Manipulation is to blame for the continuation of many narcissistic relationships. The tactics that narcissists use to remain in power and control of their victims are reinforced by narcissists’ infamous ability to manipulate their victim into justifying, rationalizing, and normalizing the abuse that they are experiencing.
The techniques that narcissists use to manipulate you are gaslighting, stonewalling, projection, narcissistic rage, scapegoating, baiting, mirroring, love bombing, future faking, intermittent reinforcement, hoovering, triangulation, and flying monkeys.
In this article you’re going to learn about all of the different forms of manipulation that narcissists use to remain in power and control of your thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs. We’ve also created a short video (see below) that explains different ways that you can manipulate a narcissist without being malicious, immoral, narcissistic, or abusive so that you can drive the narcissist out of your life as quickly as possible.
A Short Video About How You Can Manipulate a Narcissist Without Being Abusive!
When a narcissist doubts or denies reality, it is known as gaslighting. Victims of narcissistic abuse who are exposed to gaslighting on a regular basis will eventually question their own sanity and ability to conceptualize their own perception of reality accurately.
Gaslighting is the most dominant form of manipulation in the narcissistic realm because of how versatile it is. It can manifest in nearly every single narcissistic behavior pattern imaginable and there are five different types of it.
Traditional Gaslighting is when the narcissist will deny or doubt your thoughts, feelings, emotions, or needs (e.g. “I never yelled at you, it is all in that crazy head of yours!”). This type of gaslighting is intense and manipulates you into questioning your own sanity.
Gaslighting by Contradicting Your Reality is when the narcissist contradicts your reality with lies (e.g. “My friends make comments about how crazy you are.”). This type of gaslighting is designed to cause you to second guess yourself.
Gaslighting With Diversions is when the narcissist will avoid having a conversation with you by quickly changing the subject or saying something confusing to distract you from your original point. (e.g. you are talking to the narcissist about stealing money from you and they respond with “You wouldn’t care if I hurt myself would you? You don’t love me, nobody loves me.”)
Gaslighting Through Minimizations is when the narcissist minimizes your thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs. (e.g. “Here we go with that self-victimization sh*t. I wouldn’t even call it domestic abuse, you act like I do it often.”) This type of gaslighting is designed to make you feel like your thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs aren’t worthy of being addressed.
Gaslighting With Ultimatums is when a narcissist will deny your thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs by giving you consequences for expressing them. It is a manipulative tactic that is designed to bully you into silence. (e.g. “You need to be on my side on this or we are done!)
Stonewalling is when a narcissist refuses to participate in the communication and connection in a relationship. Stonewalling can be very subtle, but generally speaking, the three main forms of stonewalling are the silent treatment, Gaslighting With Ultimatums, and intimacy anorexia.
7 Subtle Signs of Stonewalling In a Relationship
- They abruptly walk away from you.
- They pretend to be busy.
- They minimize your thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs.
- They have aggressive body language (e.g. eye-rolling or folding their arms).
- They use obsessive behaviors to avoid having a conversation about the problem that the two of you have (e.g. cleaning, organizing, hoarding, etc.).
- They are ignoring you or pretending that they don’t hear you.
- They are giving you one-word or one-lined answers.
The Silent Treatment
The silent treatment is when a narcissist stops verbally or electronically communicating with you. It is pretty self-explanatory but imagine that you hurt the ego of a narcissist in your life by criticizing something they did. The silent treatment would be if they refused to speak to you, excluded you from a collaborative project, cut you out of the friend group, blocked you on all social media platforms, etc.
Gaslighting With Ultimatums
As we mentioned before, gaslighting with ultimatums is when a narcissist denies your thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs by threatening you for expressing them (e.g. “If you continue to interrogate me like I’m a criminal, I’m going to ACT like one.”).
Dr. Doug Weiss, an internationally recognized licensed psychologist, therapist, intimacy anorexic and sex addiction expert, uses the term intimacy anorexia to explain why some people “actively withhold emotional, spiritual, and sexual intimacy” from a partner.
In a short video (see below) we’ve revealed the result of a survey we did among 300 survivors of narcissistic abuse to determine just how common intimacy anorexia is in narcissistic relationships.
There’s a lot of really important information in the video, including the different signs that you can look out for to determine if the narcissist in your life is purposely avoiding being intimate with you.
