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8 Devious Tactics of Narcissists

Narcissistic people use a range of covert and overt tactics to manipulate others. As you read through the following list of methods used by narcissists, you may want to think of a narcissist in your present or past and identify if any of these tactics may have used on you.


Narcissists have a habit of accusing others of doing what, in fact, the narcissist is doing. For example, unreliable narcissists will tell you that you are letting them down. Narcissists who frequently lie will accuse others of being untrustworthy. Rageful narcissists will tell you that you’re the one who needs anger management.

Generally narcissists are unaware of such hypocrisies. They accuse in an instant, then come to increasingly believe their accusations. Doing so allows them to avoid responsibility for their dysfunctional behavior while putting others on the defensive.


Narcissists feel entitled to get what they want by any means necessary. As a result they may endlessly badger others with demands, questions and opinions.

They may pressure you to give immediate answers or make instant decisions. They may lie and then just keep repeating the lie, as if doing so makes it true. They won’t listen to other viewpoints and may get furious at questions or dissent.

Narcissists often fail to recognize how much they offend others. If they do recognize it, they either don’t care or may even take delight in doing so. Experience has shown them that in many cases other people will become exhausted and give in. For them, that’s mission accomplished.

Telling you your reality

Narcissists often tell you what you are thinking or feeling. They believe they have special insight into others and feel justified in naming your reality. If you disagree, they may take your disagreement as proof that they are right. Labeling others’ experience can give narcissists an upper hand when it makes others question or doubt themselves.


Narcissists may treat others as children. They may talk down or use a tone of voice that a parent might use with a child. They may treat others as possessing lesser intelligence or having fewer rights. Demeaning others makes them feel superior. It also puts others on the defensive.


Narcissists systematically minimize anything that makes them look or feel bad. They find excuses for their bad behavior, often blaming others. They may deny outright that they have done anything destructive. They have found that their minimizing and stonewalling is hard for others to fight, much to the narcissist’s delight.

When a narcissist feels slighted, it can feel like the end of the world to them. But when they slight, insult or hurt others, they hardly give it a second thought.

Going nuclear

Narcissists are not adept at containing their impulses or feelings. They feel free to throw tantrums, call names or make a scene. Their larger-than-life feelings and reactions make them feel powerful and discharge uncomfortable feelings or thoughts. Once again, it puts others on the defensive.


Narcissists carry enormous shame, though their shame is generally outside their awareness. As a result, they tend to put shame on everyone else.

They may question others’ legitimacy. They may chide others for a less-than-perfect performance or rub a failure in another’s face. They have a knack for knocking others down a peg. The result: they feel superior. In addition, the recipients of their shaming may feel they have to defend or explain themselves, which often gives narcissists additional ammunition to further shame others.


Narcissists love to be complimented and thus believe that others also eat up praise, whether accurate or not.

Sometimes they flatter as a way to induce you to respond in kind. They may try to stroke your ego to get something they want from you or to create dependency. Or they may pour on false flattery to defuse any attempts by others to get narcissists to take responsibility for their negative behaviors.

Beneath these eight tactics lie some of narcissists’ key motivations:

  • Playing a win-lose game rather than seeking win-win solutions
  • Seeking superiority rather than equality
  • Valuing appearance more than substance
  • Trying to convince rather than being honest

If you are dealing with a narcissist, you may not want to play these games. Observing at an arm’s length and knowing their true motivations may give you breathing room and lessen their negative influences on you.


Blame photo by iQoncept / Shutterstock

Shame photo by Anthony Easton / Flickr

8 Devious Tactics of Narcissists

Dan Neuharth, Ph.D., MFT

Dan Neuharth, PhD, is a marriage and family therapist and best-selling author based in the San Francisco Bay Area. He has more than 25 years’ experience providing individual, couples and family therapy. Dr. Neuharth is the author of If You Had Controlling Parents: How to Make Peace with Your Past and Take Your Place in the World. He writes two blogs for PsychCentral: Love Matters and Narcissism Decoded. He is licensed as a marriage and family therapist in California, Florida, Texas and Virginia. His website:

Please note: Dr. Neuharth's posts are for information and educational purposes only. These posts are not intended to be therapy or professional psychotherapeutic advice, and are not a replacement for psychotherapy. I cannot give psychotherapeutic advice about your individual situation outside of a therapist-client relationship. The posting of these blogs and the information therein does not constitute the formation of a therapist-client relationship. Please consult your physician or mental health provider for individual advice or support for your health and well-being. If you are in crisis, please call your local 24-hour crisis or mental health hotline or dial 911.

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APA Reference
Neuharth, D. (2017). 8 Devious Tactics of Narcissists. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 27, 2020, from


Last updated: 2 Jul 2017
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