Have you ever felt like someone in your life has an uncanny ability to make everything about them? They never seem to care how you’re doing or feeling – it’s always about their problems, their needs, their desires. They demand constant praise and adoration but never return the favor. If this sounds familiar, you may be dealing with a narcissist. Narcissists are master manipulators who use subtle tactics to control those around them. Their behavior can leave you feeling confused, anxious, and drained. But don’t worry, we’re here to help you spot the signs. Read on to discover 18 sneaky ways narcissists get inside your head and take control. Once you know the games they play, you’ll be able to turn the tables and regain your power.
1. They Love Bomb You Early On
They shower you with affection and compliments. At first, it seems flattering. This “love bombing” is designed
to win you over and make you dependent on their praise and approval. But once you’re hooked,
the narcissist withdraws their affection and manipulates you by threatening to withhold it.
They move fast. The narcissist quickly proclaims their love and commitment to you. They pressure you into reciprocating feelings and entangle you in a serious relationship right off the bat. Before you know it, you’re exclusive. This premature intimacy and intensity is a tactic to gain control and discourage you from dating others.
Their compliments seem insincere or backhanded. Rather than authentic appreciation of who you are, the
narcissist’s praise is often exaggerated and focused on your looks, achievements, skills or other attributes
that reflect well on them. They build you up not to empower you but to make you easier to manipulate.
They isolate you. The narcissist discourages your existing relationships and activities to make you dependent on them. At first, their jealousy and possessiveness may feel like love, but really it’s about control. They want your world to revolve around them.
Staying aware of these manipulative tactics can help prevent you from becoming ensnared in the narcissist’s web. Trust your instincts – if something feels off about the way they lavish you with praise or push for commitment early on, there’s a good chance your intuition is right. The healthier choice is to slow down, maintain your independence, and look for genuine partners who empower and support you.
2. Gaslighting and Projection Are Their Go-to Tactics
Narcissists are masters of manipulation and their favorite tactics are gaslighting and projection.
Gaslighting makes you question your own reality and perception of events. They might deny that something happened when it did or claim you said or did something you know you didn’t. This makes you doubt yourself and rely on the narcissist’s version of reality.
Projection is when they accuse you of the same negative traits, behaviors, thoughts, or emotions that they themselves actually possess. For example, if they call you selfish, it’s really because they are selfish. If they say you have anger issues, it’s likely their anger is out of control.
These manipulations are hard to recognize but once you do, don’t engage. Respond with empathy and kindness, set clear boundaries, and remove yourself from the situation. You know your truth. Don’t let anyone distort your reality or make you feel bad for qualities they themselves display.
Staying Calm and Confident
The more you recognize these tactics, the less effective they’ll be. Remain calm and confident, stick to the facts, and don’t apologize or make excuses for things you haven’t done. Don’t argue or try to get them to see your perspective. They likely never will.
Just remember that you deserve to be in healthy relationships where your reality is respected and your self-worth isn’t challenged. Don’t let narcissists make you forget that.
3. They Withhold Affection and Intimacy
Narcissists are masters of manipulation and control. One of their favorite tactics is withholding affection and intimacy.
They may shower you with attention and affection during the initial stages of a relationship to win you over. But once they have you hooked, the affection and intimacy starts to disappear. They become cold, critical and withdrawn to keep you anxious and insecure. This is a way to maintain control over you.
You find yourself constantly seeking their approval and validation but they dangle it in front of you like a carrot, only giving you crumbs when they feel like it. They make you feel like you have to work for any bit of affection or intimacy, keeping you in a perpetual state of uncertainty.
Don’t fall for it. Recognize this behavior for what it is – a way to manipulate you. Don’t let their hot and cold behavior make you question your own self-worth. You deserve so much more than crumbs. The only way to win their game is not to play.
4. Everything Is Always Your Fault
Narcissists never take responsibility for their actions. They always blame others, usually their victims. You’ll find that around a narcissist, everything is always your fault in some way.
Did they yell at you in public? It was because you embarrassed them. Did they forget your birthday? It’s because you didn’t remind them enough. Are they chronically late? It’s your fault for not allowing enough time. The excuses and blame shifting will be constant.
Narcissists have a way of spinning situations to make themselves look like the victim. Your natural instinct may be to want to argue your point and defend yourself. Don’t bother. It will only cause more conflict and chaos. The narcissist isn’t interested in the truth, only in being right and making you the scapegoat.
