15 clever mind games narcissists play to trap you in their web

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Narcissists are known for their manipulative tactics and cunning charm. But did you know they often use intricate mind games to ensnare their victims?

You might feel like you’re constantly walking on eggshells, or find yourself doubting your own sanity while interacting with them.

You may question if it’s just normal human flaws or are there more sinister mind games at play?

After much introspection about my own encounters with narcissists and hearing countless stories from others who’ve been through similar experiences, I’ve compiled a list of 15 clever mind games that narcissists play to trap you in their web.

If these ring a bell, it might be time to reassess your relationships and take steps to protect your mental and emotional wellbeing.

1) Gaslighting

If there’s one tactic that’s virtually synonymous with narcissists, it’s gaslighting.

This is a manipulative technique where the narcissist makes you question your own sanity.

They’ll deny things that happened, contradict themselves, and lie blatantly, all while maintaining a facade of sincerity.

The objective? To make you doubt your own memory, perception, and reality. It’s a powerful and dangerous game they play, designed to undermine your confidence and make you more vulnerable to their control.

For me, recognizing gaslighting was a pivotal moment.

It helped me understand that what I was experiencing wasn’t normal or acceptable, and it gave me the strength to start pushing back against the manipulation.

2) Triangulation

Another common mind game narcissists play is triangulation.

This technique involves using a third person to validate their own perspective and invalidate yours. In essence, they’re creating a triangle of tension, with them at the top.

The narcissist may bring another person into the dynamic by speaking poorly about you to them or by comparing you unfavorably to this third party.

This can make you feel insecure and desperate to regain the narcissist’s approval.

In my personal experience, understanding this tactic allowed me to see the narcissist’s actions for what they were – manipulation – rather than believing I was the problem.

3) Love Bombing

Here’s something you might not know.

The initial stages of a relationship with a narcissist can feel like a whirlwind romance.

They shower you with affection, compliments and grand gestures. This tactic is known as love bombing.

It’s designed to sweep you off your feet and make you feel special.

However, this isn’t genuine affection, but rather a tactic to gain control and make you dependent on their approval.

As suddenly as the love bombing begins, it can stop, leaving you craving that affection and approval once again.

This cycle can be incredibly damaging, but recognizing it for what it is can be the first step towards breaking free.

4) Playing the victim

Moving on to the next trick up their sleeve: playing the victim.

You see, narcissists love attention and they’ll go to great lengths to get it, even if it means playing the innocent victim.

Take my ex-colleague for instance. He was notorious for shirking responsibilities and when confronted, he’d skillfully turn the tables by playing the misunderstood victim.

Suddenly, he wasn’t the one at fault for missing deadlines; it was everyone else for not understanding his ‘unique’ working style.

It’s a clever game to divert attention from their shortcomings and gather sympathy. But don’t be fooled, it’s just another snare in their web of manipulation.

5) Projection

Narcissists have an uncanny ability to project their insecurities onto others.

It’s sad, really.

Deep down, they’re battling a world of insecurities and self-doubt. Instead of addressing these issues, they project them onto those around them.

Imagine this: A person continually criticizes your appearance or mocks your ambitions. It’s hurtful and can chip away at your self-esteem.

But remember, it’s not about you.

It’s about them and their insecurities. It’s a defense mechanism, a way for them to cope with their own inadequacies by making others feel small.

Recognizing this can help maintain your self-esteem and remind you it’s their issue, not yours.

6) Silent treatment

The silent treatment is a universal sign of disapproval or disappointment.

It’s something we’ve all likely experienced at some point in our lives, whether it’s by a parent, a friend, or a partner.

However, when used by a narcissist, the silent treatment is not just a momentary lapse in communication. It’s a calculated tactic designed to control and manipulate.

They use silence as a weapon, withholding communication to make you feel guilty, anxious, and desperate to make amends.

7) Smear campaign

A smear campaign is a premeditated effort by the narcissist to tarnish your reputation.

They’ll spread false stories and exaggerations about you to others, aiming to paint you in a negative light.

This can be an incredibly hurtful experience, as people you care about may begin to view you differently based on the narcissist’s untrue claims.

It’s especially disheartening when the narcissist was once someone you trusted and loved.

