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8 Ways Narcissists Con You

Narcissists are pretenders. While they often use overt bullying and grandiose gestures, deception is at the heart of narcissism.

Narcissists rely on false bravado, dishonesty, cover-ups, and elaborate posturing to manipulate others.

Here are eight ways people with narcissism try to con you:

1) Intermittent reinforcement

Lab rats who get a food pellet every time they press a lever will rapidly lose interest when the food stops. On the other hand, rats who receive a food pellet only some of the times when they press the lever will linger indefinitely, repeatedly pressing the lever in hopes of the elusive treat.

Similarly, narcissists use a sparse and unpredictable pattern to dole out treats such as praise, attention, money and opportunities.

Every once in a while a narcissist will say something nice to you, do something for you, or bestow his or her charm or attention on you.

The rewards seem magnified because they are rare. More than that, like a thirsty person in a desert, you may over-value anything positive you get from a narcissist given how often you feel criticized, deprived, ignored or used around them.

2) False Flattery

Narcissists are so hungry for praise that they assume others are as well. They may tell you that you are special, that only you understand them, or that only you know how to take care of them.

In truth, narcissistic flattery is not based on who you really are. Narcissists rarely see who others are. They see you primarily in terms of what you can do for them.

3) Strings attached

Narcissists live in a win-lose world. They rarely give freely or magnanimously. Their gifts nearly always carry a price tag.

When narcissists give a gift, it may only be a matter of time before they remind you of the gift as a way to guilt-trip you into doing even more for them.

4) Faint praise

Narcissists crave praise but view it as scarce. As a result, they are unlikely to praise others freely or completely. For example, when you show up sporting a new hair style, they may say something such as, “Well, look at you!” You’re left wondering, is that a compliment?

Praise and compliments may be given, but qualified. They may say something like, “Well, at least you did better than the last job which you screwed up big time.”

5) Lowered expectations

Narcissists disappoint others so often that disappointment becomes the norm. This serves the narcissist. As people come to expect less and less, narcissists are free to get away with more and more.

6) Promised protection

Narcissists seek to convince you that proximity to them and their wealth, power, charm, beauty, or wit will protect you in a dangerous world.

Their goal is to instill dependency. As the spider said to the fly, come into my web.

However, as with any protection racket, the costs generally outweigh any benefits. The closer you get to narcissists and the more you depend on them, the greater the chances you will feel trapped and may end up as a tasty meal for their egos.

7) Faux vulnerability

Just as narcissists may tell you that you need them, they’ll pretend that they need you.

They may say they can’t live without you. The goal is to make you feel indispensable and appeal to your ego. In addition, they seek to make you feel guilty should you think of not doing their bidding or of leaving them.

Narcissists are tremendously vulnerable. Their identities are built on a house of cards; easily collapsed when their egos are not fed.

Their con is that they need you in particular. They often don’t need you as the unique person you are, they just need someone to praise them and listen to them. Stop feeding their ego and you may be replaced in a heartbeat.

8) Selective truth

Narcissists exaggerate. They speak in glittering generalities. They say: “Everyone knows this,” “Everyone else agrees” or “Everybody does this.”

The goal is to con you into seeing the world their way and doing what they want. More importantly, their selective truths are attempts to hide any evidence that puts them in a bad light.

Underneath these eight cons are the narcissists’ deep inadequacies. Deep down, the are convinced that:

  • Losing is unacceptable
  • They won’t survive without enough attention
  • Others are out to get them

They see the world as a hostile, kill-or-be-killed environment. That worldview, along with a narcissistic sense of entitlement, leads them to posture, pretend, and hoodwink others with nary a second thought.

Knowing these cons can help you avoid falling for them. Narcissists are unlikely to change. You don’t have to play their game.

Photo credits:
Cross fingers by Ruigsantos
Head pat by Studiostock
Con artist by Ionut Catalin Parvu
Pinocchio by Tristan Schmurr

8 Ways Narcissists Con You

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. (2019). 8 Ways Narcissists Con You. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 23, 2020, from


Last updated: 24 Jul 2019
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