Everyone’s realization of the narcissistic abuse cycle is going to be different. 

While some may find it a lot easier to identify narcissistic behaviors, like rage or the silent treatment, others may have more success when they focus on the phrases narcissists tend to use. 

This inspired us to create an article where we took commonly seen phrases in narcissistic relationships and connected them with many different forms of manipulation in the narcissistic realm. 

We hope that readers going through any type of narcissistic relationship will be able to hear these phrases and have a much easier time identifying narcissistic behavior patterns. 

For this article, we asked 231 survivors of narcissistic abuse to tell us the most common abusive phrases they heard their ex abuser say. 

Obviously, there’s going to be a significant amount of variation between what our participants heard and what you might hear.

So, we categorized the answers they gave us into five different manipulative tactics, and provided a list of the different phrases our participants encountered.

We sincerely hope that this article brings you one step closer to identifying narcissistic behavior patterns in your life. 

Gaslighting 

Gaslighting is the pinnacle of manipulation. It’s when a narcissist will doubt and deny your reality so frequently that the you become consumed with self-doubt and can’t trust your own perception of reality. 

Image of the effects gaslighting has on one's mental health.

The reason gaslighting is so powerful is because it can manifest in every single form of manipulation you could imagine. There are four types of gaslighting: minimization, traditional, distraction, and ultimatum. 

  • Minimization occurs when a narcissist makes the comparison of your thoughts, feelings, and/or emotions with people who are worse off. It’s designed to silence you by making you feel guilty for having the “complaint” in the first place.
    • Are you seriously complaining about that when there are people starving in (blank).
    • Out of all the days you decide to complain about something so small, you choose today?!
    • You’re too sensitive, it was just a joke.
Image of gaslighting through minimization between two males.
  • When you confront a narcissist with your thoughts, feelings, or emotions and are flat-out denied,  it is called traditional gaslighting. A narcissist’s main objective is to create a superficial reality that enables them to neglect their own fears, inadequacies, and insecurities. Over time, traditional gaslighting will manipulate you into accepting the narcissist’s version of reality, which gives them an insane amount of power and control over you. 
    • That never happened.
    • I’m sorry you think I hurt you.
    • Everyone thinks you’re crazy.
Image of traditional gaslighting with two women
  • Distraction is when a narcissist will use other factors, usually irrelevant ones, to dismiss and/or invalidate your thoughts, feelings, and emotions. By bringing other factors into the mix, they hope to distract you from your original concern and avoid addressing their own behavior.
    • We are going to talk about this later, I can’t deal with your bipolar rants right now.
    • Blank was right, I think you need to be on medication.
    • We will talk about this later, my brother’s cat is sick and I can’t think straight.
Image of gaslighting through distraction with a man and a woman.
  • Ultimatum is a fear tactic. When a narcissist uses ultimatums to gaslight, they are trying to make you associate your need to communicate your thoughts, feelings, and concerns with the fear of being punished. If done successfully, you’ll remain silent for the entirety of the relationship out of the fear of their reaction.
    • If you complain about this one more time I’m leaving.
    • If you don’t (blank) I am not going to talk to you anymore.
    • This is the last time I’m going to listen to someone as stupid as you.
Image of gaslighting with ultimatums with two women at work.

On paper, it may seem like an insignificant form of manipulation but after months, years, even decades in a pervasive environment of manipulation designed to induce as much self-doubt, self-blame, and confusion as possible, having your reality denied is detrimental to your mental health. 

Scapegoating

There are a handful of different theories on how narcissists are made, but if you can be certain about one thing, it’s that they are emotionally inadequate, meaning they can’t regulate their own emotions. 

With all of the negative emotions narcissists have suppressed within themselves, their inability to regulate their emotions would cause them to implode, if they didn’t use scapegoats.

Scapegoats are a repository for the narcissist’s negative emotions.

