As someone dealing with a narcissist in your life, you know how damaging their behavior can be to your self-esteem and confidence. Narcissists are masters of manipulation and will stop at nothing to make themselves feel superior by putting you down.
The subtle and not-so-subtle ways narcissists make you feel bad about yourself can have a devastating impact over time. By recognizing these 18 tactics, you can begin to free yourself from the narcissist’s grip and rebuild your sense of self-worth.
Staying aware of their manipulative ways is the first step to overcoming a narcissist’s abuse and empowering yourself. You deserve to surround yourself with people who love and support you, not tear you down to lift themselves up.
1. A Narcissist Constantly Criticizes You.
A narcissist constantly criticizes you to make you feel inadequate and weak. Their criticism often comes out of nowhere and lacks constructive feedback, focusing instead on perceived faults and flaws. They employ subtle tactics to chip away at your self-esteem over time.
For example, a narcissist may criticize your appearance, choices, interests, accomplishments, family, and friends. No aspect of your life is off limits to their judgment. They scrutinize and pick apart even small details, leaving you feeling like nothing you do is right or good enough in their eyes.
“CNs are not reflective people and are emotionally immature. They blame others; they don’t take responsibility for themselves, but instead project their own issues onto others.”
― Debbie Mirza, The Covert Passive Aggressive Narcissist: Recognizing the Traits and Finding Healing After Hidden Emotional and Psychological Abuse
Their criticism is frequently disproportionate to the situation and intended to diminish you rather than motivate you. You may start to doubt yourself and your own judgment under the constant barrage of narcissistic criticism. Over time, you can become hypersensitive to their opinion and dependent on them to feel valued and worthy.
The underlying message is that you are somehow lacking or inferior to the narcissist. But the truth is that their criticism says more about them and their need to feel superior by putting you down.
Do not let a narcissist’s unjustified criticism make you feel bad about yourself. Recognize their tactics for what they are — a reflection of their own insecurities and unhealthy need for control. You deserve to be in relationships where you feel empowered, encouraged, and worthy.
2. A Narcissist Makes You Feel Like You’re Not Good Enough.
A narcissist will frequently make you feel as though you are not good enough to meet their unreasonable expectations and demands.
They Criticize You Constantly
Narcissists criticize and nitpick at your perceived faults and mistakes relentlessly. No matter how much you achieve or how hard you try, it is never enough to satisfy them. Their criticism is often a projection of their own self-loathing onto you. Do not accept their criticism as truth.
They Hold You to Impossible Standards
The narcissist sets impossible rules and standards that even they cannot meet, then punishes you for failing to achieve them. They expect perfection from you while accepting nothing less than imperfection from themselves. You will never win their approval by chasing unrealistic expectations, so do not make their standards your own.
They Make You Feel Inadequate
Interacting with a narcissist, you may frequently feel insecure, anxious, and inadequate. They intentionally erode your confidence and self-esteem through covert and overt manipulation, judgment, and mind games to keep you striving endlessly for their validation. Recognize that you do not need their approval to feel whole and worthy. You are enough, just as you are.
They Make You Responsible for Their Feelings
The narcissist will blame you for their anger, moods, and emotional outbursts. They refuse to take responsibility for regulating their own emotions, so they project the responsibility onto you. You cannot control how they feel, nor should you have to. Their emotions are not your fault or your burden to bear.
3. A Narcissist Compares You To Others And Makes You Feel Inferior.
A narcissist will frequently compare you to others in an attempt to make you feel inferior. They may compare your looks, intelligence, career, financial situation, or other attributes to those around you in a way that makes you feel lacking or not good enough.
“Concerning the narcissist- after having been so seemingly incredibly loving and gentle, compassionate and caring- it would be like a light switch had suddenly been turned off and “all of a sudden” they simply did not care. They turned into a cold person, someone without love, compassion, empathy or regard for the subject’s feelings what so ever. It’s like they suddenly and literally stopped being human.”
― Jacqueline Servantess
A narcissist may compare your professional or personal accomplishments to more successful people in a misguided attempt to motivate you.
