A good game can bring joy and excitement, but the games played by narcissists reveal a darker side of game playing – one that has few benefits for anyone but the narcissist themselves.
Unlike the fair play and camaraderie found in healthy relationships, narcissists adopt a calculated “game-playing approach to love” that allows them to savor the rewards of a relationship—such as intimacy, status, and admiration—while keeping their options open for other potential partners.
With their fingers on the buzzer, they employ mind games to maintain control and keep targets submissive and hopeful while grooming the next one for the eventual discard.
They use these games as part of a carefully crafted strategy that entangles their victims in a toxic cycle of manipulation and emotional turmoil.
In this article, I’ll delve into the complex world of narcissist games, seeking to understand their motives and how to navigate the complex rules that go with them.
Why Do Narcissists Play Mind Games?
Narcissists play mind games to gain power, control, and validation. They use them to keep their targets on their toes and spread confusion so the target never knows what to believe.
These manipulative tactics are rooted in their deep-seated need for admiration, a sense of superiority, and a desire to maintain their inflated self-image.
Narcissist mind games are designed to assert dominance over their targets and manipulate their emotions.
They also help to reinforce the narcissist’s belief in their own superiority and to elicit reactions from others, so they provide the narcissist with the attention he so desperately craves.
Those forced to play narcissist’s games come to rely on the narcissist for validation and self-worth, putting the narcissist in a position of power.
Narcissists also use them to keep others at arm’s length. That way, they can avoid a genuine emotional connection that might reveal their inner vulnerability and low self-esteem.
These manipulative tactics allow them to maintain their facade of superiority and exploit others for their own gain.
7 Narcissist Mind Games They Play To Control You
From gaslighting to love-bombing, narcissists expertly use mind games to safeguard their superiority and dominance. Understanding these games is the first step towards breaking free from their influence.
#1 Break Up games
If you’ve ever tried to break up with or discard a narcissist first, you’ll appreciate how complicated it is and how many hoops you must jump through to escape the relationship.
Narcissists use break-up games to keep their victims hooked, maintain control, and avoid rejection.
Some narcissist break-up games include silent treatment, hoovering, gaslighting, and love bombing. Narcissists use these mind games to confuse their victims, bully them, and guilt-trip them into changing their minds.
Narcissists rely on constant attention and admiration, so can’t bear to be alone.
They always need someone to validate them, and if that someone was you, they wouldn’t let you go without first messing with your head.
One typical narcissistic break-up game is the “hoovering” technique. Hoovering refers to the narcissist’s attempt to suck their ex-partner back into a relationship after a break-up.
This usually involves a bit of love bombing (another popular narcissistic mind game), future faking, and false apologies.
It’s essential for individuals who have experienced a narcissistic breakup to be aware of these manipulative tactics.
Recognizing hoovering and other break-up games allows one to establish healthy boundaries, prioritize their well-being, and avoid falling back into a toxic relationship.
#2 Texting Games
Whether texting or sexting, narcissists want to be in complete control, and they have a natural way with words that often enables them to do that.
They’ll bombard you with messages, ghost you for the rest of the day, send you long, loving confessions, and then abruptly switch to one-word answers when you respond.
This kind of ping-pong texting confuses their victims and puts them in a submissive position where they can only respond and react.
For instance, the narcissist might send you a text message saying, “I love you SO much!”
And then a few seconds later, another one said,
“What are you doing right now? I need you!”
If you respond with an equally lovey-dovey text, they’ll reply abruptly, saying,
“Now’s not the time! I’m at work!!! I can’t do this with you right now.”
This kind of emotional ping-pong keeps the victim constantly guessing. You might also have noticed the narcissist throwing in a bit of gaslighting.
By making it seem like it’s the recipient’s fault for responding affectionately, they dismiss the recipient’s response and imply that the recipient is inconsiderate or clingy.
#3 Social Media Mind Games
How a narcissist plays with you on social media depends on where you are in your relationship. Early on, during the love-bombing phase, the narcissist will use their social media posts to impress and idealize you and your relationship.
In the early days, you’ll likely see posts like, “Feeling so blessed to have found the most amazing person in the world! From the moment we met, I knew you were the one for me.”
As time moves on, and the narcissist starts looking around for a new supply, you’ll notice the focus switches to the narcissist and their achievements, with boastful self-promotional posts like,
“Despite the people who’ve tried to hold me back, I’ve always managed to succeed and exceed expectations. I feel sorry for those who don’t have my positive energy and mindset.”
This is the narcissist displaying their passive-aggressive side, taking a subtle dig at you while proclaiming their own achievements.
Other games narcissists play on social media involve frequently liking or commenting on someone else’s posts.
This will usually be someone they’re interested in romantically who they’re planning to replace you with, or they could be using this game as a form of triangulation – a tactic to create jealousy and insecurity within you.
By lavishing attention on someone else publicly, they want you to feel threatened and insecure about your place in their life, which gives them a sense of power and control.
They enjoy watching your emotional reaction, and it feeds their ego to know they can elicit such responses from you.
