40 thoughts on “14 Thought-Control Tactics Narcissists Use to Confuse and Dominate You

  • September 15, 2017 at 12:28 pm

    Although these are very valid points, what bothers me about this article is that, as in many others, they are put as if the narcissist pulls these tactics out of the hat whenever they want to. I like to point out that a lot of narcissists have no clue what they are doing, and that tactics is just too much credit for the behavior they display. It is remarkable that people on the one hand ‘accuse’ narcissists of (sometimes even complete) lack of empathy and at the same time blame them for using manipulation tactics that actually would require empathy to be successful.

    Reply
    • September 15, 2017 at 12:44 pm

      Hi Ruud,

      Thanks for your comment. I agree that many narcissists have little clue about what they are doing. Much of narcissistic behavior is unconsciously or instinctively driven, rather than always being deliberate or fully conscious, as I have written in my blogs. And we can have empathy for narcissists’ pain and struggles just as we can empathize with any human that is suffering, as I have written.

      I take exception with your point about manipulation tactics requiring empathy to be successful. Manipulation of others is more effective if a manipulator senses or understands people’s needs and vulnerabilities, but knowing others’ vulnerabilities so that one can take advantage of them is hardly empathy. In fact, some of the most successful manipulators, such as sociopaths or people who have antisocial personality disorder, have by definition a complete lack of empathy or remorse. In my experience few narcissists are capable of, or interested in, empathizing with others. And whether or not they are aware of what they are doing, the destructive effects of narcissists on others are just as real.

      Dan

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      • September 21, 2017 at 2:41 am

        Dear Dan,
        Thanks for the valuable work that you and others are doing. Some time in the future these insights will save the lives of children, and prevent much suffering. Currently child abusers are protected by their friends and family, who are are not suffering, but manipulated to think nothing is wrong.
        Kind regards
        Anna

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      • June 1, 2018 at 10:03 am

        There’s a difference between cognitive empathy and affective empathy. Narcissists, Psychopaths and Sociopaths can all have high cognitive empathy (“I know that in this situation, a person is likely to be feeling x”) but low or non-existent affective empathy (actually feeling the other person’s pain / emotions). Affective empathy is what stops a normal person from hurting another (as they wouldn’t want to be hurt themselves). Cognitive empathy is learned through observation and social experiences, and can be used to manipulate people.

        At least this is what I believe from doing a little reading on the subject. What do I know? I’m probably autistic so all human social interactions confuse the hell out of me xD

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    • September 3, 2018 at 3:58 pm

      I believe most narcissists are well aware of what they’re doing, and when and if they aren’t i don’t think they would care. They are great actors and would love to know you think they are not aware of what they’re doing, and to think that they have empathy!!! Like psychopaths, they seem to have an uncanny awareness of what is important to someone else (and they see it as a weakness in them). That helps them to manipulate them, and of course they will just seem like the most compassionate of people! Yet, in most of us, something will seem wrong but because we can’t put our fingers on it (esp. if we think most people are normal) we will think they mean well. They will think they have power over you, and used their will over yours. However, the time will come when you may, unwittingly, cross them, and brother, you’d better hold on for dear life! You think they don’t know what they’re doing? That’s something they want you to think in case you figure them out.

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      • May 31, 2019 at 7:26 pm

        I am out of an extreme narcissistic domestic abuse situation with my daughter. He found out about her emergency exit plan and everything blew up. We are now suffering the consequences of having left him. . I feel completely raped financially physically and psychologically. I have nothing left no money, he took my house {(in my name only) and everything in it , every belonging we’ve ever owned In my 57 years for my and my daughters 18 years. He changed the locks on our home and he took full possession regardless of it being agains the law. He took my car. He has managed to charge me with nine criminal serious charges and I am trying to fight through court but I am not getting any help whatsoever since he was not charged. He feels powerful and unstoppable and confident. Any advice on how this may end? I have all documents and proofs to bring him to court and blow his lies out of the water and expose him. and if I do Should we be worried for our lives??

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      • May 31, 2019 at 8:01 pm

        Gin,

        This sounds like an extremely difficult situation. Since you raise the question of whether you should be worried for your life and that of your daughter, I recommend you make sure you have adequate and competent legal representation and, if you feel threatened or in imminent danger, take all steps to protect yourself including but not limited to calling 911.

