11 Manipulative Ways Narcissists
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11 Manipulative Ways Narcissists, Sociopaths and Psychopaths Sabotage Their Victims (Part 1)

Narcissists, sociopaths, and psychopaths can inflict long-lasting damage on their victims. Their emotional and verbal abuse, combined with their cruel, persistent attempts at sabotage, can even drive their victims to self-destruction and suicide. For part one of this series, here are five ways these covert saboteurs can infiltrate your life and attempt to destroy it:

1. SMEAR CAMPAIGNS.

Covert predators like these will spread falsehoods to slander your reputation or smear your credibility to others. This is a form of gaslighting intended to manage your image in the public eye to ensure that no one would believe you were being abused. The abuser works overtime to paint you as the abuser in order to escape accountability for his or her actions.

At the root of all smear campaigns is character assassination. Malignant narcissists preemptively strike with personal attacks in an attempt to unsettle you and smear your good name because they are pathologically envious or threatened. Smear campaigns can also be launched in contexts outside of romantic relationships; they can circulate in the workplace, in friendship circles, through the media, as well as within extended families. It’s not uncommon, for example, for a pathologically envious sociopathic co-worker to feed misinformation about their hard-working colleagues to their bosses in order to eliminate them as a “threat” when climbing the corporate ladder. When narcissists infiltrate the higher ranks of authority, they have the potential to cause even more devastation by sabotaging those they perceive as competition.

As Joe Navarro, former FBI Profiler, writes in his book, Dangerous Personalities, “Narcissists can reach high levels in high-powered or high-trust professions, where transgressions and abuses of authority can have devastating consequences. When you have a police officer who lies, cheats, and steals; a health professional who believes himself the arbiter of who lives or dies; a coach who sexually abuses trusting children, the potential to do damage increases exponentially.”

Smear campaigns can be launched by telling blatant lies about the victim, spreading rumors or “suggestions” which call into doubt the sanity of the victim with an air of faux concern, or even concocting false evidence to isolate the victim from outside support.

A survivor, Molly, shared with me her harrowing story of how her narcissistic partner tried to stage his own death to frame her and spread lies about her sanity. She writes:

“He held a gun to his head and said that he’d kill himself, make it look like murder to ensure I was to blame if I didn’t shoot myself after. He’d tell his family and our close friends that we had true love, yet behind my back tell them I was crazy and suicidal – and he was doing the best he could to help me. I have never been suicidal. This all caused my closest friends and family to lose all faith in me and totally secluded me from the outside world. He limited me to one meal a day while nursing our newborn.”

Tips for When You’re Facing A Smear Campaign

If you are being met with any kind of smear campaign, stick to the facts. As difficult as it may be, try not to become emotionally responsive in public – narcissists will use your emotional reactions against you to further depict you as the “crazy” one. Present only the facts if you are met with unwarranted accusations. Focus on any legal consequences you can take against a narcissist with a smear campaign; carefully document evidence of the narcissist’s abuse whenever possible if you need to build a case. Research the defamation laws in your state and, if necessary, enlist the help of a lawyer who is familiar with high-conflict personalities.

Create a healthy support network which encourages you during difficult times – ideally, one that includes a trauma-informed therapist who understands personality disorders. This support network should be made out of people who are trustworthy and have your back – not those who enable or support the narcissist. You do not want to be further gaslighted, invalidated, or retraumatized while encountering a smear campaign.

2. CREATING DEPENDENCY THROUGH INTERMITTENT REINFORCEMENT AND LOVE BOMBING.

It’s common for predatory individuals to create a misplaced sense of dependency and devotion in their victims as they morph into everything their victims could ever want in the beginning, only to transform into their worst nightmares. Dependency makes you vulnerable to being used and exploited for the narcissist’s agenda. Once you become dependent on them for anything – whether it’s emotional support or financial aid, you are rendered more powerless in your ability to leave them.

Malignant narcissists begin their relationships with excessive amounts of contact, praise, flattery, and attention – this is known as love bombing. They use love bombing to groom their victims in order to get them invested in a fabricated future together – one that they never plan to deliver on. Love bombing is especially effective when a victim is still healing from a loss, a trauma, or a void of some kind. As Dr. Archer notes, “The dopamine rush of the new romance is vastly more powerful than it would be if the target had a healthy self-image, because the love bomber fills a need the target can’t fill on her own.”

