How is it that Narcissists able to manipulate others so well?
Narcissists are able to manipulate others so well because they are continually are the lookout for our vulnerabilities. Once they hone in on what’s important to you, they will use these things against us. Some examples of vulnerabilities might be our children, any self-esteem issues or insecurities we might have (weight, appearance, finances, etc.), fears–such as being alone, or losing someone we love. Narcissists find out many of their victim’s vulnerabilities during the “love bombing” and “good listener” stages of the relationship.
Targets of Narcissists may be codependent; they may have come from abusive backgrounds, or raised in homes with Narcissistic family members; they may have a ton of other issues with their self-esteem and self-worth, but honestly, I think the biggest reason why people stay in a relationship with a Narcissist, is because they simply don’t realize that they are in a relationship with a Narcissist.
Normal people operate from what sociologists refer to as a “Just World” perspective. This “Just World” perspective means that we tend to think that how we treat people is how they will treat us–that the world is “just” or fair, and that our morals and values are similar to those around us. And this perspective is true the vast majority of the time–except when we are dealing with manipulative people, such as Narcissists or Sociopaths/Antisocial Personality type people.
Most people tend to think that their partner is normal, and that any bad behavior they exhibit is fixable and changeable–again, we operate from that “Just World” perspective, where we think if we were doing something that was hurtful or harmful, that we would want to change this. But the reality is that Narcissists and Sociopaths don’t care if their actions hurt others, in fact, they often take great enjoyment out of causing pain. After all, the more of a reaction they can get out of people, the more important they feel, and the more their ego gets fed.
There is no better manipulator out there than a Narcissist or a Sociopath–especially if they are “covert“. A covert Narcissist/Sociopath will (convincingly) pretend to have the same morals and values as the rest of society, all with the end goal of manipulating us into giving them access to whatever it is that they might want: sex, attention, money, food, clothing, shelter, status, etc. But the reality is that they don’t have the same morals and values as us. They don’t really have morals and values at all–even though they might pretend to. They might even go to great lengths to show the world that they have higher morals and values than the rest of us, by holding some sort of position of authority at their church, volunteering on a regular basis, verbally condemning those who exhibit any kind of morally or ethically questionable behavior, or going to great lengths to make sure that others view them as a wonderful person, friend, coworker, father, neighbor. But after time, those that really know the Narcissist begins to see that there is a Dr. Jekyll/ Mr. Hyde duality about them–that their words drastically differ from their actions, all the things that they so strongly profess to be against, are the exact things that they are doing. (Bill Cosby, Jim Bakker and Scott Peterson are great examples of this type of behavior.)
In short, Narcissists are nothing more than emotional con artists.
It takes normal people awhile to realize this because the chance that our partner might be an emotional con artist isn’t even on our radar of things to watch out for. So when the Narcissist does have bad behavior, we treat them like we would other normal person who has bad behavior: we work through it; we give second chances; we try to understand our part in things; we go to therapy, marriage retreats, and read self-help books. We understand that relationships require work, and that all relationships have their highs and lows. And maybe deep down we believe that there is some sort of value in sticking through all the bullshit and celebrating being together through it all. Many victims hold onto these beliefs for years, sometimes decades, until they are too tired to ride this merry-go-round anymore and decide to hop off.
We might even feel guilty for leaving, until we start to learn about Narcissist and Sociopaths…and then all their behavior starts to make total sense, and then we often feel like a fool for staying as long as we did. (Even though feeling this way is normal, please don’t be so hard on yourself. You didn’t know that you were in a relationship with a person with a fixed personality disorder.)
So, how can you tell a normal relationship from a Narcissistic one?
What separates a Narcissistic relationship from a normal relationship is that normal people in normal relationships verbalize true remorse for their bad behavior, offer to make amends for their bad behavior through consistent action, and live in a transparent way until their partner is okay with not having them live in a transparent way.
What they don’t do is give insincere apologies (if you even get one!), have a desire to change that lasts only as long as you are upset, and they continue to sneak around and live their life however they see fit. In normal relationships, the same issues (generally lying, cheating, stealing, and/or verbally, emotionally, physically, or financially abusive behavior) with their partner time does not happen over and over again. Normal relationships don’t keep having the same issues, without some sort of change or resolution. If they do, then one person doesn’t really want to change, and the other person is being manipulated…and you are not in a “normal” relationship, you are in an emotionally abusive relationship.
Narcissists are master manipulators–they do know what they are doing, and yes, they can control themselves–but they don’t want to. They love being this way. They thrive off of the thrill of keeping you sucked in, and they thrive off the thrill of following their every whim. (This is why their behavior is “erratic” and doesn’t make any sense to anyone but them!) But a person can only manipulate you if you let them. The easiest way to not be manipulated is to see their manipulation techniques for what they are. Once you realize what they are doing isn’t sincere, and is instead a series of calculated moves, you’ll be less inclined to fall for them.
Here are a Narcissist’s 6 Favorite Manipulation Techniques:
1. Denial. When confronted with their bad behavior, a Narcissist will generally deny that it ever happened–even if you confront them with hard evidence! If you can get them to admit to anything, they will generally only admit to the bare minimum, and deny that what they did was that bad, or to the extent that you think it really did happen. Victims stay sucked in because the manipulative person won’t own their behavior–then the victim begins to question their own perceptions of what they saw. Because Narcissists and Sociopaths are such master manipulators, and are well-known for using a multitude of “gas lighting” techniques, that the victim is often more inclined to believe them rather than their own eyes.
