8 signs you’re being played by a narcissist (and how to stop it)

Narcissists are cunning beings, so it is challenging to identify their true intentions when you first meet them.

But over time, certain behaviors of theirs may flag up, and you might get a feeling that they are trying to play you.

Whether it’s in romantic relationships, friendships, or even professional settings, recognizing the signs of being played by a narcissist is crucial.

The quicker you recognize the signs, the sooner you can put a stop to them and protect your mental and emotional well-being. 

Here are eight telltale signs to watch out for AND the strategies to use to stop the manipulation in its tracks.

1) They shower you with affection or grand gestures

One of the first signs that you’re dealing with a narcissist will likely be this. 

When narcissists choose you as their victim, they show excessive affection or do grand gestures to impress you and win you over.

However, this flattery is not genuine but is a tactic that narcissists use to manipulate and control their victims. 

This behavior typically appears right at the start of a relationship with a narcissist, but it doesn’t last long. 

Once they think they have won you over, they will let go of the facade and change their behavior drastically. 

At this point, you might start to notice the following sign…

2) They dominate the conversations

When you meet a narcissist, you feel like everything is about you. It seems like they are going out of their way to do things for you and make you feel good.

But remember, this is not genuine; it is a mask for their need for control and admiration.

One of the first ways you notice their controlling nature is by how they dominate conversations

Narcissists have the grandiosity personality trait, AKA a sense of specialness and self-importance.

Therefore, narcissists believe they are superior to everyone and that their wants and needs are the only ones that matter.

They are also totally wrapped up in their own lives and have no consideration for others, hence why they dominate conversations.

If you notice that whenever you speak to this person, they only talk about themselves and never ask you anything about you or your life, this is a red flag.

3) They make you feel sorry for them

Some research studies on NPD have found that narcissists often play the victim to elicit sympathy and attention from others. 

So, you might feel that they are exaggerating their hardships or bringing up their grievances when it is not necessary.

This tactic is very cunning as they manipulate situations to cast themselves as the underdog.

They also feign vulnerability by sharing fake or exaggerated personal stories. You feel honored that they trust you enough to open up to you, so feel compelled to offer them sympathy.

They exploit your empathy to create a false emotional bond, which they will then leverage later to control and manipulate you further.

Another way they play the victim is by using guilt-tripping tactics to make you feel sorry for them and, thus, do what they say.

If that’s happening to you, you’ll also notice the following…

4) You feel guilty for no reason

psychological games narcissists play to manipulate and control you 8 signs you're being played by a narcissist (and how to stop it)

Does the person in question make you feel like every argument is your fault?

Do they blame you for their wrongdoings or negative behaviors?

If so, they are using the manipulative tactic of projection on you.

Narcissists not only struggle to admit when they are in the wrong, but most times, they don’t see that they are.

Because they feel superior to everyone else, whenever something bad happens, they assume it must be the fault of someone or something else.

Therefore, narcissists never accept responsibility for anything.

Instead, they turn the tables and blame you for their actions.

For example, they will say things like:

  • “If you hadn’t done [insert action], I wouldn’t have reacted this way.”
  • “I wouldn’t have to [insert negative behavior] if you would just listen to me.”
  • “You’re the one who’s causing all the problems in this relationship.”

Projection is closely linked to another manipulative tactic that we will discuss next…

5) You start questioning yourself

If you’re questioning yourself, whether it’s your memories, perception, or sanity, it’s likely a narcissist is playing you.

This feeling is related to the manipulative tactic known as gaslighting.

When a narcissist wants to undermine your confidence, they distort reality, deny past events, or blame you for their mistreatment.

This leaves you feeling confused and unsure of what is real.

While it is a typical behavior, according to Dr. Meaghan Rice from TalkSpace, most people don’t realize when it’s happening to them.

Essentially, narcissists can make you question your reality without you knowing, which is pretty worrying.

However, in reality, most people have a gut instinct when it is happening. But because at this stage, they trust the narcissist, they convince themselves that nothing is wrong.

