One of the most common reasons that people find protecting themselves and healing from narcissistic abuse incredibly challenging is a need for the narcissist’s attention.

The reason that someone would crave attention from a narcissist is because the narcissist’s presence fills a void in their life. Narcissists are very good at using manipulation tactics to get the people that they abuse to crave their attention by making them feel heard, understood, and valued.

This article is going to explain how they are able to do this so you can grasp a better understanding of the reason that you crave attention from the narcissist in your life.

Narcissists Use Manipulation Tactics to Get You to Crave Their Attention

Narcissists use mirroring, future faking, the devaluation phase, and intermittent reinforcement to manipulate the people that they abuse into craving their attention. In the following sections we are going to quickly define each of these tactics and give you examples of them in a narcissistic environment.

Someone learning about the manipulation tactics that narcissists use to get you to crave their attention.

These examples will be shown in a romantic narcissistic relationship but the information applies to all of the other types of narcissistic relationships (i.e. friendships, family settings, work environments) as well.

Mirroring

In this context, mirroring refers to a manipulation tactic that occurs when a narcissist absorbs an extraordinary amount of information about the identity of a person and uses that information to create a falsified identity that mimics the identity of the person they mirrored.

A narcissist mirroring someone.

Mirroring is the manipulation tactic that helps the narcissist fill a void in your life. It puts them in a position from which they can transform themselves into the “perfect” person for the person that they are mirroring.

Example:

Aiden’s narcissistic father has told him that men are supposed to be in charge of the house and control their wives for his entire life. Aiden has never accepted his father’s beliefs, and because of this, Aiden’s father has labeled him as weak, undesirable, and worthless.

Even though Aiden knows that his father is abusive, he has always sought his approval because he wants to prove to his father that he is not weak, undesirable, and worthless.

In college, Aiden falls in love with a narcissistic woman named Jessica and ends up opening up to her about his past, specifically the relationship that he has with his father.

A man mirroring a woman.

Armed with this information, Jessica creates a falsified identity centered around Aiden’s father’s beliefs. Meaning Jessica led Aiden to believe that she wants to be a traditional wife and tells him things like, “I believe that wives should listen to their husbands and focus on having children.”

Even though Aiden never adopted his father’s beliefs, Jessica’s mirroring fills a void in Aiden’s life because she makes him feel like a man. Her mirroring makes him feel heard, understood, and valued.

Remember, Aiden’s father has called him weak, undesirable, and worthless for his entire life for not believing that men are supposed to be in charge of the house and control their wives for his entire life. So, having Jessica in his life helps Aiden feel like he is not weak, undesirable, and worthless, and that he can finally please his father.

Suggested Reading:

If you’re interested, our article How Do Narcissists Use Mirroring? has a ton of helpful information that will help you grasp a better understanding of mirroring.

Future Faking

In the narcissistic realm, the term “future faking” refers to when a narcissist makes a false promise for the future to get exactly what they want in the present. What makes future faking such an effective form of manipulation is the relationship it has with mirroring.

You see, narcissists often know exactly what they need to say and/or do to make people believe their false promises because of the information they gather during the mirroring phase. Future faking is a manipulation tactic that allows narcissists to support the falsified identity that they created to portray themselves as “perfect”.

Example:

In the mirroring example, Jessica created a falsified identity centered around Aiden’s father’s beliefs. Remember, Jessica told Aiden, “I believe that wives should listen to their husbands and focus on having children” to manipulate him into believing that she wants to be a traditional wife.

A woman cooking with her daughter.

Having this version of Jessica in his life manipulates Aiden into believing that he can finally please his father because his father has been calling him weak, undesirable, and worthless his entire life for not accepting his father’s opinion that men should be in charge of the house and control their wives.

To support the falsified identity that she created, Jessica future fakes Aiden by saying things like,“I can’t wait to stay at home and raise our children”, “I just want to cook for you for the rest of my life”, “I will never look at another man, you are everything that I dreamed of”, and “I think we should have joint bank accounts so you can be in charge of our money.”

A narcissist manipulating her boyfriend.