        Dan

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      • July 8, 2019 at 12:40 am

        Gin, the system doesn’t always work, does it. I was raked over the coals in my divorce, despite the fact that it went on for 5 years and cost me so much emotionally and financially that finally I folded to get it over with, but you should not. You have to fight to get what you deserve. One of my own attorneys remarked how intelligent my ex narcissist was. At the time, her statement shocked me to the extent that I didn’t know how to respond because I was so beaten down. Today I am angry that she encouraged me to fold. My ex narcissist went on to find excuses not to support our children. We had joint custody, so there was no child support for me. He also failed to pay their university expenses. He did pay half for our daughter selectively but dropped our son 100 percent. I had the full financial burden. He earns 3xs what I do. He valued our home at 1/2 its worth , so I got little. I told the attorney to value our home 100k over the price he set. She encouraged me to take the deal. He recently sold the house for 200 k more than the settlement. He hasn’t spoken to our son since he was 16, and a year ago conveniently stopped speaking to our daughter, not even a call to congratulate her for completing her uni degree in 4 years with a 4.0. You need to fight for your rights for your sake and your daughter’s. Find an attorney who is an advocate for women in your situation. I know how difficult it is. Be strong. The narcissists face their karma every day of their lives. PS: I almost forgot this bit. My ex narcissist’s first attorney refused to work with him after a few months. I found out from a different attorney. Also, don’t let the attorneys bully you. They are working for you. Mine were asses. I mishandled my divorce and let the attorneys sway me. Don’t settle for less than you deserve because it affects the rest of your life. Good luck.

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  • September 20, 2017 at 10:12 am

    My husband is a full blown narccississt and the only empathy that he has is for himself. He’s a class act at playing the victim card and he does not accept responibility for his stuff and the problems he creates. If I hit back, then I’m the bad guy for standing up for mysel, then he twists the facts consequently blaming me. HE, is NEVER in the wrong. Then the drama unfolds when he makes it all about how hard done by he is. Only two weeks ago, he complained bitterly because I told him the truth about his devious, manipulative and self pitying attitude. Of course, in his head it’s me who is the problem and he had me convinced that I was so, I tried harder and harder to please a man that could never be pleased in the first place.

    I’d never heard the word narcississt and what it meant and had no idea that I was living with one. For decades I thought that if I could get him to accept responibility and change then life would be much happier but, no. He’s in his sixties and incapable of change. He plays out the same scenario over and over again but the difference is that there’s lots of infomation on the web that has informed me of what is behind his behaviours. Even his therapist has given up on him and that’s saying something.

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    • September 22, 2017 at 1:30 pm

      Hi Sally,
      You describe narcissistic tactics in ways many readers can no doubt relate. As frustrating and painful as your realizations are, they are freeing in that you know the score. That allows you to decide how best to empower yourself in the face of this reality.
      Thank you for your post.
      Dan

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    • October 5, 2017 at 10:44 pm

      Divorce him.

      Reply
  • September 20, 2017 at 1:14 pm

    Hi Dan,

    “Manipulation of others is more effective if a manipulator senses or understands people’s needs and vulnerabilities, but knowing others’ vulnerabilities so that one can take advantage of them is hardly empathy.”

    This is true and your focus has been looking at individuals rather than how these tactics are used on a much bigger scale for political power or as a method to harvest masses for any kind of “control and power over”.

    This “win” mentality is often used in a toxic manner that tends to set masses up to believe that a “winner” has to excel a certain way and if that individual does excel that certain way they are to be revered. This is how narcissism is deeply affected and individuals have to learn how to believe they are “better than” and begin to manipulate their own personal realities and that of others to do so.

    Quote from you “In my experience few narcissists are capable of, or interested in, empathizing with others. And whether or not they are aware of what they are doing, the destructive effects of narcissists on others are just as real.”

    Ah yes, but there is a spectrum when it comes to narcissism and the limits of ability to “empathize” within that spectrum itself. When is it “ok” to express hate and tap onto the very behaviors that are considered mean and toxic and narcissistic?

    For example, recently there were several articles focusing on one mis-spelled word. I think the word was heal/heel. There was a tremendous amount of “negativity” directed at that mistake. Yet, to someone like me who spent YEARS helping a child with dyslexia learn how to learn despite the struggle with words and spelling, what all that negativity over that one mis-spelled word expressed was a great LACK OF empathy for millions who are challenged that can easily mis-spell a word like that even if they do spell check. What I also had to “help” my own child quietly deal with is that even though she had a very high IQ, this specific challenge she had to learn to work around, which her high IQ did an amazing job with this challenge, is that her desire to someday go to Harvard would never become a reality despite her high IQ, simply because of her challenge itself. Well, only a certain type of WINNER gets to attend Harvard right? Or other so called Ivy League prestigious educational atmosphere that says “you are here and a winner” and now you can gather in Silicon Valley with the best and brightest and guide all others with all your intelligence.