Over time, constantly being blamed for the narcissist’s actions and choices can seriously damage your self-esteem. You may start to doubt yourself and feel like you really are the problem. Don’t fall into this trap. Their behavior says everything about them, and nothing about you. You deserve to surround yourself with people who take responsibility for their actions and treat you with kindness and respect.
5. Their Apologies Are Hollow and Insincere
Narcissists are masters of manipulation and their apologies are no exception. When a narcissist apologizes to you, it’s rarely sincere. Here are some signs their apology is hollow:
It’s All About Them
A narcissist will apologize in a way that focuses on themselves, not you. They’ll say things like “I feel bad for what I did” or “I hate when I act like that.” The apology is meant to gain sympathy for them, not express genuine regret for hurting you.
They Blame External Factors
Narcissists have a hard time taking responsibility for their actions. Their apologies will likely blame something else for their behavior like stress, alcohol, or their childhood. They’ll say “I was drunk, I didn’t mean it” or “I had a rough day, I couldn’t help it.” Real apologies acknowledge the person’s direct role in what happened.
They Demand Forgiveness
A narcissist believes they’re entitled to forgiveness. They think an insincere “I’m sorry” should magically erase the pain they caused. When you don’t forgive them instantly, they become angry and defensive. Genuine apologies come with patience, understanding and a willingness to make things right.
Change is Temporary
Narcissists may change their behavior for a short time after apologizing but soon return to their old ways. A sincere apology represents real change and growth. Narcissists lack the self-awareness and empathy to change long-term, so their manipulative and hurtful behaviors will continue repeating.
They Use Qualifying Language
Listen closely for qualifiers like “if” or “but.” A narcissist might say “I’m sorry if I hurt you, but you were acting crazy.” This subtly shifts the blame onto you and minimizes their role. A real apology should be unequivocal.
6. They Keep You Isolated From Friends and Family
Narcissists know that the more people in your life who care about you, the less control and manipulation they have over you. So, they systematically work to isolate you from people who love and support you.
They may make excuses for why you shouldn’t see certain friends or family members, portray them in a negative light, or plan activities and events that conflict with get-togethers. When you do see your close ones, the narcissist may sulk, pick fights, or give you the silent treatment to punish you for spending time with others.
Don’t fall for their tactics. Maintain your outside relationships and connections since they provide reality checks and unconditional support. Let the narcissist know their behavior is unacceptable, and that you won’t be controlled or isolated. Spend time with people who love and appreciate you for who you are. The more you pull away from the narcissist’s grip, the less power they have over you.
7. They Rage and Stonewall When Challenged
When you challenge or criticize a narcissist, their rage is ugly. Rather than engage in a constructive conversation, they attack you to regain control of the situation.
They rage and insult.
If you point out a narcissist’s flaws or mistakes, they will fly into a rage and hurl insults. Their goal is to make you feel small so they can feel superior again. Don’t engage with their insults. Stay calm and restate your point.
They play the victim.
Narcissists are quick to play the victim when criticized. They will claim you are attacking or bullying them to gain sympathy and turn others against you. This manipulative tactic shifts the focus from their bad behavior to your supposed cruelty. Don’t fall for the victim act.
They give you the silent treatment.
One of the narcissist’s favorite ways to punish you for challenging them is with the cold shoulder. They stonewall you with icy silence in hopes that you will apologize just to end their childish behavior. Don’t give in. Enjoy the peace and quiet. Their silent treatment won’t last long once they realize it’s not affecting you.
The narcissist’s rage, insults, and stonewalling are all manipulative tactics to regain control when their ego is threatened. Stay calm and remember: their outrage says far more about them than it does about you. Do not engage or apologize. Stand firm in the truth and their temper tantrums will subside.
8. Recovering From Narcissistic Abuse FAQs
Dealing with narcissistic abuse can be incredibly damaging and difficult to overcome. Here are some frequently asked questions about recovering from a narcissistic relationship:
What steps should I take to start healing?
The first step is going “no contact” with your narcissistic ex. Block them on all platforms and avoid seeing or speaking to them when possible. Next, connect with your support network of close friends and family. Let others who care about you provide comfort and help keep the narcissist out of your life.
It’s also important to be gentle with yourself during this time. Do small acts of self-care each day like journaling your feelings, exercising, meditation, or pursuing hobbies and interests you enjoy. Speaking to a therapist or abuse counselor can also help you work through emotions and find strategies for rebuilding your confidence and self-esteem.