Wherever there’s a narcissist, there’s a scapegoat. When a narcissist says something that suggests you are to blame for their shortcomings or misfortune, all they are doing is projecting their inadequacy onto you because you’re their scapegoat. 

Being a scapegoat can be incredibly damaging, especially for those who had to grow up as their parent’s or sibling’s scapegoat. 

Examples of Scapegoating

  • You ruined my life, I would have been playing professional football if you weren’t born.
  • Maybe if you weren’t such an idiot I wouldn’t get angry at you.
  • I hate that I have to come home to a miserable person like you. 
  • The only way you’re going to succeed in life is if someone is constantly giving you handouts.
  • (blank) must have broken the window. Nobody else is that dumb.

Love Bombing

During the love bombing phase a narcissist, usually grandiose narcissists, will use mirroring, future faking, spontaneous moments, and an overwhelming amount of gifts, and superficial intimacy to portray themselves as your “Mr. or Mrs. Perfect.”

It’s a very manipulative phase that not everyone who has suffered narcissistic abuse experiences, but for those who do, the love bombing phase feels magical. 

What makes the love bombing phase so tricky is that it manipulates your desire to be wanted, and that lays a nearly unbreakable trauma bond that traps the victim in the relationship indefinitely.

How? 

The love bombing phase doesn’t last forever, sooner or later the narcissist will drop the act, And begin to devalue, manipulate, and emotionally/physically abuse you.

The problem is that the love bombing phase is so powerful that victims of narcissistic abuse often justify, rationalize, and normalize the abuse they endure in the hopes that one day the narcissist will return to who they were during the love bombing phase. 

Narcissists lack the authenticity, emotional stability, vulnerability, and honesty that it takes to have genuine levels of real intimacy. In other words, for narcissists relationships are purely transaction.

Examples of Love Bombing

  • I think we should get married! (A few months into the relationship).
  • You’re everything I’ve ever wanted in life!
  • We’re soulmates!
  • You’ve saved me, I don’t know what I would do without you!
  • I love you! (A few weeks into the relationship).
Image of someone seeing the red flags during the love bombing phase.

Hoovering

The only difference between hoovering and love bombing is that the hoovering phase occurs when you set boundaries, go gray rock, or go no contact. 

The hoovering phase is when a narcissist will say/do whatever they can to suck the victim back into the relationship. 

When a victim of narcissistic abuse begins to regain control of their lives through various different techniques, it contradicts a narcissist’s sense of specialness, triggers their fears of inadequacy and abandonment, and significantly reduces the amount of narcissistic supply they have access to. 

In order to stay in control, ensure they maintain their superficial public image, and avoid being ”abandoned” they’ll use manipulative tactics like hoovering and baiting to keep you trapped within the abusive cycle.

Examples of Hoovering

  • I promise I’ve changed.
  • It was supposed to be me and you verse the world!
  • Really? You’re going to leave me right when I started to go to therapy?
  • Nobody can love you like I can.
Image of a narcissist trying to hoover the victim back into the abusive cycle.

Using Your Vulnerabilities, Insecurities, and Desires Against You

Narcissists have an incredible ability to learn the ins and outs of your life astonishingly fast. This ability is called mirroring, and it opens the door to many other manipulative tactics in the narcissistic realm. 

Mirroring is a very deceiving tactic because the narcissist is essentially absorbing all of your vulnerabilities, insecurities, desires and reflecting them back to you. 

It makes you feel as if you’ve met someone who knows you really well. In fact, mirroring is a huge part of the love bombing phase. It is precisely what makes those who’ve experienced it feel as if they’ve met their soulmate. 

Intermittent Reinforcement 

Intermittent reinforcement is the delivery of a reward at irregular intervals. Narcissistic relationships are so emotionally starved that the “rewards” are the small amounts of empathy and compassion that narcissists strategically use.

This creates an environment where you’re constantly chasing the approval and validation of the narcissist in your life because intermittent reinforcement makes you feel really good.

