Narcissists are masters at playing mind games. They play to win and take no prisoners. They are poor losers and if they don’t win they will often react in a fit of rage and stomp away like a little child. The only way for the other person to win is to not play. Here are some of the more common games narcissists play:
#1 Ping-Pong: When a person begins to understand how a narcissist works, he or she realizes that it’s a bit like playing ping-pong. Anytime a narcissist has to self-reflect about anything, they will immediately throw the ball back to the person they consider their opponent. Narcissists will always throw the ball back to the other person. They do this in the expectation that they won’t have to take responsibility for their behavior. Narcissists hope that by not taking responsibility for their own actions (by using blaming, shaming, projection, denial, etc.) their partner will do what they have always done-forgive the narcissist, make excuses for the narcissist’s behavior, claim the narcissist couldn’t help himself because he was having a bad day, and so on.
The narcissist is a moving target and you are always on the firing line. To get away from them (or expose them), you always have to keep an eye on the ball i.e., their actions and motives for playing their games with you. You have to stop wanting to play.
You can stop catching the ball and put it back in the narcissist’s court by setting boundaries and making him aware of his actions. He then realizes he has no one to play with anymore. He will either drop the person like a hot potato, try to punish the person, or run away.
#2 Gotcha! The narcissist can be a master of phony empathy. He appears to take you in, appears to understand what you are experiencing, and appears to genuinely be able to put himself in your shoes. These acts cause you to let your guard down; just when you think there is a genuine give-and-take in your relationship, he pulls a fast one on you-a “gotcha”- most often when you’re at a low point. He will suddenly tell you about his extraordinary new career move, a luxurious trip that he’s taking, or a huge shift in financial status that will make you feel even more diminished. Narcissists perfectly execute an unexpected psychological pounce; their purpose is to grind you down, to humiliate you, and make you feel small and inferior.
#3 Crazy Eights: This is a favorite game of narcissists…YOU are called crazy anytime you try to confront them, bring up past issues or behaviors, or expose them when they’re doing something appalling. The game goes like this: you are told that you have an overly active imagination, you don’t know what you’re talking about, they have no idea what you’re talking about, or that you’re simply making things up to cause problems. They’ll tell you that it’s obvious that you are the one who is crazy (and tell you that everyone around you agrees with them about you being crazy).
They will claim not to remember even unforgettable events, flatly deny they ever happened, and will never entertain the possibility that they might have forgotten. This is an extremely aggressive and infuriating tactic called “gaslighting”, a common technique used by abusers of all kinds. Your perceptions of reality are continually undermined so that you end up without any confidence in your own intuition, memory, or reasoning.
#4 Death by a Thousand Cuts: This is a really fun game that all narcissists like to play! It involves destroying your soul, your ego, your accomplishments and any belief system you have that does not agree with their beliefs. The way the game is won is for them to try to turn everything about you, and everything you do, into a complete failure. Extra points are given when they can take all the credit for anything good that has ever happened and put it all in their own pot. Double points are earned when they manage to put all blame for anything bad onto the other player.
#5 Twenty-One: In this popular game, you’re not allowed to ever reach the emotional age of 21. Even if you are 50 years old, you will still be treated like a child (a stupid child, a bad child, a silly child, etc.). You don’t get to have face cards and if you do get an ace, it’s only worth one point.
#6 The King/Queen Game: The most important part to remember about this game is that no one can know the rules except the king or queen. Either the king or queen gets to make up rules as they go along; they don’t have to tell the other players the new rules and they can change the rules whenever it suits them. They are the king or queen and, therefore, always win the game. You can be penalized for breaking the rules, even if they chose not to tell you the rules.
#7 Cat and Mouse: This is a kind of competitive patience (solitaire) game for two players. It is also known as Spite and Malice. The cards are arranged from low to high with the Kings being wild. Suits (the normal order of things and\or common societal rules) are irrelevant in the game. The game ends when someone wins by playing the last card of their “pay-off” pile. The game can also end if the players run out of cards, in which case the result is a draw.
Cat and Mouse (or Spite and Malice) is a perfect game for a narcissist because it is actually a form of solitaire, it requires “one upmanship”, and involves pulling out “better” cards to beat the opponent.
It involves a “payoff” and for the narcissist, that usually means hurting you somehow. They keep track of real or imaginary things you do, have done, or might do. This is their “pile” and they will pull a card from it and use it against you whenever possible.
#8 Liars Poker: Individuals with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) play this game fantastically. They are accomplished liars. Their complete persona and their entire world are totally based in lies. Their positive attributes and alleged actions are all made up in order to get other people to give them their fix of narcissistic supply-praise, adulation and accolades.
#9 Keep Away: This is a game that you, yourself, must learn to play. It is important to recognize that the narcissist will never acknowledge that any games are being played; it is up to you to stop playing. To do this, you need to stop bringing up past events/behaviors because you will always be told you’re wrong, they are right, and that you need help. Don’t try to get them to acknowledge or take responsibility for their words or actions because they will always say they didn’t do it or it never happened.
If you are in a relationship, you can walk away from the toxic narcissist in your life. If your boss is an abusive narcissist, you can find another job. You can walk away from your parents, too, if they are abusive.
If you choose to stay, one way to stop playing their game is to not respond to jabs, barbs, pleas, put-downs etc. It is difficult to stop, but perhaps thinking of it this way will help: if you’re playing a game of catch with a ball, the only way to stop the game is to not catch the ball when thrown or not pick up the ball and throw it back. It is possible to stop playing games with a narcissist but just be prepared for an onslaught of negativity, accusations and histrionics. Ignore inciting words, do not respond back to inciting words, hang up the phone (with proper notice such as “I’ve got something I need to do “-not slamming it down) or leave the location where he is at. There are many ways for you to refuse to catch the ball or put the ball down and not throw it back. This is the game of “Keep Away”-you stay away, walk away, and refuse to play.
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