How long will it take to recover?
Recovering from narcissistic abuse is a journey that looks different for everyone. It can take months or even years to heal from the emotional trauma and damage. The key is focusing on self-care, maintaining distance from your abuser, and being patient with yourself throughout the process.
Will the narcissist ever change?
In short, it’s very unlikely a narcissist will change their behavior or treatment of others. Narcissistic personality disorder is a complex condition, and narcissists typically lack insight into their own actions and the damage they cause. The healthiest approach is to accept the narcissist as they are, set firm boundaries, limit contact as much as possible, and place your own mental health and happiness first.
9. They Make Everything About Them
When dealing with a narcissist, everything becomes about them. Their needs, wants, feelings, and desires take precedence over anyone else’s. Some signs the conversation has become all about them:
They interrupt you constantly.
Your stories, experiences, and opinions don’t matter. They cut you off mid-sentence to redirect the focus back to themselves.
They never ask follow up questions. A normal back-and-forth conversation involves asking questions to show interest in the other person. Not so with a narcissist. They just wait for their next chance to talk about themselves.
They relate everything back to themselves. No matter what you’re discussing, they find a way to make it about them. Your experience with something instantly becomes their similar (and of course more dramatic or interesting) experience.
They demand constant praise and admiration. Conversations become exhausting competitions to shower them with compliments. Anything less than fawning over them is seen as criticism, which they cannot handle.
They exaggerate their own achievements and talents. Their accomplishments and skills are always just a bit better or more impressive than seems plausible. But if you question the details, you’ll face their narcissistic rage.
It’s emotionally draining to spend time with someone who makes every conversation revolve around themselves. Recognizing these attention-seeking behaviors is the first step to establishing better boundaries – or removing this toxic person from your life altogether.
10. They Constantly Seek Attention and Validation
Narcissists crave attention and validation from those around them. They constantly seek praise and admiration to feed their fragile ego and sense of self-worth.
They Brag Excessively
Narcissists tend to brag and boast whenever they get the chance. They love to talk themselves up and share exaggerated stories of their achievements and accomplishments. They crave the admiration and envy of others.
They Drop Names and Make Exaggerated Claims
Do they frequently name drop and brag about their connections and relationships with famous or important people? They may also make outrageous claims about their power, prestige, and influence to impress you.
They React Strongly to Perceived Slights
Anything that threatens their inflated self-image is met with hostility and rage. They perceive even constructive criticism as a personal attack and react defensively.
They Demand Constant Compliments
Narcissists expect a steady stream of compliments, praise, and ego stroking from those around them. If you don’t provide enough admiration and adulation, they become angry or sullen.
They Flaunt Their Lifestyle
Narcissists feel the need to flaunt their lifestyle, status, and wealth as a way to prove their superiority over others. Excessive displays of luxury and lavish spending are common. They believe this extravagance makes them admirable and enviable.
In dealing with narcissists, be wary of their manipulative tactics to gain attention and control. Don’t feed into their ego and narcissistic supply by lavishing them with praise and compliments they haven’t truly earned. Maintain your boundaries and don’t let their selfish behavior impact your own self-esteem. The only person you need to please is yourself.
11. They React Vindictively to Perceived Criticism or Slights
Narcissists have fragile egos and see any criticism as a threat. If you dare to criticize them or call out their bad behavior in any way, watch out. They will likely react with rage and seek revenge.
Rather than reflect on the feedback, they will attack you in return. They may give you the silent treatment, spread rumors about you, or sabotage your work or relationships. Their retribution will be disproportionate to the perceived offense.
Don’t expect a reasonable discussion. Narcissists lack empathy and believe they are always right, so in their minds you deserve to be punished for daring to criticize them. The only way to avoid triggering their vindictive rage is to avoid confronting or criticizing them altogether. But that means allowing them to continue their narcissistic behavior unchecked. It’s a lose-lose situation when dealing with these vengeful manipulators.
12. They Become Obsessed With Fantasies of Success
Narcissists live in a fantasy world where they envision themselves as hugely successful and admired. They daydream endlessly about future glory and achievement. In their mind, they are the star of the show and everyone else plays a supporting role.
These fanciful illusions help narcissists feel superior to others and mask their fragile self-esteem. They spin tales of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love that make their actual lives pale in comparison. Since narcissists feel entitled to these fantasies, they get annoyed when reality intrudes and reminders of their actual circumstances burst their bubble.