Once their victims are sufficiently hooked, they then push them off the pedestal, causing their victims to work even harder to try to regain the honeymoon phase of the relationship. Periodically, they will still give their victims “scraps” of the idealization phase. This is what psychologists call “intermittent reinforcement” of positive rewards to provoke a response in the victim (Skinner, 1937). Whenever the victim is about to leave, the abuser swoops in with the “nice guy” or “nice girl” act, causing victims to doubt themselves and the true nature of their abusers.

Malignant narcissists want to ensure that their victims believe they can only gain support and comfort from them. That way, their victims remain ensnared in the abuse cycle. Victims become biochemically and psychologically addicted to their abusers through intermittent reinforcement. This form of dependency on the narcissist also has the effect of isolating the victim and sabotaging any outside relationships. Being with a narcissist is not unlike being in a one-man cult, and research shows that those who leave cults are more likely to do so when they have a connection or link to to the outside world (Rousselet, et al. 2017).

Tips for Avoiding Excessive Dependency

If you have a habit of becoming overly dependent on others in relationships, it’s important to learn to enjoy your own company and become independent prior to entering a committed relationship of any kind. Whenever entering into a new relationship, friendship, or business partnership, slow down the pace with which the relationship proceeds; try to get as much information about the person’s behavioral patterns over a period of time before making any kind of substantial investment – whether it be agreeing to a relationship or investing in a company. Try to remain as independent as you possibly can – both emotionally and financially, during the early stages. It is far more difficult for a narcissistic individual to love-bomb you for a long period of time without their mask slipping eventually, and it is far more difficult to trap you in an abuse cycle when you’re already coming from a place of detachment. Trust patterns over singular actions or lofty words.

3. LYING TO STAY AHEAD.

Narcissists, sociopaths, and psychopaths are pathological liars. They lie because it provides them with the ability to remain one step ahead of the game. As Dr. George Simon asserts, “Manipulative malignant narcissists lie to keep one step ahead of you. They engage in a constant dance of positioning for advantage. They want you to be in the dark or second-guessing yourself. And they don’t want you to have their number. They neither want you to know who they really are nor what they’re really up to. They seek only power, dominance, and control. And lying enables this. It gives them the position of advantage.”

Lies can be explicit or they can be told with a significant amount of omission. As Donna, another survivor of narcissistic abuse, describes, “The sneakiest way a covert narcissist abused me was obfuscation! Never giving all the facts so it wasn’t ever a complete lie, but leaving me with a feeling of, something is missing in the story.”

Pathological deception like this is common among sociopathic leaders in the business world. For example, CEO Elizabeth Holmes defrauded investors out of billions of dollars for a famous blood-testing startup, Theranos, whose technology delivered none of what it promised. She was able to cultivate relationships with some of the world’s wealthiest and influential people using her charisma and charm, leading some investors to hand over millions of dollars to a company that placed the health of others at stake. She was even said to be faking her voice in order to appear more dominant. Her prolific lies, along with the strength of her false persona, enabled her to get away with fraud for a lengthy amount of time.

Narcissists create these types of elaborate lies not only to commit financial fraud, but also to engage in emotional con artistry. It’s very common for them to live double lives and hide multiple affairs. They are prone to lying about and exaggerating their integrity and character as well. Their deception can also come out in more bizarre ways – such as through the fabrication of an illness. They may manufacture an illness to gain sympathy, emotional gratification, or have an excuse at hand to avoid responsibility for their behavior. A narcissistic mother, for example, may have a habit of claiming to have migraine headaches whenever her adult children attempt to confront her about her verbal abuse and abruptly leave the room. This is a form of deceptive stonewalling which allows her to skirt any kind of dialogue which challenges her. A psychopathic predator may claim to be mentally ill at the time of a murder, to lessen the impact of the criminal charges.

Other narcissistic individuals may use their fabricated illnesses as a form of control and sabotage, as an excuse to abuse others. Stephanie, a survivor of a narcissistic father, tells me: “My dad pretends to have hyperacusis. This is a hearing condition related to extreme sensitivity to noise. He uses this to control everyone from servers to CEOs. If someone makes a noise, he acts like he is in extreme pain and then lets loose on the unsuspecting victim. He has made formal complaints to get people fired. His enablers still believe he has this condition. I have watched him when he didn’t know. It is a sham.”

Tips for Dealing with Pathological Liars

Do not give your blind trust to anyone unless they have shown you over time the consistency of their character. It is more than okay to remain neutral and to take into account discrepancies and red flags. Be wary of anyone who “drip-feeds” you the truth, giving you only part of the truth while omitting important details. If you are especially vulnerable to gaslighting, I recommend keeping a journal to help you keep track of any information that does not add up when meeting a new partner, friend, or employer. This will help you to remain grounded within your instincts and inner guidance.