However, their approach often has the opposite effect by making you feel as though your achievements are subpar or unimportant in comparison. They fail to recognize your unique qualities and circumstances.
Narcissists who are focused on physical attractiveness may harshly compare your looks to those they deem more appealing. They may make hurtful comments about your weight, style of dress, or attractiveness relative to others. These comparisons are a projection of their own shallow values and insecurities.
Minimizing Your Qualities
Rather than appreciating you for who you are, narcissists may minimize your good qualities by comparing them to someone else who they see as superior in some way. Your talents, skills, and attributes are devalued through their skewed lens of judgment and criticism.
Do not allow the narcissist’s comparisons to define your self-worth. Recognize their put-downs as a reflection of their own unhealthy fixation on status, superiority, and attractiveness.
You are a unique individual deserving of love and respect, regardless of how the narcissist judges you in relation to others. Their criticism says everything about them and nothing about you.
4. A Narcissist Put You Down In Front Of Others.
Narcissists employ humiliation and criticism as a means to exert control over their victims. Publicly disparaging or demeaning you is a way for the narcissist to damage your self-esteem and make you feel small.
When a narcissist puts you down in front of other people, it is a deliberate attempt to gain power over you and weaken your confidence.
“You know that unforgivable lie they tell about you. You may struggle with this one because you know, they know the truth. You are a good parent, but the lie must be implanted for them to win. It’s a strategy and they don’t care what it does to you or the kids because they have no empathy. It comes down to, they simply do not care about anyone but themselves. They must win.”
― Tracy A. Malone
Do not let the cruel words of the narcissist define your self-worth. Their insults say more about their own insecurities and troubled inner world than about you. You know the truth — that you are a worthy, competent, and valuable person. Do not give the narcissist power over you by internalizing their hurtful messages.
Surround yourself with people who love and support you. Their kindness can help offset the harm caused by the narcissist’s cruelty. Do not engage or argue with the narcissist, as this will only provide them supply and provoke further attacks.
Respond with empathy and detachment, rather than anger or defensiveness. You cannot control a narcissist’s behavior, you can only control your reaction to it.
Maintain confidence in yourself by focusing on your strengths, accomplishments, and relationships that enrich your life. Do not let a narcissist’s venomous words define how you see yourself.
With time and distance, their power to hurt you will fade. You deserve to be around people who treat you with basic decency, empathy, and respect.
5. A Narcissist Makes You Feel Like You’re Crazy Or Imagining Things.
Narcissists are adept at manipulating your reality and making you question your own sanity. They will deny events or conversations that happened, accuse you of fabricating things that did not actually occur, or claim that you misheard or misremembered something that was said. These tactics are meant to destabilize you and make you doubt your own mind and judgment.
Do not let a narcissist gaslight you into thinking you are mistaken or imagining the abuse. Trust your own recollections and do not rely on the narcissist’s version of events.
Keep records of interactions whenever possible, such as saving text messages, voicemails, or a journal of what has occurred. If the narcissist continues to deny the truth or accuse you of being delusional, do not engage in arguments over facts.
State your stance confidently while avoiding hostility, then disengage from the discussion. Do not let a narcissist make you feel as though you cannot trust your own senses or believe in your own sanity.
Their manipulations reveal the depths they will sink to in order to maintain control, not the truth of the situation. You know what you have experienced, so stand firm in your convictions.
6. A Narcissist Gaslight You.
A narcissist will frequently gaslight you to make you question your own sanity and perception of events. Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation where the narcissist causes you to doubt your own memory, perception, and judgment.
They Deny Things That Actually Happened.
The narcissist may deny that events you clearly recall actually occurred or claim that they happened very differently from how you remember them. They are attempting to get you to distrust your own memory and accept their version of events.
The narcissist places the blame for their cruel words and actions onto you to avoid responsibility for their abuse. They claim that you provoked them or made them act that way to make you feel that you are at fault. This causes you to question whether the abuse really happened or was really that bad.