A narcissist’s social media mind games can include almost any of the other games they enjoy playing, including the ping-pong, or the narcissist hot and cold game, and the blocking game, which is one of their favorites!
#4 Blocking Game
Narcissists always play the blocking game, using it to exert control and power over people.
When a narcissist engages in the blocking game, they intentionally block or unblock the person repeatedly to play with their emotions and provoke a reaction.
Here’s how you play the narcissist blocking game:
First, gain control by love-bombing your partner into submission, then start to play with their sense of security by suddenly ignoring them or blocking them on social media or messaging apps without any explanation or warning.
Wait for a reaction. Ideally, your target should feel hurt, confused, and anxious about why they were blocked. Now you’re in a position of power. Your target feels vulnerable, boosting your ego and making you feel invincible.
After a few days, unblock the person and pretend you had no idea why it happened. Now rinse and repeat.
By engaging in the blocking game, the narcissist maintains dominance over the person’s emotional state, keeping them off-balance and emotionally invested in the relationship.
This manipulation tactic reinforces the narcissist’s sense of power and control, making it challenging for the victim to break free from the toxic cycle.
#5 Money Games
Narcissists often engage in money games to manipulate and control others. These tactics can be subtle and deceptive, aiming to exploit the financial vulnerabilities of their targets.
For example, they might take control of their partner’s or family’s finances, controlling access to money and using it as leverage.
Some narcissists might borrow money from others and then claim to have paid it back, using their charm and manipulation to gaslight the lender into believing them.
Do narcissists play dumb? They do when they refuse to take responsibility for an unpaid debt!
A narcissist might act stupid or pretend they remember nothing about a loan if it means they can avoid repaying it and still be in a position to ask you for more.
Narcissists might suddenly splurge on an expensive purchase, claiming it will benefit you, when really it’s to boost their own status and make themselves feel better.
They might spend so much that they accumulate a significant debt that they then use to guilt-trip you into compliance or to justify withholding other resources, claiming they need to repay the debt first.
Moreover, the narcissist may employ the debt as a means of gaslighting, making you doubt your financial judgment.
They might dismiss your concerns about their extravagant spending, deflecting blame onto you for not appreciating their “generosity” or “sacrifices” on your behalf.
This tactic reinforces their self-importance and undermines your confidence, leaving you vulnerable to further manipulation.
#6 The Waiting Game
The narcissist waiting game is a subtle technique to exert control and power over a target’s emotions and behaviors. They intentionally delay responses, turn up late, and leave promises unfulfilled.
At every opportunity, they keep their target waiting, instilling a sense of anxiety and uncertainty.
This approach also keeps the target focussed on the narcissist, eagerly awaiting their next move and trying to understand the reasons for the delay.
The longer the target’s willing to wait, the more pleasure it brings the narcissist, who is now confident that their power is such that the target is willing to endure uncertainty and emotional turmoil to gain their approval or attention.
In a romantic relationship, the narcissist may use the waiting game to establish dominance and manipulate their partner’s emotions.
They may withhold affection or attention as a form of punishment, creating a dynamic where their partner constantly seeks their approval.
The waiting game is one of narcissists’ most potent tactics to maintain control and dominance over their targets.
It preys on the target’s desire for approval and validation while creating a power imbalance in the relationship.
#7 The Cat-and-Mouse Game
The type of cat-and-mouse game narcissists play involves alternating between pursuing the target (playing the “cat”) and withdrawing or distancing themselves (playing the “mouse”).
During the love-bombing phase, the narcissist pursues you, showering you with love, attention, and affection.
When they move into the devaluation phase, the narcissist suddenly switches roles. Now they have your trust and emotional investment, they flee, becoming distant, critical, or emotionally unavailable.
After their withdrawal, they’ll switch back again as they start hoovering you back into their lives with renewed attention, apologies, and promises of change.
Then they shift again, using a third person to create a sense of competition and jealousy.
This triangulation game is all part of the cat-and-mouse manipulation technique, which narcissists will use repeatedly to create an addictive cycle for the target, in which they’re unsure of their position and constantly seek validation and approval.
What Happens When You Play These Narcissist Games?
There’s very little advice I can offer you about how to play head games with a narcissist.
My best tip is not to engage at all and instead focus on setting healthy boundaries, prioritizing your well-being, and seeking support from trusted friends and family.
You will never beat a narcissist at their own game, and attempting to play along with a narcissist may only lead to further emotional distress and perpetuate the cycle of manipulation, leaving you drained and disoriented.
Instead of playing by their rules, withdraw from the game altogether. Distance yourself emotionally and focus on your own emotions and needs.
Can You Beat the Narcissist at their Games?
The only way to beat the narcissist at their games is to disengage and stop playing.
Instead of worrying about whether the narcissist is playing the blocking game again, block them, and it’s game over!
Don’t run away or towards the narcissist – give them the cold shoulder and ignore all their attempts to engage with you.
The moment you engage, the games will start again and never end.
The only way to escape a narcissist’s games is to stop playing. Go no contact, or if that’s impossible, use the grey rock approach and remain indifferent to all their attention-seeking games and performances.