prancing around the house” and suggests you seduced him.
Your girlfriend leaves you for someone else and they offer no sympathy. They know how difficult you are to get along with.
Your sister breaks an important belonging of yours and your father insinuates you don’t take proper care of your things, suggests you are “overreacting”, or asks why you provoked her.
"Why did you let me drink at all? It's really your fault I acted that way."
“Oh, that’s not what you think. Let me tell you what to think. You agree with me on this.” (A narcissistic father discussing politics with his son, who disagreed with him.)
They view themselves as the center of your world and cannot tolerate the idea that you exist separately from them. Your emotions should be the same as their emotions. Your belongings are theirs. Your space is theirs. Your food is theirs. You are not allowed to have needs, desires, wants, problems, concerns, thoughts or feelings separate from theirs.
Tell them “No”, “Don’t” or “You Can’t” and they make it their life’s mission to turn it into “Yes”, “Do” or “I Can”. They will push, push, push. They may drop it for a few weeks, even months, then, just when you relax and think it is settled they will bring it back up. Below you will find examples of different kinds of boundaries and how narcissists violate them. For a complete discussion on boundaries; what they are and why they are important please see my article, Why Healthy Boundaries are Important in Relationships.
Narcissists do not consider that you have emotions of your own. They see you merely as an extensive of themselves. As a result, they expect you to experience things the same way they do. They also expect you to take responsibility for their emotions and make them feel better. You exist to meet their needs and have none of your own. If they are upset about something, they expect you to be upset too. If you have a problem, but they are in a good mood, they can’t understand why you are bringing them down and often resent the imposition. If they are having a bad day, but you are in a good mood, they expect you to feel bad with them and to take responsibility for making them feel better. They will also resent the fact that you are having a good day and may sabotage you or lash out to sabotage your happiness. If you were raised by a narcissistic parent, you probably grew up absorbing the emotions of everyone around you and feeling responsible for fixing them because that is what a narcissist parent has groomed you to do. You may also have grown up to be afraid of being happy. Being happy in a narcissistic home may have gotten you attacked or at least disparaged.
Narcissists will tell you what you think. They will insist that you share their points of view, their opinions, their likes and dislikes. They will demand that you tell them what you think, then tell you you’re wrong - you don’t really think that. They will not allow you to have your own ideas and opinions. They will not allow you to think your own thoughts. They will demand your opinion, then disparage you for having it or dismiss it as irrelevant.
“Oh, that’s not what you think. Let me tell you what to think. You agree with me on this.”
(A narcissistic father discussing politics with his son, who disagreed with him.)
What’s theirs is theirs and what’s yours is theirs.
If you are a minor living at home, your room is their room. You can never have any privacy. They will walk in on you in the bathroom. They will search your room when you’re not there. They will go through your things. They will give away or loan your belongings to other people without asking you.
If you’re an adult, they will invite themselves into your house. They will visit you at work though you’ve told them it’s not allowed. They will come to your house when you’re not home and “borrow” your belongings without your permission. They will eat off your plate. They will buy clothes for you in the style they like and the size they wear, and insist you wear them. When angry, they will destroy your most precious belongings, often just for spite, because they resent you having something which delights you so much. They can be that petty and vicious.
I can't believe it. I keep hearing their words, “it's just a fish”, but they weren’t just fish. They were my sanctuary. And I’m mad at myself for thinking they couldn’t do something this awful. I still can’t believe what they did, even when I’m staring right at it. How could they be so cruel? If not to me, to the fish?
I spent almost a year planning and setting up a beautiful aquarium. I worked extra jobs to pay for it. I started with a small tank and slowly worked my way up to bigger ones. I did a lot of research and created just the right combination of fish and plants and decorations. It was my safe haven. It was my peaceful escape from all the chaos.
I came home from school and found they had taken it completely apart. There was nothing left but the empty spot in my room where it had stood. I couldn’t believe it. What had they done with the fish? Did they just let them flop around, slowly suffocating? Since I’ll never know I’m left with my imagination, and it’s horrible.
And their reason for doing this? Because I was spending too much time on the aquarium. So they basically destroyed my beautiful fish because I wasn’t paying enough attention to them.
My dad’s response when I protested? “You always overreact. Why do you have to be such a drama queen?”
They will read your email, go through your computer’s history, go through your phone, listen in on your conversations, and read your mail. They will burst in on you in the bathroom or when you are in the shower. They will demand to know private details of your sex life and your relationships.
This will touch your body, usually painfully, pinching, grabbing, touching inappropriately. They will make disparaging, inappropriate, hurtful comments/observations about your body loudly and/or in public. And they do not believe you have the right to reject or refuse their intrusions or touches.
My father always grabbed my knee cap and squeezed as hard as he could. I don’t know if he considered that affection or what. It hurt like hell. When I asked him not to do it, he would only do it more. His touch always felt creepy or sadistic.
They will intrude upon your relationships. If you don’t talk to them, they will call your spouse and demand to know why you aren’t calling them. They ingratiate themselves with the people around you in order to extract information from them or engage them as flying monkeys (See: Flying Monkeys in this chapter.) They will flirt with your spouse. They will call your boss to see where you are. They will turn your siblings against you. They will give your children permission to do things you have forbidden, take them where you said they could not go, and buy them things you do not want them to have. They will force their relationships on you against your protests.
Nadine’s partner (Marlena) is a narcissist. Marlena has an adult daughter (Jessie) who is rude and abusive to Nadine. Nadine has made it clear that she does not want Jessie to come over while Nadine is there. Marlena disputed this at first, but then agreed to it. However, the issue continues to pop up every few months. “But it’s Christmas, don’t you think I should be able to see my daughter at Christmas?” (guilting) Or, “Jessie just came by to drop something off, I don’t know why you are making such a big deal about it.” (pathologizing Nadine for being upset).
They demand to be answered - right now. Whether they are calling you, emailing you, stopping by to visit unannounced or coming into town. When they decide to talk to you, you are supposed to make yourself available. If you don’t, they may inundate you with demands that you respond to them. If you continue to ignore them, they will track you down at home, work, school, wherever you are. They will contact everyone around you to demand that you respond to them - right now.
In their minds, you do not have the right to be busy at work, to be taking care of a small child, to be attending a medical appointment or to be going to the bathroom. They believe you must answer them, immediately, at all times.
I came home from work one day and found that my narcissistic mother had been calling everyone in my life for hours trying to find out where I was. She had called me at work earlier in the day. I have told her repeatedly that I can’t be on the phone at work. But she doesn’t care. She wants to talk to me and she wants to talk to me now. She doesn’t care about me or my employment, only getting what she wants. So I didn’t return her call, because I can’t be on the phone at work. She began calling everyone, my friends, my colleagues, my neighbors, everyone. I was so embarrassed. But at the same time, I was kind of relieved. Now they can finally see what I’m talking about when I tell them how crazy this woman is.
They will take out credit for themselves in your name. They will take money out of your account if they have access to it. They will access your credit card and bank accounts illegally. They will use money and finances to manipulate you.
My car broke down and I went to buy another car. They ran a credit check. I’m sitting in the car dealer’s office when I find out I have a line of credit at Home Depot which was behind in payments. So they wouldn’t sell me the car because of my bad credit. I knew my dad had been buying a lot of new tools. Now I knew how. I was livid! I don’t know which made me madder, that he took out the credit in my name or that he didn’t make the payments on it. He always pays his bills on time, but not the credit he took out in my name. When I confronted him about it he rolled his eyes and responded, “Well let’s go get your name off of it. I know how sensitive you are. (pathologizing)”
They may bully with their rage, their intellect, even their body. Bullying can take many forms. It can also vary depending on the situation. They may bully you one way in public and utilize a different method in private. It’s important to be aware of the many ways they bully you in order to recognize it when it’s happening.
Calling you names or calling you by derogatory terms, verbal put-downs and insults
Hitting below the belt, hitting you where they know you are sensitive (i.e. insulting your artwork which they know is very important to you, calling you fat when they know you are sensitive about your weight, jabbing you about a recent relationship which ended)
Throwing tantrums so intense they are frightening
Yelling, screaming, getting really angry in order to intimidate you into doing what they want
Getting loud or creating a scene in public in order so you will do what they want in order not to be embarrassed in public
Threatening to leave you if you don’t do what they want
Using private information to humiliate you
Starting a smear campaign against you (or threatening to) when you don’t comply
Isolating you from your support systems and other people either physically, emotionally, or socially
Repeatedly and/or harshly criticizing you
Judging you by a different standard than other people or themselves
Making up their own rules on the fly, then getting angry when you don’t know the rules
Falsely accusing you of something you didn’t do
Staring, glaring or be non-verbally intimidating, hostile
Using the silent treatment
“Icing you out” or cold shouldering you when you don’t do what they want
Out of control mood swings which leave you feeling like you are walking on eggshells trying to keep them happy
Threatening to throw a minor child out of the house when the child doesn’t comply with their wishes
Threatening to cut off payments or support (i.e. car payments, student loan payments, child support, housing assistance for a child in college)
“Giving” you money then, when they get mad at you, claiming they really intended for it to be a loan and demanding it back
Taking out loans or credit in your name then exploding in a rage when you confront them about it
Demanding that you account for every cent you spend, demanding that you let them see your bank statements, keeping a spreadsheet of your financial transactions and tracking them
Intellectual bullies specialize in condescension. They achieve this through a variety of methods.
