A question that many people have after realizing that they have a narcissist in their lives is, “Why do I feel so crazy when I am around the narcissist in my life?”
As a general rule, narcissists use manipulation tactics such as gaslighting, projection, baiting, ghosting, future faking, triangulation, hoovering, and intermittent reinforcement to make you feel crazy.
This article is going to guide you through each one of these manipulation tactics so that you can grasp a comprehensive understanding of how narcissists make you feel crazy.
Gaslighting is a manipulation tactic that a narcissist will use to get you to question your sanity, memories, and/or perception of reality.
It occurs when they doubt or deny reality.
For example, imagine that you confronted the narcissist in your life because they said something mean to you (image below).
Instead of taking responsibility for their actions, they responded with, “What are you talking about? That never happened.“
Over time, having these types of interactions with the narcissist will manipulate you into feeling crazy because you will constantly be questioning your own sanity, memories, and/or perception of reality.
Projection is a defense mechanism that occurs when someone takes the parts of their identity that they find unacceptable and places them onto someone else.
For example, a woman who feels insecure about being overweight mocking her younger sister for being overweight instead of acknowledging her own insecurities about her weight.
For narcissists, the parts of their identity that they find unacceptable are the painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions that they have suppressed within themselves.
What are we talking about?
Well, believe it or not, deep down narcissists feel unlovable, unwanted, inadequate, worthless, and weak.
But unfortunately, they have such low emotional intelligence that they can’t manage these painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions through healthy forms of regulation.
What they do instead is use projection to place all of their painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions onto others.
For example, imagine that you are in a romantic relationship with a narcissist and they cheat on you.
Surprisingly, cheating triggers a narcissist’s painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions.
Not because they know that they have betrayed someone’s trust, but because they know that it contradicts the grandiose self-perception that they have.
To manage the thoughts, feelings, and emotions that they are experiencing, the narcissist will simply project them onto you by accusing you of cheating,“I know that you are cheating on me, just admit it!”
Over time, these types of interactions can manipulate you into feeling crazy because of how convincing a narcissist can be when they are projecting their stuff onto others.
This is projection and is the reason why abusing and manipulating others helps narcissists maintain emotional stability.
Our article “Why Do Narcissists Use Projection?” has a lot of helpful information about the role projection plays in narcissistic relationships.
Baiting is a manipulation tactic that occurs when a narcissist says or does something manipulative to get you to engage in a negative interaction with them.
For example, imagine that the narcissist in your life knew that you were insecure about your acne and said something mean about it (image below).
This would be considered a form of baiting because what they are trying to do is make you upset, angry, self-conscious, etc., so that you engage in a negative interaction with them.
Why would they want to do this?
Generally speaking, narcissists want you to engage in a negative interaction with them so that they can portray you in a negative light and victimize themselves (image below).
Over time, having these types of interactions with the narcissist is going to make you feel crazy because of how good they are at portraying you in a negative light/victimizing themselves even though they are the one abusing you.
Ghosting is the practice of ending a personal relationship with someone by suddenly withdrawing from all communication without explanation.
The reason that ghosting can make you feel crazy is because it can trigger your deepest insecurities and vulnerabilities.
For example, when you get ghosted, it is very common to want to try to get back in touch with the person who has ghosted you for reassurance.
Reassurance about what?
Well, you probably are going to want to know what happened, if you did something wrong, if you will ever hear from them, if there is something that you can do to fix things, and so on.
But unfortunately, narcissists are never going to give you the reassurance that you are searching for and it is for this reason that being ghosted by a narcissist can make you feel crazy.
Our article “Why Do Narcissists Ghost You“ walks you through the five reasons that narcissists have a habit of ghosting the people that they abuse.
The term “future faking” refers to a manipulation tactic that occurs when a narcissist makes a false promise in the future to get you to do what they want in the present.
For example, if the narcissist in your life knows that you want to get a new car so they say, “Hey I will buy you a new car if you quit your job and come work for me.”
This is future faking because the narcissist has no intention of buying you a new car. They are just using future faking to make you financially dependent on them.
