8 classic mind games narcissists play in a relationship

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Relationships can be rewarding, wholesome, a beacon of joy, the reason behind the smile you have plastered on your face.

When you date a narcissist, however, what starts as a fairytale romance can quickly devolve into a complex game of manipulation and control.

Narcissists are known for their ability to play mental chess with such dedication they leave their partners bewildered and emotionally drained.

The best way to maintain your mental health is to familiarize yourself with their cunning tactics.

Here are 8 classic mind games narcissists play in a relationship.

Protect your soul at all costs.

1) Love bombing

Love bombing means overwhelming someone with signs of adoration at the very beginning of the relationship.

Early declarations of love. Extravagant gifts. Expressing a strong desire to spend every waking minute in their presence.

This is how narcissists get you hooked.

They’re charming, so falling for their spiel is easier than you think.

I met a guy at a wedding a few years ago, and we hit it off. We chatted, we danced, we made out in the parking lot.

Typical wedding shenanigans.

He took me home, and I gave him my number.

Then, things started to get weird.

I woke up to numerous texts from him, all about how wonderful I was and how we had this incredible connection.

When I told him I was busy with work and could only meet him after a few days, he acted distraught and abandoned, berating me for apparently throwing away a marvelous thing.

Given that we only spent a few hours together, it was a huge red flag – and I was grateful to whoever invented the Block function.

Narcissists employ love bombing to create a dependency, making it easier for them to manipulate their partner’s emotions later on.

Don’t fall for the ruse.

2) Future faking

Future faking is a manipulation tactic where a person promises to fulfill your deepest desires somewhere down the line to get something they want right now.

If you’re dating a narcissist, you’ll notice that their actions don’t quite match their words.

They will impress you with grandiose promises but repeatedly fail to deliver.

For instance, a narcissist will:

  • Say they want to be exclusive, but postpone making things official because monogamy is so cliché and you should both explore your options
  • Discuss plans for marriage and starting a family, but find reasons to delay such commitments as time goes by
  • Insist that you two have a bright future of wealth and prosperity ahead as long as you’re willing to financially support them until they get all their ducks in a row
  • Tell you all about how they’re considering therapy in order to become better at providing emotional support but never actually set an appointment

The key aspect of future faking is making assurances intended to appease you and provide a false sense of security. 

Truth is, the narcissist has little to no intention to follow through.

Recognize the pattern.

It will save you a lot of hassle in the long run.

3) Gaslighting

Another popular manipulation tactic, gaslighting involves sowing seeds of doubt in someone to make them question their memory or perception.

Narcissists may deny that something happened or insist that events occurred differently than you remember.

Or, they will trivialize your concerns with statements like “You’re too sensitive” and “You’re overreacting.”

They excel at distorting facts and altering the details of events to better suit their narrative.

In due time, you second guess whether your version of the truth is accurate and start to believe they may have a point.

Things only go downhill from there.

4) Guilt-tripping

Guilt-tripping is a form of emotional manipulation in which someone uses guilt as a tool to influence another person’s behavior.

You probably already experienced the tactic on your own skin.

A parent made you feel guilty for not calling often enough because of your busy schedule.

Your elderly neighbor made you feel guilty for throwing a housewarming party and keeping her up past her bedtime. 

(I gave you plenty of advance notice that things would get loud, Maria.)

While these examples likely won’t leave you scarred for life, being in a relationship with a narcissist who employs this technique time after time can negatively impact your sanity.

Rather than take responsibility for their behavior, the narcissist makes *you* feel remorseful. 

Here’s how:

  • They suggest they will suffer intense emotional pain unless you comply with their wishes
  • They exaggerate their suffering or difficulties, forcing you to provide support or attention
  • They cast themselves as the victim of circumstances or the relationship, making it impossible for you to assert your needs or boundaries
  • They remind you of past favors they did you to make you feel indebted to them
  • When you sacrifice for their sake, they downplay your efforts, making you feel like you’re never doing enough
  • When you call them out on something, they shift blame, insisting that they’re the hurt party and making you hesitant to bring up issues in the future

Your needs matter just as much as theirs.

Never lose sight of that.

5) Triangulation

As the name suggests, triangulation is a tactic that involves introducing a third person into the mix.

The narcissist does this to enhance their sense of superiority and keep you in a state of constant uncertainty.

For instance, they might suddenly spend more time with a coworker or friend.

They will mention them frequently, only to make you feel jealous or “less than.”

As you dread the possibility of losing them to someone else, they gain power.

And by comparing you unfavorably to this third person, they create a sense of competition.

You’ll want to prove your worth, so you might give them more attention or work extra hard on your appearance/behavior to fit your partner’s ideal.

In reality, you’re worthy just as you are.

No one who makes you feel inferior has your best interest at heart.

6) Undermining

On a similar note, undermining deserves a special spot among the classic mind games narcissists play in a relationship to gain the upper hand.

Adept at offering relentless criticism, the narcissist will criticize your appearance, intelligence, decisions, or abilities.

This weakens your confidence and makes you more susceptible to their manipulation attempts.

They might also belittle your accomplishments and discourage you from engaging in any sort of activity that helps you grow.

In short, they want you to be as reliant on them as possible.

And when that doesn’t work, they bring out the big guns.

Which takes us to the next point.

7) The silent game

Withholding affection is an oldie-but-goodie type of weapon, easily available in any narcissist’s arsenal.

When they don’t get their way, narcissists give you the silent treatment and stop offering support.

They retreat to a cold cocoon you cannot penetrate until you admit the error in your ways.

This (evil) tactic creates an atmosphere where you fear losing love and validation if you don’t comply with their desires.

And they often employ it when you challenge their authority or fail to meet their expectations. 

Narcissists always want to get you back in line.

Meanwhile, a truly loving partner is there for you through thick and thin.

Even when you disagree with them. Even when you fight. Even when you make a mistake.

Don’t let fear of abandonment cloud your judgment.

8) Isolation

Finally, a dedicated narcissist might try to slowly but surely isolate their partner from friends and family.

Their endgame? 

That you only have them to rely on for emotional support.

They will discourage you from hanging out with friends and convince you that your relatives take you for granted.

They will undermine your relationships to the point where you become estranged from everyone except them.

The worst part is that this doesn’t happen overnight.

They do so gradually by messing with your mind, spreading rumors, creating conflict.

It’s possible you don’t even notice their scheming until the harm is already done.

Final thoughts

One of the worst things about dating a narcissist is that you spend the majority of your time focusing on them and their needs.

You wake up one day realizing that you’ve lost a huge chunk of who you are in the process.

A relationship with a narcissist can be successful if they are self-aware, working on themselves, and willing to accommodate their partner.

But if you notice that your significant other actively tries to erode your self-esteem, make a clean break.

Don’t hurt yourself repeatedly in the misguided attempt to make them happy.

You deserve to be happy as well.

7 signs your partner is more emotionally intelligent than you realize

If someone displays these 8 behaviors, they genuinely enjoy being alone