If narcissists were easy to spot and simple to stay away from then there wouldn’t be so many people in toxic relationships and unhealthy codependency.
But the truth is that narcissists are experts at manipulating others and have a wide array of mind games they like to play.
These mind games and emotional tricks are tempting and powerful. Even the most emotionally intelligent person out there can get sucked in by them.
Here’s what to watch out for so you don’t become a victim of the narcissist’s mind games like so many others.
1) Turning on the charm
Narcissists can be highly charming.
They tend to be verbally and psychologically brilliant, with distinct skills at manipulating words and emotions to get people to like them.
Although they do not actually care about others or have genuine empathy, they are very perceptive about how to pretend and use the needs and insecurities of other people to manipulate them.
This is their first mind game: they are charming and charismatic, drawing you into liking them and admiring them right off the bat.
2) Pretending to care
The narcissist tends to be quite skilled at pretending to care.
They are able to make it seem like those around them are very important to them and like they just want to help or be relevant to these people.
In reality, of course, the narcissist really doesn’t care about those around him, even his or her close family or friends.
But by pretending to care, the narcissist hopes to win the trust of others and make them much more malleable.
3) Highlighting their own strengths
Narcissists are outstanding at self-promotion.
They know what they are good at and have the ideal vocabulary and presentation skills to present that to others. Their job accomplishments, their funny or remarkable experiences, their friendships and connections:
They’re skilled at being able to parlay all of this into an idealized and highly attractive picture of themselves.
This is highly effective at drawing in people around them into their web.
“Many narcissists are adept at attracting and entertaining people,” notes relationship Coach Darlene Lancer, LMFT, adding that “it’s easy to be seduced by generosity, expressions of love, flattery, sex, romance, and promises of commitment.
This is how narcissists manipulate you to achieve their aims.”
4) Creative storytelling
Narcissists tend to be excellent storytellers. This is where many of their best mind games come from.
Narcissists are very good at spinning entertaining, hilarious, and insightful stories.
Before you know it, you’ll be caught up in their unique and fascinating world, convinced that they see the world in a more exciting and authentic world than anybody else.
This makes sense when you think about it:
Their ultimate creation is themselves, or the self they present to others, which is a fictional creation.
5) Promising big right away
Narcissists have one main goal: they want as much attention on themselves as possible.
But they’re not stupid.
By being charming and drawing others in, they attract people’s interest and attention, as I’ve mentioned.
Another key way they do this is often by promising big right away. They know that by being charismatic and likable, as well as by offering big things right off the bat, they will get attention turned their way.
They ensure that they come across as highly motivated and on task, doing their best to create the impression that they really are going to come through on some massive promises.
6) Posing as an authority
Narcissists are extremely good at posing as an authority.
They are able to speak with certitude and portray criticism from anybody else as jealousy or ignorance.
They cast themselves as the truly knowledgeable and well-intentioned individual who deserves to be heard and listened to.
7) Hero and victim roleplaying
The narcissist will often oscillate between a hero and victim framework.
In one story they were a victim who was treated unfairly. In another story they were a hero who rescued the victim. In some stories they were both!
In every case the narcissist was somebody of exceptionally noteworthy status or importance to the story.
He or she is not just another individual but is a central part of every story who deserves to be paid special attention to and venerated beyond the level of anything moderate.
Are you seeing a common theme?
8) Rationing approval
Another mind game the narcissist uses to gain control and get people dependent is rationing approval.
This is where the narcissist will give out little bits of approval and affection but only as their wishes and emotions are satiated by the behavior of others.
By giving out little bits of approval, they will create a dependency in others who believe that they are just not doing a good enough job and that if they live up to the expectations and standards of the narcissist they will get more approval.
This mind game is especially effective on those who are prone to self-doubt or have a generally low level of self-esteem.
They believe that the narcissist must have some quality or value that is truly admirable or worthy of attaining, so therefore they scramble to obtain this approval that the narcissist rations as a method of control.
9) Emotional blackmail
Narcissists are very skilled at emotional blackmail.
This relates to the previous point in that it is a tool where they hold back approval or threaten to unleash painful emotions unless they get their way.
The narcissist will throw a fit if they do not get their way and will be the most Pleasant in the person in the world when they do get their way.
By causing so much disruption they hope to always be pleased by those around them and avoid disappointment.
10) Weaponized jealousy
Jealousy is one of the main tools in the narcissistic playbook, and he or she will use it like a finely-tipped artist’s brush.
By making other people jealous they hope to obtain their goal of having attention and focus on them (even, sometimes, negative attention).
They know that jealousy is a very powerful emotion and if they can stoke it in somebody who is attracted to them or wants their approval then that person will more or less be in their control.
Which brings me to the next point…
11) Redrawing people’s maps
The narcissist is highly skilled at remaking reality to their own image.
They see the world as simply a playground (actually a battleground) for their own satisfaction and validation, and they are also able to manipulate others into believing this is true.
This may include making others feel as though the only person they can really rely on is the narcissist.
They will go to great lengths to redraw the map of somebody else and make them feel as if their only real options and hope lies in the narcissist rather than in anybody else or any other options in life.
Like gerrymandering in politics, the narcissist redraws the map.
“Oh, you wanted to vote for candidate Y? I sympathize. But actually I, candidate X, am your only option under the new district boundaries. Don’t worry, I’m a great guy!”
12) Threatening to leave
When in doubt, the narcissist will issue ultimatums.
“If you do X, I’ll leave…”
“If you don’t do Y, or start being more Z, I’m out…”
This is their trump card.
Now that they know you’re hooked on them and maybe even in love with them, they have immense power.
By simply refusing to leave your life, they create a sense of desperation in you and stoke the intense fear of heartbreak in you. Now you’ll do anything to stop them from leaving.