7 Mind Games Narcissists Play

Are you interested in the mind games narcissists play? Then this guide is for you!

When dealing with a narcissist, you can expect plenty of mind games. Narcissists use these tactics to keep you unbalanced, stressed, and distraught.

They want to weaken your self-assurance and gain more control over you.

If you can identify and understand some of these mind games, you’ll have a better chance of resisting a narcissist’s influence. The following are several common mind games that narcissists play.

1. Gaslighting

An effective way to control people is to get them to doubt their perceptions, memories, and grasp reality. To achieve this goal, narcissists often rely on gaslighting.

Gaslighting emerges as a pattern of behavior. It’s a collection of techniques that the narcissist repeatedly uses over time.

A common gaslighting technique is denial. Let’s say the narcissist insulted you during last night’s dinner. If you bring it up, the narcissist will tell you it never happened.

When they make their denial, they’ll appear completely confident about their rightness. They’ll tell you without a blush that you imagine things.

They may also look at you in a worried way or tell you that they’re hurt by your lies and baseless accusations.

Regular minimization is another form of gaslighting. Narcissists may not outright deny their actions, but they’ll downplay the severity. They’ll tell you that you’re exaggerating.

They’ll claim that they were only joking and that you’re overly sensitive or insecure. They’ll flip things around so that you’re the problem.

Dismissiveness is typical as well. They may say, “You don’t feel that way.” After that, they’ll simply ignore you, as if your dignity and feelings are inconsequential.

When gaslighting is a regular part of a relationship, it takes its toll on you. You increasingly doubt your abilities to remember and assess different events.

You begin to wonder if there’s something defective about your mind, your feelings, and how you experience reality.

As a result, you become more vulnerable to the narcissist’s control. You accept their assessment of who you are and what happens to you.

You learn more about their opinions and decisions. Your confidence in yourself weakens.

2. Projection

Narcissists don’t examine their behavior and character. They don’t hold themselves accountable for the mistakes they’ve made. You can’t expect them to admit errors, poor judgment, and malicious actions.

Projection is one of the key ways they protect their self-image. With projection, they accuse you of qualities they possess and actions they commit.

For example, a narcissist that regularly flies off the handle may accuse you of having a bad temper. They may tell you that you’re constantly raising your voice during arguments. What you do doesn’t matter.

They may accuse you of being a liar even as they lie to you. Other accusations involve fantasies they secretly harbor or their own feelings of hatred or inadequacy.

Sometimes, projections involve positive characteristics. For example, narcissists who value certain achievements or personality traits may project those qualities onto one of their children.

They’ll insist their child is just like them and wants the same things out of life.

It can be confusing or deeply frustrating when you’re on the receiving end of a projection. If you aren’t aware of what the narcissist is doing, you may begin to accept how they define you.

3. Triangulation

Narcissists like to control other people’s relationships and channels of communication. One way of doing this is triangulation, in which they position themselves between people.

They make themselves a key player in your interactions with family, friends, or romantic partners.

They may regularly interrupt conversations, monitor texts and emails, or insert themselves as a go-between for passing messages.

Through triangulation, they create distortions and mess up relationships.

For example, they fail to pass on critical messages or present untruthful or uncharitable interpretations of what other people have said.

As a result, you start feeling more isolated and mistrustful of other people. You fight with people over misunderstandings that the narcissist has created.

You’re unsure who to believe, and you may lean more on the narcissist, reinforcing their control over your life.

At the same time, the narcissist may portray you as troubled and unreliable, subtly turning people against you. The wedge they drive between people creates a great deal of confusion, stress, and anguish.

4. Changing Rules Without Warning

To keep you feeling anxious and insecure, narcissists frequently change the rules that they ask you to live by.

For example, they may offer you dessert after dinner for seven days.

When you ask for some ice cream on the eighth day, they’ll snap at you.

They’ll tell you that your eating habits are disgusting and that you’re a pig. “In this house,” they’ll say, “we only eat healthy food.”

A few days later, they may start offering you dessert again.

Whether a rule is major or minor, changing it is an opportunity for the narcissist to jerk you around and maintain control. Rules can encompass what you wear and eat, how you talk, how you spend money, and who you spend time with.

Punishments also vary. Violent eruptions, cold withdrawal, self-pitying tantrums, and insulting remarks are all possibilities.

The goal is to provoke fear and fill you with guilt and shame. Over time, you may also start feeling helpless.

You’re forced to anticipate what the narcissist wants and avoid upsetting them. Of course, you can’t fully anticipate their demands.

And there’s no way you can meet their impossible standards. Their behavior traps you in a relationship that doesn’t allow you to thrive or succeed.

5. Feigning Ignorance

Narcissists will provoke fights, orchestrate misunderstandings, and cause difficulties by acting unreliably. When confronted, one of their tactics is to pretend that they don’t know what’s going on.

If they’ve turned one of your friends against you, they’ll look puzzled and concerned. They’ll claim that they don’t know how this could have happened.

They may also shift most or all of the blame onto you or your friend.

Feigning ignorance is also a way for them to make you feel frustrated and tired. For example, let’s say you start a conversation about an issue they’re familiar with.

They may pretend that they don’t know what you’re talking about. You end up explaining things to them repeatedly, wasting your time and energy.

6. Playing the Victim

A favorite narrative of narcissists involves victimhood. They’re always the wronged party. They’re never at fault. When playing mind games, one of their aims is to make you look like a wicked or difficult person.

A common tactic they rely on is baiting you into losing control of your emotions.

They’ll push you to shout at them or start sobbing through lies, insults, and other infuriating behaviors. They’ll then use your response as evidence that you’re emotionally unstable or aggressive.

If there are witnesses, they’ll be especially careful to remain calm while provoking you. Or they’ll shed a few tears and put on a display of wounded feelings. They’ll strive to appear sympathetic in comparison to you.

As long as it makes them look good, they generally won’t have a problem damaging your reputation. Behind your back, they may lie about you or selectively share information that makes you look bad.

At the same time, they’ll portray themselves as sincerely concerned about you or exhausted by your supposedly terrible behavior.

7. Intermittent Reinforcement

Narcissists often behave unpleasantly. Lacking empathy for others, they act with callousness and insensitivity. In some cases, they’re also physically violent.

However, they don’t typically behave cruelly all the time. Sometimes, they give you attention, show you affection, and pay you a compliment you’ve been hoping to hear. They ask you for your thoughts and buy you gifts.

You don’t necessarily know when to expect these pleasant moments. The narcissist’s good behavior emerges intermittently. The timing isn’t consistent, and you don’t know how long their good mood will last.

When they’re kind to you, you may experience relief, a relaxation of the tension you generally feel around them. Their good behavior pulls you back towards them and raises your spirits.

You tell yourself there’s maybe enough good in them to make the relationship worthwhile.

Disentangling emotionally from the narcissist becomes more difficult. You also continue to feel insecure, because you’re never quite sure when their cruelty will flare up again.

Your thoughts and energy remain focused on them, not yourself and your own healing.

As with their other mind games, it’s important to view the narcissist’s intermittent kindness as part of a larger pattern of behavior.

You need a relationship characterized by consistent trustworthiness and kindness. The narcissist isn’t giving you what you need.

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