A fear that many people who have escaped a narcissistic relationship (i.e. a family member, friendship, colleague, or romantic partner) share is that the narcissist will “win” them back, but for good reason; narcissists are really good at manipulating people back into the narcissistic abuse cycle.

Narcissists win you back by manipulating your thoughts, feelings, and emotions through powerful manipulation tactics such as gaslighting, flying monkeys, showing off their new supply, hoovering, and self-victimization. These tactics trigger self-doubt, shame, a fear of being alone, confusion, and guilt.

This article is going to guide you through each one of those manipulation tactics and touch on some of the thoughts, feelings, and emotions that they could potentially trigger so you have the information that you need to prevent the narcissist in your life from winning you back.

Gaslighting

Gaslighting is a manipulation tactic that occurs when someone doubts or denies your reality. If you called out an abusive person in your life for calling you stupid and they said, “You are just looking for problems now. I never called you stupid!” that would be considered gaslighting. 

Gaslighting is more than manipulative lies and deceptive wording. What makes gaslighting, gaslighting, is the environment that you’re in. There are dozens of manipulation tactics that narcissists use to manipulate you into questioning your sanity and doubting your own reality. Our article What Is the Devaluation Phase?” has a lot of helpful information about this.

There are many different thoughts, feelings, and emotions that gaslighting could manipulate but one of the most common ones that allows narcissists to win you back is self-doubt. For example, imagine that you have gone Low Contact with your narcissistic parent and they make the following post on social media:

"This is my first Father's/Mother's Day alone. All I ever wanted was to be a good father/mother and have a happy family but all I have is a son/daughter who hates me for trying my best. I hope all the other fathers/mothers out there are having a great day."

This is such a manipulative post!

In our article How Do Narcissists Use Social Media? there’s a lot of helpful information for spotting a narcissist on social media but what is happening here is your father/mother is gaslighting you (i.e. “All I ever wanted was to be a good mother and have a happy family but all I have is a son/daughter who hates me for trying my best.”) and victimizing themselves to get the support of others.

If you didn’t know that this is a form of gaslighting, the chances of it creating a tremendous amount of self-doubt that causes you to “reconcile” with your narcissistic father/mother is very high! Gaslighting is a powerful manipulation tactic that narcissists can use to win you back.

Flying Monkeys

The term “flying monkey” refers to a person that a narcissist has manipulated into assisting them in the invalidation, devaluation, and degradation of the person that they are abusing. There are three types of flying monkeys that you need to be aware of as they can all be used to help the narcissist win you back.

A flying monkey can be used to manipulate many different thoughts, feelings, and emotions. We are going to focus on guilt because we have an extremely good example of flying monkeys being used to create guilt from our friend Heather Kent, Registered Psychotherapist & Trauma Recovery Specialist (see below).

An Example of Flying Monkeys Being Used to Create Guilt from Heather Kent, a Registered Psychotherapist & Trauma Recovery Specialist

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This was from her book Heal from Your Narcissistic Ex: The Ultimate Guide to Finding Safety and Sanity and her story does a really good job of highlighting a narcissist’s ability to mobilize flying monkeys to remain in power and control of their surrounding environment.

It is very common for narcissists to use flying monkeys to remain in power and control of their surrounding environment. Our articles How Do Narcissists Get Flying Monkeys?“, “How Do Narcissists Use Flying Monkeys?“, andWhy Do Narcissists Need Flying Monkeys? have a ton of information about this manipulation tactic but it is important that you know that narcissists use flying monkeys to win you back.

Showing Off Their New Supply

Have you ever heard the term “narcissistic supply” before? Well, narcissistic supply is the validation, admiration, reassurance, power, and control that narcissists get from their surrounding environment. A very simple example of narcissistic supply would be a narcissist receiving an award (publicly of course) for something that they did.

The biggest sources of narcissistic supply that narcissists can get are the people that they abuse. Our article What Do Narcissists Want In a Relationship? has a lot of helpful information that can teach you more about this but narcissists get a tremendous amount of supply when they have power and control over you.