    During all that took place in the past year and a half, there was a lot of hatred developing in Silicon Valley. Yet, one individual got “curious” and even though that individual risked being “shunned” he decided to investigate. It is this type of individual I admire the most because it is these type of individuals that have always made a difference in humanity, that are willing to explore and “empathize” despite being encouraged to stand in judgement of. It is this type of individual that got curious and learned about the people like my daughter, how they are different, how they are intelligent in different ways and how to address this challenge so I could help my daughter progress, learn and be productive despite her challenge.

    I had been doing the same thing myself, I wanted to see how different individuals felt about what they were seeing take place. I learned a lot from doing that I also got to read someone else’s findings that I was learning myself, instead just going along with the “hate and anger”, but taking that risk of being shunned to investigate and learn instead.

    Truth is Dan, there is a lot of narcissism in our overall society today. An effort to direct one’s attention to one instance is leaving out all the other areas it exists and is flourishing that is harmful.

    Reply
    • September 22, 2017 at 1:31 pm

      Hi Justthinking,
      Thank you for your thoughtful post. You raise several important and valid points particularly around the nuances within the continuum of narcissism, both on a personal and societal level.
      Dan

      Reply
  • September 21, 2017 at 12:13 pm

    Dan, in reading one of your other articles (you sure concentrate a lot on narcissists), I came across this statement:

    “Understanding narcissists’ fear of being seen as ordinary can help you try to steer clear of triggering land mines in their psyche, although there are so many triggers for narcissists it is impossible to avoid them all.”

    This caught my attention because of how much our children are encouraged to “need” to excel in some way in order to feel “special” or useful and worthy. So much in society is “judged” and the reality is this has IMHO given rise to the problem of narcissism in our society overall. It is no wonder individuals would learn to think ordinary means unworthy and is something to fear.

    I watched the finale of America’s got talent last night and thought to myself, “why only have one winner?”. It came down to two very talented little girls, girls at a very impressionable age too. Why couldn’t it have been that “both” of these little girls win and just split the prize money? If I had been a judge I would have hit that button for the other little girl that did not win.

    You have written an awful lot about narcissists and how toxic they can be, but there is a spectrum to narcissism and everyone has “some” of these traits, after all society tends to encourage it “unknowingly?”.

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    • September 22, 2017 at 1:33 pm

      Thank you for your insight. The issue of societal narcissism is real, and we could all benefit from more research on the topic.
      Dan

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      • April 21, 2018 at 6:11 pm

        do you have any recommendations on material/articles/research on societal narcissism? I have never heard of the concept until seeing your comment, but the idea seems fascinating and terrifying.

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      • April 23, 2018 at 11:45 am

        Hi SG,
        There are a lot of articles and research on societal narcissism and the number is increasing. You can easily do a Google search on the topic for starters. If by societal narcissism you mean the question of increasing prevalence of narcissism in society, one book you might begin with is “The Narcissism Epidemic” by Twenge and Campbell. On the other hand, if by societal narcissism you mean narcissistic behavior at the level of authorities, groups, and institutions, the term used in the literature for this is “collective narcissism.” A couple articles on that topic for starters: “Welcome to the age of collective narcissism” in The Conversation and the BBC’s “How Collective Narcissism is Directing World Politics.”
        Thanks for your important question.
        Dan

        Reply
  • February 16, 2018 at 3:45 am

    nice

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  • June 11, 2018 at 4:24 am

    Not to make this a political post, but from an observational standpoint, this list is like a blueprint for our current president. Almost as though he were using this as a checklist. It’s uncanny.

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    • July 13, 2018 at 3:25 pm

      Completely agree with your comment.

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    • January 1, 2019 at 2:08 pm

      It’s obviously no mistake. It’s a person using his authority to promote his political bigotry.
      Much like the narc. traits in the article, words are twisted and cherry-picked in order to dominate and “win”.

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      • January 4, 2019 at 9:50 pm

        I’m so happy you saw this too. Came just to the comment section to see if anyone else noted the irony here.

        A narcissist making fun of some one else’s quotes, in his own post about freeing oneself from narcissists, in order to promote a biased readers opinion. Swaying the unsuspecting just as narcs do. Irony at it’s finest.

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      • July 15, 2019 at 10:03 am

        Yup. I agree.

