20 Common Tactics Narcissists Use to Manipulate You

Diversion tactics are a form of manipulation used to distract and control people, often employed by individuals seeking to avoid accountability or exert power over others. These strategies involve shifting the focus away from the manipulator’s actions and onto something else, often by blaming the victim or denying their experiences. The aim is to confuse and disorient the target, making them question their own perception of reality.

Utilized in various contexts, from personal relationships to politics, diversion tactics are a powerful tool for manipulation that can be difficult to identify and resist without a proper understanding. Recognizing these tactics is the first step towards protecting oneself from their harmful effects.

Here, we’ll delve into 20 such tactics and provide an explanation for each.

1. Gaslighting

Gaslighting is a manipulative tactic often used to silence others by causing them to question their own reality or sanity. This technique involves the manipulator repeatedly denying or distorting facts, dismissing feelings, and discrediting experiences of the person they’re manipulating. By doing this, the gaslighter undermines the victim’s confidence in their own perception, making them feel uncertain and less likely to challenge the manipulator.

Statements like “You’re being overly sensitive,” or “That’s not how it happened,” are common examples of gaslighting. Over time, the victim may become so unsure of their own recollections or beliefs that they choose to remain silent rather than face further confusion or criticism. Recognizing this tactic is key to resisting its harmful effects.

2. Projection

This is when the manipulator attributes their own negative traits or behaviors onto the victim. In the context of manipulation, it’s used as a tactic by narcissists, sociopaths, and psychopaths to shift blame and create confusion. They may accuse the victim of being manipulative, selfish, or deceitful when these characteristics actually describe the abuser’s behavior.

For instance, a manipulator who is being dishonest might accuse their victim of lying. This can cause the victim to defend themselves, diverting the attention away from the manipulator’s own misconduct.

Over time, this can lead the victim to question their own actions and motives, fostering self-doubt and lowering their self-esteem. Understanding projection is crucial in dealing with manipulative individuals, as it helps victims recognize when they’re being blamed for the manipulator’s own faults.

3. Triangulation

In triangulation, the manipulator uses a third person to validate their perspective and invalidate the victim’s. The manipulator may spread false information, rumors, or exaggerated truths about the victim to this third party, aiming to create an alliance against the victim. This validates the manipulator’s perspective and undermines the victim’s position or credibility.

The third party often unknowingly becomes a tool in the manipulator’s scheme, reinforcing the manipulator’s narratives and adding to the victim’s sense of isolation or paranoia. Conversely, the manipulator may also use this third person to make the victim feel jealous or threatened.

By playing people off against each other, the manipulator maintains control and avoids accountability. Recognizing triangulation when it occurs is key to preventing further manipulation, as it allows the victim to address the situation directly and seek support from trusted sources.

4. Love Bombing

Love bombing is a manipulative tactic often used by narcissists and people with other personality disorders. It involves overwhelming someone with affection, attention, and compliments to win their trust and affection. This can include constant texting or calling, extravagant gifts, and grand gestures of love.

The aim is to make the victim feel special and loved, thereby gaining control and influence. However, once the victim is hooked, the manipulator may suddenly withdraw their affection, using it as a form of punishment or control.

They might become cold, distant, or even abusive, causing the victim to feel confused and desperate for the return of the affectionate behavior. This cycle of intense love followed by neglect can create a powerful emotional bond, making it difficult for the victim to recognize the manipulation and leave the toxic relationship. Recognizing love bombing is crucial to protect oneself from such manipulative behavior.

5. Silent Treatment

Silent treatment is a form of emotional abuse used as a control mechanism. It involves the manipulator intentionally ignoring the victim or refusing to acknowledge their presence, communication, or needs. This can take many forms, from not responding to messages and calls, to physically avoiding the victim.

The aim is to make the victim feel insignificant, invisible, and unworthy of attention. By withholding communication, the manipulator exerts power and control, often leading the victim to question their own behavior and worth.

The victim may feel compelled to apologize, seek approval, or change their behavior to restore the relationship. This cycle of silence and reconciliation can be emotionally draining and damaging for the victim. Recognizing this manipulative tactic is crucial in maintaining one’s mental health and establishing healthy boundaries in relationships.

6. Shaming

Shaming involves the manipulator making the victim feel guilty, inadequate, or unworthy. The manipulator might criticize, ridicule, or belittle the victim, focusing on their faults or mistakes. This can be done overtly or subtly, through derogatory comments, sarcasm, or body language.

The goal is to make the victim feel inferior, erode their self-esteem, and thereby manipulate them into submission. By instilling these negative feelings, the manipulator can control the victim’s actions, decisions, and reactions.