Using overly large words or technical jargon
Using specialized knowledge you cannot be expected to know, i.e. an attorney talking down to his teenaged son in legal terms, a doctor expecting her daughter to understand medical terminology and berating her for being “stupid” when she doesn’t, a psychiatrist using their knowledge to “diagnose” people who disagree with them
Blocking you with their body so you can’t leave the room
Pushing you with their body
Gross or inappropriate gestures, touching
Beating you at physical feats then berating you for not being as strong or athletic as them
Being violent with inanimate objects as a show of power or intimidation; i.e. punching the wall, throwing a lamp against the wall, throwing a glass, slamming or banging things.
Taking, “borrowing”, using, giving away your belongings without permission
Invading your space, going into your room or space uninvited, going through your personal papers/belongings, listening in on your phone calls, going through your phone, showing up at your job, bursting in on you in the bathroom
Inappropriate and/or aggressive nudity
I had a friend who was a narcissist, who also came from a family of narcissists. As we got to know each other she started “changing clothes” in front of me. Sometimes it would be in the middle of the living room. Sometimes it would be in the middle of the driveway. They lived out in the country, but still, it would be really inappropriate. It seemed to be purposeful, to see if she could make me uncomfortable with her nudity. What was really strange? She had complained to me earlier that her sister would use nudity to intimidate her. Then she did the same thing to me. It was really weird.
Walter Kirn describes this behavior when writing about convicted killer and con man, Christian Gerhartsreiter, a.k.a. Clark Rockefeller.
“Once, a few weeks after the murder, a policeman rang the guesthouse doorbell, perhaps before all the gore had been sponged up. Tight spot. No time to think. But Clark surpassed himself. He answered the door naked, completely naked, proclaiming himself a nudist when asked to dress, as though he were resisting on religious grounds. The flustered policeman excused himself and said he’d stop by later. Clark shut the door, resuming the form he took behind shut doors.” Blood Will Out: The True Story of a Murder, a Mystery, and a Masquerade (p. 193). Liveright. Kindle Edition.
Spreading lies about you on social media
Smearing your reputation with your friends, colleagues, and/or family
Accusing you of mistreating them, causing others to see you as the aggressor
Threatening to out you if you are LGBT
Threatening to expose any secrets you might have shared with them
Damned if you do. Damned if you don’t.
A Catch-22 is a paradoxical situation from which an individual cannot escape because of contradictory rules. The name originates from a satirical novel by Joseph Heller which relates his experiences with the military in World War II. It was eventually made into a movie which every survivor of a narcissist personality disorder should see. Heller was an Air Force bombardier trying to survive World War II. Airmen who were crazy were not obliged to fly missions, but anyone who applied to stop flying was showing a rational concern for his safety and was, therefore, sane and had to fly. This is the classic double bind, a no-win situation. The term “catch-22” was coined to describe such a double bind. It is the typical damned if you do, damned if you don’t scenario.
Narcissists are full of double binds.
A narcissistic mother would tell her son, “If you’re not on fire or bleeding, don’t bother me.” And she meant it. However, what she really meant was, “don’t bother me for any reason” because she did not want anything which took time and attention away from her. So her son learned to escalate his needs to emergencies. If he fell or was hurt, he would exaggerate and say he was bleeding to death or horribly injured, as his mother had taught him to do. She would then dismiss him saying, “You're such a drama queen!”
A classic Catch-22. No matter what he did, he couldn’t win. It was a setup for failure. If he didn’t complain loudly enough, she had an excuse to ignore him. If he complained too loudly, she had an excuse to dismiss him. But the failure wasn’t his, it was her inability to feel empathy for his childhood needs.
"People don't defend a position which doesn't need defending."
Narcissists are extremely defensive, especially when you try to confront them about their bad behavior. Their defensive behaviors can be extreme. They may flood your phone with screenshots of texts to try to prove their point. They may fill your email box with copies of emails to try to prove their point. They may try to overwhelm you with statistics or data. They may start name dropping or title dropping in an attempt to demonstrate that others think or act in the same way as they do.
It's natural to defend ourselves, our emotions, our point of view. How do you know when you’re being manipulated?
When it’s over the top. When it’s irrelevant. When they appeal to authority which has nothing to do with the issue. When they issue a proclamation. When they spam you with emails, bombard you with texts or call you 15 times to try to “explain”. They are the embodiment of Shakespeare’s line, “the lady doth protest too much”.
Discussion as a Manipulation
How could discussion be a manipulation? This is one of the most maddening of the narcissist’s manipulations. Narcissists convince you that the two of you are actually discussing something. But they are really only humoring you and using your arguments against you, twisting and contorting what you say to gain an advantage in the conversation. They will engage in a discussion as a way of pushing or violating your boundaries. You issue a firm “No” or indicate a line which cannot be crossed and the next thing you know you are “discussing” it. Now the firm line you drew has become an unrecognizable blur in the sand. They will use discussion to attempt to move the goal post. They will use discussion to gaslight you. They will use discussion to bully you. They will use discussion to contort reality into something you can no longer recognize. You know you are in a “discussion” with a narcissist when the conversation disintegrates into a one hour debate on what a word means or a thirty minute debate about how to communicate a simple idea.
This is a complicated, but perfect example of how many different manipulations they will employ in a single dialogue. When it comes to manipulation, narcissists are true multitaskers. I’ll indicate each form of manipulation (in parentheses, in plain text) as we go. Each of these manipulations is described in this chapter.
As the executive director (ED) of a charity, I once worked with a narcissist who refused to return a trailer and some panels which were the property of the charity. I explained to her that the charity was closing down, the equipment belonged to the charity, and the IRS required that all assets be accounted for. She refused to return it. I explained that if she refused to return it, it would have to be reported to the IRS. She continued to refuse. It took two years to finalize all the paperwork for closing the charity. During that time she made no effort to return the equipment and used it for her own benefit. Upon final dissolution of the charity, the status of the equipment was reported to the IRS and she was duly notified. She exploded.
She went over my head to the president of the board (splitting, triangling) asking if we could discuss the situation (discussion). There was nothing to discuss. The time for discussion had long passed and she had refused. Trying to open the door for “discussion”, she tried to slander me (smear campaign) suggesting that I was being dishonest or misrepresenting the facts. She accused me of being “mistaken” and “misremembering” (sanity attack, gaslighting) how events had occurred.
“I understand that you were under stress when (the charity) closed and perhaps you're a bit foggy on the facts.” (sanity attack, pathologizing)
When the board chair wouldn’t go along with it, she resorted to issuing a veiled threat.
“Arbitrarily assigning these assets to me as if that settles things for (the charity) is a mistake you may want to reconsider.” (bullying)
Entering into a discussion with a narcissist implies that the matter is open for discussion. It isn’t. It’s also futile. They are not interested in an honest, open dialogue. They only want to win at any cost. They will lie, manipulate, gaslight you, rage, rewrite history, bully you, attack your sanity, and make threats. It will not be a logical, rational, sane discussion for the purpose of arriving at the truth or a compromise. The only way to win is not to play.
My narcissistic father’s reply when I learned that a friend died of cancer: "People die, you need to get over it. Go make dinner."
This manipulation is a lot more important that it seems. Children of narcissistic parents grow up trying to get sympathy and compassion from parents who are incapable of giving it. They try to tell their parents they have a concern, a hurt, or a problem. But a narcissistic parent is devoid of empathy and unable to provide the much needed compassion and caring. However, they will never admit the deficit is theirs. Instead, they attempt to dismiss the problem as being unimportant or too trivial for them to deal with.
Why is this important? Because a lot of survivors will internalize this dismissive language and use it against themselves. As you read this section, focus on how the narcissist in your life dismisses you and look for that same language in your own self-talk.
Being dismissive is closely related to Trivializing. (See: Trivializing in this article)
Being dismissive can take several forms.
They dismiss your concerns, your feelings, your ideas, your ideals, your opinions. They dismiss you as a person. They ignore you when you are talking, assuming that you couldn’t possibly say anything they would want to hear. You are not even important enough for them to attend to. They wave off your concerns and admonish you with the infamous, “Get over it”. They dismiss you with their words
“You think too much.”
“Why must you analyze everything?”
“Get over it.”
“Suck it up buttercup.”
“Why do you always overreact?”
“Don’t be such a drama queen.”
If you are an expert in a given field of study or work they will still dismiss you with smirks, exaggerated exclamations, “Oh realllly?”, “You don’t say!”, “Sure it is!”, “Is that what you’re learning in those classes I’m paying for?”, or a condescending, “Where did you read that???”
They dismiss you with their body language. It may be a look, a gesture, rolling their eyes, waving you away with their hand, smirking, sneering, snorting, yawning dramatically, sighing loudly, shaking their head in feigned disgust, making a face at other people in the room, or laughing derisively.
They may dismiss you with their actions.
