11 Narcissistic Manipulation Tactics, According to Experts

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Manipulation and narcissism are weighty terms, especially when used in the same sentence. But there's a reason they're often uttered in the same breath (and quote tile on Instagram): The two go hand in hand, and experts say it's critical to understand why.

"It's important to know when you are being manipulated," says Erica Turner, a relationship therapist and dating coach behind the Instagram account @yourrelationshipreset. "If you are unaware that you are being manipulated, you are going to be less likely…to question their intention and go along with what they say, all the while…losing yourself in the relationship."

But it can be hard to miss the signs of manipulation—your body may notice them before your mind.

"It can be difficult to spot or understand, but your...somatic response or bodily awareness to this person, and your brain-gut connection may pick up on cues that this person doesn’t feel safe and you are being manipulated," says Dr. Kate Cummins, a California-based licensed clinical psychologist.

Relationship experts provided insights on signs a narcissist is manipulating you to help your head (and heart) catch up to your gut.

Related: 35 Phrases to Disarm a Narcissist 

Why Do Narcissists Manipulate?

First, let's clear up what a narcissist is: Cleveland Clinic says, "People with narcissistic personality disorder often come across as selfish or superior, but it’s because they’re making up for a fragile sense of self-worth." This fragile self-worth is a breeding ground for a constant need for validation.

"They may also feel victimized by the world, so their needs and hurt end up superseding the needs of others around them to serve these struggles," says Nicoletta Heidegger, MA, MEd, a licensed marriage and family therapist.

You may be thinking, "I've been guilty of falling into a victim mentality and hurting people every so often. Does that make me a narcissist?" Not necessarily, Heidegger says. The word "narcissist" has become a much-used term lately, and it's getting misused.

"It is important to note that many of us have narcissistic or self-serving features at times and during moments, but that does not mean that someone has a narcissistic personality disorder," Heidegger says. "We should not throw these labels around lightly whenever we are upset with a relationship."

What Is an Example of Narcissistic Manipulation in a Relationship?

There's a wide range, and it depends on the manipulator.

"Manipulation in a relationship looks different for every narcissist," says Dr. Cummins. "They will figure out what your greatest struggles and weaknesses are and pinpoint or verbally attack those issues in order to start chipping away at your sense of self and ego."

Turner adds, “You say that something they did bothered you. They tell you that you…shouldn’t feel that way. It immediately evokes doubt in you."

But Heidegger cautions that narcissistic personality disorder is a diagnosis, and that narcissistic manipulation is a pattern—not a one-off or buzzword.

"We should not throw these labels around lightly whenever we are upset with a relationship," Heidegger says.

Related: 35 Common Gaslighting Phrases in a Relationship 

What Are the Harms of Narcissistic Manipulation?

Though some may brush off the term as a buzzword, narcissistic manipulation happens and it harms.

"It can lower a person's self-esteem and self-worth and diminish trust in themselves," Heidegger says. "It can trigger or worsen anxiety, depression and trauma symptoms."

You might notice physical symptoms too.

"Your body can be affected," Turner explains. "When you are being manipulated, it causes you to feel stressed. It can make you feel confused because it releases cortisol in the body.”

Turner says this stress response can leave you feeling fatigued, tense throughout the body and like you have a perpetual stomach ache.

11 Narcissistic Manipulation Tactics, According to Therapists—and How to Spot Them

1. Love-Bombing

Being showered with praise and gifts early in a relationship can feel good. But it's one of the first signs of narcissistic manipulation.

"This is a manipulative tactic to draw you in…when in reality, you don’t know each other," says Turner.

How to spot it: Turner says examples of love-bombing include being told "I love you" after a week or receiving expensive gifts days into a relationship.

Related: What is Love Bombing? Meanings and Signs

2. Gaslighting

Gaslighting is another tactic a narcissistic person may use almost from the start of a relationship.

"It creates self down and confusion in someone's mind," says Dr. Cummins.

How to spot it: Heidegger says you may catch a person in a lie, and they'll get defensive and blame you. Dr. Cummins agrees. "If you feel like you are constantly second-guessing yourself...you are probably being manipulated in your relationship," Dr. Cummins says.

3. Guilt and shaming

Heidegger says narcissistic manipulators have a way of guilting and shaming partners into feeling responsible for their happiness.

How to spot it: Heidegger says that a person may make threatening statements, such as, "If you don’t do X, I will hurt myself."

4. They don't let you be yourself

A narcissist will often view a partner who operates as an individual as a threat, says Jaime Mahler, MS, LMHC, a trauma specialist and author of Toxic Relationship Recovery.

"A manipulative person is not in a relationship to honor you as an individual," Mahler says. "They are in the relationship to craft you into their ideal person. In their eyes, you are a walking reflection of their ego, and if you don't look good, then they are perceived as less than."

And that can start early.

How to spot it: Mahler says they may be critical of or try to control everything from food choices, such as ordering for you at a restaurant without asking your opinion or choosing your outfit. "If you dare step into your individuality, you are chastised, ridiculed or mocked back into submission," Mahler says.

