People with strong narcissistic, sociopathic, psychopathic, and other dark personality traits (thereafter called narcissists) have a low and fragile sense of self-esteem. In order to cope, they need to constantly feel better than others. They always compare themselves to others and when they feel threatened, they will try to make the other person feel worse to elevate themselves and feel superior. Indeed, they think hierarchically and this plays out in different ways.
In this article we will review a few common tactics narcissists use to feel better than others, even if it hurts others and, oftentimes, precisely because it hurts others.
1. Artificial Self-Confidence
As you may have noticed, narcissists habitually exhibit a false sense of self-confidence where they act and speak in a very confident manner, as if they know what they are doing or what they are talking about. However, if you have some knowledge and experience in the subject in question, it quickly becomes clear that is all a farce.
One of the reasons they do this is to appear superior, as if they are experts. Moreover, they are quick to falsely and malevolently criticize others, often actual experts, to create an illusion that they know what they are talking about. Narcissists can be very convincing and it may be confusing who the real expert is for bystanders.
Narcissists can occasionally convince others that they are knowledgeable or experienced in something they are not. Sometimes they achieve this by acting in an artificial but confident way, while other times they simply lie pathologically, or perhaps both methods are used.
2. Instilling Self-Doubt and Gaslighting
If you have the tendency to doubt yourself, it is very easy for a narcissist to push your buttons and manipulate you into submission. They can create self-doubt by playing on your insecurities and weak points.
Or, they can simply gaslight you by invalidating your feelings, memories, or experiences, and fundamentally making you doubt reality. You can read more about gaslighting in my previous article titled Gaslighting: What It Is and Why It’s So Destructive.
By making you doubt yourself and your perception of reality, they can make you take responsibility for something that you’re not responsible for, or make you feel guilty and coerce you into doing something you wouldn’t otherwise do, or they may simply humiliate you to feel superior.
3. Acting Entitled
One core narcissistic tendency is entitlement. A narcissist feels and believes that they are better, more important than others, or otherwise unique; therefore they feel entitled to special treatment. So when they feel the need to regulate their shaky self-esteem, they tend to act entitled to make others feel worse.
For instance, they can go to a store or a restaurant and yell at or otherwise mistreat the service workers there to feel better about themselves. They can use their money, power, sex appeal, social status, and other leverages to demean and abuse others in order to elevate themselves.
4. Blaming and Projecting
Narcissists are known for never taking responsibility for anything that they are doing wrong, and denying any wrongdoings or negative character traits. They always blame others for everything, even if it’s clearly their own fault. One reason for that is to shift responsibility from all the horrible things that they are doing. “If I blame others for it then nobody can blame me!”
Furthermore, narcissists are experts at projection. They tirelessly accuse others of the things that they are doing, and attribute to others the negative traits that they exhibit. They use these common tactics to stay on the offensive, to put others on unstable ground, and to keep making others feel horrible. This is all to make themselves feel better.
I speak at length about narcissistic projection in the article 5 Ways Narcissists Project and Attack You.
If narcissists feel underappreciated, mistreated, or simply threatened, they get into what is called narcissistic rage. While in this state, they can feel incredibly angry and justified in destroying you.
As a result, they may attack you directly: by yelling, assaulting you physically, throwing things around you, threatening to hurt or even kill you, breaking or stealing your stuff, and so on. Sometimes, they take a less direct approach and start plotting to sabotage you, for instance, by trying to get you fired, smearing and slandering you (character assassination), or involving others behind your back (triangulation, gossip, drama).
6. Taking Credit
While narcissists never admit their faults, they are very happy to claim credit for another person’s work. They never give credit to others if they can get away with it all so they can pretend that they came up with it. They also minimize other people’s efforts to make them feel less significant. Narcissists are well-known for stealing, plagiarizing, and using other people’s accomplishments to further their own agendas or gain social status.
7. Playing the Victim
From everything above it is clear by now that narcissists try to appear strong and dominant, yet when somebody stands up to them or calls them on their bullshit, they often collapse into a helpless victim who is being treated unfairly. I’ve heard and observed so many experiences where that’s the case that it almost seems comical because it’s so clear what they are doing. Yet, they still try so desperately to appear as a pitiful victim in order to extract sympathy from anyone they can.
I talk more about this in my article How Narcissists Play the Victim and Twist the Story.
Summary and Bottom Line
Narcissists are incredibly fragile and insecure people, to the degree where they hurt and otherwise abuse others to feel better about themselves. They have many weapons in their arsenal, and some of them are faking confidence, gaslighting, acting entitled, blaming and projecting, attacking and involving others, talking credit for others’ achievements, playing the victim, and many more.