My colleague used to drive me insane by always claiming, “I didn’t hear you say that”. We would discuss something and come to an agreement. Weeks later, she would be doing something differently than what we agreed on. When I questioned her she would always respond, “Oh, I didn’t hear you.” This way she did whatever she wanted with no regard for what we had agreed upon. For a long time I didn’t realize this was on purpose. I actually caught her at it one day when we were discussing the reorganization of a building. She gave her thoughts on it. I noticed she did not ask for mine. I started telling her mine when she interrupted me with a thought she had about turtles. “Turtles?” I inquired, “How did you get from reorganizing the building to turtles”? “Oh”, she said, “I was sitting here thinking about turtles.” That was the moment where I realized she didn’t listen to me at all. She would look at me when I was talking to her, but her mind was somewhere else. And she didn’t even know what I was going to say. She decided before I even began talking that nothing I said could possibly be worth listening to. That’s when I really knew what I was dealing with.
Narcissists love to create drama and exaggeration is one of their tools. They exaggerate their distress, their symptoms, your behavior, the situation, or their problems to elicit help and sympathy from you or get what they want.
My mother, after she grew older, always claimed she could not do a lot of activities because of her blood pressure. It made her dizzy, it made her weak, it made her tired. She acted all this out quite skillfully. I totally believed her. So, being a good daughter, I did her shopping, her laundry, cleaned her house, and walked her dog. Then, one day a new neighbor moved in next door. A single, male neighbor. Mother donned her finest attire and sashayed over to the house, the epitome of health. I couldn’t believe my eyes. She had played me the entire time. I was furious!
They exaggerate your response to their bad behavior to pathologize you.
You: “Mom, why did you give away my computer?”
Narcissist Mom: “You never used that old thing anyway.”
You: “But it had all my music stored on it!”
Narcissist Mom: “Why do you always throw such a fit about your things! You’re such a drama queen!”
You weren’t “throwing such a fit”. You were confronting her about giving away your personal belongings without your knowledge or permission. But somehow she turns it around and makes it about your behavior.
Flying monkeys are people the narcissist manipulates to apply pressure to you to do what the narcissist wants. If a narcissist is unable to successfully manipulate you themselves, they will often engage other family members, friends, colleagues and others to plead their case with you. This usually happens when you have cut off contact with the narcissist or set a boundary with them. Social media is a perfect medium for this. All they have to do is post a comment about how you are mistreating them, and the monkeys descend. Texts, emails, phones, and word of mouth can work just as well.
“My 10 year son has diabetes. My mom wanted to babysit him for me and agreed to adhere to his strict diet and regularly check his blood levels. However, when I went to pick him up he would be really sick and his blood levels would be really off. She feigned ignorance and denied doing anything wrong, but I finally got it out of my son that she was giving him cookies and other sweets. When I confronted her about it her only response was, “Well, he wanted it.” That was it. I wouldn’t let him stay with her any longer. She threw a huge temper tantrum, crying and raging, but I refused to give in. Then, she posted on Facebook what a horrible son I was for not letting her even see her grandson. Naturally, she left out the part about her feeding cakes and cookies to a child who was diabetic. Family and friends started bombarding me with posts. Why was I being so heartless? This poor woman, this doting grandmother, just wanted to see her beloved grandson. The guilt and shame they heaped upon me was endless. And I was mortified. They really believe I’m an awful person mistreating this poor woman. Nothing I said would overcome the drama she created. They couldn’t be bothered with the facts. I had to cut some of them off because I just couldn’t take it any more. Some of them have come around and see how she really is. Some of them are still believing her lies. It’s really sad, but what can I do? Most of them are really good people, they just don’t realize they’re being manipulated by a narcissist.”
Sarah’s elderly mother was in the ICU, fighting sepsis. She and her sisters, Terri and Jessica arranged to split the 24 hour day into three 8 hour shifts and they would take one. Following Sarah’s shift they met to compare notes. Her sister, Terri, whose turn it was to take over, announced she was tired and going back to her room to sleep some more. Sarah and Jessica were appalled. They couldn’t believe that Terri would just leave them hanging to cover the shifts themselves, and without any discussion. They confronted Terri on her selfishness. They were all tired, but they needed to look after their mother. Terri took her shift in the ICU, but proceeded to tell her mother how her sisters were ganging up on her and mistreating her. Their mother became very upset and tried, from her bed in the ICU, to intervene. Sarah and Jessica couldn’t believe Terri would pull their mother, from her bed in the ICU, into drama.
Freezing You Out
(The Silent Treatment)
One of the most insidious manipulations narcissists use on their children is threatening to disown them, throw them out of the house, or otherwise withhold affection until the child performs in the manner the narcissist parent wants. They will also use this maneuver in adult relationships. They may stop responding to texts, emails or phone calls. They may stop speaking to you. They may pointedly ignore you, all in an attempt to get you to do what they want. This is a form of abandonment and adult children will often have abandonment issues in their adult relationships as a result.
“I don’t know why you make these things up, I never said that.”
“You have such a vivid imagination.”
“I don’t know why you lie like this.”
“Are you on your period?”
“I’m sorry you think I said that.”
Gaslighting is a perfect example of a crazy-making manipulation and narcissists use it frequently. It is the practice of denying something that actually happened. The definition of gaslighting is to manipulate someone into questioning their own perception of reality. It comes from the 1944 movie “Gaslight” with Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer. In the movie, the husband tried to drive his wife insane so he could collect her inheritance. One of his methods for driving her insane was to climb up into the attic, dim the gaslights, then come back into the parlor where his wife was sitting. When she asked him if he noticed that the gaslights dimmed, he told her they did not dim. He would tell her it was only her imagination and insinuated she was mentally unstable for thinking they dimmed. Hence the term, gaslight.
Narcissists employ this same method to achieve the same effect. They will most commonly employ gaslighting when you confront them about their bad behavior. They have no qualms about looking you right in the face and telling you they didn’t say what you heard them say, they didn’t do what you saw them do. They will deny your five senses, your perceptions, your thoughts and your feelings. It is truly crazy-making behavior. It is especially harmful when it’s done to a child.
They may simply say, “that didn’t happen” or they may take it a step further and accuse you of lying or attack your sanity outright. “Why are you always lying like this?” “Where do you get this stuff?”, “You must be delusional if you think that’s what I said”. They will also completely rewrite history and tell you they said or did something else rather than what you are confronting them about, then imply there must be something wrong with you if you remember it that way.
"Oh, you don't remember that correctly."
Gaslighting can also be used in much more insidious ways. It can be used to deny insults, slights, derogatory remarks, slurs, and outright attacks.
Michelle has always been very critical of her daughter’s weight. She is constantly making little remarks, dropping little hints, slipping in little comments which are derogatory and hurtful. One day, as her daughter is bending over to get something out of the refrigerator Michelle comments, “Oh, you’re wearing THOSE pants?” First, notice that her daughter is in a very vulnerable position when the comment is made. Second, notice the innuendo. Her daughter knows exactly what Michelle is saying, and that it’s aimed to hurt. However, when her daughter tries to confront her on it, Michelle gaslights her, saying, “All I asked was whether you are wearing those pants. I don’t know why you are making such a big deal about it. You always overreact.”
The opening, “all I asked was” is extremely common among narcissists, or another variant, “all I said was…”. They carefully craft their attacks to be deniable. When her daughter tries to defend herself against the slur, Michelle dismisses it away with, “all I asked was…” then insinuates her daughter is making something out of nothing, and she is overreacting. Michelle gaslights her daughter by acting as if the attack is an innocent comment (it’s not) then pathologizes (See: Pathologizing) her daughter’s reaction.
“I know how you are. I know how you really feel. I know the thoughts that you have inside. And that’s not how you really feel about it.”
"Don't tell me what you were doing! I'm telling you what you were doing!"
“That’s NOT how that happened.”
“ You are remembering this wrong on purpose to put me in a bad light — we both KNOW what REALLY happened…”
“I don’t know what to do with you when you are like this.”
"Don't tell me what you said! I know what I heard."
“If anything is wrong in your marriage it’s your fault. You will never find another spouse who is as good to you as the one you have now.”
You: "What you said upset me."
Narcissist: "No it didn't, you weren't upset by it stop manipulating us"
“You're so over sensitive, I can't say anything”.
“You're so questioning, you don't believe what I say. You and your trust issues”.
“Are you losing the plot? I never ever said that”.
"You're remembering things wrong."
“If you won't hear it from me, ask your mum or friend, they know what you're like”.
“This is getting ridiculous, you need help. A therapist or something”. (See also: Pathologizing)
"Feelings are gay."
"You're an adult when I decide you are."
"I believe that you sincerely believe yourself. But you're wrong."
“I just don't see how someone so smart could be so stupid.”
"If you keep taking whatever I am saying as criticism, that is YOUR problem."
And, when all else fails, they expect you to gaslight yourself:
“Just think happy thoughts, don't think about the fact that you were yelled at/ shamed/ beaten/ humiliated/ terrified almost every day of your life in our house.”
Narcissists' gifts are never free. They always come with strings attached. There is an expectation of reciprocation. If they give their child an allowance, they expect some sort of payback. And not the usual forms of reciprocation. Other parents may expect chores to be done or for the child to get good grades. This is different. The narcissist expects the child to be a trophy child, to live to meet their needs, to keep their secrets and lies, to tolerate abuse and neglect. They expect the allowance to buy loyalty and compliance. Instead of giving you something outright they will put on a payment plan. For instance, instead of giving their child a car they will make payments on a car for them. That way, if the child ever displeases them they can stop making payments. Naturally, not everyone who buys a car for their child on payments is a narcissist. But a narcissist will always do it this way.
