6 classic tactics narcissists use to manipulate your emotions

Do you ever feel like you’re being strung along or taken for a ride?

It doesn’t feel great, does it? Especially if it’s coming from a loved one or close friend.

Here’s the thing.

If it’s a one-off, chances are the person isn’t deliberately trying to manipulate you. But, if you’re regularly feeling used and abused over the course of several months (or even years), you could be dealing with a narcissist.

Narcissism is a spectrum. Some people have extreme narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) while others display very mild signs.

But wherever they appear on the spectrum, you have to understand that manipulative behavior is NOT okay (and definitely not fair).

It’s important that you spot the signs early and deal with the problem as soon as you can.

With that in mind, here are 6 classic tactics narcissists use to manipulate your emotions. 

How many do you recognize?

1) Playing the victim (deflecting responsibility)

Narcissists use this tactic to turn the tables or twist a situation in their favor. They portray themselves as the victim to gain sympathy and avoid any responsibility for their (unsavory) actions.

It makes it incredibly difficult to hold them accountable (and they know it).

Let me give you an example.

Imagine you find out that your partner has been unfaithful. You decide to confront them on it, but somehow, you come out of the conversation blaming yourself.

They’ve managed to totally flip the situation around.

Maybe they said that you weren’t paying them enough attention, or that somehow you are to blame for their cheating antics.

Snap out of it! (They’re manipulating your emotions).

I know, it’s sometimes harder said than done. So, I suggest that you get a second (objective) opinion.

I’m talking about explaining the situation to a friend (or three) and getting their honest view of things. It should help you get things straight in your own mind.

When narcissists play the victim, they may also use…

2) Gaslighting

Also known as bulldozing (or just lying), gaslighting involves distorting the truth or changing facts to make someone doubt their side of the story. It usually happens over an extended period of time and works to slowly grind someone down until they question their own thoughts and beliefs.

Gaslighters don’t build relationships, they force them (with incredible assertiveness).

They insist that something didn’t happen the way you remember. They’ll constantly bombard you until you stop putting up any kind of resistance and just go with their account.

But don’t worry.

There are signs you can pick up on.

They’re usually extremely sure of themselves and they’ll give you plenty of detail (because they’re trying to sound as convincing as possible).

So, always question someone who appears to have all the answers.

Remember, it’s actually normal to have doubts, not perfectly remember events, and generally be unsure.

3) Showering you with love

Let’s be honest, it’s nice to hear a compliment.

Studies show that saying nice things to someone can improve their mood, relieve stress, and build trust.

Giving compliments can also earn you respect.

Narcissists are well aware of this and often use it to their advantage.

Love bombing is a common tactic used by chronic manipulators (especially early on in a romantic relationship). It involves overwhelming the victim with love, affection, and attention.

This creates a strong emotional (but insincere and one-sided) connection, opening the door for further manipulation down the line.

It can really sting.

Love is one of the strongest emotions we ever experience (and it often takes years to fully recover from a broken heart) so using this for personal gain is a real low blow.

4) Being intentionally vague (and keeping secrets)

When you boil it down, this comes down to control.

After all, knowledge is power.

And I don’t just mean for governments (or warring countries!) but on a personal level too.

Let me explain what I mean.

If your partner has been invited to a party at the weekend but decides to purposely not mention it to you, they’re holding a position of power.

Maybe you ask them about their weekend plans and they reply with something vague like “I have a few things going on, but we’ll figure it out.”

At the weekend, you reach out to finalize plans but discover your partner is already at the party, leaving you hurt and confused.

When confronted, they reply “I didn’t lie, it wasn’t a big deal.”

But in reality, by withholding information about the party and being deliberately unclear, they maintained control over the situation. Plus, it allows them to later avoid accountability for their actions.

In other words, they didn’t lie, but they also weren’t 100% transparent.

Over time, it can leave you feeling uncertain about the level of transparency and commitment in the relationship (and pass control to them).

5) Giving you the silent treatment

The silent treatment is similar to the previous point (keeping secrets) but more obvious and direct.

There’s no ambiguity here.

Narcissists can withdraw emotionally and even refuse to communicate altogether, making you feel anxious and desperate for attention.

It’s a form of punishment and plays on your emotions.

This one is especially hard to deal with if you’re isolated and don’t have anyone else to reach out to.

Which is why narcissists also like…

6) Isolating you from friends and family

Watch out for comments like “Your family doesn’t understand us.” or “Why do you spend so much time with them, you should be focusing on us.”

It could mean you’re dealing with a narcissist and they’re plotting to isolate you.

You might be asking why.

Well, they probably feel threatened by the strong relationships you have with others. After all, by breaking you down and cutting your ties, you’re easier to control.

They may even go one step further and proactively create conflict with your friends.

Then try to gaslight you into thinking your friend is to blame.

It all points to the same end goal – to manipulate your emotions (for their own benefit).

Picture of Leila El-Dean

Leila El-Dean

Leila is a passionate writer with a background in photography and art. She has over ten years of experience in branding, marketing, and building websites. She loves travelling and has lived in several countries, including Thailand, Malaysia, Spain, and Malta. When she’s not writing (or ogling cats), Leila loves trying new food and drinking copious amounts of Earl Grey tea.

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