A Short Video About Intimacy Anorexia In Narcissistic Relationships
Projection is a defense mechanism that occurs when someone unconsciously takes parts of their identity that they find unacceptable and places them onto another person (e.g. a husband feels really guilty for kissing one of his coworkers on a business trip but instead of accepting his feelings he projects them onto his wife by accusing her of cheating on him).
There are two types of projection in a narcissistic relationship. We’ll call one “small scale projection” and the other “large scale projection”. A small scale projection is very similar to the example we gave above. It is when a narcissist tries to project their thoughts, feelings, and emotions onto you with comments like, “I wouldn’t have gotten fired from work if you weren’t such a failure. I can never be focused there because I am always worried about you.”
It is immature, confusing, and delusional. But the large scale projection is actually much more malicious. The two most common manifestations of this are scapegoating and narcissistic rage. But to understand those two terms, you first must understand a narcissist’s origin story.
It is believed that narcissism originates from an abusive childhood upbringing with emotionally unavailable, unresponsive, and inconsistent primary caregivers.
These primary caregivers didn’t mirror the narcissist’s thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs so the narcissist never got the validation, admiration, and reassurance that they needed to develop a realistic sense of self or have a healthy cognitive development.
To construct a sense of self the narcissist turned their focus to their external environment for the validation, admiration, and reassurance that they couldn’t get at home (e.g. a narcissist constructing their sense of self out of the validation, admiration, and reassurance that they get for being a very good football player).
The level of neglect that a narcissist experienced caused them to develop deeply rooted negative emotions such as a sense of being unlovable, inadequate, unwanted, alone, self-loathing, worthless, and weak. However, they’re incapable of using healthy forms of emotional regulation to manage these negative emotions because of how emotionally stunted and immature they are.
What they do instead is suppress all of their negative emotions with the false sense of self that they constructed with the validation, admiration, and reassurance from their external environment.
The problem with this is that their false sense of self is extremely fragile. When they experience a contradiction to their false sense of self (e.g. someone criticizing them, telling them no, not allowing them to get their way, etc.) it triggers all of their negative emotions and compromises their emotions stability.
Scapegoating & Narcissistic Rage
To stabilize themselves, they have to project their emotional instability onto someone else. To do this they use scapegoating and narcissistic rage. A scapegoat is someone who a narcissist uses as a repository for all of their suppressed negative emotions. Scapegoats get the worst of the narcissist’s abuse in comparison to their other victims.
Narcissistic rage is an explosive, unpredictable, terrifying, and unjustified rage. We highly recommend that you read our article What Happens During Narcissistic Rage (Survey With 100 Survivors) to learn about all of the different forms of it, but the point of both scapegoating and rage is to invalidate, devalue, degrade, humiliate, and dehumanizing the victim.
If a narcissist is able to make the victim feel as badly as they do inside, they are able to project their emotional instability onto them because it allows them to figuratively point their finger at the victim and think to themselves, “I’m not the unlovable, inadequate, unwanted, alone, self-loathing, worthless, and weak one, they are.”
There’s a lot more really helpful information about scapegoating, narcissistic rage, and projection that will help you make well-informed decisions when dealing with narcissistic abuse in the resources below.
Small scale projection is confusing, destabilizing, and can contribute to the destruction of the victim’s sense of self. But large scale projection is malicious, dangerous, and a constant reminder of how shockingly destructive narcissists really are.
A Short Video About Defending Yourself Against Projection
Baiting occurs when a narcissist uses your vulnerabilities and insecurities to manipulate you into engaging in a confrontation that allows them to victimize themselves, portray you in a negative light, or make you emotionally unstable.
Baiting is most commonly seen when you set firm boundaries with the narcissist and/or emotionally check out of the relationship. The reason for this is that a narcissist’s biggest source of narcissistic supply (validation, admiration, and reassurance) is you, the person that they are abusing.
If you were to set boundaries with them that limited the amount of narcissistic supply that they had access to (e.g. the gray rock method or going no contact) it would contradict their sense of self and trigger their negative emotions. To stabilize themselves, they will often try to bait you into a negative confrontation to regain control of the narcissistic supply.
If you respond aggressively, they can victimize themselves to you and others to have their thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs coddled. If you are sarcastic or dismissive, they will be able to portray you in a negative light by calling you argumentative, childish, a bad communicator, and so on.
If you break down crying or with rage because of something they said, they’ll be able to see that you’re emotionally unstable which allows them to project their emotional instability onto you like they do with scapegoating and narcissistic rage.
