Arguing with a narcissist is one of the most useless things one could do because they have a multitude of manipulative tactics designed to amplify and weaponize your anger, while portraying themselves as innocent. 

We conducted a study among 231 survivors of narcissistic abuse to determine which manipulative tactic they experienced the most while arguing with the narcissist in their lives, and this is what we found:

If narcissists have so many different ways to amplify the anger of others, why do narcissists bring up the past more frequently than the other tactics?

Narcissists Bring Up the Past to Use Your Vulnerabilities and Insecurities Against You

One of the core aspects of narcissistic abuse is the weaponization of their victim’s vulnerabilities and insecurities. This form of abuse can manifest in a variety of ways.

For example, one of the reasons a narcissist may choose someone to be their scapegoat is because they are threatened by their emotional freedom.

Meaning that their partner, child, co-worker, or friend is open about their feelings, but because of a narcissist’s emotional inadequacy, they are jealous and threatened by this which causes them to target the individual. 

Under these circumstances, a narcissist may target an emotionally free person by mocking, minimizing, and/or ignoring their thoughts, feelings, insecurities, and vulnerabilities. 

The weaponization of one’s vulnerabilities and insecurities is a tactic narcissists have mastered over the years.

In the beginning of narcissistic relationships, especially relationships with the love bombing phase, narcissists have a variety of tactics designed to lower the guard of their victim, which enables them to learn their vulnerabilities and insecurities. 

Depending on the dynamics in beginning of the relationship, victims may feel that sharing details about themselves is a good sign for the health of the relationship, they may feel obligated to share these details about themselves, and they may even idealize the relationship and feel eager to share. 

Unfortunately, everything they share with the narcissist will be weaponized and thrown into their face in the future.

It can be incredibly destabilizing for victims of narcissistic abuse when someone they thought they had a unique connection with, uses their vulnerabilities and insecurities against them, which is one of the reasons why narcissists love bringing up the past.

Bringing Up the Past to Avoid Taking Responsibility

In our previous article, Why Do Narcissists Need a Scapegoat?, we dove into the depths of a narcissist’s emotional inadequacy and found that narcissists are some of the most self-loathing individuals on the planet. 

There’s a handful of different theories about how narcissists are made, but one thing is for sure, narcissists are severely emotionally immature.

Because of their fear of abandonment, fear of inadequacy, suppressed shame, and fragile ego a narcissist’s manipulative behavior is a defense mechanism. It allows them to project the hatred and fears they have for themselves onto other people. 

Because of their emotional inadequacy, which is the inability to regulate their own emotions, projecting their fears and self-hatred onto others enables them to create a narrative that portrays everyone else as broken, insecure, vulnerable, and unwanted, instead of themselves. 

Narcissists bring up the past to avoid taking responsibility for their actions because taking responsibility would require them to acknowledge their own shortcomings, which is impossible due to their emotional inadequacy. 

Narcissist could also bring up the past to avoid taking responsibility by making unjust comparisons. Imagine that someone is approaching their narcissistic partner to discuss the family’s financial situation. 

Instead of having a conversation about his gambling problem, he projects the blame onto his wife by bringing up her unhealthy shopping habits from the beginning of the relationship, 10 years ago. 

Even though it’s clearly an unjust comparison, victims of narcissistic abuse are often plagued with high levels of self-doubt, which enables their abuser to somehow rationalize and justify their unjust comparison.

These types of illogical comparisons when bringing up the past can also be utilized when a narcissist uses the manipulative tactic known as word salad. In the narcissistic realm, word salad is when a narcissist will say the most random statements at once to confuse their victim.

This is a very effective way to avoid taking responsibility because it often confuses the victim so severely that they either forget or give up on what they had to say in the first place.

Brining Up the Past to Devalue, Shame, Guilt, and Control You

The only way a narcissist can project their own emotional inadequacy and fears onto their victim, is if they erode the victim’s emotional stability or find someone who already has a low self-esteem.

Devaluation & Shame

During the beginning phases of the relationship, it’s very common for narcissists to extract their victim’s deepest secrets. For example, for those who’ve experienced the love bombing phase, narcissist’s will often ask questions along the lines of, “…what is your biggest secret…” or “…what do you regret the most…” 

So imagine that the victim’s biggest secret was that they stole $500 from their sister, told a lie and accidentally got someone fired, or even cheated on a past partner.

When a narcissist is armed with this kind of information, they can throw it back in their victim’s face to erode their self-esteem and subsequently, emotional stability. 

When a narcissist is able to destroy someone’s self-esteem and make them feel like they aren’t good enough, it makes it significantly more unlikely that their victim will realize that they’re in an abusive relationship. 

For example, one of the most common reasons people develop a trauma bond in adulthood, is because of an abusive childhood. When a child is forced to grow up in an abusive home, there is a likelihood that they accidentally equate abusive behavior with love. 

It sounds strange, but it’s not. 

It’s very rare that a child in an abusive environment would be able to know, and understand, that their primary caregiver is abusive. All the information children are likely to run into at a young age portray healthy relationships between a primary caregiver and a child. 

Without the proper guidance, it would be very easy for a child to accidentally equate their abusive environment with the loving relationships they are exposed to, causing them to gravitate towards abusive relationships in adulthood because it is what they are familiar with.