Again, this manipulation (i.e. future faking) makes Aiden feel heard, understood, and valued because it tricks him into believing that he is the man that his father always wanted him to be.

Suggested Reading:

Future faking is an incredibly manipulative tactic. Our article How to Respond to Future Faking can teach you how to deal with a future faking narcissist.

The Devaluation Phase

When a narcissist senses that the person they have been mirroring and future faking attaches themselves to the falsified identity that the narcissist has created, they will drop the “Mr./Ms. Perfect” act and begin their abusive pursuit of narcissistic supply (i.e. validation, admiration, reassurance, power, and control). 

This is known as the devaluation phase and it is incredibly devaluing, invalidating, degrading, dehumanizing, abusive, and manipulative. You can expect to experience behaviors such as gaslighting, narcissistic rage, projection, baiting, intimacy anorexia, stonewalling, etc., during the devaluation phase.

A woman falling into the devaluation phase.

Example:

In the future faking example, Jessica told Aiden that she wanted to get joint bank accounts to manipulate him into feeling like he was in control of the relationship because she knows that he is trying to get his father’s approval.

When Aiden agreed to having a joint bank account, Jessica began to exploit Aiden financially. The financial abuse that she put him through was ruthless.

She created an insane amount of debt under Aiden’s name and when he tried to stop her, Jessica used Aiden’s vulnerabilities and insecurities to make him feel like less of a man (image below)

A narcissistic woman devaluing her boyfriend.

Suggested Reading:

Our article What Is the Devaluation Phase?has a ton of information about the manipulation tactics that occur during the devaluation phase.

Intermittent Reinforcement

Intermittent reinforcement is the delivery of a reward at irregular intervals.

When a narcissist senses that the person they are abusing is emotionally and/or physically checking out of the relationship, they will use intermittent reinforcement to keep the relationship alive.

Sadly, after months, years, or even decades of being abused, all the narcissist has to do to “reward” the person that they are abusing is give them the slightest amounts of attention.

A narcissist using intermittent reinforcement on his wife.

The effect that intermittent reinforcement has on your brain is a huge reason that you crave attention from the narcissist in your life. We will speak about this much more thoroughly after our example of intermittent reinforcement in a narcissistic relationship (see below).

Example:

In the devaluation phase example, Jessica financially abused, emasculated, and humiliated Aiden. Eventually Aiden gave up completely and began to emotionally check out of the relationship. To keep the relationship alive, Jessica used intermittent reinforcement to make him feel like a man again (image below).

A narcissistic woman victimizing herself.

As we mentioned before, intermittent reinforcement has a massive effect on your brain. 

After all the abuse and manipulation that mirroring, future faking, and the devaluation phase causes, you’ll be so emotionally deprived that the “reward” of intermittent reinforcement triggers the reward center in your brain and floods your body with dopamine.1

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” of intermittent reinforcement into your only known source of happiness (image below)

According to Harvard Health, people with an addiction tend to show the three Cs:

Craving for the object of the addiction, which can be mild to intense

Loss of control over use of the object of the addiction

Continued engagement with the object of the addiction in spite of harmful consequences

The “reward” of intermittent reinforcement causes you to crave the reward, lose sight/control of yourself in pursuit of the reward, and continue to be in the narcissistic relationship in spite of the harmful consequences. 

The cycle of manipulation and abuse that we just laid out for you (i.e. mirroring, future faking, the devaluation phase, intermittent reinforcement) is the reason that you crave attention from the narcissist.

Suggested Reading:

The cycle that we have walked you though in this article create addictive trauma bonds. Our Why Do Trauma Bonds Feel Like an Addiction? has more information about this.

What Should You Take Away From This Article?

You crave attention from the narcissist in your life because they’ve used manipulation tactics to fill a void in your life. Are there other reasons why people crave the attention of a narcissist? Definitely. But as a general rule, the manipulation tactics that narcissists use are the reasons that you crave their attention.

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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:

[1] 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.

Taylor, Jill Chapman, and Edward G. Carr. “Severe problem behaviors related to social interaction: 1: Attention seeking and social avoidance.” Behavior Modification 16.3 (1992): 305-335.