The reason intermittent reinforcement makes you feel amazing is because it activates your brains reward sector, and floods it with dopamine. As I hinted at before, it is a very addictive feeling. In fact, it’s the same addictive feeling that those who abuse substances get.

Meaning that they weaponize your desire for stability, intimacy, honesty, and happiness against you as a means to control you.

Image of intermittent reinforcement manipulating the victim into believing that a healthy relationship is possible.

Baiting

Over time, and/or with enough guidance you’ll eventually be able to spot some narcissistic behavior patterns and use techniques such as gray rocking, setting boundaries, or even no contact to rebuild your identity and preserve your emotional stability. 

Narcissists do not like this at all… 

Narcissists are so emotionally inadequate that their sole objective is to project their emotional instability onto you, because they’re incapable of regulating their own emotions. 

Imagine that you drop a package of Mentos into a soda bottle and close the cap as tightly as you can. It’s going to explode because the reaction the Mentos have with the soda has nowhere to go. 

Narcissists and their suppressed negative emotions have the exact same relationship with each other that Mentos and soda do. 

When you have any type of relationship with a narcissist you’re essentially a repository for their negative emotions. So when you begin to reject the projection of their negative emotions onto you it forces them to address their emotional instability. 

This is a horrible feeling because they are suppressing emotions like shame, guilt, and an insane amount of fear and insecurities. 

So, in a frantic attempt to regain their superficial stability, they’ll try to bait you into an argument by weaponizing your vulnerabilities and insecurities against you.  

The moment you fall for the bait, they’ll back off and criticize you for your reaction, which has the potential to drag you back into the abusive cycle if you aren’t able to compose yourself.

Image of a narcissist creating a narrative where they're the sane one and the victim is the one that is insane.

Future Faking

Mirroring and future faking have a very close relationship. As I mentioned before, mirroring is when the narcissist pays an incredible amount of attention to the ins and outs of your life and is able to learn your vulnerabilities, insecurities, and desires very quickly.

Imagine that you’re smack dab in the middle of the love bombing phase. It’s really intense, you’re spending a ton of time together, there’s a lot of intimacy and connection but something is off. 

As good as you may feel, you decide that you need to set some boundaries. So you tell the narcissist in your life that you want some space to gather your thoughts. 

Because narcissists have a crippling fear of abandonment, the idea of separation is incredibly destabilizing for them. To keep you hooked into the relationship they’ll fabricate an extremely intriguing future with the information they gathered while mirroring you, and this is known as future faking. 

Future faking is a manipulative tactic designed to maneuver past the boundaries you’ve set. By manipulating your desire for a healthy relationship and your own personal love story they’re able to keep you trapped within the narcissistic abuse cycle indefinitely.

What Should You Take Away From This Article? 

It’s as simple as this: if you’re able to identify narcissistic behavior patterns, the likelihood of you breaking away from the narcissistic abuse cycle shoots up substantially. 

Breaking free from the narcissistic abuse cycle is a long and treacherous path. While it’s incredibly helpful to be able to identify narcissistic abuse patterns, you also need to know how to manage narcissism. 

There’s no doubt about it, going no contact is the best thing you can do to rebuild your identity and protect your emotional stability. But it’s not always realistic! 

You may be co-parenting with a narcissist in your life, they may have ways to contact you even if you blocked them on all social platforms, you may be trapped by financial abuse, or you might not be ready to give up hope on someone who has such a significant role in your life. 

Regardless of your situation, mastering the art of living with a narcissist when leaving is not an option should be your top priority. 

Just to be clear, I’m not suggesting that you stay in an abusive environment to learn how to manage narcissism. 

What I’m suggesting is that learning how to master the skills of living with a narcissist when leaving isn’t an option will lay a foundation on which you can rebuild your identity, financial stability, core values and self-esteem. 

So, if/when the opportunity for you to leave the narcissistic environment arises, you’re in a much better position to do so.

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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.

Suggested Readings:

How to Deal With Gaslighting

Why Do Narcissists Bring Up the Past?