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  • July 14, 2018 at 2:46 pm

    Dan. Thanks for the insight. Wish I had known all this 2 years ago before the abuse. I could have continue building my life. Not rebuilding. Go no contact. Heal as time goes by and break free.

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    • July 29, 2018 at 4:00 am

      You can do this Shannon. No contact is most important! I’m rooting for you, you deserve better!

      Michelle

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  • July 19, 2018 at 11:59 pm

    I’ve known people with narcissistic tendencies, yes. I’ve always kept them at arm’s length. I was, however, married to a person with histrionic personality disorder, which manifests itself in a similar cycle of abuse to the one in the link. His inability to accept any kind of culpability for his actions, constantly shifting the blame for his problems and playing the victim card were all massive issues. And yep, you end up taking on the role of a permanent appeaser in an effort to simply keep the peace. They lack the capacity for realistic self-analysis and therefore will never face up to to the reality of their selfish and abusive behaviour. My ex was a narcissistic cheater, after suspecting he may have been cheating, I hired a hacker following a recommendation.

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    • July 8, 2019 at 1:03 am

      When I tried to discuss issues, my ex narcissist used rage and blame. His famous words, “You do too. It takes two to tango.” Gaslighting. He turned it all back on me and screamed so loud that I was frightened to discuss problems with him. I had begun to believe everything he said. When I suggested we attend counseling, he told me, “You go to counseling. You’re the one with the problem.” That’s when I decided to leave, but there were 17 years of gaslighting building up to that, which had basically eroded my self esteem. I don’t think they are aware of their tactics all of the time. I used to think they know when they’re lying, but now I think they might believe their own lies.

      Reply
  • August 3, 2018 at 6:35 pm

    Dan, thank you for your priceless help and explanation of what I have endured by brother’s in m;y family, and to the point of wanting to give up on life. They know exactly what they are doing, have abused the weakest women in our family, and me, while I had cancer, and my mother, as an elder who they could steal from. It’s such a horrible situation, I wanted to give up on life. and the authorities have been of NO HELP whatsoever. They have lied, stolen, harassed us, controlled us, { me because I had cancer and lost my career} My mom because she was weak and he made her live alone until he forced her into a facility and sold the house for personal profit….If I had known what he was doing years ago, while the horror of it all began, I could have gotten the right help….AGAIN, THANK YOU FOR HELPING US UNDERSTAND the destruction and the true core of someone who lives according to hurting other’s at all cost, and refusing to take accountability for actions… I just wish other family member’s would help us..but none will believe that what these men have done is real, they believe all of the lies….Your work is priceless. Take care.

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  • October 15, 2018 at 11:40 am

    My friend is a narcissist and she was always manipulating us. I was talking with my other friend this on time saying she felt worthless and just wanted to kill herself. later I found out my narcissist friend had been hitting her and giving her all these labels. My friend moved schools but my friend and I were trapped in a cycle of abuse with her and we couldn’t get out. Does anyone know how to get out of a situation like that?

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  • October 31, 2018 at 8:56 am

    oh my word. I totally thought my boss hates me, she has this ugly hatefull, manner, criticising, manipulative, belittleling, etc type of behaviour towards me. it so makes sense. they have to stop cause they can send someone to suicide, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, etc. I even layed a charge of bullying against her and believe me at the end of it all after she spoke I was the one that was wrong. she even banged my fingers shut in the laptop, swore at me, screamed at me, telling me how she felt sorry for me that is why she gave me this job. in this two years after everything she did to me my whole life has changed. my behaviour towards people. I now would rather be by myself then around people. but thank you now I see that I have to work on myself as she is sick and not me. THANK YOU THANK YOU.

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  • November 2, 2018 at 5:51 pm

    sounds very much like trump

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  • December 30, 2018 at 6:48 pm