Additionally, when confronting someone you suspect is a pathological liar, let them tell their version of events first so you can observe whether or not they will tell the truth. Do not let them know you have contradictory information which would expose them if they are violent or aggressive. Instead, detach, make a safety plan, and cut ties as soon as possible. Taking an observer stance, instead of automatically accusing them, will actually give you more information about their character in the long run – mainly, whether they’d be willing to be transparent even if they didn’t know you had proof of their lies.

4. FALSE PROMISES AND DANGLING THE CARROT BEFORE CONNING YOU.

Predatory manipulators make grandiose promises they cannot keep. They may promise you a dream marriage, a family, financial support, or if they’re an employer, the perfect career path – whatever they think you most desire. These false promises dangle the carrot of a brighter future – so long as you first meet the narcissist’s needs. It’s important to remember that with any kind of future-faking or promises, the narcissist has rigged the game so you are set up to fail while they gain.

False promises are common among deceptive sociopaths especially when it comes to financial matters. Below is just a sample of the many ways survivors told me how these false promises compromised them financially:

“Saying he will pay for half the mortgage for the new house that I couldn’t afford alone or the new car that I financed. Playing into my dreams of nice new things. Then, when I ask for money, it’s “well what for?” Or completely dropping out of my life and leaving me with all the expenses.” – Jill

“Being secretive re: finances, especially why things were not in joint names. He would always say “You know I love you and I’m taking care of you. Trust me, I’m putting it in the business name for tax break and to protect you in future.” Ha – he was putting everything in his name to later “screw” me financially.” – Patricia

“He always promised me things, like a future together in a picture perfect house and setting. All the while knowing he’d never allow this to come true.” – Donna

“He offered to pay my car insurance and as we were living together needed a copy of my title, so I gave him my title for the insurance agent and forgot about it. We had a six-month old baby at the time. After we broke up, he retaliated by sending the police to my house, claiming I had his car and that I wouldn’t give it back to him. I said, no this is my car, and here are my records. However, he took my title and forged my name, signing it over to himself. The cops took my car because it appeared to be legally his.” – April

Tips for Resisting False Promises

Take any promises at the early stages of a relationship with a grain of salt. Unless a person has shown you over a long period of time that they are a person of their word, do not take them at their word. Avoid signing contracts, giving out personal loans, living together, or agreeing to “split the bill” on any substantial purchases if you suspect you are dealing with someone toxic. Get a divorce financial planner if you are planning to divorce a narcissist (and avoid telling them what you’re up to until you’ve exited the relationship safely). Remember, they do not play fair. You are not dealing with a normal person who is looking out for your best interests.

5. GASLIGHTING TO CONTROL YOUR REALITY AND MENTALLY EXHAUST YOU.

Gaslighting is an insidious erosion of your sense of reality. When a narcissist gaslights you, they may engage in crazymaking discussions where they challenge and invalidate your thoughts, emotions, perceptions, and sanity. Gaslighting enables narcissists, sociopaths, and psychopaths to exhaust you to the point where you are unable to fight back. Rather than finding ways to healthily detach from this toxic person, you are sabotaged in your efforts to find a sense of certainty and validation in what you’ve experienced.

Gaslighting can take many forms – from questioning the status of your mental health to outright challenging your lived experiences. A female narcissistic partner may convince her boyfriend that he is “imagining” things when she comes home late from work due to having an affair with her co-worker. A sociopathic mother might taunt and bully her daughter with horrific insults, only to claim, “I never said that,” when her daughter confronts her later on. A psychopathic boss may gaslight you into believing that your complaints about the way you’ve been mistreated at the company are a result of you being “too sensitive” rather than the company’s own biases. They may urge you to be “patient” while never actually delivering the benefits they promised to deliver in the beginning. As Dr. Robin Stern describes in her book The Gaslight Effect, “The “Good-Guy Gaslighter” finds a way to make it look like he’s doing everything you want—without ever really giving you what you want.”

Survivor Annie described to me her dizzying experience of gaslighting: “When we’d get into an argument and I would back up my side with facts, he would take those facts and spin them around in so many circles that by the end of the argument, he was able to use some of those same facts for himself and leave me feeling lost and “crazy.” I’d walk away asking myself how I ever even thought it was a good argument in the first place.”

