7 things a narcissist will do when they feel they’ve been exposed

Unmasking a narcissist is like cornering a wild animal. They’ll do everything in their power to divert attention, evade responsibility, and regain control.

You may conjure up images of overt arrogance, but the reality is more complex.

A narcissist, when exposed, doesn’t just puff up their feathers; they resort to a slew of tactics to preserve their facade.

In my years as a relationship expert and founder of the Love Connection blog, I’ve seen firsthand how a narcissist reacts when the veil is lifted.

Let’s dive into what happens when a narcissist feels exposed, and how they scramble to keep their inflated self-image intact.

No sugar-coating, just straight talk from my experiences in the trenches.

1) Denial and deflection

A narcissist’s survival depends on their carefully crafted persona.

So when this persona is threatened, their first line of defense is often denial.

This isn’t your run-of-the-mill, “I didn’t do it” denial. It’s a deep-seated refusal to acknowledge the reality of their actions or behaviors.

They will twist the narrative, bend the facts, and outright deny any wrongdoing.

Deflection comes hand in hand with denial. When faced with exposure, a narcissist might redirect the conversation, bring up unrelated issues or start blaming others.

This tactic serves two purposes: it distracts from their own exposure and turns the spotlight onto someone else.

But remember – this isn’t about you, it’s about their desperate need to maintain control.

If you’re dealing with a narcissist, don’t get caught up in their web of deflection and denial.

It’s just smoke and mirrors to hide the truth.

2) Playing the victim

Contrary to what you might expect, a narcissist won’t always react with rage or arrogance when they feel exposed.

Sometimes, they opt for a more subtle, and arguably more manipulative tactic: playing the victim.

In an attempt to regain control and divert attention away from their actions, they may spin the narrative in such a way that they come out as the misunderstood party, or even worse, the wronged one.

They might recount past traumas or hardships to gain sympathy, or paint themselves as the target of an unfair attack.

This can be especially confusing for those around them, who may begin to question their own perceptions and judgment.

It’s a crafty tactic that can leave you second-guessing the validity of your concerns.

But it’s important to remember that this is simply another form of manipulation – a smokescreen designed to shift focus away from their exposure.

3) Gaslighting

In all my years of experience as a relationship expert, there’s one tactic I’ve seen narcissists use that’s particularly hard to combat: gaslighting.

This is when a narcissist manipulates others into doubting their own reality.

This can look like outright denial of events, twisting of facts, or making you question your own memory or sanity.

It’s an insidious form of psychological control that can make you feel like you’re losing your grip on reality.

In the face of exposure, gaslighting becomes a narcissist’s lifeline.

It’s their way of regaining control and deflecting blame.

They’ll make you question whether the exposure is real or just a figment of your imagination.

Navigating these murky waters can be difficult, which is why I’ve dedicated a section in my book to understanding and overcoming gaslighting.

If you’re currently dealing with this situation, you might find Breaking The Attachment: How To Overcome Codependency in Your Relationship helpful as it provides practical advice to handle such manipulative tactics.

But for now, the gist is this: the most important thing is to trust yourself and your perceptions.

4) Smear campaigns

Once a narcissist feels the threat of exposure, they might resort to launching a smear campaign against the person who’s threatening their image.

This involves spreading false rumors, half-truths, and outright lies to discredit you and undermine your credibility.

This tactic can be particularly harmful because it not only seeks to protect the narcissist’s image but also actively destroys yours.

It’s a double-edged sword that can cause a lot of damage if not handled carefully.

I’ve seen it happen more times than I care to count.

And it always reminds me of a quote by Mark Twain: “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”

The speed and impact of these smear campaigns can be staggering.

But don’t let it discourage you.

The truth always has a way of surfacing, and those who matter will see through the lies.

5) Love bombing

This one may seem counterintuitive, but stick with me.

When a narcissist feels exposed, they may resort to an intense display of affection and attention, a phenomenon commonly known as “love bombing.”

It’s like a charm offensive designed to distract you from their behavior or actions that have been exposed.

They shower you with compliments, gifts, and grand gestures to make you feel special and loved.

But this sudden change of heart is usually short-lived and often a means to an end.

It’s not about genuine affection but about regaining control and diverting attention away from their exposure.

During my years of counselling, I’ve seen many people fall for this unexpected show of love.

And I totally get it. It’s hard not to be swayed by such grand gestures.

But real love isn’t manipulative or conditional.

It’s consistent and respectful. Don’t let the dazzle of love bombing blind you from the truth.

6) Intimidation and threats

When cornered, a narcissist might resort to intimidation or threats to regain control. This can range from veiled threats to explicit ultimatums, all designed to put you on the back foot.

It’s a desperate measure, a sign that their usual tactics are failing. I’ve seen it happen, and it’s never pleasant. It’s like seeing a wounded animal lash out in fear and pain.

Remember the words of Eleanor Roosevelt: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

It’s a mantra that I often share with my clients. Don’t let their threats shake your resolve or make you question your decision to expose them.

If you’re dealing with this kind of situation, don’t hesitate to seek help.

And remember, you don’t have to face this alone.

For more advice on handling narcissists and other relationship issues, follow my Facebook page.

You’ll get my latest articles right in your feed to help you navigate these challenging situations.

7) Emotional withdrawal

When a narcissist feels exposed, they might emotionally withdraw from you.

This sudden shift from being the center of their attention to being treated like a stranger can be jarring and painful.

This isn’t your typical need for space or time to process things.

It’s a calculated move to make you feel anxious, guilty, or doubtful about your decision to expose them.

In this cold silence, you’re left questioning what you did wrong, and that’s exactly what they want.

They want you to chase after them, to apologize, to take the blame and thus divert the focus away from their actions.

But here’s the hard truth: it’s not about you. It’s about their inability to handle accountability.

So as tough as it is, don’t let their emotional withdrawal manipulate your feelings or decisions.

You’ve done nothing wrong in exposing the truth.

Understanding the narcissist

Navigating relationships with narcissists can feel like walking a tightrope.

One moment you’re the apple of their eye, the next you’re the enemy.

And when they feel exposed, their behavior can become even more unpredictable and manipulative.

But don’t let this deter you from standing your ground.

Understanding their tactics is the first step to protecting yourself and maintaining your mental health.

Remember, this is about them, not you. You are not at fault for their actions or reactions.

As a relationship expert, I’ve spent countless hours helping people navigate these complexities.

I’ve seen firsthand the confusion, the hurt, and the healing.

And it’s my hope that this exploration of what happens when a narcissist feels exposed has shed some light on your situation.

For further exploration on this topic, I’d highly recommend Justin Brown’s video that delves into new age spiritual narcissism.

This insightful piece questions some groupthink in new age circles and is great for those interested in pursuing a spiritual path but need encouragement to find their own way and not fall prey to spiritual gurus or copying others.

We all have our journey to walk, and sometimes that journey involves navigating challenging relationships.

But remember, understanding is the first step to healing.

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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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