Have you ever known a narcissist who voluntarily says, “I know I’ve been difficult, and I’d like to take responsibility for my actions”?
I didn’t think so!
The narcissistic pattern of life is built upon multiple ingredients that are ultimately unsustainable in any thriving relationship. Narcissists want to control you. They feel entitled to special treatment, which means they routinely dismiss your feelings and needs. They are self-impressed, constantly vying for the position of superiority, and that compels them to become manipulative and exploitative. Emotionally, they are driven by hidden fears that emerge as anger. And as you seek accord with them, they are defensive and close-minded.
But despite their negative contributions to relationships, their lack of insight compels them to look outwardly to affix blame whenever problems predictably emerge. And that’s where you come in. Narcissists need you as a prop, someone who exists to take the pressure off them in the midst of conflicts. To that end, they have all sorts of tricks they like to use to exonerate themselves while making you appear problematic.
But knowledge is power and as you become keenly aware of their tactics, you can stay out of their manipulative webs. Let’s identify seven of the most common tricks narcissists use to make you look like the trouble-maker.
7 Top Tricks
1. Baiting you into an argument.
Whenever disagreements occur (and that is common in any relationship), healthy people are willing to express their preferences, needs, and opinions as attempts are made to find common ground. But instead of engaging cleanly in that process, narcissists will seize the opportunity to manufacture an emotionally dysregulated response from you. They criticize, invalidate, and complain…specifically with the hope of triggering you. And when you accommodate them by becoming argumentative, they quickly turn the tables by saying something like, “How are we ever going to be coordinated when you are so contrarian?”
2. Insisting that you have to justify yourself, over and over.
In your desire to find common ground with narcissists, you may try extra hard to explain your feelings, actions, or interpretations. But instead of listening carefully, hoping to know you more accurately, they can become accusing with comments such as: “Where did you come up with an idea like that?” Or “That’s not what you said yesterday.” Then, as you feel compelled to give reasonable justifications for being who you are, they can retort: “You have got to be one of the most defensive people I’ve ever met.”
3. Shaming you for independent thinking.
As part of their need for control, narcissists want your conformity. In their minds, you are supposed to align with their ways of interpreting life. When you illustrate an independent streak, here comes the guilt induction. “You’re clearly not a team player.” Or “I always knew you were selfish, but I never knew it would be this bad.” When you predictably stand up for yourself, they can smirk and taunt you, “It’s all about you, isn’t it.”
4. Making you responsible for their moods and their needs.
As part of their entitlement, narcissists presume it is your task to read their minds, bending to their preferences. When you fail to meet their specifications, they can press you to do whatever is necessary to make them feel good about themselves. They might say something like, “I was having a perfectly good day until you came along and ruined it.” Or “Do you realize how hard I’m trying to get along, but you won’t even give me the time of day?” When you protest, they play the victim card, griping about how you make them feel miserable.
5. Offering lame excuses for their poor behaviors or attitudes.
Over time, you can be weary of a narcissist’s accusations and condescension, so you might call that person out, specifying their bad behavior. At that point, it is quite common for them to offer weak explanations for being so difficult: “I’ve been under a lot of stress lately with my job.” Or “You didn’t explain things very clearly.” When you indicate that you are not impressed by their excuses, you are deemed divisive.
6. Intimidating you to drop your boundaries.
Let’s suppose you decide to stand up for yourself against the narcissist’s demands. So you explain clearly why you will proceed with your standards intact. At that point, the narcissist can become intimidating: “If you follow through with your selfishness, you’ll regret it.” Or “Do you want everyone else to know how impossible you are to reason with?” The narcissist’s end game is to gaslight you into presuming that it is not worth the effort to be your own person.
7. The narcissist will accuse you of being a narcissist.
Believing that the word “narcissist” is a nasty name reserved for awful people, narcissists can flip the tables by labelling you as the narcissist. This is a classic illustration of the defense mechanism of projection, seeing in you what they cannot come to terms with inside themselves. But narcissists lack the insight to acknowledge such truth. In their reasoning, they win simply by saying you are a loser. And when you protest, they will proclaim, “I knew I was right.”
Don’t fall for these tricks
Over time, narcissists want you to give up your distinctives. They want to wear you down with shame and accusations so you will “come to your senses” and let them be the final authority. If you respond with dysregulated emotions like unruly anger, anxiety, or depression, they can feel especially vindicated, as they feel that their tricks worked.
Don’t fall for the narcissist’s tricks. Once you realize you are being lured into a non-productive exchange, seek the exit. Stand your ground with your convictions and priorities, then remind yourself that it is not in your vested interest to compete with a narcissist in the game of One-Upmanship. They will win every time.
Then, as the narcissist continues to play psychological games, how might you respond? “Go ahead and declare yourself the winner. In the meantime, I’ll proceed with my dignity and integrity intact.”
To watch the video version of this topic, please click here.
~Dr. Les Carter