Victims often respond by trying to please the manipulator to avoid further shame, leading to a cycle of abuse. Recognizing shaming as a form of manipulation is crucial for breaking this cycle, asserting one’s self-worth, and establishing healthier dynamics in relationships.

7. Guilt Tripping

Guilt tripping is a manipulative tactic where the abuser induces feelings of guilt in the victim to gain control or compliance. The manipulator might use emotional blackmail, making the victim feel guilty for not meeting their demands or expectations. Common phrases include “If you loved me, you would do this,” or “You’re being selfish if you don’t do that.”

The goal is to make the victim feel responsible for the manipulator’s happiness or well-being, thus pressuring them into doing things they might not want to do. This tactic can be damaging, causing the victim to question their own feelings and actions, and often leading to a sense of obligation and discomfort. Recognizing guilt-tripping is crucial for maintaining one’s mental health and setting healthy boundaries in relationships.

8. Moving the Goalposts

This manipulative tactic, often referred to as moving the goalposts, involves constantly changing rules or expectations whenever the victim seems to be meeting them. The manipulator does this to maintain control and keep the victim in a state of uncertainty and imbalance. The victim, in their effort to please or appease the manipulator, finds themselves in a perpetual cycle of striving to meet ever-changing demands.

The manipulator might criticize or belittle any accomplishment, insisting it’s not enough, or alter the criteria for success without notice. This can lead to the victim feeling inadequate, confused, and perpetually stressed, as they’re never able to meet the manipulator’s standards. Recognizing this tactic is crucial for breaking free from the manipulator’s control, asserting one’s self-worth, and establishing healthier dynamics in relationships.

9. Smear Campaigns

Smear campaigns are a form of manipulation where the perpetrator orchestrates a malicious attempt to damage the victim’s reputation by spreading false information, rumors, or exaggerations about them. This tactic often involves character assassination, where the manipulator publicizes untrue or misleading statements to discredit the victim.

The goal is to isolate the victim, undermine their credibility, and make it more difficult for them to seek help or support. Smear campaigns can occur in various contexts, including personal relationships, workplaces, or larger social circles.

They can cause significant harm, leading to social isolation, emotional distress, and even professional repercussions for the victim. Recognizing and addressing smear campaigns is essential to protect oneself, restore one’s reputation, and establish healthier dynamics in relationships or social environments.

10. Bait and Switch

The bait and switch tactic is a manipulative strategy where the manipulator initially offers something attractive or desirable to entice the victim. This could be a promise, reward, or a seemingly beneficial situation. However, once the victim is ‘hooked’, the manipulator then replaces the promised offer with something less desirable, often something that benefits the manipulator at the expense of the victim.

This can leave the victim feeling duped, disappointed, and exploited. The manipulator might use this tactic to gain power, control, or personal gain. Recognizing this tactic is crucial as it can help the victim avoid falling into the manipulator’s trap. It’s important to maintain a healthy skepticism, especially when something seems too good to be true, and to establish boundaries to protect one’s interests and well-being.

11. Devaluation

Devaluation is where the perpetrator systematically criticizes, belittles, or degrades the victim with the intent to make them feel worthless, insecure, or inferior. The manipulator may use insults, harsh criticism, sarcasm, or even subtle comments designed to undermine the victim’s self-esteem and self-worth. By doing this, the manipulator seeks to maintain control over the victim by making them reliant on the manipulator’s approval or validation.

This can lead to the victim doubting their own abilities, worth, or judgment, and can result in feelings of helplessness and dependency on the manipulator. Recognizing this tactic is crucial in breaking free from the manipulator’s control. It’s important for the victim to understand their worth, seek support, and establish healthy boundaries to protect themselves from such damaging behavior.

12. Idealization

Idealization is used in the early stages of a relationship where the manipulator excessively praises, flatters, or adores the victim. The manipulator might make the victim feel special, loved, and valued, often placing them on a pedestal. This creates a strong emotional bond, making the victim deeply attached to the manipulator.

However, this idealization phase typically doesn’t last. The manipulator eventually shifts to devaluing the victim, criticizing, belittling, or treating them poorly. This sudden shift can be very confusing and emotionally devastating for the victim, making it difficult for them to leave the relationship.

This cycle of idealization and devaluation serves to control and manipulate the victim, keeping them hooked in a toxic dynamic. Recognizing this pattern is crucial for victims to protect themselves and seek help if necessary.

13. Threats and Intimidation

Threats and intimidation are direct, overt tactics often used by manipulators to induce fear, anxiety, and compliance in their victims. These tactics can range from subtle psychological threats to explicit physical ones. The manipulator may threaten to harm the victim, themselves, or someone the victim cares about, or they may intimidate the victim by showcasing their power or control.

