A common question that many people inside our healing community have is, “How will a narcissist react when they realize they can’t control me anymore?”
When a narcissist realizes they can no longer control you, it is common for them to use many different manipulation tactics to try to regain control over you, such as gaslighting, baiting, intermittent reinforcement, hoovering, narcissistic rage, discarding, smear campaigns, and self-victimization.
In this article, I will guide you through these tactics so that you can better understand how narcissists typically react when they realize they can no longer control you.
They Try to Anger or Irritate You With Gaslighting
Gaslighting is the first response that a narcissist could have when they realize they can no longer control you.
Gaslighting occurs when someone doubts or denies reality.
Narcissists use gaslighting to get the person they are abusing to question their sanity, memories, and perception of reality.
Let’s take a look at an example of this happening.
Imagine that you’ve been using the Gray Rock Method on the narcissist in your life.
Suggested Reading: How to Gray Rock a Narcissist (3 Simple Steps)
Because of your commitment to this tactic, the narcissist in your life senses that they don’t have as much control over you as they once did.
So, while you’re at work, the narcissist calls you and says, “Can you be home by 6:00 pm? I have some important news that I need to share with you, so I’ve made dinner reservations at (Name of the Restaurant).”
You agree to this and go on with the rest of your day. When you arrive home at 6:00 pm, the narcissist in your life is nowhere to be found.
So, you do what anyone would do and call them. You say, “I’m ready to go when they answer the phone. Should I meet you at the restaurant or wait for you here?”
The narcissist responds, “What are you talking about?”
Confused, you say, “You told me to be ready by 6:00 pm. Remember? You called me at work and told me you had important news to share.”
The narcissist arrogantly responds, “You are losing it. I never told you that.”
This interaction would be considered gaslighting!
It is common for narcissists to try to use gaslighting to anger or irritate you when they realize they can no longer control you.
Well, when you are angry or irritated, you are much more likely to engage in a negative interaction (e.g., a screaming match) with the narcissist in your life.
Narcissists want you to engage with them like this because it allows them to use other manipulation tactics to regain control over you.
They Try to Create a Confrontation With Baiting
A common manipulation tactic that narcissists use when they realize that they can no longer control you is baiting.
Baiting occurs when a narcissist says or does something manipulative to get you to engage in a negative interaction with them.
Narcissists want you to have a negative reaction to their baiting because it gives them an opportunity to portray you in a negative light and/or victimize themselves.
For example, imagine that the narcissist in your life knows that you are insecure about your weight.
One night you are having dinner with them and they say, “Can you stop eating like a f*cking pig? It is just food, it isn’t love.”
This would be considered baiting.
You get angry and say, “You are such an as*hole,” then walk out of the room.
Even though this response is more than justified, it is isn’t the best response that you can have because it gives the narcissist an opportunity to portray you in a negative light and/or victimize themselves.
Here’s a quote from one of our community members (see below) that will help you grasp a comprehensive understanding of how the narcissist in your life could use the negative response that you have to their baiting to their advantage.
A Quote From One of Our Community Members
“My mother (covert narcissist) would turn the video on her phone on, place it in her pocket, bait me into an argument, then edit the video to only get my response so that she could show all of her flying monkeys how ‘abusive’ I was being. She got the best of both worlds… She portrayed me in a negative light and victimized herself at the same time.” – Sandy
As I’m sure you already know, dealing with manipulation tactics like baiting can be incredibly challenging.
Our healing platform offers a supportive community where you can share your experiences and gain insights from others who have dealt with baiting as well.
Through the interactive community, you can learn from the experiences of others, find validation, and develop strategies to protect yourself from these harmful behaviors.
They Try to Trick You With Intermittent Reinforcement
One of the most common tactics that a narcissist will use when they sense that they are losing control is intermittent reinforcement.
Intermittent reinforcement is the delivery of a reward at irregular intervals.
For example, imagine that you’ve been in a relationship with a narcissist for two years.
Throughout those two years, you have consistently asked them to take responsibility for their own actions.