They Isolate You From Sources of Support.
The narcissist seeks to cut you off from people who can provide reality checks and support. They may accuse your close ones of manipulating or lying to you to drive a wedge between you.
This makes their gaslighting more effective since there are fewer people to help ground you in the truth.
Recognizing these gaslighting tactics is the first step to overcoming them and reclaiming your sense of reality and self-worth. Do not let the narcissist’s manipulations cause you to doubt yourself when you know the truth.
Seek validation from people who love and support you. Their gaslighting says more about their own maliciousness than about you. You deserve to be in healthy relationships where your perception of reality is respected.
7. A Narcissist Triangulate You.
A narcissist will often triangulate you by bringing in third parties to manipulate you. They may share private details about your relationship or twist facts to make themselves look better and gain the sympathy of others.
Triangulation Weakens Your Sense of Reality
The narcissist employs triangulation to cast doubt on your perceptions and make you question your own sanity. They may tell you that others see you as too sensitive or that your concerns are irrational. This undermines your confidence in your own judgment and interpretation of events.
Triangulation Creates Conflicts and Drama
Narcissists thrive on chaos and drama. By spreading misinformation and lies about you to others, the narcissist creates tension and conflicts that feed their need for power and excitement. They enjoy watching people scramble to take sides and fight over the narcissist’s manipulations.
Triangulation Keeps You Off Balance
The narcissist uses triangulation to keep you constantly defending yourself and in a state of uncertainty. You never know what they have said about you to others or who may confront you next. This prevents you from focusing on the narcissist’s own behavior and keeps you anxious and off balance.
The tactics of triangulation employed by narcissists are meant to elevate them while making them feel inferior and powerless.
Recognizing these manipulative behaviors is the first step to breaking free from a narcissist’s control and reclaiming your sense of self.
8. A Narcissist Project Their Own Insecurities Onto You.
A narcissist will project their own insecurities and flaws onto you to make themselves feel better. They lack empathy and self-awareness, so they have a hard time accepting their own imperfections and shortcomings. It is easier for them to blame you than to take responsibility for their own issues.
They Criticize You Constantly
Narcissists frequently criticize things about you that they struggle with themselves. For example, if they have trouble managing money, they may frequently call you irresponsible or a spendthrift.
Their criticism is a reflection of their own self-loathing, not the truth about you. Do not accept these projections as facts.
They Accuse You of Things They Do Themselves
It is common for narcissists to accuse you of behaviors, thoughts, or traits that they themselves exhibit. This may include things like lying, cheating, jealousy, or selfishness.
These baseless accusations are a tactic to deflect blame from themselves and manipulate you into feeling bad or confused. Do not engage or argue — remain confident in the knowledge of your own character.
They Make You Responsible for Their Feelings
Narcissists lack the ability to self-soothe or take accountability for their emotional state. They will frequently blame you for “making them” feel a certain way. Statements like “you upset me” or “you ruined my day” are meant to obligate you to manage their emotions for them.
Do not accept responsibility for a narcissist’s feelings or reactions. You are not in control of them.
In summary, do not accept a narcissist’s projections, accusations, or attempts to make you manage your emotional state. Their behavior says much more about them than it does about you. Maintain confidence in yourself and do not engage in their manipulations.
9. A Narcissist Blame You For Everything.
Narcissists rarely take responsibility for their own actions and behaviors. Instead, they are quick to blame others, often their victims, for everything that goes wrong.
You may find that the narcissist in your life blames you for things that are clearly not your fault or even within your control. They fail to see their own role in the situation and lack the ability to accept constructive criticism or feedback.
Do not engage in their blame game or make excuses for their behavior. Remain calm and composed, state the facts, and avoid escalating the situation. Do not attack or criticize the narcissist in return, as this will likely only make them angrier and increase their hostility towards you.
You cannot control a narcissist or force them to accept responsibility for their actions. The only thing you can control is how you choose to respond. Do not let their blame and criticism make you feel bad about yourself. Their words say more about them and their character than they do about you.