They might also threaten to withdraw affection, support, or resources. The primary aim of these tactics is to make the victim feel unsafe and insecure, thereby manipulating them into submission or compliance out of fear. This creates an imbalance of power in the relationship, with the manipulator maintaining control and dominance.

Recognizing these tactics is key to breaking free from a manipulative relationship. It’s important for victims to seek support, establish boundaries, and prioritize their safety and well-being.

14. Playing the Victim

Sometimes, manipulators use a tactic known as playing the victim, also referred to as victim-playing or self-victimization. In this manipulation technique, the perpetrator presents themselves as the victim of circumstance or the actions of others, often exaggerating or fabricating hardships. They do this to evoke sympathy, compassion, or guilt in others, using these emotions to manipulate people into providing them with the attention, support, or resources they desire.

This tactic can be particularly effective because it exploits people’s natural inclination to help others who are suffering. However, it’s a form of emotional manipulation that can cause significant harm, particularly if it leads to the actual victims being overlooked or blamed. Recognizing this tactic is crucial to avoid being manipulated and to ensure that genuine victims receive the support they need.

15. Denial

Denial is used to evade accountability for their harmful actions. In this strategy, the manipulator outright refuses to acknowledge or accept the reality of their destructive behavior. They may dismiss the victim’s feelings, deny that certain events occurred, or minimize the impact of their actions.

This can be incredibly confusing and invalidating for the victim, often leading them to question their own perceptions and experiences, a phenomenon known as gaslighting. Ultimately, denial allows the manipulator to avoid taking responsibility for their actions, maintaining their control and dominance in the relationship. Recognizing this tactic is crucial to protect oneself from manipulation and seek support when needed.

16. Diversion

Diversion is a manipulation tactic where the manipulator deliberately changes the topic or focus to dodge accountability for their actions. They might suddenly bring up an unrelated issue, engage in irrelevant arguments, or shift the blame onto the victim or someone else. The goal is to divert attention away from their behavior and to confuse or frustrate the victim so they lose focus on the original issue.

This can be very effective because it creates confusion and can make it difficult for the victim to stick to their point. It’s a form of deflection that allows the manipulator to avoid scrutiny and maintain control. Recognizing this tactic is crucial for standing your ground and holding the manipulator accountable for their actions.

17. Minimizing

Minimizing is common to downplay their harmful behavior, making it seem less significant than it truly is. By doing so, they can create doubt in the victim’s mind, leading them to question whether they’re overreacting or misinterpreting the situation. This can cause considerable emotional distress and confusion for the victim, who may start blaming themselves for the problems in the relationship.

It’s a form of gaslighting that can severely damage the victim’s self-esteem and trust in their own judgment. Recognizing this tactic is essential for victims to assert their feelings and experiences, and seek help if necessary.

18. Rationalization

Rationalization is a manipulation tactic where the manipulator provides seemingly logical, yet untrue, reasons for their harmful behavior. They may use this strategy to justify their actions, making them appear reasonable or acceptable when they are not. This can be incredibly confusing for the victim, who may begin to second-guess their judgment or feel guilt for questioning the manipulator’s actions.

The manipulator effectively paints themselves as the ‘reasonable’ one, while subtly undermining the victim’s trust in their own perceptions. It’s a form of mental gymnastics that allows the manipulator to evade responsibility and maintain control. Recognizing and understanding this tactic can empower victims to trust their intuition and stand up against manipulation.

19. Isolation

Isolation is a manipulative tactic where the perpetrator seeks to control a victim’s interactions with others, effectively cutting them off from their support network. By limiting access to friends, family, or even professional help, the manipulator seeks to create a sense of dependency in the victim, making them feel that they have no one else to turn to but the manipulator themselves.

This can increase the victim’s vulnerability, making it easier for the manipulator to exert control and continue their abusive behavior unchallenged. It’s a damaging strategy that can lead to severe emotional distress and a sense of helplessness in the victim. Recognizing this tactic is crucial for victims to seek help and regain control over their lives.

20. Fear Mongering

Fear mongering is where the perpetrator uses fear as a tool to control the victim. They may create a sense of constant danger, instability, or impending doom to keep the victim in a state of anxiety and compliance. By making the victim feel threatened, the manipulator can exert control and influence over them, ensuring that they conform to the manipulator’s wishes out of fear of the supposed consequences.

This tactic can be incredibly damaging, leading to chronic stress, anxiety, and emotional trauma in the victim. Recognizing fear mongering is vital for victims, as understanding this tactic can help them resist manipulation and seek necessary support or intervention.

Final Thought

Understanding these tactics can provide victims with the tools to recognize manipulation and take steps to protect themselves. If you recognize these tactics in your relationship, it’s important to seek help and consider removing yourself from the situation.

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