A relationship with a narcissist involves cruel and relentless emotional abuse. Narcissists are able to do this by brainwashing their victims. They use a variety of methods of in order to obtain control over their significant other. First they “love bomb” their prey, then they threaten, degrade, shift blame, criticize, manipulate, verbally assault, dominate, blackmail, withdraw, withhold love and affection and gaslight their victims.
Self-professed narcissist and author of “Malignant Self-Love, Narcissism Revisited,” Sam Vaknin describes how a narcissist abuses his victim:
He infiltrates her defenses, shatters her self-confidence, confuses and confounds her, demeans and debases her. He invades her territory, abuses her confidence, exhausts her resources, hurts her loved ones, threatens her stability and security, involves her in his paranoid states of mind, frightens her out of her wits, withholds love and sex from her, prevents satisfaction and causes frustration, humiliates and insults her privately and in public, points out her shortcomings, criticizes her profusely and in a “scientific and objective” manner – and this is a partial list.
Very often, the narcissist acts sadistically in the guise of an enlightened interest in the welfare of his victim. He plays the psychiatrist to her psychopathology (totally dreamt up by him). He acts the guru to her need of guidance, the avuncular or father figure, the teacher, the only true friend, the old and the experienced. All this in order to weaken her defenses and to lay siege to her disintegrating nerves. So subtle and poisonous is the narcissistic variant of sadism that it might well be regarded as the most dangerous of all.
The narcissist will try to brainwash you and has many tools in his toolset. The aim of this is to keep you under control, to get the needed affection and attention he so deserves.
1. The Narcissist and Love bombing
“Love bombing” is an attempt to influence a person by lavish demonstrations of attention and affection. It has been used to refer to abusers in romantic relationships showering their victims with praise, gifts, and affection in the early stages of a relationship. One victim describes it as follows:
“The narcissist girlfriend thought the world of me, came to me for advice, and would do anything for me; she was so like me and so perfect until the cracks began to show. They cannot keep up the facade for very long. But they are masters, if you don’t know better, at getting you hooked.”
That feeling of “love” that you have is more intense than normal because the narcissist first floods you with expressions of love, and then they withhold, and then they give a little; over time this changes you- it’s a form of manipulation, control and brainwashing. There is no doubt that you have loved. But narcissists can’t love you back. What happens in these types of relationships is that you get so caught up in the feeling that you don’t listen to the alarms that go off in your head.
2. How The Narcissist uses Degradation
Narcissists degrade their victims and tear apart their self-esteem which can make resistance to their control strategies difficult. They use tactics such as sarcasm, criticizing, name calling, berating, belittling, excessive blaming, screaming, threatening and humiliation.
Over time, the constant verbal and emotional attacks weaken the victims and erode their sense of self confidence and self-esteem while it makes the narcissists feel more powerful and, hence, exert further control.
3. The Verbal Assaults of the Narcissist
This includes berating, belittling, criticizing, name calling, screaming, threatening, excessive blaming, and using sarcasm and humiliation. It also includes exaggerating your flaws and putting you down in public. Over time, this type of abuse erodes your sense of self confidence and self-worth.
4. Emotional Blackmail
Here the abuser plays on your fear, guilt, compassion, values, or other “hot buttons” to get what they want. This could include threats to end the relationship, the “cold shoulder,” or other fear tactics.
5. Demonstrating Dominance:
A Narcissist believes and projects an attitude of being all-powerful and all-conquering which can convince the victim that resisting the narcissist is futile. They need to be in control of others, must have everything their way, and will resort to threats or any other methods to achieve submission. Eventually, the victim loses their self respect.
6. Threats If Victim Does Not Comply
Narcissists will promote feelings of anxiety and despair in their victims by making threats and using intimidation. This encourages the victim to submit to the unreasonable demands or bullying of the narcissist.
7. Abusive Expectations
The abuser places unreasonable demands on you and wants you to put everything else aside (including your children) to tend to their “very important” needs. It could be a demand for constant attention, frequent sex, or a requirement that you spend all your free time with the person.
But no matter how much you give, it’s never enough. You are subjected to constant criticizing and berating because you don’t fulfill all of this person’s needs.
Read more about Narcissistic Abuse Syndrome in one of my other articles.
Isolation deprives the victim of any social support which reduces their ability to resist. The narcissist will keep the victim unaware of what is happening (e.g. by taking total control of the family finances, making plans that are unknown to the victim, tell lies about them to others, etc).This strategy leads to the victim becoming dependent on the narcissist for validation and information.
The narcissist will insist on controlling their partner’s time and physical environment to try to curb their natural behavior and feelings of independence. They may insist on their partner giving up certain hobbies, social or work activities. They may even insist their partner move away with them to a new location which further isolates the victim from their family or friends.
9. Total Control of the Victim’s Perceptions
Abusers may convince the victims that aspects of the victim’s character or behavior are ‘wrong’ which takes the focus off what the narcissist is doing. Using isolation of the victim, the narcissist can then control what type of information and stimuli the victim has access to.
10. Unpredictable Responses
Drastic mood changes or sudden emotional outbursts are used to keep the victim unsettled and anxious.
This behavior leaves the victim feeling like they are always on edge. They are always waiting for the other shoe to drop and can never know what’s expected. They remain hyper vigilant, waiting for the other person’s next rage or mood change. Living like this is extremely demanding and anxiety provoking, causing the abused person to feel constantly frightened, unsettled and off balance.
11. Constant Chaos
A narcissist may deliberately start arguments and be in continual conflict with others. They are often addicted to “drama” since it creates excitement.
The narcissist will deny that certain events occurred or that certain things were said. The victim knows differently but the other person will deny their perceptions, memory and sanity. That makes them begin to think they are crazy or losing their mind.
Want to know more about Gaslighting? Read our article: What is Gaslighting in Narcissism
13. Enforcing Trivial Demands
They will make a huge commotion over trivial matters in order to condition the victim into developing a habit of being compliant.
14. Occasional Indulgences
The narcissist may provide ‘treats’ or demonstrate kindness to encourage and motivate compliance with their demands.
In the end, the victim is brainwashed to believe their partner is somehow supremely intelligent and all-powerful; the victim feels it is useless to resist them. The reality is that the narcissist is a dysfunctional, malicious and abusive individual. Narcissists and other abusers employ these techniques because these tactics are highly effective for achieving their goals of manipulation and control.