It goes without saying that narcissists are some of the most controlling people on the planet.
Eight of the most common manipulation tactics that narcissists use to control you are gaslighting, financial abuse, stonewalling, future faking, flying monkeys, narcissistic rage, intermittent reinforcement, and triangulation.
This article is going to guide you through each one of these tactics so that you know what you should be on the lookout for when interacting with the narcissist in your life.
Gaslighting is a manipulation tactic that narcissists use to get you to question your own sanity, memories, and/or perception of reality.
It occurs when they say or do something that doubts or denies reality.
For example, imagine that you are having a conversation with the narcissist in your life.
You say, “Can you please remember to bring my extra pair of shoes when you pick me up from work for the hike?”
The narcissist says, “Yeah no problem.”
When the narcissist comes to pick you up for work, they don’t have the shoes that they said that they would bring you.
You say, “Hey it looks like you forgot to bring my shoes. Can we stop home really quickly to get them?”
They say, “How can I forget to bring something if you never asked me to bring them?”
This would be considered gaslighting because the narcissist is denying reality by claiming that you never asked them to bring your shoes for the hike.
But how do narcissists use gaslighting to control you?
As a general rule, narcissists gaslight you because they want to get you to question your own sanity, memories, and/or perception of reality.
When they are successful in this, narcissists are able to exert power over you by making you more dependent on them for validation and affirmation of your own experiences.
As you can imagine, this allows them to have a significant amount of power and control over you.
Here’s Your Free Guide
Did you know that there are six different types of gaslighting? If not, you can click here to download our free guide to the six different types of gaslighting.
There are three types of financial abuse that narcissists use to try to control you.
First, there is employment sabotage.
This is when the narcissist in your life uses abuse and/or manipulation to get you to quit your job or to prevent you from finding a job.
A simple example of employment sabotage could be the narcissist in your life pressuring you into leaving your job or destroying the materials that you need to work.
Second, there is economic exploitation.
This is when the narcissist in your life intentionally destroys your financial resources and/or credit.
For example, if the narcissist in your life maxed out your credit cards and refused to make payments on it, this would be considered economic exploitation.
Third, there is controlling the finances.
This is when the narcissist in your life uses abuse and/or manipulation to control your financial stability.
A simple example of this type of financial abuse could be the narcissist in your life forcing you to ask for permission to buy things that you need.
Unfortunately, financial abuse is to blame for the continuation of many narcissistic relationship. It is by far one of the most powerful tactics that narcissists use to control others.
Our article “Do Narcissists Use Money to Control Others?“ is a deeper dive into the different ways that narcissists use money to control the people that they abuse.
When someone refuses to participate in the communication or connection of the relationship, it is called stonewalling.
The most obvious form of stonewalling that narcissists use is the silent treatment.
The silent treatment is the refusal to communicate verbally and electronically with someone who is trying to communicate and elicit a response.
It is very common for those experiencing the silent treatment to feel invisible, invalidated, and unimportant.
With that being said, stonewalling can also manifest in the form of gaslighting.
For example, imagine that you are trying to have a conversation with the narcissist in your life because they sold your jewelry without asking for your permission.
Every time you go to speak, the narcissist cuts you off and makes wild accusations that have nothing to do with the topic at hand.
You say, “Why do you feel like you have the right to just sell my stuff?”
They respond with, “Why are you wearing a new perfume? I know that you are cheating on me.”
This is gaslighting because the narcissist is denying reality by distracting you with a different topic. But it is also stonewalling because they are refusing to participate in the conversation with you in an effective manner.
Over time, this can manipulate you into feeling like you don’t have a right to express your thoughts, feelings, and emotions.
This is how narcissists control you with stonewalling.
The term “future faking” refers to a manipulation tactic that occurs when someone makes a false promise in the future to get you to do what they want in the present.
For example, imagine that your narcissistic parents plan a family vacation every summer.
However, this summer you decide that you don’t want to go on vacation because you want to work and save up money for college.
Your narcissistic parent doesn’t like the idea of you skipping summer vacation to work so that you can go to college because they want you to be financially dependent on them.
They say, “You don’t need to waste your entire summer working when I have all of this money. What kind of person would I be if I let you work while I had fun all summer? Just tell me how much you need and I will give it to you right before school starts.”
Now, the narcissist in your life has no intention of giving you the money that you need for college.
They are only making this false promise for the future to get you to do what they want in the present.
This is future faking and it is a very common tactic that narcissists use to control the people that they abuse.
Our article “What Is Future Faking And Why Do Narcissists Do It?“ has a lot of helpful information that will help you grasp a better understanding of how narcissists use future faking to control others.
A flying monkey is a person that a narcissist manipulates into helping them abuse, control, and manipulate others.
The sole purpose of a flying monkey is to isolate, discredit, and control the person being abused by the narcissist.
Because of this, it is common for narcissists to use flying monkeys when they are trying to control you.
For example, imagine that you get in an argument with the narcissist in your life because you feel like they are being too controlling.
It wouldn’t be uncommon for them to try to regain power and control over you by sending a flying monkey to gaslight you.
The flying monkey could say something like, “I think that you are overreacting. They are just trying to keep you safe. You need to be more grateful that you have someone who loves you as much as they do.”
In a perfect world, you would be able to see that this person is a flying monkey and shouldn’t be taken seriously.
But unfortunately, flying monkeys are incredibly difficult to spot.
You see, narcissists often turn the people closest to you into flying monkeys.