The tendency to blame others is a maladaptive coping mechanism for narcissists. It allows them to maintain their grandiose view of themselves by avoiding accountability and pushing the fault onto someone else.
You do not deserve to be the target of their blame simply because you are an easy scapegoat. Remind yourself of your own self-worth and do not give in to their manipulative tactics. Stay confident in the knowledge that their blame is misplaced and stems from their own narcissistic tendencies.
10. A Narcissist Make You Feel Like You’re A Burden.
A narcissist will frequently make you feel like you’re an inconvenience or burden to them in subtle ways. They may:
Act impatient or exasperated when you need them.
A narcissist lacks empathy and has little patience for your needs or problems. They consider your requests for support, advice, or comfort as annoying demands on their time and energy.
Makes you feel guilty for asking for help.
Narcissists are manipulative and will try to convince you that you’re overly needy or demanding for seeking their assistance. They want you to believe your needs are unreasonable so you won’t bother them with them.
complain about the time and effort they spend on you.
They will claim that meeting your needs requires huge sacrifices on their part to try and make you feel like a burden. In reality, they do very little for you and any effort they do make is purely for show.
Make empty promises and fail to follow through.
Narcissists will promise you the world but rarely deliver. They have no intention of actually helping you but make false promises solely to temporarily make themselves seem generous or build your dependence on them.
Punish you for relying on others.
If you seek support from friends or family instead of the narcissist, they will become angry and resentful. They want to be the only one you depend on so they can continue to hold power over you. Don’t let a narcissist make you feel bad for having a strong support system outside of them.
11. A Narcissist Isolate You From Your Friends And Family.
A narcissist will actively work to isolate you from friends and family who threaten their control over you or see through their manipulative behavior.
They Criticize The People Closest To You
A narcissist will constantly criticize and belittle the people closest to you in an effort to drive a wedge between you. They may claim your friends and family don’t treat you well or have your best interests at heart. This is a tactic to make you emotionally dependent on them.
They Monopolize Your Time
Narcissists demand constant attention and affection. They expect you to spend all of your free time with them, leaving little opportunity to connect with others. If you do make plans with friends or family, the narcissist will make you feel guilty for it. They want to be the center of your world.
They Spread Lies And Manipulate
To turn you against your close ones, a narcissist won’t hesitate to spread malicious lies and gossip about them. They are masters of manipulation and will spin half-truths and portray themselves as the victim to gain your sympathy and trust. Their goal is to damage these relationships so they can have you all to themselves.
They Isolate You Emotionally
The cumulative effect of these behaviors is to isolate you emotionally from external support systems. A narcissist wants you to rely solely on them to have your emotional needs met so you are easier to control and manipulate.
Don’t let them cut you off from the people who truly care about you. Maintain those relationships to avoid isolation and dependence on the narcissist.
12. A Narcissist Controls Your Finances.
A narcissist seeks to gain control over all aspects of your life, including your finances. They may:
Monitor Your Spending
A narcissist closely monitors how you spend your money and time. They criticize your financial decisions and pressure you to spend money on them or joint activities they prefer. They make you feel guilty for spending on yourself or your own interests and hobbies.
Restrict Your Access
To gain power over you, a narcissist may restrict your access to money and financial information. They may not allow you to have your own bank account or credit card. They hide financial documents and statements from you and forbid you from reviewing tax returns or retirement accounts. This limits your independence and ability to leave the relationship.
Make Unilateral Financial Decisions
Narcissists make important financial decisions without consulting you, such as making large purchases, investments, or moving money between accounts. They do not value your input or consent. Their unilateral control over finances is a means of exerting power and dominance over you.
Refuse To Share Financial Responsibilities
While narcissists demand control over finances, they often refuse to share financial responsibilities. They expect you to handle tasks like bill payments, budgeting, and taxes while criticizing your efforts and withholding information needed to complete these duties effectively.
This imbalance of power and unreasonable demands are emotionally and mentally exhausting.