5 Examples of Narcissistic Baiting
- Are you ever going to try to lose weight? You look like a cow.
- Somedays I wish that I was still with my ex. He/she made me so much happier.
- You are f*cking insane just like your mother!
- I don’t want to listen to your sob story anymore.
- This is why I cheated on you. You are worthless.
In the narcissistic realm, mirroring is when a narcissist will absorb an extraordinary amount of information about your identity and use that information to create a falsified identity that is designed to fill a void in your life.
Mirroring is all about the narcissist being exactly who you need them to be. In a short video (see below) we’ve outlined three helpful examples of mirroring in romantic, family, and work relationships. Generally speaking, mirroring in romantic relationships is going to be centered around your perception of the ideal love.
In family relationships it is going to be centered around emotional availability, responsiveness, and consistency. In a work relationship, mirroring is going to be centered around your financial and career goals.
A Short Video With Three Examples of Mirroring In Narcissistic Relationships
The most common manifestation of mirroring in a narcissistic relationship is the love bombing phase. This is most commonly recognized by victims of romantic narcissistic abuse and it is often described as magical, intense, special, unique, a once in a lifetime experience, and breathtaking.
That said, the love bombing phase is just an elite form of narcissistic mirroring and can happen in any narcissistic relationship. The love bombing phase feels really good but the reason that it hooks so many victims of narcissistic abuse is because of it’s familiarity.
Narcissists use the love bombing phase to act out the victim’s ideal love, desire for an emotionally available, responsive, and consistent family member, or financial/career goals. The love bombing phase, an elite form of mirroring, is all about the narcissist being exactly who their victim needs them to be.
When a narcissist makes a false promise for the future to manipulate you into doing what they want in the present, it is called the future faking and it can manifest in both a verbal and non-verbal form.
A verbal future fake is pretty straightforward. It is just a promise that a narcissist makes, that they don’t plan on keeping, to manipulate you into doing something that they want (e.g. a narcissistic boss wants you to keep working overtime without compensation so he/she promises that you’re going to get a huge raise at the end of the year to keep you motivated. The end of the year comes and you end up getting fired instead of a raise).
A nonverbal future fake is actually the falsified identity that narcissists use mirroring to create so that they can fill a void in your life. By presenting themselves as the “perfect” person for you, they are manipulating you into envisioning a happier, healthier, and more secure future with them that is never going to happen.
This allows them to manipulate their way into your life so that they can begin their abusive pursuit of validation, admiration, reassurance, power, and control.
The delivery of a reward at irregular intervals is called intermittent reinforcement. It is one of the most dangerous forms of manipulation in the narcissistic realm. The reason for this is because it helps create cognitive dissonance and causes the relationship to feel like an addiction.
Cognitive dissonance is a theory that suggests that when we experience and inconsistency among belief, behavior, and information, it causes a lot of psychological tension. To ease this tension we will change one or more of the elements that are causing the inconsistency to make everything consistent. In abusive relationships, this manifests in the form of the justification, rationalization, and normalization of abuse.
The reason that this happens is because when a narcissist mirrors you, they are giving you the information and showing the behavior that you need to have and see to develop the belief that you can have a healthy, happy, and secure relationship with them.
Once the narcissist senses that they’ve got you hooked on that belief, they will drop the act and begin the devaluation phase. This phase is plagued with invalidation, devaluation, dehumanization, humiliation, and many abusive narcissistic behavior patterns.
What this does is it changes the behavior that you see and the information that you’re given, leaving you with only the belief that you can have a healthy, happy, and secure relationship with the narcissist.
This forces you to choose between holding onto the belief of a healthy, happy, and secure future or acknowledging that what you are experiencing is abuse and leaving the relationship.
As you can imagine, narcissist’s don’t want you to leave the relationship which is why they have many manipulative behaviors that are designed to keep you justifying, rationalizing, and normalizing the abuse. One of these behaviors is intermittent reinforcement, also known as breadcrumbing, in the narcissistic realm.
At this point in the narcissistic relationship, the devaluation phase, the victim is so emotionally starved because the narcissist has stopped all of the positive emotions that come from mirroring, future faking, love bombing, and other manipulative dynamics in the beginning stages of a narcissistic relationship.