As a result of growing up being baited, survivors of narcissistic parents often distrust gifts and kindnesses. They can’t believe anyone would just be nice to them for no reason. Most people don’t think of gifts as manipulations. However, with narcissists, gifts are never free. They always have a string attached. A gift is an investment, and they expect it to be repaid. They may use it to buy your silence or your complicity. They may use it to engage you in your own abuse. They may use it as bait, to cover a very sharp hook whose purpose is to lure you back in. They may wish to engender you to them or to buy your loyalty.
Regardless of their ulterior motives, they may still believe their gift to be a grand gesture or a great sacrifice. If so, they will be sure to let you know this and expect you to behave accordingly. They will expect you to acknowledge, and reciprocate, the value of the gift - as they perceive it. Nothing is ever given freely. Nothing. They count every thing they give you, every penny they loan you, every favor they do for you. They will ask about the status of the gift every time they see you, to keep it up front in your mind that you owe them. They will bring it up in front of other people to impress them with their generosity. They use it as an assault if you dare to question them or say no to them.
My parents used gifts as leverage or ammunition. “We bend over backwards for you and give you everything and this is how you treat us?" They may also use gifts to play favorites or split family members. They may also withhold gifting to punish the scapegoat of the family or someone who is not doing what they want.
There were three of us children. Every holiday my father would pick one child and lavish them with gifts while ignoring the other two. And he would rotate it. It became a joke, who was his favorite this time? But it really wasn't funny. It used to drive my mom insane. How could she explain to little children why one received so many presents and why the other two received none? There was no good reason.
They may give you their trash. I’ve known narcissists who dearly treasured every single thing they owned, to the point of being hoarders. They can’t throw away that worn out, old toaster. But they give it to you, make it a grand gesture, and expect to be repeatedly acknowledged for their great sacrifice.
Narcissists frequently use emotional manipulations in their interactions with those around them. Manipulations are crazy making. Manipulations are how the narcissist gets inside your head and turns your own mind against you. You start to doubt your own sense of perception of reality, your decision making abilities, your judgment, your emotions, even your own five senses. Because understanding the manipulations which are being played on you is such an important part of healing, I have created a comprehensive list. Because the list is so long, they are listed alphabetically for easy reference. I've also created a table of contents at the beginning of this article to help you search for specific manipulations.
Gifts from narcissists can also be a manipulation to hook you back in.
“If I stopped talking to my mom for a while, she would eventually ask me if I needed money for anything as a way to bribe me to let her back in. Or, if I was still speaking to her, but maintaining a healthy distance from her, she would mine our conversations for something I said which indicated I was having a problem. She would then offer money to fix it. But it was never a gift. It was a bribe. She used the money to compensate for the fact that she felt nothing for me. She would use it as artificial empathy, to bind me to her. She would also use it to install a sense of obligation in me.”
Their gifts can also be humorous as they tend to buy you what they like. They will also gift you with what they think you should want or need. Gifts from narcissists can also be little slurs. Imagine a 15 year old tomboy of a girl who receives a frilly dress from her narcissist mother. It’s her mother’s manipulative way of letting her know what kind of daughter she expects her to be. To add insult to injury, they cannot fathom you do not love these gifts and are quite put out when you reject them.
"We bought you a car, what else do I need to do to make you want to hang out with us?"
“Dad threatened to cancel the trip he scheduled for my birthday. All because he was in a bad mood because I wasn’t being what he wanted me to be. I blew up because I can only take so much of this every single day. They suck you in, then slap you down. I’m just so sick of it. A gift from a narcissist is not a real one. It’s a way to hold something over you.”
Gifting can also be used to put on a show for other people, a grand gesture. "Just look what all I do for my children."
Grooming refers to their tendency to indoctrinate you to meet their needs, usually at the expense of your own. You exist only to meet their needs and have no right to your own.
They groom you to believe that their emotional needs must be met. It is your job to know what their needs are, at all times, and to meet them. If they come home from work tired, irritated, frustrated, angry, or upset it is your responsibility to know how they are feeling and to make them feel better. Please notice there are two parts to this. You are responsible for know how they feel, without them telling you. You are then responsible for making them feel better without any assistance from them. This belief may plague your adult relationships. You may believe that you should know how your spouse, your children or your boss feels. As an adult child of narcissists, you may have very poor emotional boundaries, readily absorbing the emotions of those around you and feeling responsible for fixing them. This is wrong on both accounts. You should not take on the emotions of others, only your own. And you are not responsible for making others feel better. Healthy people are responsible for managing their own emotions.
At the same time that you were made responsible for their emotions, you were groomed to ignore your own. If you were hurt, upset, embarrassed, in pain, sick, or tired you were expected to “Get over it”. Even happiness would have been squelched because they resent your joy. They are miserable and you should be too.
As an adult survivor, you may find that you deny and ignore your own emotions and take on everyone else’s. You may not know how to cry or grieve. You may not know how to express anger or deal with frustration. You may not honor when you feel stressed or tired and allow time to rest or vent or calm yourself. You may not know how to enjoy being happy.
You may have been groomed to deny your own physical needs such as; food, water, rest, medical care, etc. If they are hosting a party and you are sick, you are expected to attend anyway and “not act up”. They may have failed to come home and get meals for you, or failed to keep food in the house for you if they ate out a lot. They ate, why are you hungry? They may have it too inconvenient or expensive to obtain adequate medical care for you. They may have ignored when you were in pain or injured, and expected you to “suck it up”.
Narcissists will hold grudges and hold onto every slight for the rest of your life. They count everything. Every single thing they’ve ever done for you. Every slight. Every perceived wrong. Every dollar they’ve loaned you. Every “gift” they’ve ever given you. And they never forget. They will constantly deride you for something you did twenty years ago. If they are your parent, they will throw things in your face that you did when you were a young child. If they give you something, they will inquire about its status every time they talk to you, they will constantly remind you of it.
“She brought up old small things from years ago that I apparently did wrong but I don't even remember.”
“But we’ve been friends for so long and I’ve always been there for you.”
Narcissists manipulate your empathy, a lot. Whether they are playing the victim, the invalid, or the martyr they love to manipulate your empathy. They tell you how selfish you are (for not putting them first). They cite everything they’ve ever done for you, or given to you, then accuse you of being selfish or thoughtless for not doing what they want.
Despite the fact that I worked there for 7 years and often worked 10 hour days, every Friday at 3, if my boss ran into me, he would look at the clock and ask me, “Oh, are you leaving?” He didn’t know my schedule? He didn’t know when I was leaving? He came in after me and left before me, but he never came in and said, “Oh, you are already here?” when I was there before him. He never said, “Oh, you are staying late?” when I worked every night long after he left. He never noticed that. All he noticed were the days I left early. And he guilted me for leaving early.
They will use other people to guilt you. They may take to their bed, ill. They may cry. They may even threaten suicide. All in an attempt to get you to do what they want.
Hoovering is a technique named after the Hoover vacuum cleaner. It’s used by narcissists to “suck” their victims back into a relationship with them. It’s often done after they’ve given you the silent treatment or after you have left them. It may also be used when you try to set a boundary with them or tell them “No” and they blow up. Any time you are no longer meeting their needs and they want to draw you back in, they may hoover you.
They usually hoover you by attempting to manipulate your emotions. This can take many forms. It has also been referred to as “love bombing”. They will call and leave messages expressing concern about a recent illness or just the fact that you are missing, knowing that you feel a compunction to respond to someone who is speaking to you, or an obligation to reciprocate.
With today’s technology, these messages are usually by text and that’s how I’ll refer to them here. But they can take any form; phone messages, Facebook posts, flowers with a card at work, comments to your friends or family. Whatever works. It’s also important to notice in the following examples how many different parts of you they may attempt to manipulate.
They will try to manipulate your sense of fair play (i.e. the landlord charging $250 for cleaning the apartment). First of all, the landlord may not even be charging a fee. This could be a lie. Second, you left your area spotless. If a fee is being charged, it’s because your narcissist roommate left their area a mess. They are appealing to your sense of fair play that they not be left with the entire bill for an apartment the two of you shared. But it’s really a ploy to get you to re-engage with them. (See: Discussion above).
They will try to manipulate your empathy for others. Appeals regarding your children are especially powerful. Contacting you when someone is in the hospital and you are really feeling vulnerable is another ploy. They may feign concern about you hoping you will answer them so they don’t worry.
They will try to manipulate your sense of responsibility, as in the appeals which appear to be “just business”. Unlike them, you like to be responsible, pay your bills on time and resolve situations which need to be addressed. They may use this to suck you into a discussion.
Whatever they appeal to, it will be an appeal to open the door and just “discuss” something. (See: Discussion above.)
Messages on or about special occasions/holidays: “Happy New Year!”, “Hope you are having a good birthday–wish I could celebrate it with you”, “Are you going to Madeline’s party next weekend? If you’re going, I won’t go–I don’t want to upset you.”
Messages acting like nothing happened: “Hey there, long time no talk” or “Hey what’s going on?”
Messages expressing concern about someone else. “I just heard about so-and-so being in the hospital. I am so sorry. Please let me know if there is anything I can do.”
