7 Ways Narcissists Manipulate Relationships
How narcissists use "narcissistic supply" to exploit relationships.
Posted March 3, 2019 | Reviewed by Kaja Perina
“Some people try to be tall by cutting off the heads of others” —Paramhansa Yogananda
“It’s not easy being superior to everyone I know.” —Anonymous
The Mayo Clinic research group defines narcissistic personality disorder as “a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance and a deep need for admiration. Those with narcissistic personality disorder believe that they're superior to others and have little regard for other people's feelings. But behind this mask of ultra-confidence lies a fragile self-esteem, vulnerable to the slightest criticism.”
Narcissistic supply is a form of psychological addiction and dependency, where the narcissist requires (demands) constant importance, “special treatment,” validation, and/or appeasement in order to feel good about him or herself. This insatiable craving to be “put on a pedestal” explains to a large extent the narcissist’s sense of conceit, entitlement, and self-absorption.
In order to constantly fill their “supply,” many narcissists deliberately find or create scenarios where they can regularly receive attention and the feeling of infallibility. They also purposely target relationships with individuals (victims) who are prone to their initial charm, gullible to their manipulation, and vulnerable to their exploitation. At home or at work, in ways large and small, the narcissist craves the constant stroking of their ego. They desperately depend on this “supply” to compensate for their inner emptiness and relieve their fragile self-esteem.
Below are seven manipulative roles that narcissists often enact in order to receive a regular flow of narcissistic supply, with references from my books, How to Successfully Handle Narcissists and A Practical Guide for Narcissists to Change Towards the Higher Self. While some people may engage in one of the behaviors below on occasion, which may not be a major issue, a chronic narcissist will habitually dwell in one or more of the following personas on a regular basis, in order to feel adequate about him or herself.
1. The Self-Anointed Know It All
“My father’s favorite responses to my views were: ‘but…,’ ‘actually…,’ and ‘there’s more to it than this…’ He always has to feel like he knows better.” —Anonymous
The narcissist may position themselves at home, at work, or in social situations as the “know it all,” “expert,” or “authority,” constantly marginalizing, correcting, and invalidating others’ points of view. Narcissist know-it-alls are also frequent conversation hoarders and interrupters. Notably, even when they’re not criticizing or correcting your views, they may listen briefly and then go right back to what they were talking about, as if what you said didn’t matter at all. You exist merely as a convenient tool for their supply.
“That’s enough of me talking about myself; let’s hear you talk about me.” —Anonymous
2. The Dominant Controller / Judge / Savior
“These picture frames in the living room are crooked. I told you to check when you clean the house. Come on! Don’t be stupid!!” —Anonymous husband to wife
The narcissist may target and position themselves in personal or professional relationships with those who allow them to dominate, judge, criticize, or marginalize on a regular basis. The narcissist feels full of themselves by controlling and subjugating others. A variation of this type of social domination is the narcissist who receives his or her supply by “rescuing” others, thereby proclaiming himself as the “indispensable savior.”
“Once again, I saved the day—without me, they’re nothing!” —Anonymous
3. The Merit Badge Collector / Pedestal Seeker
“My accomplishments are everything.” —Anonymous executive
Some narcissists purposely select professional endeavors where they can be regularly admired and/or feared. In this case, a major reason for the narcissist's choice is simply to be “superior," “important," and “special," rather than sincerely desiring to make a contribution for the greater good.
“He thinks he is a god because he’s a doctor.” —Anonymous
“She chose to be (a security officer) so she can be mean to people and get away with it.” —Anonymous
4. The Boundary Violator / Exploiter
“Rules are meant to be broken—that’s how you win.” —Anonymous
The narcissist may regularly use their charm, persuasion, or coercion to pressure people into giving them what they want, even when it’s clearly one-sided and unreasonable. Some are particularly fond of manipulating others into surrendering their boundaries. Here, the narcissistic supply is based on others succumbing to the narcissist's exploitative influence, which they consider “winning” and ego-affirming. Many pathological narcissists do not relate, they use.
“I take pride in persuading people to give me exceptions to their rules.” —Anonymous
5. The Grandiose Showoff / Braggart
“She likes to drop the phrase ‘I’m a lawyer’ into every social conversation, no matter how irrelevant.” —Anonymous
Some narcissists constantly engage in showing off, name dropping, status boasting, or “humble-bragging” about how great and wonderful their lives are, in hopes of receiving praise, recognition, and social media attention. They purposely want others to be envious of what they have, in order to feel better about themselves.
“My fiancé and I each drive a Mercedes. The best man at our upcoming wedding also drives a Mercedes!” —Anonymous
6. The Habitually Difficult / Negativity-Seeking Contagion
“My manager is deliberately picky and makes everything difficult. It gives her a sense of power.” —Anonymous
Certain narcissists are deliberately and persistently difficult, uncooperative, and/or confrontational, even when it is clearly unreasonable and unnecessary to be so. Here, the narcissist supply is the perceived power that comes from being dreaded and disliked. From the narcissist’s toxic and distorted point of view, it is better to be a thorn in the side of others than to be a nobody.
In some cases, although the narcissist may be unaware, making oneself difficult subconsciously confirms the narcissist’s inner self-loathing—that he or she does not deserve to be loved and accepted, and does not have what it takes to engage in positive and healthy relationships (narcissistic wound).
7. The Living-Through-Others Faker / Wannabe
“You have opportunities I’ve never had . . . After you become a doctor, you can do as you please. Until then you do as I say!” —Father to son in Dead Poets Society
Some narcissists live through others in hopes of boosting their own low self-esteem or vicariously fulfilling their own unrealized fantasies and dreams. The narcissistic supply comes from basking in the reflected glory of those whom they take advantage of and exploit.
“My mom used to love dolling me up in cute dresses, even though I was a tomboy by nature. I think she felt that when I received compliments for my appearance, she looked good in reflection. It boosted her self-worth.” —Anonymous
The common pattern of all the traits above is that the narcissist depends on a regular flow of narcissistic supply in order to sustain their superficial, egocentric, and conceited self-image. Those in a relationship with the narcissist are merely used as extensions of the narcissist’s self-serving needs. Deep down, however, most narcissists feel like the “ugly duckling,” even if they painfully don’t want to admit it.
Can a narcissist change for the better? Perhaps. But only if he or she is highly aware and willing to go through the courageous process of self-discovery. For narcissists no longer willing to play the charade at the cost of genuine relationships and credibility, there are ways to liberate from falsehood and progressively move toward one’s higher self. For those who live or work with narcissists, perceptive awareness and assertive communication are musts to establishing healthy and mutually respectful relationships. See references below.
© 2019 by Preston C. Ni. All rights reserved worldwide. Copyright violation may subject the violator to legal prosecution.
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Ni, Preston. How to Successfully Handle Narcissists. PNCC. (2014)
Ni, Preston. A Practical Guide for Narcissists to Change Towards the Higher Self. PNCC. (2015)
Ni, Preston. Understanding Narcissism’s Destructive Impact on Relationships — An Indispensable Reader. PNCC. (2018)
Gabbard, Glen O. “Two Subtypes of Narcissistic Personality Disorder”. Bulletin of the Menninger Clinic. (1989)
Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2016)
Johnson, S. Humanizing the Narcissistic Style. W. W. Norton & Company. (1987)
Johnson, Stephen. Character Styles. W. W. Norton & Company. (1994)
Ornstein, Paul (ed). The Search for the Self. Selected Writings of Heinz Kohut: 1950-1978. Volume 2. International University Press. (1978)
Sherrill, Stephen. Acquired Situational Narcissism. The New York Times. (December 9, 2001)