Well, it is common for survivors of narcissistic abuse to be the only ones who know just how abusive the narcissist really is.
Narcissists do a really good job at hiding their abusive tendencies so the people on the outside of the relationship often only see their charming, charismatic, confident, and relatively pleasant public persona.
Because of this, they are much more believable when they start to spread lies and gossip about you.
Flying monkeys are a powerful tool that narcissists use to control you.
It is common for survivors of narcissistic abuse to struggle with self-doubt, guilt, shame, and self-blame because of the interactions that they have with the flying monkeys in their life.
Are you curious about how narcissists are able to turn your friends and family into flying monkeys? Our article “How Do Narcissists Get Flying Monkeys?” has a ton of helpful information about this.
Fear is a powerful emotion that narcissists use to control the people that they abuse.
The most common manipulation tactic that they use to create fear is narcissistic rage.
Narcissistic rage is an explosive, unpredictable, and unjustifiable response that narcissists have when they experience narcissistic injuries.
What are narcissistic injuries?
Narcissistic injuries are emotional traumas that overwhelm an individual’s defense mechanisms and devastate their pride and self-worth.
As a general rule, narcissists experience narcissistic injuries when they experience a contradiction to their identity.
For example, a core element of a narcissist’s identity is a grandiose sense of self-importance.
This is an unrealistic sense of specialness and superiority that causes an individual to truly believe that they are unique and better than others.
If you were to tell the narcissist in your life, “You aren’t that special, the world doesn’t revolve around you,” this could cause a narcissistic injury and throw them into a rage that could manifest in the form of physical, sexual, or emotional abuse.
The problem with narcissistic injuries is that narcissists are so fragile that they can be caused by just about anything.
Seriously, a narcissist could go into a rage over something as small as someone drinking water “too” loudly or not texting them back quickly enough.
Over time, being in an environment like this can manipulate you into feeling like you have to constantly walk on eggshells around the narcissist to stay safe.
This can prevent you from feeling comfortable expressing your thoughts, feelings, and emotions and this is how they use narcissistic rage to control you.
Our article “How Long Does Narcissistic Rage Last?“ has a lot of information that can help you grasp a better understanding of narcissistic rage.
Intermittent reinforcement is the delivery of a reward at irregular intervals.
Believe it or not, intermittent reinforcement is actually one of the most powerful manipulation tactics that narcissists use to control you.
Before we explain how, let’s go through an example of it.
Imagine that you have been in a narcissistic relationship for years.
Much like many narcissistic relationships, the beginning stages of yours were amazing.
But now you’re in the middle of the devaluation phase and everything is horrible.
You have tried everything that you could think of to improve the relationship but nothing has worked.
Because of this, you become depressed and start to check out mentally of the relationship.
The narcissist doesn’t like this because it means that you are no longer a reliable source of narcissistic supply.
To change this, they take you out on a very romantic date and make you feel amazing for a few days.
This is intermittent reinforcement. Now, why is this so powerful?
When you receive the “reward” of intermittent reinforcement, it triggers the reward center in your brain and floods your body with dopamine.
Dopamine is the same neurotransmitter that is released when humans abuse drugs like opiates, alcohol, nicotine, amphetamines, and cocaine.
What this does is it turns the “reward” of intermittent reinforcement into your only known source of happiness.
This can cause them to develop an addiction to the narcissist.
According to Harvard Health2, people with an addiction tend to show the three Cs:
- Craving for the object of the addiction, which can be mild to intense
- Loss of control over use of the object of the addiction
- Continued engagement with the object of the addiction in spite of harmful consequences.
The “reward” of intermittent reinforcement causes you to crave the reward, lose sight/control of yourself in pursuit of the reward, and continue to be in the relationship in spite of the harmful consequences.
Intermittent reinforcement is one of the most powerful manipulation tactics that narcissists use to try to control you.
Our article “Why Do Trauma Bonds Feel Like an Addiction?“ has a ton of helpful information that will help you better understand the addiction that intermittent reinforcement often creates.
When someone turns a one-on-one situation into a two-on-one situation by involving a third party, it is called triangulation.
When a narcissist feels like they are losing control over you, it is common for them to try to regain control with triangulation.
For example, imagine that you are having an argument with the narcissist in your life because they hit you.
You confront them by saying, “Don’t ever hit me again or I’ll call the police.”
They try to gaslight you by saying, “I never hit you? Are you f*cking insane?”
But you aren’t phased about this. You know that they are just trying to gaslight you so you don’t fall for their gaslighting.
When they realized this, they decided to bring in a third party to regain control of the situation.
They call their mom and say, “(your name) is trying to say that I hit her. I am calling you so that she can’t make anything else up. I can’t believe this is happening to me in my own home.”
Their mom says, “(your name), that doesn’t sound like my son/daughter, you need to stop lying about domestic violence. There isn’t even a bruise on you. You are invalidating the real victims of domestic violence by pretending to be one.”
This would be considered triangulation.
Unfortunately, the power imbalance that triangulation creates is often so overwhelming for survivors of narcissistic abuse so it gives the narcissist an opportunity to regain control of the situation.
Our article “6 Insightful Examples of Triangulation In Narcissistic Relationships” will give you a better understanding of how narcissists use triangulation to control you.
About the Author
Hey, I’m Elijah.
I experienced narcissistic abuse for three years.
I create these articles to help you understand and validate your experiences.
Thank you for reading, and remember, healing is possible even when it feels impossible.