If you get even the slightest feeling that someone may be gaslighting you, explore it. 

It can help to explain your feelings to a trusted friend or family member, as they can validate your concerns and help you see the reality of the situation.

6) You’re losing confidence

Another sign a narcissist is playing you is a change in your confidence.

For example, you might feel that you’re not as confident as you used to be, and this change occurred since the person in question has been in your life.

Dwindling confidence happens when a narcissist continuously criticizes and invalidates the things we say.

For example…

  • You share a win with them, and they immediately put you down or invalidate your achievement
  • They constantly highlight your flaws and never mention your qualities
  • They humiliate you in public

Narcissists use criticism when they want to feel better about themselves.

Although they often appear self-confident, many mental health professionals and researchers believe that narcissists have what is known as fragile high self-esteem

Essentially, your wins bruise the narcissist’s fragile ego, and so to feel better about themselves again, they have to put you down.

As messed up as it sounds, the lower self-esteem you have, the better they feel.

When a narcissist is playing you in this way, you start to:

  • Doubt your abilities
  • Second-guess your decisions
  • Feel increasingly insecure in yourself

It may also lead to the following…

7) You’ve become hypervigilant

phrases narcissists use to gaslight and confuse their victims 8 signs you're being played by a narcissist (and how to stop it)

With all these mind games going on, you start to feel on edge around the person.

You feel like you’re living under constant scrutiny and are constantly anticipating the narcissist’s next move. 

You refrain from saying things you want to say and choose your words carefully as you’re afraid to set off their anger or disapproval.

Being in this constant state of hypervigilance can have severe impacts on your mental and emotional well-being, leading to the following…

8) Your emotions are up & down

The altering periods of intense affection and cruel indifference that narcissists display can create a rollercoaster of emotions.

Sometimes, you’ll feel high; other times, you’ll feel low and confused. Over time, this leads to emotional exhaustion.

If you recognize this sign, you must take action to prevent being drawn further into the narcissist’s game.

In the next section, we’ll discuss how.

How to protect yourself from a narcissist’s games

If you recognize several of the above signs, know that it’s not too late to stop the narcissist from having a hold over you.

Protecting yourself from a narcissist’s manipulative games requires a combination of awareness, boundary-setting, and self-care. Here are some tips to free yourself from the narcissist in your life.

  • Learn about narcissistic behavior – The more you understand the manipulation tactics a narcissist uses, the more you can recognize them when they occur. This knowledge will empower you to respond effectively.
  • Trust your instincts – If something feels off in a relationship or interaction, listen to your inner feelings. Don’t dismiss your gut instinct or allow the narcissist to gaslight you into doubting yourself. Instead, take time to explore the reasons behind the way you feel.
  • Seek support – Sharing your concerns with supportive friends, family members, or a therapist can offer you validation, perspective, and guidance. What’s more, having a solid support network can help bolster your resilience against the narcissist’s manipulation.
  • Set boundaries – Once you’re sure the narcissist is playing you, take action by establishing clear boundaries. Consider what behaviors you will and will not tolerate from the narcissist and then communicate them assertively.
  • Limit contact – To enforce your boundaries, you will likely need to reduce or limit contact with the narcissist. The more distance you create between you, the more you minimize their ability to manipulate and control you.
  • Practice self-care – As mentioned, being played by narcissists can mess up your physical, emotional, and mental health. So engage in self-care activities that bring you joy, fulfillment, and calm, such as mindfulness, meditation, and exercise. By focusing more on yourself, the narcissist loses power over you.
  • Avoid engaging in power struggles – Narcissists thrive on conflict and drama, so avoid getting drawn into power struggles or arguments with them. Instead, focus on maintaining your own sense of peace and stability through self-care and boundaries.
Picture of Gemma Clarke

Gemma Clarke

I am a certified yoga and mindfulness teacher and an experienced content writer in the spirituality and personal growth space. I’m passionate about sharing my expertise through the power of words to inspire and guide others along the path of personal and spiritual development.

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