This is because they always point out what you have done wrong but never take responsibility for the things that they have done wrong.
You have had it. They have shown you time and time again that they aren’t going to change so you decided to end the relationship.
They can sense that they are losing control over you so they say “Hey. I am sorry about (blank). You were right and I was wrong. I see that now and I will work harder to take responsibility for my actions.”
This is intermittent reinforcement.
They aren’t actually going to try to work harder to take responsibility for their actions.
They are just delivering you a small “reward” so that they can manipulate you into staying in the relationship.
Intermittent reinforcement is so powerful because it plays on your wish for things to be different/wish for them to change.
But that isn’t even the craziest part about it all…
Intermittent reinforcement can cause you to develop an addiction to your abuser.
In fact, intermittent reinforcement is the reason that many survivors of narcissistic abuse report that their trauma bond feels like an addiction.
Our healing platform also offers a collection of therapist-led video lessons designed to help you better understand and break trauma bonds from Dr. Sara Spowart, PhD, Marriage & Family Therapist.
These lessons help you to recognize the signs of trauma bonding and provide you with practical tools to break free from the emotional hold of a narcissist.
Our article “Why Do Trauma Bonds Feel Like an Addiction?“ has a lot of helpful information about intermittent reinforcement.
They Try to Pull You Back Into the Relationship With Hoovering
When a narcissist says and/or does exactly what you need to hear and/or see to give them another chance it is called hoovering.
Now, this might sound very similar to intermittent reinforcement, but it isn’t.
Intermittent reinforcement is a tactic that occurs during a narcissistic relationship when the narcissist senses that they are losing control over you.
Hoovering is a tactic that narcissists use at the end of a relationship to regain control over you.
For example, imagine that you have narcissistic parents.
You moved out of their home six months ago because you realized how toxic everything was and needed a break.
One day, you get a message from them saying, “Hey we’re sorry about how we’ve acted. We’ve been going to therapy and have made a lot of changes. If you come back, we will buy you a car and pay for your college tuition.”
This would be an example of hoovering.
Generally speaking, narcissists have no intention to make good on the promises that they make when they are hoovering you.
They are just saying or doing whatever they need to do in order to regain control over you.
Why Do Narcissists Feel Like They Have a Right to Hoover You by Lucianne Gerrard (Registered Counselor and Narcissistic Abuse Specialist)
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They Will Experience a Narcissistic Injury and Go Into a Narcissistic Rage
If a narcissist were to realize that they no longer have control over you, it could cause them to experience a narcissistic injury and fly into a narcissistic rage.
Narcissistic injuries occur when a narcissist experiences a contradiction to their self-perception.
For example, narcissists have 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 say to a narcissist, “Stop acting like you are so special because you are not,” this would contradict their self-perception and cause a narcissistic injury.
The reason that this happens is because when a narcissist experiences a contradiction to their self-perception, the painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions that they have suppressed within themselves get triggered.
Rather than express vulnerability and reveal how they feel, narcissists will react with defiance, combativeness, and/or narcissistic rage.
Narcissistic rage is the unpredictable, explosive, and unjustifiable response that narcissists have when they experience a narcissistic injury.
It can manifest in the form of physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional/psychological abuse, and/or neglect.
As a general rule, narcissists experience a narcissistic injury and fly into a narcissistic rage when they can’t control you because they can no longer use projection on you.
Projection is a defense mechanism that occurs when someone takes a part of their identity that they find unacceptable and places it onto someone else.
A simple example of this could be a cheating husband accusing his wife of cheating instead of taking responsibility for his own actions.
The painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions that narcissists have are the painful parts of their identity that they find unacceptable.
They project them onto others through abuse and manipulation.
When a narcissist loses control over you, it is almost always because you have learned how to protect yourself from them.
Because of this, they have a much harder time abusing and manipulating you, and subsequently, projecting their painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions onto you.