The “reward” that narcissists give their victim at this point in the relationship is simply “empathy” or “compassion”. But because the victim is so emotionally starved, the “reward” reminds them of the healthy, happy, and secure feeling that they had with the narcissist, despite all of the abuse that they are experiencing.
This “reward” is so powerful that it triggers the reward center in the victim’s brain and floods their body with dopamine, the same neurotransmitter that is released when humans abuse drugs like opiates, alcohol, nicotine, amphetamines, and cocaine.
What this does to the victim of abuse is it turns the “reward” that their abuser gives them during intermittent reinforcement into their only known source of happiness. They remain in the relationship chasing the feeling that they get from the “reward” despite the negative consequences that it has on their mental and physical health.
Suggested Reading: Is Breadcrumbing Emotional Abuse?
Hoovering is a manipulative technique that narcissists use at the end of the relationship. This means after they’ve discarded their victim, their victim has ended the relationship themselves, or when the relationship is on the brink of ending.
Hoovering occurs when a narcissist says or does exactly what their victim needs to hear or see to give them another chance. Hoovering is often centered around the promise of change. Meaning that the narcissist will be apologizing, promising to change their behavior, telling you how much they care about you, and so on.
But it can also be centered around invalidation, devaluation, and humiliation. Meaning that the narcissist will be saying and doing cruel things to try to manipulate you into believing that you can’t live a happy and healthy life without them.
Hoovering can also come from the narcissist’s flying monkeys. These are people that the narcissist has manipulated into participating in emotionally and/or physically abusing you. A hoovering flying monkey will try to manipulate you into reconciling with the narcissist.
The narcissist’s approach will also be centered around the narcissist promising to change or manipulating you into believing that you can’t live a happy and healthy life without the narcissist.
Triangulation is when a narcissist makes a one-on-one situation into a two-on-one situation by bringing a third party into the mix. It is a very common technique for narcissists to use to keep themselves in a position of power and control in the environments that they’re in.
The reason being that triangulation is a manipulative technique that is designed to turn people against each other in pursuit of the narcissist’s approval. It creates a lot of trust issues, paranoia, low self-esteem, self-doubt, and anxiety for the victims of their manipulative game.
Triangulation can be very subtle (e.g. a narcissist keeping an inappropriate photo of his/her ex partner on his/her phone to make their current partner jealous) and it can be very obvious (e.g. a narcissistic boss turning two of his/her employees against one another by convincing them that the other is trying to get them fired).
With that being said, one of the most common forms of triangulation that is commonly seen in all types of narcissistic relationships are flying monkeys.
A flying monkey is someone that a narcissist manipulates into participating in their smear campaign of their victim. It is most common for narcissists to use flying monkeys when they feel like they are losing control over you.
The reason for this is because when they don’t have power and control over you, you turn into a threat to their sense of self. You see, the victims of narcissistic abuse are often the only ones who truly know how abusive the narcissist is. You see straight through their false sense of self while others are caught up by the bright lights of their charm, celebrity-like aura, charisma, and grandiosity.
To some degree, narcissists know this and get terrified that you are going to expose them to others when they don’t have power and control over you. The purpose of a flying monkey is to invalidate your perception of reality before you have a chance to tell the truth.
To do this a narcissist will spread lies and gossip to mutual family members, friends, colleagues, etc., (e.g. a narcissist to his victim’s family – “Hey I just wanted to let you know that we are breaking up because she cheated on me. She has just been so abusive ever since she started getting blackout drunk every night“) to manipulate them into valuing the narcissist’s reality over yours.
If done successfully a narcissist will be able to isolate, devalue, degrade, humiliate, and invalidate you through others on a daily basis.
A Short Video About the Different Types of Flying Monkeys
What Should You Take Away From This Article?
There are so many manipulative techniques that a narcissist will use to remain in power and control of your thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs. The best defense against narcissistic manipulation is knowledge. You should dedicate as much time as you can to learning about narcissism and narcissistic abuse so that you can figure out ways to manage narcissism that best fit your needs.
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This information is for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for clinical care. Please consult a healthcare provider for guidance specific to your case. This article discusses narcissism in general.
Sauls, Destaney, et al. “How do narcissists get what they want from their romantic partners? The connections that narcissistic admiration and narcissistic rivalry have with influence strategies.” Personality and Individual Differences 147 (2019): 33-42.
Rudinow, Joel. “Manipulation.” Ethics 88.4 (1978): 338-347.