This concept about a child equating love with abuse, also applies when a narcissist brings up the past to shame and lower the self-esteem of their victim. After months, years, even decades of being reminded of things they are ashamed of by someone of importance, it’s very common for victims of narcissistic abuse to develop a sense of unworthiness which attributes to their belief that their abuser’s behavior is love.

When someone doesn’t believe that they’re worth anything more than the abuse they’re receiving, they don’t have the desire to seek out a healthy relationship, in fact, the concept of a healthy relationship could feel almost foreign to them.

Control

One of the hallmarks of a narcissistic personality is the uncontrollable need to be in control and/or have a significant level of power. 

When a narcissist relentlessly shames their victim about their past, it’s very common for the victim to become chronically apologetic. 

An individual feeling like they constantly have to apologize to their partner, coworker, family member or friend is a big indicator of one being a scapegoat. A scapegoat is someone a narcissist uses to regulate their emotions because they can’t do it themselves. 

As some of the most self loathing individuals on the planet, narcissists have an astonishing amount of negative emotions suppressed within themselves. Because of their emotional inadequacy they cannot address these negative emotions as a non-narcissistic person would. 

Therefore, scapegoats are essential to a narcissist’s wellbeing. They allow narcissists to regulate their hatred for themselves, shame, fears of inadequacy, and crippling emptiness by projecting it onto others.

So, another reason a narcissist may bring up the past is to acquire a significant level of control and power over their victim by making them chronically apologetic and plagued with self-doubt and self blame.

Guilt

Narcissists have a unique way of weaponizing guilt. Guilt is a core aspect of narcissistic abuse, especially when it comes to vulnerable narcissists. 

Vulnerable narcissists are the black sheep of the narcissistic realm. Due to the fact that a majority of the information about narcissism is based on grandiose narcissists, vulnerable narcissists often fly under the radar. 

Vulnerable narcissists are so introverted that they often get associated with depression. They are extremely passive aggressive, they have a tendency to minimize and resent the success of others, and they victimize themselves every chance they get.

“My ex-husband was a vulnerable narcissist and he would bring up the past to guilt me into staying in the relationship. He told me that when he was 12-14 his mother divorced his father and left the home, and he never saw her again. 

So, whenever I tried to leave the relationship, he would compare me to his mother, along with many other manipulative tactics, and I would feel so guilty. Vulnerable narcissists are hard to figure out, it took me 4 years to identify some of his behavior as narcissistic and then another 13 years to gather all the information I needed to have to leave with peace of mind.

Guilt played a big part of the relationship, somedays I feel like it was the only reason I didn’t leave sooner.” Abby 

So, bringing up the past doesn’t always have to refer to bringing up the victim’s past. While vulnerable narcissists are the most likely to bring up the past to evoke guilt and/or pity from their victim, all narcissists use guilt as a form of manipulation.

How to Protect Yourself When a Narcissist Brings Up the Past

Bringing up the past is a very manipulative tactic narcissists use to control their victim. Setting boundaries and using the gray rock method are the most effective ways of protecting yourself from narcissistic abuse. 

Setting Boundaries

One way you could set a boundary with a narcissist when they bring up the past, is by acknowledging their concerns while insisting that the conversation stay in the present. 

For example, imagine that you are confronting the narcissist in your life about their gambling addiction. When confronted with your concerns, they compare them to your tendency to buy a lot of materialistic things in the early stages of your relationship five years ago before you were married, had kids, and significant financial responsibilities.

You could set a boundary here by saying the following: 

I understand how my unhealthy shopping habits make you feel like I’m being a hypocrite. I promise to change my behavior if you promise to change your behavior as well. 

Even though their comparison was outrageous, fighting their reality will do nothing but worse in the situation. To be honest, the chances that they’ll acknowledge and respect your concerns are next to none. 

But by setting a boundary and refusing to let them distract or confuse you, you’re one step closer to regaining control over your emotional stability. 

The Grey Rock Method 

The grey rock method is beloved among victims and survivors of narcissistic abuse. It’s when someone refuses to have significant conversations with a narcissist. 

This means that the victim or survivor of narcissistic abuse will not defend, explain, argue, or justify their own actions to the narcissist.

By doing this they protect their insecurities and vulnerabilities from the narcissist which strips them of the ability to weaponize them against you and also reduces the amount of narcissistic supply in the relationship. 

When done correctly, the grey rock method makes the relationship extremely boring, which encourages the narcissist to cut their losses and move on. 

For example, imagine a narcissist told you that you looked really fat in the outfit you were wearing. 

Instead of being visibly hurt, angry, or defensive, you change the conversation and talk about the weather. 

This technique strips the narcissist in your life of their power and gives you an opportunity to regain control of your emotional stability. 

It’s important to remember that you should be indifferent to their verbal abuse while they’re in the room, but you should feel more than free to express your emotions when you’re alone and in a safe place. 

The point of the grey rock method is to protect yourself from further abuse, not neglect your own emotions. 

What Should You Take Away From This Article? 

A narcissist’s emotional immaturity makes them incapable of regulating their own emotions and addressing their own emotional instability.

Narcissists bring up the past to protect their superficial reality. By being able to weaponize the past, a narcissist is able to project their own guilt, shame, irresponsibility, fears, and inadequacies onto others.

The best way to protect yourself from further manipulation is setting boundaries and using the grey rock method.


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:

Living With a Narcissist When Leaving Isn’t an Option: Complete Guide

How to Set Boundaries With a Narcissist