Messages about your kids: “I was at the park today and saw a cute kid that looked just like Gabriel. I sure miss seeing her” or “I know you hate me, but please tell Johnny that I wish him a happy birthday and I’m sorry I can’t be there.”
Messages which are allegedly “just business”. “Hey, when can you come pick up your stuff?” or “The landlord is charging us $250 for cleaning up the apartment. Call me, we need to resolve this.”
Messages feigning concern: “How are you?”, “Hey, I’m thinking about you”, “I know things didn’t work out, but you really do mean a lot to me. I just want you to know that.”
Messages that are guilt or pity inducing: “Can’t we work this out? Please give us another chance.” “What about the kids? You know how hard it is having divorced parents–why would you want to do that to them?” “I have a lot of issues. I get that now. I’ll get into therapy. I promise.” “My drug use is out of control. I need help.”
Messages about bogus family illnesses or some sort of crisis (i.e. drama): “I think I might have cancer, can you talk?” or, “OMG my mom just had a stroke.” or “What does a heart attack feel like? My left arm really hurts,” or, “I can’t handle this anymore, I’m going to kill myself.”
Messages which are “accidentally” sent to you by mistake: “See you in ten minutes xoxo” (Supposedly to their new love interest.) “The boss just moved the meeting to Wednesday at 3pm.” (Supposedly to their colleague.) Or, “Sam called and said John is in the hospital and to call him immediately.” (Supposedly sent to someone else, but sent to you so you feel a sense of urgency to get back to him.)
Messages about an upcoming event: “Hey, I know you said you never wanted to talk to me again, but Kidz Bop Kids is in town this weekend, I was thinking about taking the kids.” or “Adele is in town next weekend and I have an extra ticket–you wanna go?”
Messages about sex/deep connection: “I miss snuggling with you.” “You will always be the love of my life.” “You are my soul mate, I’m sorry I let you down.”
Messages about things you like to do that he’s never been interested in doing with you before: “Wanna go hot air ballooning this weekend?”
Messages that attempt to flip the hoover back on you: “Did you just text me?” or “Did you just call me?” or “Was that you who just drove by?”
It’s important to realize that the narcissist ultimately wants an emotional reaction from you. Any emotional reaction. They don’t feel empathy or remorse so they don’t care how the hoovering affects you. They just want a response, any response. Therefore, if they can’t get a positive, loving response from you, they will go for an angry or upset response. If all else fails, they will go on the attack.
Messages making bogus accusations to get some type of emotional response:
“Don’t be such a weenie. Have the guts to answer me.”
“Why are you calling my mom and bugging her?”
“I just found out you cheated on me.”
“I’ve moved on. You need to quit stalking me.”
Idealizing = Discarding
Sometimes referred to as the mean/nice cycle,
A narcissist’s treatment of someone may vacillate wildly between mean and nice. This is an expression of their idealizing and discarding of the child survivor When they’re idealizing you they are sugary sweet to you, almost seductive. When they’ve discarded you, you get contempt and meanness. They train you to work for the nice and endure the mean, living for the time when they will be nice to you again.
“The intelligent abuser is a master of insidious innuendos.”
“Innuendo is a hint, insinuation or intimation about a person or thing, especially of a denigrating or a derogatory nature. It can also be a remark or question, typically disparaging (also called insinuation), that works obliquely by allusion.” Wikipedia
Obliquely (indirectly, slantwise) by allusion (an expression designed to call something to mind without mentioning it explicitly).
Because the innuendo alludes to something instead of stating it directly, it allows the narcissist to deny their intent.
Your narcissist parent has a long history of comparing you unfavorably with their friend’s son, Eddie. Eddie is your age and is in your class. Your parent has made it very clear that they wish you would be like Eddie and that you fall very short, much to their great disappointment.
Narcissist: “Oh look, Eddie made captain of the football team.”
You: “Why do you always throw Eddie in my face?”
Narcissist: “All I said was he made captain. (Trivializing.) Good grief, I can’t even be happy that someone else’s son is doing well without you blowing up! (Exaggerating.) You’re so sensitive!” (Pathologizing.)
In psychology, the term intellectualization is used when someone uses thinking to avoid feeling. This can be a defense mechanism learned when emotions are overwhelming.
However, with narcissists it is used as a manipulation. Narcissists are especially prone to distancing themselves from their feelings using intellectualization. They are prone to using intellectualization to dismiss or trivialize your feelings. They will also use intellectualization and rationalization (See: Rationalization) to justify their behaviors.
I didn’t fully realize what my brother was until we had to put our elderly mother, Maria, in a nursing home. Ed, the youngest son and our mother’s favorite was also antisocial. When she was placed in the nursing home, and while mother and my siblings were emotionally reeling from the sudden decline in her health, Ed moved in and manipulated her into signing over all her money and her power of attorney to him. A few months later, she developed a growth which we suspected was a tumor. Since Ed had both the medical power of attorney, the power of attorney and all the money, there was nothing the rest of us could do. He decided to have it tested and it turned out to be benign. But while we waited for the results, he let us know he wasn’t going to allow treatment. We were horrified! Who was he to make that decision? And how could he be so cold and cruel? His reasoning? ‘She’s old and they won’t invest a lot of treatment in someone her age.’ He just coldly justified his callousness like that. That’s when I saw what he really was.
Moving the Goalposts
Moving the goalposts is when the narcissist arbitrarily, and unilaterally, changes an agreement with you. It’s usually because they never intended to keep the agreement in the first place and thought you would not take it seriously. When they realize you intend for them to honor their promise, they “move the goalpost”.
My dad promised he would meet me halfway to buy a car. However much I earned, he would contribute an equal amount. I worked after school every day for the entire school year and managed to save $4500 dollars. I then asked him to honor his promise. He then said he had promised to match what I earned if I also kept my grades up. Working so much to raise the money, my grades had taken a hit, and he knew that. He never said anything about my grades, until I asked him to do what he promised. Then he changed the rules after the fact.
My dad would always hound me to get a job. Who did I think I was? Did I think I was too good to work? No one would hire me anyway, the way I looked. I was so lazy.
So I got a job.
He then berated me for not getting a job which used my degree. Why was I such an underachiever? How could I so thoughtlessly throw away the education he helped pay for?
So I got a job which used my degree.
He then started nagging me because my job didn’t pay enough. Why didn’t a job which required my degree pay more? Why did I get such a useless degree? Why didn’t they give me more responsibility, it must be something I’m doing wrong at work.
I finally realized it would never be enough. He had no pride in me to give. And because he was unable to give it, he would always flip it and make it about me. Nothing would ever be good enough.
Being oppositional means doing the opposite of what you ask them to do, or refusing to do what is asked of them. Since most narcissists are utterly convinced that the rules do not apply to them, attempts to hold them to the rules will result in an increase in oppositional behavior. They will do it to the point of absurdity. They will do it to the point that it harms them. They will refuse to do something just because you asked them to, just to spite you or invoke a power play. If you ask a narcissist to stop doing something, they will do it more. If you ask them to go left, they will go right. The more pressure you apply to get them to follow the rule, the more perverse they become, to the point of being bizarre, maddening, or even comical.
Jill is the executive director of a non profit organization. She is working on a grant and needs the board members and upper management to sign conflict of interest forms as part of the grant requirement. Everyone readily signs the form and sends it back to her, except Mark. She has to track Mark down before a meeting and ask him to sign it. He tells her he will sign it later. She asks him to sign it now, she is working under a deadline and needs this last document to complete the grant packet. Mark makes a huge display of what an imposition this is . Jill holds her ground. Mark then says he needs to read over it first. He elaborately makes a cup of coffee (she wouldn’t begrudge him a simple cup of coffee would she?), spends several minutes looking for his glasses, spends several more minutes finding the right chair, then sits down and spends several more minutes reading the one page form. He then carefully and pointedly signs his name and the date. He sighs a bit, turns it over and around a bit then painfully hands it to Jill and goes into the meeting. Jill breathes a sigh of relief, until she looks at it more closely. He signed in the executive director’s slot instead of the employee’s. She goes into the meeting, asks Mark to come out and asks him to sign the right place. Another 15 minutes of labored sighing, complaining, deliberate coffee making, going to the bathroom, and finding the right pen and chair. Jill goes off to do something else and comes back to find a form which is signed - with the wrong date. Having dealt with Mark before, she decides not to be held hostage by his behavior. She pulls him out of the meeting again, notes the incorrect date and tells him she will make a note that he refused to sign the form. Mark explodes! Just because he made a simple mistake, just because he wanted to take the time to look at what he was signing, how can Jill be so petty?! He can’t believe it! He continues to rant at Jill, he follows her down the hall as she tries to leave, he blocks her with his body so she can’t leave. She pushes past him and goes out to her car. He continues to follow her trying to block her from getting into her car with his body. All the while ranting about how “petty” she is being.
"There is nothing passive about my aggression."
Passive aggressiveness is covert, or hidden, hostility. It is anger and resentment cloaked as compliance, compliment or courtesy. It is saying “yes”, but doing “no”. It is smiling in your face, then stabbing you in the back. It is saying something really nasty, then downplaying or denying it. It happens when someone appears to be passively going along, but they are really being aggressive. This can take many forms:
They are constantly late for everything. They may just be 15 minutes late, but they are consistently 15 minutes late. They may only be late for events which are important to you, but on time for things they want to do. They may constantly say, “I’m coming” but they don’t come or they are late.
