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The Methods Narcissists Use to Traumatize Their Victims

Tips to overcome narcissistic abuse.

Key points

  • Narcissists may use manipulation tactics such as saying something hurtful and passing it off as a joke.
  • Overcoming manipulation could involve listening to oneself, setting boundaries, and refusing to engage in verbal combat.
  • It’s important for people to be proactive about protecting themselves from emotional harm, even if it means walking away.

A relationship with a narcissist is a roller coaster ride. These relationships often start out as a dream dating relationship, only to turn into a nightmare. Anyone can be caught up in a relationship with a narcissist, but individuals with a history of trauma or emotional abuse are more likely to be trapped in these relationships.

One of the reasons that narcissists are able to keep partners through the emotional and abuse and traumatization is their ability to manipulate. This manipulation starts early in the honeymoon phase of the relationship, where it is often viewed by the partner as something completely different. Through ongoing gaslighting and demeaning of the partner, the narcissist undermines the individual's self-worth and self-confidence, creating extreme emotional abuse that is constant and devastating.

Common Types of Manipulation

It is essential to realize the narcissist is not acting out of a lack of understanding of the damage they are causing the partner. Instead, they are individuals with no ability to feel empathy and a sense of superiority to all around them. They use strategic tactics to manipulate. They refuse to take any responsibility for anything negative in their lives, blaming the partner for all that is wrong while taking credit for all that is right.

Common manipulation tactics used by narcissists include:

Little comments. Early in the relationship, little negative comments are often said in an offhanded way. These comments may seem trivial, but they are setting the groundwork for acceptance of higher levels of negativity in the future. Watch for constant comments like:

  • You don't really mean that …
  • You can't be serious about …
  • It's not your fault you don't understand …
  • You are so sensitive about …

"Just joking." It is not unusual for a partner to say something they think is funny when it is hurtful. Narcissists do not do this by accident, but rather as a strategic way to wound and traumatize. They do not apologize. Instead, they try to pass the continuous barrage of hurtful comments off as a joke or your unreasonable levels of sensitivity.

"It's your problem." One of the most common tactics used to wound and hurt is projecting their issues onto the partner. This often comes across in statements such as:

  • You don't care about me; it is all about you
  • You have to be in control of every detail
  • You are paranoid
  • You are mistaken
  • You don't value this relationship
  • You have that wrong
  • You aren't remembering that accurately

Gaslighting, or constantly creating confusing messages to cause the partner to doubt their own memory and thinking, is a common form of abuse and manipulation. Narcissists also manipulate through withholding specific information and then acting as if you forgot.

Tips to Overcome Manipulation

There are several tips you can use to detect this type of intentional and destructive manipulation and get out of the unhealthy relationship. These include:

  • Listen to yourself. Believe in your perception and ability to understand events that are unfolding. Listen to your body and recognize signs of distress and discomfort.
  • Set boundaries. Learning to say no or disengage from a conversation that is manipulating you is a critical tool.
  • Don't engage in verbal combat. Do not argue or engage with the narcissist. Instead, walk away and ignore their attempts to draw you back in.

Working with a therapist is extremely effective in rebuilding your self-confidence and becoming empowered in setting boundaries and caring for yourself. Remember, it is highly unlikely a narcissist will change his or her behavior. You need to be proactive about protecting yourself from emotional harm and traumatization, even if it means walking away.