Related: If Something Feels a Little Off, Make Sure You're Watching Out for These 40 Relationship Red Flags

5. Isolation

It's common to see less of friends when you're in a relationship or dating. There are only so many hours in the day, and you may want to spend some of them 1-on-1 with a romantic partner—no shame. But a narcissist who is manipulating you may be intentionally exacerbating the separation.

"Manipulative people try to isolate you from your safety net of friends and family to gain as much access of control of you as possible," Dr. Cummins says. "This is something that happens over time, and you may not be aware of your actions until you suddenly feel like you’ve lost touch with all relationships in your life except one."

How to spot it: Heidegger says that some narcissists may say things that sound almost sweet (but are a sneaky manipulation tactic) like, "Nobody knows you or loves you like I do…I can make you feel better." Others may take a threatening tone, such as "If you loved me, you would stop hanging out with X friend."

6. They steal your joy

Even when dating a narcissistic manipulator, you may experience joy and success, such as at work. Heidegger says a narcissistic manipulator will quickly pull you back to earth with critical comments.

How to spot it: Perhaps they listened in on your virtual job interview. Their hot take after? Heidegger says it might sound like, "You sounded so full of yourself in that interview." They may also make cutting comments about your appearance, like, "If you just lost some weight like I told you to, you would be so beautiful.”

7. Complete and utter confusion

According to Mahler, people engaging in narcissistic manipulation may seem like they're in a completely different reality—a reality they insist you join them in.

How to spot it: Mahler says that you and your partner may seem to have a fun time with friends at a party. But in the car, they say, "Wow, every one of your friends hates you, don't they? You're baffled—for good reason. "Your experience of that party did not match what your partner just said to you in the car," Mahler says, adding these comments are often another way to isolate you from friends and loved ones through doubt.

8. They quiet your voice

Dr. Cummins says narcissists may shut down your opinions quickly.

"The less personalized and individualized you are, the more control someone has over you," Dr. Cummins.

How to spot it: You constantly make suggestions for plans that get immediately nixed, or you have an opinion on the news and are told you're wrong. "If you feel like you no longer have ideas that are your own or your opinions get shut down, you are probably being manipulated," Dr. Cummins says.

Related: 25 Red Flags That Signify a Toxic Relationship, According to Psychotherapists

9. "Let it go"

You shouldn't have to let everything go all the time for one person, but Mahler says a narcissist may try to get you to do just that.

"If your partner does not want to be held accountable for their part in the conflict, the easiest way to get out of that accountability is by making you think that you are doing something wrong by bringing up the conflict from the previous night," Mahler says.

How to spot it: Any time you bring up a fight or something that bothers you, they say things like, "Let it go" or "Stop beating a dead horse," Mahler says.

"What they are really saying is, “Stop trying to make me face issues about our relationship," Mahler explains.

10. Trying to reduce or control your feelings

According to Turner, you can't help how you feel, but narcissists will try to gain control anyway. And if you try to express anything different than what they want you to feel? They'll be quick to dismiss it.

How to spot it: Turner says that common phrases out of your partner's mouth are, "You are overreacting" or even "You are fine, and there is nothing wrong with you" if you're expressing concerns about yourself.

11. Lack of nuance

A narcissist often speaks in "all or nothing" terms, Mahler says.

"They can take everything you say and blow it completely out of proportion," she says.

How to spot it: Mahler says that a statement like, "I need to talk about how painful last night's fight was," might be met with "Here we go again. I get it. I'm the worst partner in the world. I can never do anything right with you."

"This positions you to defend that they aren't always problematic and that is the exact deflection they need to get out of the accountability of that situation," Mahler says. "All-or-nothing thinking contributes to confusion because you are left trying to explain."

Related: 10 Signs You're Settling in Your Relationship, According to Therapists

How To Heal From a Narcissistic Manipulator

First and foremost, make sure you're safe, Mahler says.

"If you are in a situation where your partner has threatened physical abuse or hinted that you will be harmed if you ever left the relationship, you need to seek assistance in order to leave safely," Mahler says.

The United States National Domestic Violence Hotline is 800-799-7233, or you can text 88788 or live chat.

Then, process your feelings through journaling—through voice notes, writing or typing.

"It's amazing the number of realizations that can occur just by processing a situation more than once," Mahler explains. "That comes through writing things down then going back and re-reading them, or re-listening to the voice recordings."

Therapy can also help.

"Finding a therapist that is familiar with relationship abuse and narcissism can be a treasured resource to those attempting to leave dynamics like these as well," Mahler says.

Mahler also suggests rekindling old relationships—ones the narcissist may have tried to steal from you. Finally, give yourself grace.

"If you are in a manipulative relationship, the healthiest way to heal is time and space," Mahler shares. "Give yourself time to understand what is going on and space to reflect on the magnitude of the harm that is occurring."

Next, 9 Ways Dating a Narcissist Changes You and How To Heal, According to Therapists