This is an act of contempt for other people and other people’s time. It can be an attention-getting device (everyone is waiting for them), a power move (everyone is waiting on them) or a hostile move (agreeing to come, but being late).
Chronic forgetfulness can also be passive aggressive behavior. “Honey, will you take out the trash?” “Yes.” But they forget to do it every, single time. They may also employ aggression by omission, they purposefully “forget” to tell you something important, “Oh, I thought you knew.”
Wishy Washy/Waffling Communication
Avoiding concrete communication about issues so they can’t be held to what they agreed on.
You: “Can you take care of this on your way home from work?”
Them: “Hmph.” They may add a nod of the head or shrug of the shoulder suggesting the “Hmph” is a “yes”.
Next day, You: “You didn’t pick that up after work?”
Them: “No, why would I?”
You: “I thought you said you would.”
Them: “I never said that.”
Bill Cosby told the story of his wife waking him up on Saturday morning and asking him to get up and feed the children breakfast. He didn’t want to, but she insisted. He went downstairs and found chocolate cake and grapefruit juice in the kitchen, so that’s what he fed the children. She came down to see what was going on, caught him and sent him out of the kitchen - which was exactly where he wanted to go, back to bed.
Narcissists may feign incompetence or helplessness in a passive aggressive maneuver to avoid doing what they don’t want to do. Sabotaging something, completing the task but making a mess of it, willful incompetence. When you call them on it, their response? “You always have to have everything be so perfect.”
They never get around to doing something they don’t want to do. When you confront them about? “I didn’t know you meant now.”
The Angry Smile
The angry smile, “Sure, I’d be happy to”, but they throw it in the trash, or “lose” it, or ignore it
“I tried to do it but was too sick, you can’t expect me to do it when I’m sick can you?”
A really nasty comment followed by, “I was only joking” or “Can’t you tell when someone is joking?” This can also be; critical jokes, off-color jokes, humor which targets a specific person
The Silent Treatment
This can take several forms; pouting, not responding to texts/calls/emails, inappropriate grunts, one word answers, inattention, being generally unavailable. This is much more powerful than it sounds, especially if the recipient is a minor child. What the narcissist is insinuating with their silent treatment (and with Withdrawal, below) is they will abandon you if you don’t do what they want. Children require parents in order to survive. A child cannot go out and get a job and pay the rent. They require an adult. For the adult to threaten abandonment is a very powerful threat.
Withdrawal; of financial support, from the relationship, of their contribution to shared goals, of sex, of communication can be a form of passive aggression.
Indirect shows of strength such as; banging things, slamming doors, destroying property, being aggressive or cruel people who are smaller or weaker than them, i.e. children or animals
Deliberately delaying or preventing a process or change.
“You did that really well for someone who barely graduated from high school.” They take special care to attack you where you are especially vulnerable.
Withdrawing with a mumbled, “Fine” or “Whatever”.
Gossiping or criticizing you to a third party to negatively affect their opinion of you. They may combine this with playing the victim, pulling the third party to their side, garnering sympathy for all they put up with from you.
Pathologizing is when a narcissist convinces you that your emotions, thoughts or behaviors are abnormal. They usually employ this tactic when something you are doing is deleterious to the them.
Pathologizing Your Emotions
Because they lack empathy, your emotions often make them very uncomfortable for many reasons:
There is a danger your emotional reaction to their bad behavior will expose their dysfunction.
Your emotions require a response which they are incapable of giving, and this makes them uncomfortable and possibly very aware of their deficiencies.
They don’t want other people to see your reaction and, as a result, have themselves cast in a bad light.
Your emotions also draw attention to you and away from them.
Finally, they view your emotions as an inconvenience, something they may have to attend to, which is a huge imposition.
In order to make themselves more comfortable and deflect responsibility, they pathologize your emotions.
“Don’t be such a cry baby.”
“Stop whining and get over it.”
“You’re so emotional.”
“Don’t be such a drama queen.”
“Oh, you always make such a fuss.”
“Why do you always overreact?”
“How weak must you be to let others affect you like this?”
Your anger is especially threatening to them. Your anger empowers you to stand up to them, to fight back. Narcissist families are especially intolerant of your anger and work hard to squelch it. If they can’t squelch it, they pathologize it.
My mother had no boundaries whatsoever. She would just let herself into my room and go through my things, bust in on me in the bathroom, take whatever she wanted from my belongings, and yeah, I got mad. But it did no good. No matter how outrageous her behavior was, when I got mad about it, she should collapse into a heap, crying and sobbing, complaining about how mean I was to her. How could I be so “aggressive”? She didn’t know how she had raised such a violent daughter. And all I did was yell at her for bursting into the bathroom and to get out. That was her definition of “aggressive”.
They resent you being happy. Perhaps it’s because they can’t be truly happy themselves, perhaps it’s because you dare to have fun without them, perhaps it’s because you aren’t paying attention to them. Whatever their reasoning, they will pathologize even your happiness.
My aunt would always call us names when we were laughing and having fun, “the silly sisters” or “the nitty wits”, really disparaging names. To this day I have trouble really having fun because I have this deep down feeling there is something wrong with it.
Pathologizing Your Thoughts and Ideas
Narcissists expect you to hold the same thoughts and beliefs as they do. Independent thinking, having ideas contrary to theirs, holding beliefs which are different from theirs is not tolerated. They also don’t tolerate you questioning them, disagreeing with them, or challenging their outrageous claims or behaviors. They will also squelch any dreams, hopes, or ideas about establishing your independence from them and sabotage your efforts to succeed.
I decided to stand up to my narcissistic father one year and refuse to go on the family vacation, which was always a nightmare. His response? “You’re not normal.”
Pathologizing Your Behaviors
Especially any attempts at any independence, or expressing an opinion contrary to their own.
When I was a kid, I used to like to keep my room really neat and nice. The rest of the house was chaos. My mother was a bit of a slob and felt like she should have a maid to wait on her. She didn’t think she should have to do lowly housework. She was always a raving narcissist. So the house was a mess and Mom was a mess. My only sanctuary was my room, where it was quiet and nice. But my mom would make nasty remarks about it, probably because it accentuated her sloppiness, “Why do you have to be such a neat freak?” If she messed up something which belonged to me and I complained, I was a “control freak”. She just had to make it about me, instead of her.
My parents actually brought out the DSM 5 and tried to use it to say I had antisocial personality disorder. They cited my “authority issues” as evidence. Any time I didn’t do what they wanted, they said it was because I was antisocial. When I finally got away from them and got to a therapist, I was diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder from having dealt with them. I was relieved, but angry too. I had spent so much time and energy worrying that I might really be antisocial. The therapist said the fact that I cared that I was antisocial indicated I probably wasn’t. She also explained projection to me and that just made everything make sense. They were projecting their defect onto me.
They present their opinions as if they are facts.
Our mother lived in a different state than all of her children. It was the state where she had always lived and all of her friends were there. The nursing home was the one she had put her father in and where she had said she wanted to be placed if she ever needed that level of care. She stayed there for about two years, without incident. However, our brother suddenly decided she couldn’t stay there and started making plans to move her to the state where he lived. He announced, “she can’t live there alone” and everyone started discussing where to move her. Then, I realized what had happened. He just stated, “she can’t live there alone” as if it were a fact. It wasn’t. She had stayed there more than two years with no problems. He just wanted her where he would have more control over her (and her money). I caught the manipulation and stopped the dialogue about where to move her and backed it up to, “can she live alone there?” We decided she could and the attempt to manipulate everyone into moving Mom ended there.
Projection is when someone takes their negative; emotions, behaviors, or thoughts and assigns them to (projects them onto) others. In short, they accuse you of doing what they are doing. Narcissists will often project their character deficits onto you. If you don’t recognize what they are doing, you may actually believe you are doing what they are accusing you of. When you do recognize what they are doing, it can be almost comical what little insight they have into their own behavior.
I once told my mother I would no longer take her to the grocery store. She was perfectly capable of taking herself. She had a conniption fit! At first she was incensed and yelled her head off. That didn’t work. She then lapsed into crying and sobbing and accusing me of failing to be a good daughter. That didn’t work. She then snarled at me that we would talk about this when I was no longer hysterical. Me. Hysterical. I almost laughed out loud.
Puppeteering is the act of pulling other people’s strings so they are doing what you want. A narcissist may even indoctrinate people to the point they parrot what the narcissist thinks or wants. Narcissists frequently utilize this technique to manipulate the people around you. They may turn your entire family against you, they may manipulate everyone at your work or school. But it will all be done behind your back. One day, everything is fine, the next, everyone is treating you differently and you have no idea what happened. It’s crazy making and frustrating. You feel like everything just shifted, but no one will tell you what happened. Naturally, you assume you did something because you don’t see the machinations of the narcissist. The narcissist has gone to each of them separately and is pulling their strings. You may even hear them parroting the narcissist’s words, using language that is foreign to them, or doing things that were previous unknown to them.
