11 psychological tricks narcissists use to manipulate others

We sometimes include products we think are useful for our readers. If you buy through links on this page, we may earn a small commission. Read our affiliate disclosure.

Have you ever felt like someone is playing games with your mind?

Like you’re being manipulated and controlled?

You’re not alone.

There are people out there, called narcissists, who are really good at this.

They are experts at tricking others and using it to get what they want.

In this article, we’re going to talk about the tricks narcissists use to manipulate people.

We’ll look at their tactics, like making you doubt yourself and making you feel guilty.

By the end of this, you’ll be able to see these tricks for what they are and protect yourself.

1. Gaslighting

Let’s start with a big one, gaslighting. This is a nasty trick that narcissists love to use. It’s all about making you question your own reality.

Here’s how it works: imagine you’re sure about something, like a conversation you had or an event that happened.

But then, the narcissist starts to deny it or twist the facts.

They might say things like, “That never happened,” or “You’re just imagining things.”

They do this so much and so convincingly that you start to doubt yourself.

The aim of gaslighting is to make you unsure of your own memories and perceptions.

When this happens, the narcissist can easily manipulate you because you’ve lost trust in yourself.

So, if someone is making you question your reality constantly, be aware – it could be a sign of gaslighting.

2. Playing the Victim

Another classic move in the narcissist’s playbook is playing the victim.

They’re masters at turning any situation around to make themselves appear as the poor, innocent party.

Here’s how it goes: let’s say they do something wrong. You confront them about it, expecting an apology or at least an acknowledgement. But instead, they flip the script.

Suddenly, they’re the one who’s hurt, and somehow, it’s all your fault.

They might say things like, “You’re always blaming me,” or “You never understand me.”

By making you feel guilty and sorry for them, they avoid responsibility for their actions and even gain your sympathy.

This trick can be very confusing and emotionally draining. 

3. Love Bombing

One trick narcissists often use, which I have personally experienced, is love bombing.

This is when they shower you with affection, compliments, and attention to win you over.

I once had a friend who seemed too good to be true.

From the start, she was incredibly kind and complimentary, always eager to spend time together and constantly texting. It was flattering and made me feel special.

However, over time, things changed. The endless compliments turned into criticisms. The constant communication became a tool for control.

My friend’s real aim wasn’t friendship but maintaining power and influence over me.

Love bombing can feel wonderful at first, but it’s actually a way for narcissists to earn your trust quickly so they can manipulate you later.

So if someone seems overly affectionate or attentive right from the start, proceed with caution – it could be love bombing.

4. Triangulation

Another sneaky trick up a narcissist’s sleeve is triangulation.

This is when they use a third person to stir up jealousy or create rivalry to gain control or validate their own self-worth.

With this trick, the narcissist forms emotional triangles to steer the direction of their relationships.

For example, a narcissist might bring another person into their relationship with you – maybe an ex-partner or a close friend – and use this person to provoke jealousy or insecurity in you.

The aim is to keep you off-balance and maintain control over you. It’s also a way for them to feel wanted and important.

So if someone is constantly trying to make you jealous or compete for their attention, be watchful – it might be triangulation at play.

5. Devaluation

After a narcissist has won you over with love bombing, they often switch gears and start devaluing you.

One moment, you’re on top of the world, basking in their affection and praise. The next, you’re left questioning your worth as they start to criticize you, dismiss your achievements, and belittle your feelings.

They might start to ignore you, mock you or make hurtful comments about things they know you’re sensitive about.

This sudden shift can be incredibly heartbreaking. It’s done to knock you off balance, make you feel insecure and keep you striving for their approval.

Remember, no one has the right to devalue you or make you feel less than.

If someone is constantly bringing you down instead of lifting you up, be mindful – they might be using devaluation to manipulate you.

6. Public Embarrassment

This is when a narcissist uses a public setting to belittle, embarrass, or put you down.

I recall a time when I was at a party with a friend who had a knack for making fun of me in front of others.

At first, it seemed like harmless teasing. But over time, it became clear that he was using these situations to assert dominance and control.