When talking with narcissists, they will often dwell on their dreams and ambitions rather than their actual lives. They see themselves as heroes in the stories they construct. Their fantasies are childlike and built on magical or wishful thinking rather than logic or facts. For narcissists, the line between reality and fiction is blurred. They get so caught up in their own mythology that the truth becomes irrelevant.
Fantasies of success and glory prevent narcissists from honestly evaluating themselves and their lives. They allow narcissists to escape their deep-seated feelings of inadequacy and maintain their exaggerated sense of superiority. The trouble is, these fantasies severely limit narcissists’ ability to form genuine relationships, learn from their mistakes, and grow as individuals. Their fanciful illusions doom them to endlessly chase after unrealistic goals that they never actually achieve.
In the end, narcissists’ dreams of success remain forever out of their reach. Their lives become an endless quest to fulfill fantasies that simply can’t come true.
13. They Foster Co-Dependency in Relationships
Narcissists are masters of manipulation and will do whatever it takes to maintain control over their victims. One of their favorite tactics is fostering co-dependency in their relationships.
They make you feel like you need them. Narcissists want you to rely on them emotionally, practically, and financially. They may insist on controlling finances, transportation, healthcare decisions, or other essential life functions to make you dependent on them. Over time, your self-esteem erodes as they chip away at your independence and autonomy.
Stand up for yourself by setting clear boundaries and taking back control over your own life. Make your own friends, pursue your own hobbies and interests, and work to become financially independent. The more self-sufficient you are, the less influence the narcissist will have over you. Breaking free from a narcissist’s grip can be challenging, but by building your confidence from the inside out, you can escape their manipulation and regain your independence.
14. They Use Shaming and Guilt-Tripping to Exert Control
Narcissists are masters of manipulation and control. One of their favorite tactics is shaming and guilt-tripping you. They make you feel like you’re never good enough, and that you constantly need to prove yourself to them.
They belittle your accomplishments.
When you achieve something, they downplay it or claim they could have done better. They can’t stand you receiving praise or outshining them in any way.
They make you feel guilty for having your own life.
If you want to spend time with friends or pursue your own hobbies and interests, they make you feel selfish for not giving them your full attention. They want you to put their needs first, always.
They give you the silent treatment.
One of their most damaging tactics is refusing to speak to you, sometimes for days. The silent treatment is emotionally abusive and meant to punish you for some perceived slight or for not bending to their will.
They blame you for their bad moods or outbursts.
Rather than take responsibility for their own emotions and actions, they blame you. And they expect you to walk on eggshells to avoid upsetting them or face their wrath.
Don’t fall for these manipulative tactics. Recognize them for what they are – attempts to undermine your self-esteem and independence so you’ll remain under the narcissist’s control. You deserve to surround yourself with people who treat you with kindness, empathy and respect.
15. They Feel Supervisor and Detest Showing Vulnerability
Narcissists hate showing any vulnerability or weakness. They want to appear perfect and in control at all times. If they slip up and show a crack in their armor, they will twist the situation to make themselves the victim.
They Blame Others
When a narcissist makes a mistake or experiences a failure, they will blame external factors and rarely take responsibility. It’s always someone else’s fault – their boss, their coworkers, the economy, the weather. Any excuse to avoid admitting imperfection.
You may gently point out their role in what happened, but don’t expect them to accept blame or apologize. Their ego won’t allow it. They will continue to deny and deflect, attacking you in the process. It’s best not to argue or try to make them see reason. You won’t win.
Narcissists loathe feeling dependent or needing others in any way. Needing people implies vulnerability, and that makes them deeply uncomfortable. So they ensure the relationships in their life feed their ego and sense of power, not intimacy or mutual support.
If you’re in a relationship with a narcissist, their refusal to be vulnerable and let you in will ultimately leave you feeling alone and confused. You deserve so much more – a healthy, reciprocal relationship where you can both share your imperfections and find acceptance.
16. They Become Enraged When Feeling Rejected or Insulted
Narcissists can’t handle rejection or criticism and will often lash out in anger when they feel insulted or rejected.
Watch out for their rage and over-the-top anger when you say “no”, don’t give them what they want, or provide constructive feedback. Their disproportionate anger is a way to manipulate and control you. Don’t engage or argue with them, remain calm and set clear boundaries. Walk away if needed until they cool down.