Tips for Countering Gaslighting

If you suspect you’re being gaslighted, enlist the help of a supportive third party such as a trauma-informed therapist who specializes in recovery from this type of covert abuse. Work together to go through your narrative of what occurred in the relationship. Write down things as you experienced them to reconnect with your sense of reality. When in doubt, document everything, especially if you’re encountering gaslighting in the workplace. You may choose to print out e-mails, screenshot text messages, save voicemails, or, if the laws in your state allow it, record conversations. Rather than falling into the trap of wanting an explanation or validation from the gaslighter, turn to self-validation. Reaffirm the reality of the abuse you experienced – and you will get one step closer to healing from the narcissist.

This is part one of a two-part series on the ways narcissists sabotage their victims. Read part two here!

REFERENCES

Archer, D. (2017, March 6). The Danger of Manipulative Love-Bombing in a Relationship. Retrieved January 26, 2019, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/reading-between-the-headlines/201703/the-danger-manipulative-love-bombing-in-relationship

Rousselet, M., Duretete, O., Hardouin, J., & Grall-Bronnec, M. (2017). Cult membership: What factors contribute to joining or leaving? Psychiatry Research,257, 27-33. doi:10.1016/j.psychres.2017.07.018

Simon, G. (2018, March 09). Lies Manipulative Malignant Narcissists Tell. Retrieved January 26, 2019, from https://www.drgeorgesimon.com/lies-manipulative-malignant-narcissists-tell/

Skinner BF (1937). Two types of conditioned reflex: a reply to Konorski and Miller. J. Gen. Psychol. 16: 272–79.

Stern, R., & Wolf, N. (2018). The gaslight effect: How to spot and survive the hidden manipulation others use to control your life. New York: Harmony Books.

Featured image licensed via Shutterstock.

Copyright 2019 © Shahida Arabi. All rights reserved.

11 Manipulative Ways Narcissists, Sociopaths and Psychopaths Sabotage Their Victims (Part 1)

16 Comments

  • Richard S.

    Great article with some very cool comments from readers. There’s no home delivery to effectively undertake the unpleasant task of detaching from the suction cops of a malignant octopus at work…not to “devalue” cephalpods. But the tentacles used by the MN (AH?) at work (coworker or business partner) seems to require similar strategies to detaching from the demonic relative or future ex-significant other. A common denominator may be that the best obtainable result is “low contact” rather than “no contact”…albeit for different reasons. Detaching from a cunning AH seems much trickier than abstinence from a substance but similarly requires behaviors I’m not good at…like asking for help and practicing constant vigilance.

  • Desperate

    My story is so bizarre, I don’t know why I am even leaving a comment. I’ve reached out to more counselors, therapists, psychiatrists, hotlines …. and most of them left me feeling worse than I did to being with. My Mother and Father are/were both Narcissists. I didn’t figure it out until it was too late. I am now almost totally dependent on my Mother and have been so traumatized that I cannot find a way out. I’ve tried over and over and have literally exhausted every resource I could find. I have been physically been beaten by “flying monkeys”, my oldest son and my adult brother. I was 50 years old when the beatings started. I am shocked that I was unable to find someone to help me out of my situation. I’ve tried Churches, the Domestic Violence Hotline, and many other “resources” …. and not one of them was able to give me the kind of help I need. My situation is desperate, but I am strong …. I am past the point of wanting to take my own life … the trauma alone is killing me slowly. I still have some hope, otherwise I would not be posting this comment. To anyone else out there who may feel as I do … hold on and keep trying …. if you knew my entire story you would know that the chances of having as much bad luck as I have had are almost impossible. To the narcissists out there, I know you have know empathy for anyone but yourselves and it does not bother you one bit to watch someone suffer as you are destroying them …. but I hope someday you suddenly are given a conscious and feel the pain that your victims have felt.

  • MP Smoke

    This has great supporting testimonies and there’s been excellent research done by the author. Very good real world examples of how far out of control, dishonest people operate.

  • Sheila Stevenson

    This is excellent information. While I am now a Certified Life Coach, working with clients who have experienced trauma – and in particular childhood trauma – I myself grew up with a narcissistic mother and an alcoholic father. He was sexually abusive, and she was physically abusive on top of being a narcissist, and all that meant. Blessedly, I am in a much better place now and am enjoying my life. Thank you for this article. Can’t wait to read Part II. Bless you!