8) Intimidation

Intimidation is a weapon that narcissists wield with frightening efficiency.

They use threats, angry outbursts, and aggressive behavior to control and manipulate their victims.

It’s a form of emotional terrorism that can leave you feeling scared, anxious, and constantly walking on eggshells.

I’ve been there. I’ve felt the fear that comes with being the target of a narcissist’s intimidation tactics.

It’s a painful place to be, but recognizing it for what it is – manipulation – is the first step towards breaking free.

9) Idealization and devaluation

Narcissists often go through cycles of idealizing their victims and then devaluing them.

In the idealization phase, they put you on a pedestal, showering you with praise and affection. But once they start to devalue you, they’ll criticize, belittle, and demean you.

It’s a roller-coaster ride that can leave you feeling emotionally drained and confused.

You might find yourself constantly striving to regain the narcissist’s approval, not realizing that it’s a game you can’t win.

10) Feigning innocence

When confronted, narcissists often feign innocence or play dumb.

They’ll act as though they have no idea why you’re upset, even if their actions were clearly hurtful or wrong. This tactic is designed to make you second-guess your own feelings and reactions.

It can be incredibly frustrating and can make you feel as though you’re overreacting.

If you’ve been there, questioning your own feelings, wondering if you were the one at fault, it’s likely you are facing a mind game that a narcissist is playing.

11) Using guilt

Guilt is a powerful manipulative tool often used by narcissists to control their victims.

They’ll make you feel guilty for things that aren’t your fault, or exaggerate your mistakes to make you feel bad about yourself.

The aim? To make you feel indebted to them, thereby gaining more control over you.

12) Divide and conquer

The “divide and conquer” strategy has been used by emperors and kings throughout history, but narcissists have adapted it for their own personal battles.

Narcissists often use this method to isolate you from your support network.

They may spread rumors, create misunderstandings or pit people against each other, all with the aim of ensuring that you’re alone and dependent on them.

If you notice that your relationships with friends and family are deteriorating for no apparent reason, or if the narcissist in your life often speaks ill of those close to you, they might be using the divide and conquer tactic.

It’s a subtle but effective way of increasing their control over you.

13) False compassion

Compassion is generally considered a virtue, a sign of emotional depth and understanding. But when wielded by a narcissist, it can be a covert weapon in their arsenal of manipulation.

Narcissists are adept at expressing false compassion. They’ll appear to empathize with your struggles and offer comforting words, but it’s often not born out of genuine concern.

Instead, it serves as a means to an end for them – usually to assert control or to keep you dependent on their perceived kindness.

This can create a confusing dynamic where the narcissist seems to be your biggest supporter while subtly undermining your independence and self-esteem.

It’s like being trapped in a maze where every turn, no matter how promising, leads back to the narcissist.

14) False promises

Narcissists often make grand promises to keep you hooked. They’ll promise to change, to be better, or to make up for their past wrongs. However, these promises are rarely kept.

It’s a heartbreaking game of hope and disappointment that can leave you feeling emotionally drained and disillusioned.

I’ve been in this situation, holding onto false promises. But once I recognized this tactic for what it was, I was able to let go and move on.

15) Mirroring

Last but not least, mirroring is a tactic narcissists use to win you over. They’ll mimic your likes, dislikes, dreams, and goals to make you believe that you’re soulmates.

However, this is just another manipulative strategy designed to reel you in. As soon as they have you hooked, they’ll often drop the act.

Emotional resilience is your weapon here. It’s about knowing your worth, trusting your perceptions, and standing firm in your truth.

And most importantly, remember that it’s okay to walk away from relationships that harm your mental wellbeing.

Navigating the world of narcissistic mind games can be challenging, but remember, you’re not alone. There are resources and support networks available to help you understand and cope with this complex form of emotional manipulation.

With awareness, understanding, and self-care, you can protect yourself from the narcissistic web and cultivate healthier relationships.

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Tina Fey

I'm Tina Fey, the founder of the blog Love Connection. I've extremely passionate about sharing relationship advice. I've studied psychology and have my Masters in marital, family, and relationship counseling. I hope with all my heart to help you improve your relationships, and I hope that even if one thing I write helps you, it means more to me than just about anything else in the world. Check out my blog Love Connection, and if you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Twitter

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