So to sum up everything that has been stated so far, a lack of control triggers narcissistic injuries and causes narcissistic rage because it prevents the narcissist from using projection and forces the narcissist to address their painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions on their own.
Our healing platform offers various resources to help you understand and manage narcissistic rage.
Two of the most popular resources are the therapist-led support groups and masterclasses.
Here you can connect with therapists and other members to share experiences and develop strategies to keep yourself safe against narcissistic rage and the 110 other abusive tactics that narcissists use.
They Will Discard You
It is common for a narcissist to discard you once they realize that they no longer can control you.
Discarding is a manipulation tactic that occurs when a narcissist abruptly ends the relationship that they have with you.
The reason that a narcissist will discard you once they realize that they no longer have control over you is because of their need for narcissistic supply.
Narcissistic supply is validation, admiration, reassurance, power, and control.
Narcissists use narcissistic supply to suppress all of their painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions, and to create a positive self-perception.
Narcissists need a consistent flow of narcissistic supply to feel emotionally stable.
Unfortunately, the most consistent source of narcissistic supply that narcissists have access to are the people that they abuse.
You see, the narcissist in your life doesn’t view you as a person with thoughts, feelings, and emotions of their own.
They only view you as a source of narcissistic supply.
Once the narcissist in your life realizes that they can’t control you anymore, they could very well discard you and go looking for a new source of supply.
If you are experiencing narcissistic discarding, our healing platform offers help resources and support to help you heal and move forward.
Our article “Why Do Narcissists Discard So Easily?“ has helpful information about discarding.
They Will Start a Smear Campaign Against You
One of the biggest fears that narcissists have is being exposed.
You see, narcissists aren’t psychopathic or psychotic. They know the difference between good and bad behavior.
Now, they don’t care that they abuse others. But they are aware that being outed as an abuser would limit the amount of narcissistic supply that they can get.
Because of this, the people that narcissists abuse are often the only ones who know how abusive the narcissist really is.
Everyone else only sees their public persona that often portrays them as charming, charismatic, confident, and relatively pleasant.
It is for this reason that narcissists often panic when they lose control over the people that they are abusing.
One of the most common tactics that narcissists turn to in order to protect themselves in situations like these are smear campaigns.
A smear campaign is a plan to discredit a person by making false accusations.
To do this, narcissists will spread lies and gossip about you to as many people as possible so that they can isolate, discredit, and silence you.
Our healing platform provides resources for dealing with smear campaigns launched by narcissists.
You could join therapist-led support groups, masterclasses, or lessons where survivors discuss their experiences and learn strategies to cope with and counteract these harmful tactics.
The most common type of people narcissists use to strengthen their smear campaigns are flying monkeys. Our article “What Are Flying Monkeys? (A Complete Guide)“ has helpful information about this.
They Will Try to Victimize Themselves
A tactic that narcissists will often use once they realize that they’ve lost control over you is self-victimization.
When a narcissist victimizes themselves it means that they label themselves as victims and blame their problems on external factors.
For example, a narcissistic spouse challenged over emptying a joint account but instead of taking responsibility for his/her actions the narcissist complains about their spouse neglecting their needs.
Another example could be a husband who hits his wife complaining that he is treated worse in other ways when he is confronted by others about his abuse.
The goal that narcissists typically have when they are victimizing themselves is to make you feel guilty for expressing your thoughts, feelings, and emotions.
What Should You Take Away from This Article?
When a narcissist realizes that they are losing control over you, they will use a variety of manipulation tactics to try to regain power and control over you.
If you’re ready to take control of your healing journey, we invite you to join our healing platform.
You’ll gain access to a wealth of support, resources, and a community of survivors who understand your experiences.
Don’t wait any longer – start your journey towards healing and empowerment today!
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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.
McMullan, Elizabeth. “Being Trapped in Relational Systems of Narcissistic Abuse During Lockdown.” After Lockdown, Opening Up. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham, 2021. 173-192.
Ruiz, Lindsay. “A Hidden Virus: Looking for Evidence of Narcissistic Abuse in the Workplace.” (2021).