  • Janis

    This reminds me a bit of a sticky situation I was in recently — not at all something that had massive consequences for which I’m thankful, but still something that hurt more than I thought possible. I’m not sure if it was really narcissism or not, but there were enough warning bells to prompt me to stiff-arm the individual in question. However, the stiff-arming didn’t keep me from getting very hurt, which bothers me even more. You’d think that if I realized that something was up, I could have prevented myself from feeling hurt but unfortunately that’s not how it works. Just knowing that you shouldn’t feel something isn’t enough to keep you from feeling it, it appears. ??

  • susan mara

    Excellent article. I’m in the discovery phase of being abused by a malignant narcissistic who’s taken our only child from us via these toxic methods. Please include how to detach and find serenity during the grief and re-evaluation process.

  • Neta aka Vonnie nick from family

    I am sorry. But it is a confusing place to be. But you can only try to allow yourself to heal. But you really don’t need a man in your life. To start healing. Figure out why your allowing the pain to control your life. He can only hurt you if you let. Him. Fly away sister be free. Leave him to his own. Satan. You can’t shoot satan. I imagine wrong desires is behind and lies. You know who the father of those lies are don’t you. Well there is lots to fear these days. Try the atom bomb extinction or some other man made device. But look around. You have a chance again. Breathe be free. Because just ask. And pray the creator is stronger. He hung the stars and calls them by name. Do you know how many galaxy that are still undiscovered. Our father is more powerful. He actually has been helping me thro this. Gently a little layer at a time. My sin was confessing to all the lies. That everyone believed about me. The ancient one. Wanted me bad. He sent a horrible man to break me thro my kids. He held my hand while I ate of the forbidden fruit of guilt. He hurt my children. My sister said satan was going to go to the place in my heart where he coukd drop me to my knees. Him and my ex must be laughing now. When I confessed. What I felt was so horrible. And what i see is not much better. I see denial. In each of my family over pain of others. I see the whoke flipping earth fighting and greedy. I see the school shooting and the adults response to it blame. I see a lit more than I want too. But I see hope i see love I see a new world. I have never repaid evil for evil. But I saw a scripture. Continue on be meek as i have instructed you. I will crush and put a end to those who hurt you. But you will remain. A lot of other things as well. I could tell you. Two months isolation. And connection to a greater power. He is there. You trust you open your heart. He says come drink lifes water free. He says come those of you who arms have dropped down. Pray have faith and wait. But when you do that look for signs. And pray from your heart. Yawah. Will send someone. Just don’t answer if its a narcissistic person rum for your life sister. But if itst wo people. They have suits or dressed well. You know take precaution. Open a small safe area to talk first. Another sign look for a child. If a child is with them invite them in a ask a question some of the children are talking about wonder things. The knowledge is amazing. I was anger. But I know where i stand. I am angry because of mine and my children tx. Other relative as well. You know when I took that sin for my own. I saw things. I shouldnt simple things how we all hurt innocent people. I can tell you how we do it. Satan sure dies get a laugh out of us. When we fall victim. He is going down let me tell you. I don’t know when. But by the looks of things he is on short leach

  • Eric

    Great article! Hit on all the main points with proactive suggestions. Recently I’ve been researching the malignant narcissist in general. Masterson was a great researcher and writer, identifying 3 types of narcissism: exhibitionist, covert and toxic (devaluing, the malignant narcissist). The malignant variety is clearly the most destructive and “evil” if you will–especially if evil is defined as the willful crushing and destruction of the spirit of another, for nothing more than the sheer pleasure of doing so. Clearly, both sadism and elements of psychopathy (ASPD) were a part of this. I don’t believe I’ve ever met one and I pray I never will. What scares me the most is these individuals work full time to get to positions of power so they can abuse as much as possible with impunity.

  • M.N.

    Great read. I was literally having flashbacks while reading this to moments that related. I appreciate the effort and work put into writing this. Never thought narcissism was a thing until I encountered it and came to the realize I grew up in it. Im still in recovery, as it was very traumatic at a very important time in my life that took years of hard work, will and determination to get to and where I could not afford to have anything interfering and of course a narcissist appeared. Thank you again for the article and validation.

  • L Winn

    I too was having flashbacks reading this article. Ten years in my first relationship and 12 in my second because I didn’t learn anything from the first one. I spent 22 years in this hell. Now I’m old, alone and have no children. I’ve been in therapy for years, but I’ve lost a lot. I take things now day by day and with my dog. I have no desire to be out dating again. I read, go to the movies and have a very small circle of friends. I found out my ex followed me one month after I moved out of state. Now, I’m terrified to leave the house.

  • Joanne

    After my late husband passed away his ex-wife filed a law suit against me I ended up taking to the appeal court and won. I always told the truth and she kept on pushing and ignored the facts.

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