9 underhanded techniques narcissists use to undermine your confidence

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There’s a fine line between tough love and emotional manipulation. The latter is a favorite tool of narcissists.

Narcissists have a knack for shaking your confidence, and they do it so subtly, you might not even realize it’s happening.

They’re masters at using underhanded techniques to make you doubt yourself, all while maintaining an air of innocence. It’s not about helping you improve, it’s about keeping you off balance.

In this article, I’m going to shed light on 9 tactics that narcissists use to undermine your confidence. I’ll be your guide in spotting them, so you can stand strong and protect your self-esteem.

1) Gaslighting

This is a favorite tactic among narcissists, and it’s as sinister as it sounds.

Essentially, gaslighting involves making you question your own reality. Narcissists do this by denying things they’ve said or done, or by twisting your words and actions to fit their narrative.

It’s like a psychological magic trick – you start to question your own memories, your own judgement. You start to believe their version of reality over yours.

It’s an insidious technique that can slowly erode your confidence until you’re second-guessing every decision you make. Suddenly, you’re not trusting yourself anymore.

Recognizing this technique is the first step towards reclaiming your reality. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Trust your instincts and hold on to your truth.

2) Constant criticism

I remember a time when I was constantly criticized for the smallest things.

The color of my shirt, the way I prepared a meal, even the way I laughed – it was all under scrutiny. It was coming from someone I considered a close friend, someone whose opinion mattered to me.

At first, I brushed it off, thinking they were just being honest. But then I realized that it was more than that. It was an incessant stream of negativity designed to undermine my confidence.

This is another common technique narcissists use. They’ll pick at your flaws, real or imagined, until you start to believe that you’re not good enough. It’s a subtle and gradual process, but incredibly damaging.

The key is to recognize it for what it is – an attempt to control you by making you feel small. Once you see that, you can start to reclaim your self-esteem and remember that their criticism says more about them than it does about you.

3) Love bombing

Narcissists have a knack for making you feel like the center of their universe. In the early stages of a relationship, they shower you with attention, compliments, and affection. This is referred to as love bombing.

It’s not genuine affection, though. It’s a calculated move to make you reliant on them for validation.

Here’s something intriguing: it’s actually a technique commonly used in cults to recruit and control their members. The same principle applies in personal relationships with narcissists. They create an emotional dependency so you’re less likely to challenge or leave them.

Recognizing love bombing can be challenging because it can feel good to be admired and cherished. But remember, a healthy relationship involves mutual respect and understanding, not one person constantly seeking validation from the other.

4) The silent treatment

Nothing can make you feel more dismissed and insignificant than being given the silent treatment by someone you care about.

Narcissists often use this tactic to punish you for perceived slights or disagreements.

It’s a form of emotional manipulation intended to make you feel guilty or anxious, eventually leading you to seek their approval or forgiveness.

5) Projection

Projection is a complex and tricky tactic narcissists use to maintain control.

In simple terms, they project their own insecurities and flaws onto you. If they’re feeling guilty about something, they’ll accuse you of the very same thing. It can be incredibly confusing and hurtful.

It’s an attempt to distract from their own shortcomings by shifting the focus onto you. This shift can leave you constantly on the defensive, questioning your actions and intentions.

6) Playing the victim

Narcissists have an uncanny ability to twist any situation so that they appear as the victim, regardless of the actual circumstances.

It’s a heartbreaking tactic because it can make you feel like the bad guy even when you’re not. You might find yourself apologizing for things you didn’t do, or trying to make amends for situations that weren’t your fault.

This is a manipulative strategy aimed at making you feel guilty and keeping you off balance. It’s a way for them to avoid responsibility and to keep you in a state of self-doubt.

It’s not your job to fix someone else’s problems, especially when they refuse to acknowledge their own role in creating them. You deserve to be in relationships where there’s mutual respect and accountability.

7) Isolation

There was a time when I found myself increasingly isolated from my friends and family. Invitations to gatherings became less frequent, phone calls became shorter, and I felt more and more detached.

Looking back, I realize it was a carefully orchestrated move by the narcissist in my life. They had slowly but surely driven a wedge between me and my loved ones, making me more dependent on them for social interaction and emotional support.

Isolation is a classic tactic used by narcissists. By cutting you off from other people, they can exert more control and influence over you.

It’s vital to maintain your social connections and reach out for support when you need it, because a loving partner or friend encourages your relationships with others, not hinder them.

8) Triangulation

Narcissists are often experts at playing people against each other, a tactic known as triangulation.

They might bring a third party into a situation, either to validate their own perspective or to undermine yours. It could be as subtle as casually mentioning how someone else agrees with them, or as blatant as comparing you unfavorably to another person.

This technique is designed to create insecurity and doubt. It can make you feel like you’re in competition for the narcissist’s approval, keeping you off balance and on the defensive.

9) Invalidating your feelings

Perhaps the most damaging technique used by narcissists is the invalidation of your feelings.

They dismiss your emotions, belittle your experiences, and trivialize your concerns. They might tell you you’re being overly sensitive, or that you’re overreacting. They might even laugh off serious issues you raise.

They often use this tactic to undermine your confidence in your own perceptions and feelings. It makes you question your worth and can leave you feeling voiceless and insignificant.

If there’s one thing you take away from this, let it be this: Your feelings are valid. Your experiences are real. You have a right to express yourself and to be heard. Don’t let anyone make you feel otherwise.

Final thoughts: It’s about reclaiming control

Understanding the tactics narcissists use is more than just an exploration of human behavior. It’s about regaining control over your own life and self-esteem.

The American Psychological Association defines self-esteem as the “degree to which the qualities and characteristics contained in one’s self-concept are perceived to be positive”. When narcissists undermine this, they strip away our sense of self-worth.

Most importantly, their tactics reflect their own insecurities and flaws, not yours. By recognizing these underhanded techniques for what they are, you can begin to rebuild your confidence.

Realize that you have the right to voice your thoughts and feelings, to set boundaries, and to be treated with respect. Your experiences are valid. Your emotions are real. You are enough as you are.

Eliza Hartley

Eliza Hartley, a London-based writer, is passionate about helping others discover the power of self-improvement. Her approach combines everyday wisdom with practical strategies, shaped by her own journey overcoming personal challenges. Eliza's articles resonate with those seeking to navigate life's complexities with grace and strength.

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