When my mother went into the nursing home, my sister swooped in with psychopathic efficiency and took control of everything. She coldly bullied my mother into signing over her power of attorney, her medical power of attorney and control of all her assets. We live in a small, Southern town where everyone knows everyone else. We had known these people all our lives and always had a good relationship with them. But now there was money on the table and a psychopath in play. She brainwashed everyone in my mother’s world; her attorney, her money manager, her nurses, her doctor, even the aide who took care of her. I’ll never know what she told them, but she turned them all against my brother and I. As a result, these trained professionals refused to talk to me or my brother about anything. If I asked the nurse how my mother was doing today, she would tell me to ask my sister. This is my mother too, you know?! My sister had taken control of my mother’s money and refused to give her any spending money for toiletries or anything. When my mother complained to my brother and I, we tried to talk to her money manager about her money. The man we had known for years suddenly wouldn’t talk to us, even on my mother’s behalf. I’ll never know what my sister told him, but she totally had him, and everyone else, wrapped around her finger. These were professionals whose professions require them to function within ethical and professional guidelines. But they all got played by a psychopath. It was so creepy, and it seemed to happen overnight. Everything was fine, then, suddenly, it wasn’t. We couldn’t figure out what happened. Then someone let it slip, what my sister had been telling them. We were stunned at how completely, how totally, how effortlessly, she controlled them all. It was so bad that I was talking to my mother on the phone one day and the aide walked in and caught her talking to me. She deftly took the phone away, told me my mother had to go now and ended the conversation. My sister had even manipulated the aide. She hadn’t missed a single person, no matter how big or small a role they had in my mother’s life.
Their primary way of justifying their behavior is rationalization. This is especially true of antisocials. Since their emotions are seriously impaired, they lean heavily on rationalizing. They will rationalize you into most anything. Because they lack empathy and remorse, they can also rationalize themselves into anything. They will rationalize that someone “deserved” what they did to them, “if they didn’t want me to steal their paycheck, they shouldn’t have left it laying out on the desk”. They will justify their scathing remarks as “just telling the truth” stealing music on the internet is all right because “everyone else is doing it”. They will blame the victim, “it’s not my fault you got gonorrhea from me, you should have worn a condom if you didn’t want an STD”. They will even justify their behavior by claiming altruistic motives:
Alicia, an antisocial, wants to control her aging mother as a way of getting hold of her money. Her brothers, Javier and Eduardo want what is best for their mother. Alicia lives in Los Angeles, their mother in Dallas and Javier and Eduardo in Houston. Their mother has made it very clear that she wants to remain in the city where she has always lived, Dallas. But Alice wants to get control of her to justify taking all the money. She tells Javier and Eduardo that it is “best for mother” if she is nearer family. However, she is near family because Javier and Eduardo are within driving distance of her. What Alice really means is she wants their mother to be near her, but she will not phrase it that way. She is doing what she wants, but stating it as if it were for her mother’s best interests. She is rationalizing her antisocial behavior.
Narcissists often redefine reality by making up falsehoods and presenting them as fact. This can cause survivors to question their own perception of reality. As a result, survivors often distrust themselves to accurately assess what is happening and make good decisions about it. This can lead survivors to doubt and distrust themselves as well as experience a great deal of anxiety. Narcissists can be shameless in their misrepresentations of what has happened and unflappable in maintaining their version of reality is the truth - even in the face of undeniable evidence to the contrary.
My ex-husband, a narcissist, had a long history of disputing what he had told me. He would always claim I had “misunderstood” what he said. So I moved to text so I would have it in writing. On his visitation day, he texted me that he would pick up the kids at 6 p.m. We waited and waited. He finally showed up at 7:45. The kids were tired from waiting and hungry because they were waiting to go to dinner with him. But I was relieved I had it in writing, because I thought that would avoid the petty arguing about my understanding of what he said. I was wrong. When I confronted him about his lateness he blew up and said he never said 6 pm, he said 8 pm and he was actually early. I tried to show him the text, but he brushed it away and dismissed it saying, “that’s not what I texted”. Seriously? Did aliens take over your phone and send false texts? I couldn’t believe it. He still denies it to this day.
Narcissists will often rewrite history. This is closely related to gaslighting and redefining reality, but instead of simply denying that they did or said something, they will change the story completely. They may do it to deny culpability, they may do it to further their grandiosity, but they all do it. They will even have the audacity to deny things they themselves wrote, such as emails or Facebook postings. This is serious crazy-making behavior as it calls into question your memory of events.
One of their favorite historical rewrites is to cast themselves as the victim. They mistreat you in some way, you confront them about it, and they rewrite the story to say they were victimized by you.
You: “Mom, you gave away my computer without asking. That was my computer and had all my music on it. How could you just give it away without asking me?!”
Narcissist Mom: “After all we’ve done for you! You’ve always been such an ungrateful child! I can’t believe you are getting upset about some old computer you’ve had since the 8th grade!”
The Doting Parent
Another favorite rewrite is to cast themselves as the loving parent. If they can pathologize you in some way, then portray themselves as the long suffering, loving parent of a wayward child, it is even better.
Narcissist Parent: “You know Eddie is back in rehab again. I don’t know how much more we can take. We have been through so much with that child and nothing seems to help.” (This is the same parent who allowed her boyfriend to molest Eddie through much of his childhood, the reason behind his drug addiction. But that is never mentioned.)
The Great Benefactor
They donate money, but only to 501c3s so they can write it off, and only for the amount they can write off. Not one penny more. Then then portray themselves as being so generous. But they do absolutely nothing for anyone in their lives and they give nothing. See: Gifting
The Center of the Universe
I was in a meeting with a coworker who had to be a narcissist. She suggested an idea which everyone listened too, but ultimately dismissed. Later, I heard her telling someone how she had presented such a fantastic idea that the entire group had applauded her genius. I was stunned. That simply was not how it happened.
Stealing your Ideas
My business partner would poo-poo every idea I ever came up with. He would tear it completely apart. Then, six months later, he would present the same idea as his own telling everyone how he came up with such a great idea. He would even have invented a story about how he came up with the idea.
They resent any happiness or success you might have, especially if it doesn’t include or reflect back onto them. A trophy child is wonderful if they make you look like parent of the year. However, if it doesn’t serve the narcissist, they may sabotage your efforts.
They may “forget” to give you important messages.
They may disparage you to family, friends or important people in your life behind your back.
They may tear down your ideas to discourage you from succeeding.
They may spend the rent money on a luxury item for themselves.
They may get drunk at your birthday party and ruin your special event with their bad behavior.
When I confronted my mother about her physical and psychological abuse of me she answered, "I did that because you were always crazy (referring to bipolar disorder). I had no choice!"
A sanity attacks attempts to target your mental health as the source of the problem rather than the narcissist’s bad behavior. They may use your mental health diagnosis as an excuse for their bad behavior. They may use your mental health diagnosis to call into question your memories or perception of events. Either way, they are trying to make it about you to distract from their bad behavior.
While at school today, you see someone wearing your favorite sweater. This person used to be a friend of yours, but every time they came over to the house your mother spent the entire time flirting with and talking to them. She made it obvious she preferred them to you to such an extent that you had to stop being friends with them. You now notice them wearing what appears to be your favorite sweater. You ask the person and they confirm that your mom gave it to them. You go home, find it missing and ask where it is. Your mother denies knowing anything about it. When you tell her you know what happened to it she says, “I told you I didn’t take it. Why would I do that? You are always making things up. Have you taken your medications today?” Two weeks later she contradicts herself and tells you she gave it to the other person because, “it looked better on her.”
Narcissists engage in smear campaigns against you, slandering your good name and calling your integrity into question. This often occurs when the two of you have a dispute or a falling out. Social media is their favorite medium because they can reach everyone you both know in one fell swoop. They will do this for various reasons:
Preemptive strike - Fearing you will criticize them or engage in a smear campaign against them (because that is what they would do), they lash out, trying to get in the first shot.
Retaliation - This one is simple; pure, unadulterated payback.
Spin - A lot of times they will engage in smear campaigns in order to make sure people hear their version of what happened between you. They want to control how the story is told.
Splitting - They try to pull the people who know you both over to their side of the argument.
Bullying - They may threaten a smear campaign in order to bully or intimidate you into doing what they want. They have no qualms about outright lying or slandering your good name if you refuse to meet their demands. Social media makes this especially efficient, far-reaching and devastating. In a matter of minutes they can reach everyone of your Facebook contacts. Many survivors will give in to the narcissist’s demands in order to avoid a smear campaign.
Splitting - Let’s You and Him Fight
Splitting refers to driving a wedge between people, turning people against each other, or pitting them against each other. This is usually done to divide and conquer, or as a manipulation to get what they want. This also isolates people and prevents them from comparing notes about the narcissist or banning together against them. They will pit their children against each other in order to fight for the narcissist’s favor. They will play their children against the other parent. As a friend, they will pit friends against each other. As a boss, they will have their employees vying with each other for the narcissist boss’ attention and favor. This keeps everyone a little off balance. It also keeps them from busy fighting with each other instead of looking at the narcissist.