Their anger is not your fault or your problem to fix. Don’t make excuses for their behavior or feel responsible for their emotions. You have every right to say no or provide honest feedback without fear of backlash. Their rage is a reflection of their fragile ego and inability to handle anything that threatens their self-image.
Stand up for yourself while also protecting your own safety. Get help from others if you feel unsafe. You don’t deserve to be emotionally or physically abused. Seek counseling or call emergency services if needed in dangerous situations.
The narcissist’s anger will subside once they get what they want or realize their manipulation isn’t working. Stay detached from their drama and remain confident in yourself. Don’t let their rage make you question your own judgment or self-worth.
17. They Exploit Others With No Remorse
Narcissists are skilled manipulators and have no qualms about exploiting others for their own gain. They see people as objects to use for their own benefit and will do so without remorse.
Lying and Exaggerating the Truth
Narcissists have no problem lying or exaggerating the truth to get what they want. They will tell you what you want to hear, make empty promises, and distort the truth without a second thought. They believe their own lies and feel entitled to lie if it helps them achieve their goals.
Don’t expect a narcissist to feel guilty about lying or breaking promises. They lack empathy and are focused on their own self-interest. The truth is whatever benefits them in the moment.
Using Flattery and Charm
Narcissists know how to turn on the charm to get what they want. They are skilled at flattering and complimenting people to make them feel good and let their guard down. But their compliments are often shallow and insincere. They flatter to manipulate and once they’ve gotten what they want, their charming behavior disappears.
Don’t be taken in by a narcissist’s flattery and charm. Their compliments are not genuine and they are only using them to get something from you, whether it’s praise, money, status or power over you. Their ulterior motives will become clear soon enough.
Playing the Victim
Narcissists are adept at playing the victim to gain sympathy and manipulate people. They blame others for their own bad behavior and failures, act like they are the ones being treated unfairly, and make exaggerated claims about being wronged to cast themselves as the victim.
Don’t fall for a narcissist’s victim act. They are only pretending to be the victim to exploit your compassion and get you to make excuses for them, give them special treatment or go along with what they want. Their victimhood is just another tactic to manipulate you.
18. They Lack Meaningful Emotional Depth and Intimacy
Narcissists tend to lack meaningful emotional depth or intimacy in their relationships. They have trouble genuinely connecting with others on an emotional level.
Their emotions are typically quite shallow. They often don’t seem to experience emotions like empathy, compassion, or remorse deeply or meaningfully. Their emotional expressions frequently feel contrived or disingenuous.
Lack of Emotional Intimacy
Narcissists struggle with emotional intimacy. Emotional intimacy requires qualities like vulnerability, honesty, trust, and reciprocity – all of which narcissists lack. They have trouble opening up, sharing their genuine feelings, or being emotionally available and present.
It’s All About Them
Conversations with narcissists usually center around them. They rarely ask questions about you or express interest in your life, feelings, or experiences. They lack empathy and the ability to emotionally support others.
Narcissists offer conditional regard and affection. They provide validation and affection as long as you’re meeting their needs and giving them the praise, admiration or respect they desire. Their “love” or affection is very conditional.
The lack of emotional depth or intimacy is one of the most damaging aspects of a relationship with a narcissist. Without a meaningful emotional connection, relationships feel empty, lonely and unfulfilling. The inability to emotionally connect is a subtle but destructive tactic narcissists use to control and manipulate their victims.
How Can I Identify if Someone Is Manipulating Me as a Narcissist?
Recognizing signs of narcissistic behavior can help you identify if someone is manipulating you as a narcissist. Keep an eye out for their excessive need for admiration, lack of empathy, and constant need to be the center of attention. Manipulators may exploit your weaknesses and gaslight you, making you doubt your own reality. Beware of subtle tactics that aim to control and undermine your self-esteem. Trust your instincts and seek support if you suspect manipulation.
So there you have it – 18 sneaky ways narcissists manipulate and control the people around them. The good news is, that now that you know what to look for, you’ll be able to spot these toxic behaviors from a mile away. Remember, you deserve to surround yourself with people who treat you with kindness, empathy and respect.
Don’t let anyone make you feel small or unimportant. If you’re currently in a relationship with someone who exhibits these narcissistic traits, consider whether the relationship is right for you. You have the power to remove yourself from harmful situations and choose to spend time with people who lift you up instead of tear you down. Stay strong and trust your instincts!