Narcissists feel entitled to having power and control over you at all times, even after the relationship (i.e. a family member, friendship, colleague, or romantic partner) has ended. So, even though they have a new source of narcissistic supply (a.k.a another human being) they will often “show off” their new supply just to invalidate, devalue, and degrade you.

This allows them to figuratively point their finger at you and think to themselves, “I can’t possibly be the weak, unlovable, unwanted, inadequate, and worthless one because I have this person in my life (the new supply) and he/she has nobody.”

If this sounds childish, it is because it is.

Showing off the new supply is typically something that happens right after the relationship has ended. Our articles Why Do Narcissists Show Off Their New Supply?andWhy Do Narcissists Remarry So Quickly? gives you a better understanding of how this manipulation tactic could create many confusing thoughts, feelings, and emotions (e.g. “I must have made a mistake because look how happy they are”) and allow the narcissist to win you back with hoovering.

Hoovering

The term “hoovering” is used to describe a manipulation tactic that occurs when an abuser will say and/or do exactly what you need to hear and/or see to give the relationship (i.e. a family member, friendship, colleague, or romantic partner) that you have with them another chance.

For example, if you broke up with a narcissist and started to heal and move on, they could hoover you by saying, “I miss you so much. I am so sorry. I can’t imagine my life without you.” If you weren’t aware of this manipulation tactic, the confusion that hoovering creates could allow them to win you back.

Hoovering is a powerful manipulation tactic that narcissists use to suck you back into the abuse cycle. Our article How to Deal With a Narcissist Who Is Hoovering has helpful information about dealing with a hoovering narcissist and we have embedded a short clip from our interview with Conor Deeney, a Senior Psychotherapist, about dealing with hoovering.

Conor Deeney, a Senior Psychotherapist at Psyche Therapy Centre, Speaks About What You Can Do to Manage a Hoovering Narcissist

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Self-Victimization

Self-victimization is casting oneself in the role of a victim.

4 Examples of a Narcissist Using Self-Victimization Designed to Win You Back

1. The narcissist could accuse you of cheating (e.g. “I guess my love isn’t good enough for you anymore. I always knew there was someone else. I hope he/she is making you happy”). If the narcissist were to make this comment while you were still confused and trying to heal, it could create a lot of guilt that pushes you back into the abuse cycle.

2. The narcissist could victimize themselves through their flying monkeys with an elaborate sob story (e.g. “All I’ve ever wanted was to be a good brother/sister. It hurts me to see how much you hate our family” *starts crying* “Mom/dad have tried their best to make you happy but nothing ever works”). This type of interaction could create a lot of shame that pushes you back into the abuse cycle.

3. The narcissist could blame other people (e.g. “I am sorry for not being good enough for you. I’ve just been in so many horrible relationships, betrayed so many times, I don’t know how to love anymore). This type of interaction could trick you into justifying, rationalizing, and normalizing the narcissist’s abusive behavior.

4. The narcissist could send flying monkeys to manipulate you into reconciling with them (e.g. “He has been so sad since you left. I am scared for his health, can you please just come home and fix things with him? At the end of the day, he is your father, you only get one of those”). This type of interaction could make you feel obligated to make amends.

It can be destabilizing to watch your actions have such a “heavy” impact on someone who at one point had so much power and control over you. Our article Why Do Narcissists Go Into a Depression? has a lot of helpful information that will prevent the narcissist’s self-victimization from winning you back.

Dr. Daksha Hirani, Clinical Psychologist Specializing in Trauma Informed Psychotherapy and Narcissistic Abuse Recovery

What Should You Take Away From This Article?

To win you back, narcissists will use a variety of manipulation tactics that are designed to manipulate your thoughts, feelings, and emotions.

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All of the content that Unfilteredd creates is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for clinical care — please visit here for qualified organizations and here for qualified professionals that you can reach out to for help. This article has been reviewed by our editorial board and has been approved for publication in accordance with our editorial policies.

References:

Ronningstam, Elsa. Identifying and understanding the narcissistic personality. Oxford University Press, 2005.

Kalogjera, Ikar J., et al. “The narcissistic couple.” The disordered couple (1998): 207-238.