    I want to thank you for your knowledge and express my deep appreciation for the feeling of relief that I am neither stupid nor crazy for the things that I have experienced in regards to a family member that I live with and has exhibited these behaviors exactly as you have described. Like he read it as a manual. With the only exception being crying, or playing the victim. Due to my financial situation I cannot leave, and I feel as if I have PTSD from trying to avoid confrontation with him, our father was the same way, so I recognize the behaviors from my father, I just didn’t know there was a pattern in others, thinking it was unique to my father, and now my brother. Knowing that I am not the problem is just a relief to me, for myself. It makes it easier to just let it go, not try to reason with someone who seems reasonable, but says and does things that all my previous experience says it is not reasonable, but states the I must be crazy, or out of touch with reality. Just like my father, he is charming, so knowing that others are unable to see it, I can’t talk about it. It is isolating. I am sure that he treats many of the people he works with in a similar fashion from time to time, but he has some control of it. It seems recent that he has been escalating, perhaps from some perceived wrong I have done him. He is very vindictive, and I may never even know what it is that I have supposedly done. He just gets even in some way, I think. Something that I have seen that you didn’t mention is this; if he is made to feel inferior by someone, and is unable to respond to that person because they are his boss or a client, he will make someone else feel small, by that I mean imply that they are stupid or start an argument and so he can tear them down, or find an excuse to reprimand them along with tearing them down. This may be a behavior that is common in lots of people, tearing down someone to make themselves feel better. I find that I am a target, I imagine that he keeps a few people around on his work team that serve that purpose as well, they don’t seem to last long. I do recognize that the best course of action is to limit interaction, and feel validated in what I felt was going on, and how to cope with it, and that is invaluable. Thank you.

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  • March 10, 2019 at 3:58 am

    The narcissists can have a significant effect on our mind. This is achieved with the help of emotional control, or evidence of their rightness and superiority.

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  • March 18, 2019 at 6:12 am

    Thank you for your insight
    I am currently married to a narsasist 19 years of being blamed belittled controlled just plan abused. I have tried to leave this man numerous times he has put me in jail accused me of steeling corporation secrets he savitoshed my name it goes on and on. He claimed he was dying so I came back.
    Once again Im trying to get away.
    He has locked me out of all banking Funds ect . I really do fear this man
    Sorry to take up so much time with my issues.
    Thank you for all the Information
    I spent years on and off in therapy trying to fix myself as he would say.
    Say a prayer for me
    Thank you once again

    Reply
    • March 18, 2019 at 11:32 am

      Lauren,

      It sounds like an extremely difficult situation. It’s good you have sought therapy, as you deserve an ally who is there just for you in such trying circumstances.

      Dan

      Reply
  • June 2, 2019 at 3:35 pm

    Narcissists know exactly what they are doing, otherwise their behaviors wouldn’t be hidden from public view, and everyone would be exposed to their behaviors. Everything they do is for their benefit and purposes. Convincing the world that they’re victims, to get listeners to feel sorry for them, tends to fail if a large audience is present, to compare notes, etc.

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    • July 8, 2019 at 1:45 am

      Coley, Your comment helps settle the debate, at least in my mind, about whether or not the narcissist is cognizant of their manipulative behavior. You are right. Most of the time they know exactly what they are doing because they never pull their stunts in public, or in front of certain individuals, knowing how deviant that behavior is. I think their behavior has become second nature and is partly subconscious, but tHey are some of the best actors on the planet and have so many personas that it’s difficult to keep track of them. The personas of one I know: the innocent toddler, the sweetest most loving human being on the planet (prone to picking up kittens and cuddling them), theatrical life of the party, Good Samaritan (prone to preaching about Jesus and the Father, and asking as if life and death matter, “Don’t you believe in Jesus? Don’t you pray before you eat?), the braggart (me, me, me I,I,I), the control freak (That’s not how you wash the lettuce! I learned to wash my dishes immediately after use when I was five! I always was them by hand. Why are you buying dishwasher soap? , the jealous beast who resents friends and family (because he has to be on best behavior around them?) the badass who pushes boundaries in public on purpose (smoking in no smoke zone or driving in no drive zone twice in one day when has already been called out for it), the cold, distant, ignoring bastard, the raging bull (prone to throwing or destroying things to make a point . . . See what you made me do!, the name caller with vilest words imaginable (demonic), next day contrite and innocent toddler saying, “I hate to fight. Why do you like to fight?”

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      • July 8, 2019 at 10:45 am

        Hi Saki,
        You quite eloquently capture the many personae of manipulative narcissism. Well done!
        Dan Neuharth, PhD MFT

        Reply
  • June 21, 2019 at 9:25 am

    The one friend I had in a situation of malicious mob gossip that will not stop turned against me. This person is also a mentalist. He is one of three ruthless narcissist all have Mind Theory or mentalists. I try to keep my distance but the reputation destruction continues since early 2000s It’s almost like they have been brain washed or subliminally influenced. They immediately forgive the recovering drug addicts yet keep back stabbing me with photo shopped porn. A lot of this is coming from my husband’s ex or maybe still current girl friend. She is defended by the group and I am bullied. It’s impossible to defend myself when someone carries around those photos and shows them to new friends as they are going to an event.

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