Regaining control of your finances is an important step in freeing yourself from a narcissist’s grasp. Set clear boundaries, open your own accounts, review statements regularly, and consult a financial advisor to develop an exit plan. Your financial independence and security depend upon it.
13. A Narcissist Abuse You Physically Or Emotionally.
A narcissist may resort to physical or emotional abuse to maintain control over you and make you feel worthless.
Narcissists may physically harm their victims through actions like hitting, slapping, or forcibly restraining them. Any form of physical abuse is unacceptable and should be reported to the authorities immediately.
“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. …We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society. …In almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons…who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind.”
― Edward Bernays, Propaganda
Emotional abuse aims to chip away at the victim’s self-esteem through insults, threats, gaslighting, and other manipulative tactics. A narcissist may:
- Call you names like “stupid,” “ugly,” or “worthless” to make you feel unworthy of love or respect.
- Threaten to hurt you or leave you to instill fear and compliance.
- Blame you for their abusive behavior by claiming you “provoked” them.
- Make unreasonable demands and criticize you constantly to gain power over you.
No one deserves to experience abuse of any kind. If you recognize these harmful behaviors in your relationship, reach out to local authorities, a domestic abuse helpline, or a medical professional for help right away.
You do not have to deal with this alone, and there are people who want to help you.
14. A Narcissist Threaten To Leave You Or Hurt You.
Narcissists may threaten to break up with you or divorce you in order to control your behavior and force you to do what they want.
They know that abandonment is one of your greatest fears, so they wield it as a weapon. Alternatively, they may threaten physical violence, blackmail, or retaliation if you don’t comply with their demands.
These threats are meant to intimidate you and keep you in line. Do not let a narcissist have this power over you. Their threats are often empty and used primarily as a manipulation tactic.
“I’ve been doing this a long time- manipulating people to get my way. That’s why you think you love me. Because I’ve broken you down and built you back up to believe it. It wasn’t an accident. Once you leave this behind….. you’ll see that. -Caleb”
― CJ Roberts, Seduced in the Dark
You deserve to feel safe and secure in your relationships. If a narcissist’s threats escalate or they become physically violent, do not hesitate to contact local authorities for help.
No one deserves to feel fearful or in danger in their own relationship. Recognize these threats for what they are — a means of control, and do not allow a narcissist to bully or frighten you into submission. You are worthy of respect and compassion. Do not accept anything less.
15. A Narcissist Make You Feel Like You’re Worthless.
Narcissists are adept at making their victims feel utterly worthless. They employ manipulation and criticism to chip away at your self-esteem, often in subtle ways that make you question your own judgment and reality.
Some common tactics narcissists use to devalue their targets include:
- Constant criticism and nitpicking over minor imperfections or perceived flaws. No matter what you do, it is never good enough for the narcissist.
- Comparing yourself unfavorably to others to make you feel like you don’t measure up. The narcissist will hold up unrealistic examples of success and accomplishment to highlight your supposed inadequacies and failures.
- Withholding affection or giving the “silent treatment” to keep you anxious and eager to please. The narcissist uses emotional withdrawal to make you work for their approval and validation.
- Discounting or ignoring your needs, feelings, and opinions. What you want and feel does not matter to the narcissist. Your role is to serve their needs and egos.
- Blaming you for the narcissist’s own bad behavior, mistakes, and shortcomings. You become the scapegoat for their lack of responsibility and flaws.
- Constantly changing expectations and goalposts so you never feel secure in the relationship or good enough. Just when you meet one unrealistic demand, the narcissist makes another.
The cumulative effect of these tactics is to systematically break down your confidence and self-worth, making you emotionally dependent on the narcissist’s approval.
16. A Narcissist Make You Feel Like You’ll Never Be Good Enough.
A narcissist will frequently make you feel as though you are never adequate enough to meet their unrealistic expectations. No matter how much you achieve or how much you improve yourself, it will never be sufficient in their eyes.
You Can Never Be Good Enough
A narcissist believes they are superior to others. As a result, they hold people around them to unrealistic standards that are impossible to meet.
