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8 Insidious Ways Narcissists Try to Control You

How to sidestep narcissistic manipulation and gaslighting.

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Narcissistic people use a range of covert and overt tactics to manipulate others.

As you read through the following list of eight devious tactics, you may wish to think of a narcissist in your life and identify if any of these tactics may have been used on you.


Narcissists have a habit of accusing others of doing what, in fact, the narcissist is doing. For example:

  • Narcissists who frequently lie will accuse you of being untrustworthy.
  • Unreliable narcissists will claim that you are undependable and have let them down.
  • Rageful narcissists will say that you’re the one who needs anger management.

Narcissists tend to be unaware of such hypocrisies. They accuse in an instant, then become convinced of their accusations. Projecting allows them to avoid responsibility for their dysfunctional behavior while putting others on the defensive.

Telling you your reality

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Many narcissists believe they have special insight into others and feel justified in naming others' reality. They may say things such as, "I know you better than you know yourself."

By labeling others' thoughts, feelings, and motivations, narcissists seek to gain an upper hand by making others doubt themselves.


Narcissists feel entitled to get what they want by any means necessary. As a result, they may endlessly badger others with demands, questions, and opinions.

They may pressure you to give immediate answers or make instant decisions. They repeat lies, as if doing so makes it true. They won’t listen to other viewpoints and may get furious at questions or dissent.

Narcissists often fail to recognize how much they offend others. If they do recognize it, they either don’t care or may even take delight in doing so. Narcissists have found that in many cases other people will become exhausted and give in. For them, that’s mission accomplished.


Narcissists may talk down to others or use a tone of voice that a parent might use with a child. They may treat others as possessing lesser intelligence or having fewer rights. Demeaning others makes narcissists feel superior.


Ivelin Radkoff/Shutterstock
Source: Ivelin Radkoff/Shutterstock

Narcissists systematically minimize anything that makes them look or feel bad. They make excuses for their bad behavior by blaming others. They may deny outright that they have done anything destructive. Narcissists know that minimizing and stonewalling is hard for others to fight.

Their minimizing reveals a double standard. When a narcissist insults or hurts another person, they hardly give it a second thought. But when a narcissist feels slighted, it can feel like the end of the world to them.

Going nuclear

Narcissists are generally not adept at containing their strongest impulses or feelings. They feel free to throw tantrums, call names, or make a scene. Their larger-than-life feelings and reactions make them feel powerful and discharge uncomfortable feelings or thoughts. Once again, it puts others on the defensive.


Narcissists carry enormous shame, though this shame is generally outside their awareness. As a result, they tend to discharge their unpleasant feelings on those around them.

They may question others’ legitimacy. They may chide others for a less-than-perfect performance or rub a failure in another’s face. They have a knack for knocking others down a peg. The result: They feel one-up. In addition, the recipients of their shaming may feel they have to defend or explain themselves, which often gives narcissists additional ammunition for more shaming.

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Narcissists love to be complimented and thus believe that others also eat up praise.

Sometimes they flatter as a way to induce you to respond in kind. They may try to stroke your ego to get something they want from you or to create dependency.

Or they may pour on false flattery to defuse any attempts by others to hold narcissists accountable for their negative behaviors.

Personality disorders are designed to hide or distract from an individual's greatest emotional and psychological vulnerabilities. Narcissists' most-dreaded experiences include feeling humiliated, inferior, or illegitimate.

These eight tactics are designed to protect narcissists from the experiences they fear by self-inflation, generally at others' expense. For example, narcissists tend to:

  • Play a win-lose game rather than seek win-win solutions
  • Seek superiority rather than equality
  • Value appearance more than substance
  • Convince others rather than be honest

When you deal with narcissists, observing from an arm’s length and knowing their true motivations may give you breathing room and lessen narcissists' negative influence on you.

Copyright © 2021 Dan Neuharth PhD MFT

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