He would make jokes at my expense or bring up embarrassing stories about me.

It felt like he was always trying to paint himself in a better light by putting me down.

The aim was not only to undermine my self-esteem but also to create a power dynamic where he was superior.

If someone repeatedly uses public settings as a stage for embarrassment or ridicule, take note – it might be an attempt to manipulate you.

7. Silent Treatment

One of the most hurtful and confusing tactics a narcissist uses is the silent treatment.

It’s when they suddenly stop talking to you, ignore your messages or calls, and act like you don’t exist.

It feels like you’re being punished, but you don’t know what for. You’re left in a state of confusion, wondering what you did wrong and how to fix it.

Narcissists use the silent treatment as a form of emotional blackmail. They want to make you feel guilty or scared so that you’ll do what they want. It’s also a way to make themselves feel in control.

If someone is giving you the silent treatment without explaining why, it’s not your job to guess.

Remember, open communication is key in any relationship.

If they’re withholding it to manipulate you, that’s not okay.

8. Projection

This is when they accuse you of the things that they themselves are guilty of.

Here’s an interesting fact: The term “projection” comes from psychoanalysis and was first conceptualized by Sigmund Freud. It’s a defense mechanism where people deny their own negative qualities by attributing them to others.

For example, a narcissist who is being unfaithful might accuse their partner of cheating.

Or someone who constantly lies might call you dishonest.

In doing so, they’re able to deny their own faults and make you feel like the one who’s in the wrong.

This tactic can be very confusing and can cause you to constantly defend yourself against false accusations.

So if someone is always blaming you for the things they’re doing, be alert – it could be projection at work.

9. Guilt-Tripping

This is one I’ve seen a lot – guilt-tripping.

It’s when a narcissist makes you feel guilty to get their way.

I remember a time when I was dealing with a colleague who was a master at this.

She would often say things like, “After all I’ve done for you, this is how you repay me?” or “If you really cared about me, you wouldn’t do this.”

At first, I felt awful and did whatever she wanted to make things right.

But over time, I realized she was using guilt as a tool to control me and get her way.

Guilt-tripping can be very effective because it preys on your emotions and sense of empathy.

But remember, it’s okay to say no and set boundaries.

If someone constantly makes you feel guilty for not meeting their expectations, be aware – they might be using guilt to manipulate you.

10. Idealization and Devaluation Cycle

Now let’s talk about something particularly cruel – the cycle of idealization and devaluation.

This is a rollercoaster ride that narcissists often put people through.

First, they idealize you. They put you on a pedestal, shower you with compliments, and make you feel like you’re the most important person in the world. It feels amazing.

But then, without warning, they start to devalue you. They criticize you, belittle you, and make you feel worthless.

This constant flip-flop between extreme adoration and harsh criticism can be emotionally exhausting. It’s designed to keep you off balance and make you work harder for their approval.

It’s a painful truth to face, but if someone is constantly blowing hot and cold with their affection, be careful – they might be manipulating you.

11. Smear Campaigns

This is when a narcissist spreads false rumors or exaggerations about you to others.

It’s dirty play, but it happens.

They might tell people lies about your character or share private information to discredit you.

The aim is to damage your reputation and isolate you from others, giving them more control.

It’s heartbreaking when someone you trust turns others against you with lies. But remember, those who truly care about you will see through the deception.

If someone is spreading false information about you or trying to turn others against you, stand strong – they might be using a smear campaign as a manipulation tactic.

Did you like my article? Like me on Facebook to see more articles like this in your feed.

Lachlan Brown

I’m Lachlan Brown, the founder, and editor of Hack Spirit. I love writing practical articles that help others live a mindful and better life. I have a graduate degree in Psychology and I’ve spent the last 15 years reading and studying all I can about human psychology and practical ways to hack our mindsets. Check out my latest book on the Hidden Secrets of Buddhism and How it Saved My Life. If you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Facebook or Twitter.

If you say “no” to these 11 things, you’ll live a more fulfilling life

If you want to become likable, start using these 12 words more often