An example of splitting is frequently seen in the family dynamics of narcissistic families: the golden child and the scapegoat. One child will be the scapegoat. Another child will be the golden child, the favorite. The golden child can do no wrong. They are the exemplary child the family presents to everyone; the straight A student, the winning athlete, etc. As an adult, this child is the financially successful child, the perfect mother. The scapegoat can do no right. The scapegoat will also be blamed for any wrong doing done by any member of the family, especially the narcissist parents. If Dad drinks too much it’s because the scapegoat drives him to it with their bad behavior. “Mom lost her temper because you cause her so much trouble”. The scapegoat is frequently the child who fights back and calls the narcissistic parent on their bad behavior. However, they can also be a child with anything about them which the narcissistic parent views as negative; a disabled child, an LGBT child, or a child with a substance abuse problem. Narcissistic parents can also do this by playing favorites with the children who do their bidding and don’t contest them being their favorites while children who do nothing are ignored and children who contest them are targeted.
Narcissistic splitting is not limited to the family. They employ it in every relationship group they have whether it is at work or in their friend group. They constantly keep people at odds with one another.
My business partner was a huge narcissist and was never wrong about anything. We worked on a ranch and were always running out of horse feed, which was her job. As a result, the horses would miss a meal until someone made an emergency run to the feed store. When I asked her why she hadn’t ordered horse feed she always blamed the owner of the feed store saying she had called him but he hadn’t delivered it yet. She said this all the time, blaming him for feed not being delivered on schedule. And it was all a lie. He was delivering it, she wasn’t calling it in. She had done business with this man for more than a decade. In the past, with her own ranch, he was even kind enough to give her credit when she ran short of funds. But she had no qualms about throwing him under the bus to cover her own incompetence. At first I believed her. She even watched me call him to ask why he didn’t deliver the feed yet and never said a thing. Though he was very well respected in the community, he and I always had a very contentious relationship and I never knew why, until I found out I was accusing him of not delivering something which had never been ordered from him in the first place. I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe she would lie about him like that. I also couldn’t believe she would watch me accuse an innocent man and say nothing.
I later learned that she did that with everyone at the organization; the board of directors, the volunteers, the staff. She would split them off from me and tell them all kinds of things to keep drama going, to keep us at odds with each other, and to keep the focus off of her. She was especially interested in keeping me off balance and isolated from them. She worked very hard to ally them with her - against me. I really couldn’t believe it. And this was my partner. Needless to say the partnership did not last.
Stonewalling is the act of refusing to communicate. Whether they refuse to talk, refuse to answer, stall, evade, shut you down or just walk off they’re stonewalling. They may bail on a conversation, refuse to take you seriously and laugh it off. They may ignore, dismiss and trivialize your concerns. They may express boredom with you and/or the conversation. They may smile, impassively and pretend to listen while thinking about something else. They may pretend to have forgotten what you told them. They may just walk off while you are talking to them.
However they express their stonewalling, it is either an expression of contempt (you aren't worth my time and attention) or it is a maneuver to extract themselves from a situation they are losing (you have provided a piece of evidence or argument they can’t refute, so they are shutting down the dialogue). They may portray you as a nag or a bore who “doesn’t know when to stop talking” or who’s “always trying to start something”. They may cast you as the angry one who just can’t let it go. They may portray you as the crazy one who keeps harassing them unnecessarily while they are doing nothing. But it’s really them stonewalling.
It’s important to note that I am not referring to actual, authentic feelings of suicide in this section. Feeling suicidal is a very serious mental state which should be taken very seriously. It is a horrible place to be in and should never be trivialized or ignored. I also want to state, unequivocally, that the borderline’s feelings of suicidality are real - and lethal. People with borderline personality disorder commit suicide at a rate 50 times higher than the general population.
So I want to be very, very clear here. I am not talking about genuine feelings of suicidality, or genuine threats to commit suicide. I’m talking about someone who is not depressed, is not hopeless, who has no intention of ending their life, but is threatening suicide as a manipulation. This may be the most unscrupulous manipulation a narcissist uses. It’s even more heinous when it’s used against children. A child’s life literally depends on their parents’ existence. A child can’t get a job and pay the rent. They rely on adults for their very lives. Having a parent who flippantly threatens suicide if you don’t clean your room is is a threat to the child’s very sense of safety and security in the world. Many adult survivors have been severely traumatized by this behavior. They may fear making a simple mistake, having an unexplainable feeling that someone will die if they do, because it was threatened when they were a child.
"I'd kill myself if it wasn't for your brother.
"I've nearly committed suicide several times because you're such a disappointment, I must have completely failed as a mother!"
Triangulation is a manipulation tactic where one person will not communicate directly with another. Instead, a third person (person 3) carries the message from person 1 to person 2, creating a triangle. Triangling can take several forms and serve different purposes. The red flag is always when someone is delivering a message to you - from someone else. Why? There can be several reasons:
To be the center of communication, so everything flows through them, making them feel attended to or important
To ensure that everyone communicates through them, but remains isolated themselves
To use communications as a way to drive a wedge between two other parties, often by scapegoating one of the parties, blaming them for the bad behaviors of the narcissist
To maintain control of one party by controlling communication between them and their family and friends
To put a third party between the narcissist and someone they are constantly in conflict with. Rather than communicating with them directly, the narcissist sends communications which make his case through a third party to make his claims seem more credible
I’ll never forget the last Christmas I spent with my family. My aunt (Martha) and uncle bickered the entire time. My sister (Nancy) was screaming at her kids the entire time. The drama was rampant - and constant. I’m an introvert, so social interactions are draining anyway. But all the drama really exhausted me. I admit I got irritated a couple of times. When I started getting irritable, I would excuse myself and go play a puzzle or something more quiet. I was really proud of myself for that. I realized I was getting frustrated, I took responsibility for it and I did something about it. Yeah for me! Then, enter the narcissists. Several weeks later, we’re all back home and I get a phone call from my aunt Martha. We were talking and she said to me, “Nancy asked me, ‘Why did aunt Francine get so irritable at Christmas?’” I totally crumbled. I felt just awful and started thinking that my irritability had ruined Christmas for everyone. I was such an awful person, why did they even bother inviting me? Then, a few days later it hit me. The screamer asked the bickerer why I was so irritable? Really????? I couldn’t believe it. I finally realized how they shamed me into thinking I was the only one with a problem. I couldn’t believe it. And I realized they’d been doing that to me my entire life.
Trivializing is very closely related to being dismissive (See: Dismissive, above). It is making something less important than it is in order to downplay it or as an excuse to disregard it. They may be trivializing something important which happened to you. It can be something disastrous:
"Yeah ok, I made fun of you after you were sexually assaulted, but you come late to school and inconvenience me which is basically worse."
It can also be something really good:
“Ohh, whoop-te-do, you got a gift for your birthday. You’re such a drama queen.”
Or they may be trivializing their bad behavior.
"Emotional abuse is a bunch of bullshit. People who say they were abused with words are babies and need to grow up."
Victim, Playing the Victim
One of their favorite manipulations is also one of their most mind blowing. At the peak of their abuse of you, when confronted with their behavior, they will flip the script and accuse you of abusing them. Ironically, narcissists, while abusing and manipulating everyone in their lives, view themselves as the ultimate victim. And this is a powerful manipulation. It really plays on your empathy and easily sucks you into defending yourself. They are especially apt to accuse you of abusing them when you confront them about their abusive behavior toward you.
“I couldn’t believe it! I was trying to confront my partner for lying to me about how much money he spent on clothes last month, totally exceeding what we agreed on and wrecking our budget. He kept denying it and made up all kinds of excuses about how the store made a mistake. So I called him on his lying. What did he do? He got miffed and told me how hurt he was that I would accuse him of lying. I started sputtering and muttering, trying to explain that I didn’t mean to hurt him and how I really thought he had bought the clothes. Then the light came on - he had played me. I couldn’t believe it. He was the one who broke the budget. He was the one who lied about it. But he somehow had me apologizing for it.
Skilled narcissists will even score a preemptive strike by telling people how they anticipate you will “abuse” them before you do it.
“You know Melissa and I are about to break up. I’m so upset. I can just see her spreading all kinds of lies about me. I’m so afraid people will believe her.”
The depths of their victim playing knows no bounds. They will accuse their children of abusing them:
“When my sister and I tried to tell my mom she was being abusive, she would turn it around and say we were “ganging up” on her. As adults, she still accuses us of ganging up on her. She claims she would have been a better mom if I had been a better child. Sure. Her bad behavior was my fault.”
They will even enlist elderly parents lying in the ICU to perpetuate their claims:
Our elderly mother was in the ICU with a serious staph infection. She was so sick she would come in and out of a delirium where she couldn’t remember where she was or recognize her own children. Because of her age and the severity of the infection, her doctors were very concerned whether she was going to make it or not. We were terrified. Since there were three of us, we decided to divide up a 24 hour day into three 8 hour shifts. One morning, after I was coming off the late night shift the three of us met for breakfast. My sister who is antisocial blithely announced she was tired and didn’t feel like taking her shift. My other sister and I were stunned and angry. Did she really expect us to just double our shifts because she was tired? Did she not think the rest of us were tired too? We confronted her about her thoughtlessness and she got up and left. She later went to Mom in the ICU and told her my sister and I were ganging up on her again. She had Mom convinced that she was being horribly mistreated by me and my sister. My sister and I had no idea she was doing this. It would never occur to us to take it to Mom. When my sister went in to stay with my mother, my mother was very upset thinking that her children were not getting along. We were absolutely stunned. Apparently my other sister was too tired to watch Mom, but not too tired to stir up drama with an elderly woman who was fighting for her life.
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