You end up quitting your job but the narcissist never buys you a car and gives you a terrible salary. One day you decide to confront the narcissist about the false promise they made and the tough situation that they put you in, but they gaslight you.
They say, “What are you talking about? I never asked you to quit your job and I gave you an opportunity to work for me so you wouldn’t end up homeless. You should really be more grateful.“
Over time, having these types of interactions with the narcissist is going to make you feel crazy because you will be constantly questioning your sanity, memories, and/or perception of reality.
In our article “What Is Future Faking And Why Do Narcissists Do It?“ there is a lot of information that will help you grasp a better understanding of what future faking is and how narcissists use it to control you.
In this podcast episode we speak about future faking with Australian Counsellor and Narcissistic Abuse Specialist Nicki Paull.
When a narcissist turns a one-on-one situation into a two-on-one situation by involving a third party, it is called triangulation.
By recruiting a third party, narcissists are able to create a power imbalance and dominate the situation.
For example, imagine that you are in an argument with the narcissist in your life and they say something mean to you (image below).
This makes you upset so you try to hold them accountable for their actions.
Instead of taking responsibility for their actions, the narcissist begins to triangulate you with their ex by saying something like, “Wow you can’t take constructive criticism at all. I knew that I should have never left my ex.”
This is triangulation because the narcissist is bringing a third party into the one-on-one situation that you are having with them.
Being triangulated can create a lot of self-doubt, paranoia, anxiety, self-blame, fear, and it can make you feel crazy.
Hoovering is a manipulation tactic that occurs when a narcissist says and/or does exactly what you need to hear and/or see to give them another chance.
For example, imagine that you have had it with your narcissistic parents and decide to move out of the house for good.
A few days before you are scheduled to move out, your narcissistic parents say, “We are so sorry for what has happened. We love you so much so we have started going to therapy to fix our issues. We can’t imagine living here without you. Please stay.
This would be considered hoovering.
Being hoovered by a narcissist is terribly confusing because on one end of things, you know that the narcissist is abusive. But on the other end of things, the narcissist is claiming, and sometimes showing, that they are ready/willing to change.
This contradiction between the behavior you experience and the information that you are given can be overwhelming and make you feel like you are going crazy.
Here’s Your Free Guide:
If you would like to learn more about the five types of hoovering that narcissists use to make you feel crazy, click here to download our free guide to all of them.
Intermittent reinforcement is the delivery of a reward at irregular intervals.
When a narcissist senses that you are no longer a reliable source of narcissistic supply, they will use intermittent reinforcement.
When does this happen?
Well, the most common reason that you wouldn’t be a reliable source of supply is because you have checked out of the relationship.
This could be because you know that you are dealing with a narcissist so you have started to use the Gray Rock Method.
Or it could be because the abuse that you are experiencing is becoming too much to handle and you have emotionally checked out of the relationship.
Regardless of which reason it is, the narcissist in your life will not like you checking out of the relationship so they will often use intermittent reinforcement to drag you back into the relationship.
After months, years, or even decades of narcissistic abuse, you are likely so emotionally starved that all a narcissist has to do is give you the slightest amount of empathy, compassion, or intimacy for the “reward” of intermittent reinforcement.
This “reward” can manipulate you into believing in the relationship again.
In fact, the “reward” of intermittent reinforcement actually 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 to you is it turns the “reward” that the narcissist gives you into your only known source of happiness and it can cause you to develop an addiction to the “reward” that the narcissist gives you.
It goes without mentioning but this can make you feel crazy and intermittent reinforcement is to blame for the continuation of many narcissistic relationships.
Our article “Why Do Trauma Bonds Feel Like an Addiction?“ has a ton of helpful information about how intermittent reinforcement makes the bond between a narcissist and the person they are abusing feel like an addiction.
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.
Pesek-Cotton, Erin F., Joshua E. Johnson, and M. Christopher Newland. “Reinforcing behavioral variability: an analysis of dopamine-receptor subtypes and intermittent reinforcement.”Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior 97.3 (2011): 551-559.
Kwiatkowska, Maria Magdalena, et al. “Narcissism and trust: Differential impact of agentic, antagonistic, and communal narcissism.” Personality and Individual Differences 137 (2019): 139-143.