If denial alone doesn’t work, they’ll combine it with one or more the following five strategies:
2. Triangulation. Triangulation is similar to a love triangle, although there doesn’t have to be lovers involved. Triangulation can happen in any dynamic that involves three people: at work, with children, with friends, you name it. A triangle is created with two other people that the Narcissist pits against each other to where the other people believe that each other are the problem, and not the Narcissist. This can be done with a Narcissistic parent pitting two of their children against each other, or with a Narcissist pitting his wife and the other woman against each other. This is a great trick, and works to keep the blame off of the Narcissist, as well as creates an ego feeding frenzy for them. They get their kicks from other being fought over (wife vs. the other woman), or from knowing that they have enough power and control to upset people to such an extent that they cause a lot of conflict and stress.
3. Pity. A Narcissist knows that if they can get you to feel sorry for them, then they can manipulate you into switching your focus from their bad behavior to all their trauma or other underlying reasons for their behavior. They’ll try to get you to focus on their bad childhood, stress at work, their alcoholism, maybe their terrible ex-wife, or how depressed they’ve been. They may tell the victim that they are suicidal, need to go to rehab or detox, or perhaps that they think they have cancer. There are no lengths that these manipulators won’t go to, and many times their pity inducing stories aren’t even real.
4. Guilt. It’s all your fault. Somehow in someway, his cheating, lying, and other bad behavior is also your fault. Perhaps he’s telling you that you needed to be home more, or to spend more time with him, lose weight, gain weight, dress sexier, dress less sexy–whatever. According to him, his behavior is your fault. (This is the classic, “Look at what you made me do” cry of an abusive or manipulative person.) Because there is often a nugget of truth in every lie a Narcissist tells, the partner might fall for the guilt trip, and try to make sure they do better next time.
5. Intimidation. They might make thinly veiled threats, or they might come right out and threaten you. Intimidating behavior doesn’t have to always be physical. It can be in the form of threatening to tell the courts that you are an unfit parent, and that they are going to go for full custody, or that if you divorce them that they’ll go after your retirement. Of course, they might also stalk, or otherwise physically intimidate you as well–by hurting you, or by hurting objects around you (punching holes in walls, or breaking things), to scare you enough into letting them return to your life. Victims often stay because they are too scared to go, and they often feel like they are safer staying so they can at least know what the Narcissist is up to.
6. Hope. Narcissists do such a oscar-winning performance of getting their victims to believe that this time they really will change, that it’s understandable as to why the victim keeps believing them. I asked a Narcissist once why he thought women kept coming back to abusive men, and he just smiled and replied, “Because hope dies last.” Yikes.
And back to the “Just World” perspective–normal people tend to be sorry for their hurtful actions, and believe that their partner must be too. If the victim has experienced multiple issues of bad behavior with the Narcissist, they probably also tend to think that this time will be different, as the Narcissist’s behavior is so outlandish, that they think he must have hit rock bottom. The truth is that there is no rock bottom for a Narcissist. They make decisions based off of their whims and not much more. Their increasing bad behavior is what’s referred to as “managing down of expectations.” This is where the victim’s expectations of the Narcissist, and of their relationship, become less and less while the Narcissist gets away with more and more.
On a side note, you can tell you are in a toxic relationship if you are minimizing or justifying your partner’s behavior to yourself or others. Or, if you find yourself not telling your closest friend certain things that your partner is doing because you are concerned about what they would think, or because your partner’s behavior is so outrageous, then there is a problem.
Can therapy or medications help a Narcissist change?
The short answer is no. Victims always want to believe that the Narcissist can change. After all, most people are capable of change–but not Narcissists. They never, ever change for the better. This is, in part, because they see nothing wrong with their behavior. After all, they have a staggering degree of entitlement. And for these reasons, counseling doesn’t help–in fact, therapy often makes a Narcissist worse, as they just learn to hide their destructive behavior better.
If you are experiencing any of these six manipulation techniques, just know that you aren’t crazy, you aren’t alone, you aren’t making things into a bigger deal than they really are, and it’s not your fault. I strongly urge you to find a therapist or a narcissist support group, and to develop a safety plan to help you leave. (((Hugs))) to you.
My goal is to educate, empower, and inspire other abuse victims in understanding more about what happened to them (and how to prevent it from happening again), as well as how to go on and rebuild an amazing life.
Even though I have had a lot of "in the trenches" experience with highly manipulative people of all kinds, I consider myself to be a student of Narcissism, mindset, motivation, healing, and life in general, and am by no means an expert on any of these topics.
It's for these reasons, that when you are reading my information that I encourage you to hold to what helps, and let the rest go.
Latest posts by Dana (see all)
- Episode 30: Book Club Discussion on “Recovering from Narcissistic Abuse” by Joanna Moore - June 27, 2017
- Live Stream from June 21, 2017 - June 25, 2017
- Episode 28: Gratitude Can Help Keep You Grounded - March 21, 2017