A common question people who are experiencing narcissistic abuse have is, “Why do narcissists bring up the past?”

Narcissists bring up the past to manipulate you. This often manifests as gaslighting, coercive control, guilt-tripping, blame-shifting, or baiting. Bringing up the past is a tactic narcissists use to get you to do what they want when they want it.

In this article, I will give you examples of the different ways narcissists bring up the past so you can grasp a better understanding of why it happens.

1.) They Are Trying to Gaslight You

The first reason narcissists bring up the past is that they are trying to gaslight you.

Gaslighting is a manipulation tactic that occurs when someone intentionally or unintentionally doubts or denies reality.

For example, imagine you’re having dinner with the narcissist in your life.

Suddenly, they decide to bring up an old disagreement that was resolved years ago, where they had made an unreasonable demand, and you had stood your ground.

They say, “You have a habit of rejecting my ideas. Remember when you outright dismissed my suggestion of going on a vacation?”

You respond, “At that time, we simply couldn’t afford it, and I explained that to you.”

They say, “That’s not what happened. You didn’t want to go because you didn’t want to spend time with me. You’ve never really cared about my feelings, have you?”

You say, “It’s not about not wanting to spend time with you or disregarding your feelings. It was about our financial stability. That’s it.”

A narcissist trying to gaslight someone.

They say, “You are a liar. It was always about what you want, what you think is right. You never stop to think about how you are hurting me, do you?”

This interaction is an example of a narcissist bringing up the past to gaslight you.

Even though your decision to not go on vacation was based on financial stability, they are trying to make you question your judgment and feel guilty about your actions.

If you didn’t realize that you were being gaslighted, this interaction could lead to confusion, anxiety, and a loss of self-trust, giving the narcissist significant power and control over you. 

2.) They Are Trying to Control You

The second reason narcissists bring up the past is that they are trying to control you.

Suggested Reading: 8 Powerful Tactics That Narcissists Use to Control You

For example, I want you to imagine that the narcissist in your life asked you to come to a work event with them, but you couldn’t because your mom was sick.

A year later, they say, “Do you remember my work event you skipped last year?

You say, “Yes, I remember. I had to take care of my sick mother that night.”

They respond, “Right, but you let me down when I needed you. People were asking about you. We must present ourselves as a couple at all times.”

You say, “I understand, but my mother was unwell. It was an emergency.”

They respond, “There will always be emergencies, but our relationship needs to be your priority. I need you to support me in my career, always. I don’t want to experience that again. In the future, I need you to put our relationship first.”

This is an example of a narcissist trying to control you by bringing up the past.

Their goal is to make you feel like you’re in the wrong and to manipulate you into feeling the need to make amends by prioritizing their needs over everything else.

3.) They Are Trying to Guilt-Trip You

The third reason narcissists bring up the past is that they are trying to guilt-trip you.

This means causing another person to feel guilt or a sense of responsibility to change their behavior or take a specific action. 

Suggested Reading: 10 Tactics Narcissists Use to Make You Feel Guilty

For example, imagine that you’ve decided to take a solo trip back to your hometown to relax and recharge before you have to start working again. 

You ask the narcissist if they are cool with you going, and they say yes.

You go on the trip, everything goes great, then return and start working. 

A few months later, the narcissist in your life says, “Remember that solo trip you took a few months ago?”

You say, “Yes, it was a good chance for me to unwind.”

They say, “Well, while you were having fun, I was here managing everything alone. I felt so burdened.”

A narcissist victimizing himself.

You say, “But you said it was okay for me to go. We agreed on this.”

The narcissist says, “I said that because I didn’t want to hold you back, but honestly, I felt abandoned. It seems like you value your relaxation more than my well-being.”

This is an example of a narcissist bringing up the past to guilt-trip you.

Despite initially agreeing to the solo trip, the narcissist is now bringing up this past event and using it to imply that you neglected them to make you feel guilty.

When a narcissist does this, their goal is usually to make you feel bad about yourself, so you’re more inclined to prioritize their needs over your own.

4.) They Are Trying to Shift the Blame onto You

The fourth reason narcissists bring up the past is that they are blame-shifting.

This is a defense mechanism where one person will avoid accountability for something they said or did by deflecting the fault onto someone else.

For this example, I want you to imagine you’re a child. Let’s say ten years old.

Yesterday, you had a dance recital that your narcissistic parent promised to be at but never showed up.

On your way to school the next day, you say, “You forgot my school recital yesterday. It was really important to me.”

They respond, “Oh, like you never forget anything? Remember last month you forgot to walk the dog, and I had to do it myself after a long day at work?”

You say, “But my recital was important. You promised you’d be there.”

They respond, “Well, everyone forgets sometimes. You’re not exempt from that. You forgot to walk the dog, so you’re not perfect either.”

In this example, the narcissist is bringing up the past to shift the blame onto you so they can avoid taking responsibility for their actions.

5.) They Are Trying to Bait You Into an Argument

The fifth reason narcissists bring up the past is that they are trying to bait.

If you didn’t know already, baiting is a tactic that occurs when a narcissist says or does something manipulative to provoke an emotional response out of you.

Suggested Reading: What Is Narcissistic Baiting? (A Complete Guide)

For example, let’s think of a family setting again. 

Imagine you’re discussing planning a family vacation with your family. 

You say, “So, I thought we could head to the mountains for our family vacation this year. We haven’t done a trip like that yet.”

Your narcissistic siblings say, “Like that time when you took us on a ‘fun’ hiking trip, and we ended up lost for hours? Remember how scared my daughter was?”

A narcissist being manipulative at a family gathering.

Now, the truth is that it wasn’t your fault that you guys got lost. 

What had happened was someone had messed with the signs on the trail and sent you in the wrong direction, and the narcissist knows this.

So you respond, “That was a long time ago, and I’ve learned a lot since then. Besides, someone messed with the signs, you know that. This trip won’t be like that hiking trip.”

They say, “I’m not so sure. You were quite confident about that ‘adventure’ too, and look how it turned out. It seems you’re always dragging us into your reckless ideas.”

This is baiting at its finest.

Instead of talking about the upcoming vacation, your sibling brings up a past “mistake” you made to try to provoke an emotional response out of you.

What Should You Take Away from This Article?

For narcissists, bringing up the past is just another tactic they can use to get what they want.

It can manifest as gaslighting, coercive control, guilt-tripping, blame-shifting, and even baiting. 

Regardless of its form, bringing up the past is a tool narcissists use to manipulate you into doing what they want when they want it.

About the Author

Hey, I’m Elijah.

I experienced narcissistic abuse for three years. 

I create these articles to help you understand and validate your experiences.

Thank you for reading, and remember, healing is possible even when it feels impossible.

If you’re ready to heal, visit The Institute of Healing from Narcissistic Abuse to get started.


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