When you inevitably fail to meet these standards, the narcissist will criticize you, put you down, and make you feel worthless. They move the goalposts continuously so you can never feel a sense of accomplishment or like you are good enough for them.
“Abuse manipulates and twists a child’s natural sense of trust and love. Her innocent feelings are belittled or mocked and she learns to ignore her feelings. She can’t afford to feel the full range of feelings in her body while she’s being abused — pain, outrage, hate, vengeance, confusion, arousal. So she short-circuits them and goes numb. For many children, any expression of feelings, even a single tear, is cause for more severe abuse. Again, the only recourse is to shut down. Feelings go underground.”
― Laura Davis, Allies in Healing: When the Person You Love Was Sexually Abused as a Child
This damaging behavior serves to keep you seeking the narcissist’s approval while eroding your own self-esteem. The only way to escape this cycle is through recognizing these tactics, setting boundaries, and limiting contact with the narcissist as much as possible.
You deserve to be around people who love and accept you as you are. Do not let a narcissist’s false narrative convince you otherwise.
17. A Narcissist Make You Feel Like You’re Unlovable.
Narcissists commonly give affection and compliments arbitrarily and inconsistently to keep their victims seeking approval. One day they shower you with praise and affection, the next they criticize and ignore you. This unpredictable behavior leads you to constantly strive for their validation and approval.
They Make You Feel Responsible for Their Feelings
Narcissists lack empathy and frequently blame others for their own emotional states. They make you feel responsible for their anger, sadness, or distress and that you must work to keep them happy.
This transfers responsibility for their emotions onto you and makes you feel as though you must earn their love and affection.
They Isolate You From Outside Support
Narcissists want to maintain control and power over their victims. One way they accomplish this is by isolating you from friends and family who could offer support.
They may verbally attack people close to you or claim that others are jealous or disapproving of the relationship. This undermines your other relationships and support systems, making the narcissist the sole source of love and validation in your life.
Through these manipulative tactics, narcissists systematically break down your self-esteem and confidence, making you reliant on them to feel lovable or worthwhile. Recognizing these behaviors is the first step to breaking free from their control and learning to love yourself again.
18. A Narcissist Make You Feel Like You’re A Failure.
A narcissist will often engage in behaviors designed to make you feel like a failure. They may frequently criticize your accomplishments and point out your perceived flaws and mistakes.
The narcissist will subject you to constant criticism for your choices, decisions, and actions. No matter what you do, it is never good enough in their eyes.
They will pick apart your efforts and point out what you did wrong or how you could have done better. Over time, this persistent criticism can chip away at your self-esteem and confidence, making you feel like you can’t do anything right.
Minimizing Your Achievements
When you do succeed at something or accomplish a goal, the narcissist will minimize your achievements. They may claim that your success was due to luck or factors outside of your control, rather than your own efforts or skills. Their dismissive attitude prevents you from feeling good about your wins and enjoying your achievements.
The narcissist may impose unrealistic expectations on you that are nearly impossible to meet. When you inevitably fall short of these unrealistic standards, they use them as further evidence of your failure and incompetence.
No matter how much you do or how hard you try, you can never seem to measure up to their implausible expectations.
Over time, living with these behaviors can seriously damage your self-worth and confidence in yourself. But by recognizing these tactics, you can begin to protect yourself from a narcissist’s attempts to make you feel like a failure. You deserve to be surrounded by people who appreciate you and support your efforts to grow and achieve.
The harsh reality is that narcissists will never change. Their fragile egos and need for constant admiration and control drive their toxic behavior.
Rather than internalizing their manipulative tactics, recognize them for what they are — reflections of the narcissist’s own insecurities and weaknesses.
Do not let their cruelty define your self-worth. Surround yourself with people who love and support you, engage in self-care, and be confident knowing you deserve so much better.
Break the cycle of abuse and choose freedom. The narcissist has already taken enough from you. Do not give them the power to steal your happiness and sense of self too.
You are stronger and better than their selfish games. Believe in yourself and stay true to who you are.