9 psychological games narcissists play to manipulate and control you

Navigating the world of psychological manipulation can be tricky, especially when dealing with narcissists.

Narcissists are masters of manipulation, using complex psychological games to control and exploit others.

They’re cunning, they’re crafty, and they know exactly how to get what they want.

They use a range of tactics to keep you guessing, to make you question your own sanity, and to maintain their power over you.

It’s a twisted game, and unfortunately, one that narcissists excel at playing.

In my upcoming article titled “9 psychological games narcissists play to manipulate and control you”, I’ll pull back the curtain on these strategies.

I want to empower you with the knowledge to recognize these tactics and protect yourself from them. Stay tuned!

1) Gaslighting

Gaslighting is a favorite game of narcissists, and it’s as insidious as it is damaging.

The term “gaslighting” originates from a 1944 film called “Gaslight” where a man manipulates his wife into believing she’s losing her mind. And that’s exactly what narcissists do.

They manipulate reality in subtle ways, causing you to question your own perceptions.

For example, a narcissist might deny something they’ve said or done, even if you have proof. They might also distort facts or outright lie to create confusion.

The goal? To make you doubt your own memory, perception, and sanity.

This psychological game can be incredibly disorienting and damaging, causing you to second-guess yourself at every turn.

By destabilizing your sense of reality, the narcissist exerts control and maintains power.

2) The silent treatment

We’ve all been there.

One moment you’re having a conversation, the next, you’re met with a wall of silence.

This is another common tactic narcissists use to manipulate and control.

In my own experience, I’ve seen this play out in a chilling manner. I once had a friend who would go completely silent if I ever expressed an opinion they didn’t agree with.

No arguments, no discussions – just silence.

It was as if they disappeared into thin air, leaving me feeling confused and anxious. I found myself constantly second-guessing my words, walking on eggshells to avoid another uncomfortable silence.

This is exactly what the silent treatment is designed to do.

By withdrawing communication, the narcissist exerts control and forces the other person to work harder to please them, to avoid being ‘frozen out’.

It’s a manipulative game that can be hard to recognize, but once you do, it’s easier to resist.

3) Projection

Projection is a psychological term that refers to the act of attributing one’s own unacceptable thoughts, feelings, or motives to another person.

It’s like a defense mechanism, allowing the projector to deny their flaws while attributing them to others.

Narcissists are notorious for using projection as a means of manipulation.

They might accuse you of being selfish when they’re the ones acting in their own interest, or call you a liar when they’re the ones bending the truth.

Interestingly, Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, was one of the first to study this phenomenon.

He believed that projection was a way for individuals to deal with feelings of guilt or shame.

Recognizing projection when it happens is key to resisting this manipulation technique.

Remember, just because someone assigns their traits to you doesn’t make it true.

4) Love bombing

At first glance, love bombing might seem like the opposite of manipulation.

After all, who doesn’t like to be showered with affection and attention?

However, when used by a narcissist, love bombing is anything but genuine. It’s a tactic they use to gain control and manipulate you into feeling dependent on their affection.

In the early stages of a relationship, a narcissist may shower you with compliments, gifts, and intense attention.

They’ll make you feel special, loved, and cherished.

But here’s the catch – this isn’t about love.

It’s about control.

Once they’ve hooked you in, they’ll withdraw their affection on a whim, leaving you feeling insecure and desperate for their approval.

5) Triangulation

pic1901 9 psychological games narcissists play to manipulate and control you

Triangulation is another psychological game that narcissists often play.

It involves using a third person to validate or reinforce their viewpoint, thereby undermining and isolating you.

Here’s how it works:

The narcissist might bring another person into the conversation, either real or imaginary, who supposedly agrees with their point of view.

They might say something like:

“Well, John agrees with me,” or, “Everyone else thinks so too.”

By doing this, they’re attempting to delegitimize your perspective and make you feel outnumbered.

It’s a tactic designed to sow doubt in your mind about your thoughts and feelings.

Understanding triangulation as a tactic can prevent you from getting drawn into the game.

Be mindful that just because someone else supposedly agrees with the narcissist doesn’t mean they’re right.

Trust your own judgment.

6) Victim playing

Victim playing is a heartbreaking game narcissists often play.

It’s a manipulative tactic where they portray themselves as the innocent victim, no matter the situation.

They might twist the narrative so they’re always the ones being wronged, even if they’re the ones who caused harm.

They’ll exploit your empathy and kindness, using your concern for their well-being as a means to control and manipulate you.

It’s absolutely heart-wrenching to see someone you care about in pain. And that’s exactly what the narcissist is counting on. By playing the victim, they make it hard for you to challenge them without feeling like you’re the bad guy.

7) Smear campaigns

There’s nothing quite as unsettling as having your reputation attacked.

Smear campaigns are another common tactic narcissists use to discredit, isolate, and control you.

I’ve experienced this firsthand.

Without any provocation, I found myself the subject of untrue rumors, my character under attack.

It was a bewildering and hurtful experience, to say the least.

The intention behind a smear campaign is to undermine your credibility and make others doubt you. By doing so, the narcissist maintains control and diverts attention away from their behavior.

Though it’s incredibly challenging, it’s important not to let a smear campaign shake your sense of self.

8) Moving the goalposts

Another common trick narcissists use is constantly moving the goalposts.

Just when you think you’ve met their demands or expectations, they change them, leaving you in a perpetual state of trying to please them.

This manipulation tactic keeps you off balance and in a state of uncertainty.

You might find yourself working harder and harder to meet their ever-changing expectations, only to feel like you’re never quite good enough.

It’s a draining and demoralizing game.

But recognizing it can help you resist getting caught up in it. 


Make notes to yourself that it’s not about your shortcomings but their need for control and dominance. You are enough just as you are.

9) Devaluation

Devaluation is the final, and perhaps most devastating, game that narcissists play.

After building you up with love bombing, they systematically tear you down, criticizing and belittling you at every turn.

They might insult your appearance, intelligence, or character, all in an effort to make you feel worthless.

The message is clear:

“You’re not good enough, and you’re lucky they’re even bothering with you.”

This is perhaps the most important thing to understand about narcissistic manipulation: it’s not about you.

It’s about their insecurities and need for power.

You are worthy of respect, kindness, and love. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.

Final thoughts: Knowledge is power

Understanding the psychological games narcissists play is crucial in navigating relationships with such individuals.

It’s a complex and challenging journey, fraught with manipulation and control.

But there’s comfort in knowledge.

Recognizing these tactics can help you establish boundaries, protect your mental wellness, and reclaim your power.

Noteworthily, these games are not a reflection of your worth but a manifestation of the narcissist’s insecurities.

You deserve respect, kindness, and authentic relationships.

As you move forward, carry this knowledge.

Use it as a shield, a guiding light. You are stronger than you think, and you’re certainly stronger than any manipulative game.

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Picture of Tina Fey

Tina Fey

I've ridden the rails, gone off track and lost my train of thought. I'm writing for Ideapod to try and find it again. Hope you enjoy the journey with me.

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