Last Updated on February 16, 2022 by Alexander Burgemeester
How does a Narcissist react when they can’t control you anymore? One of the major components of narcissism is gaining control over others.
This type of behavior is often a reaction to a childhood completely dominated by a narcissistic parent (or parents)- controlled in all aspects of his young life and not allowed to develop control over his own life.
So, why do narcissists need control? What happens if they lose control? And how do narcissists manipulate others to regain their sense of power?
- Narcissists need control because it protects their identities and fragile egos. Underneath their conceited energy, they have very low self-esteem.
- Narcissists manipulate others because they rely on these tactics to gaslight, guilt, or shame people into doing what they want.
- Knowing what narcissists do to their victims can help you feel more educated in your relationship. Otherwise, you will likely continue feeling confused, angry, ashamed, or alone.
- Sometimes, narcissistic manipulation can be very subtle. Narcissistic manipulation tactics may include putting you down, encouraging you to second-guess yourself, or withholding intimacy.
- A manipulative narcissist often knows exactly what they’re doing! It’s a misconception that they aren’t aware of their own toxic behavior.
- Learning how to take control away from the narcissist often includes a mix of rigid boundaries OR going no-contact altogether.
How Does a Narcissist Control You? 12 Tactics
Narcissist control tactics can range from extremely dangerous behaviors to very subtle, unnoticeable gestures. A narcissist’s hot and cold games often feel confusing and frustrating to loved ones. You never know what mood they’re going to be in. You never know if you’re on their good side or bad side.
Knowing how narcissists manipulate people is important for recognizing the potential red flags in your relationship. Here are some warning signs.
1. Love-Bombing You
Nobody understands me like you do!
We have a connection unlike anything else.
You’re the greatest person I’ve ever met- I love you so much.
Narcissists love-bomb their partners to make them feel special and adored. This isn’t just the normal excitement of entering a new relationship. It’s a consuming whirlwind where the narcissist floods you with attention to make you feel like you have the most magical relationship in the world.
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2. Making You Depend On Them
Many narcissists are incredibly intelligent and charming. They may make statements like,
I don’t want you to feel like you have to work! I don’t want you to worry about your money- I’m managing everything. Don’t worry about the right house- I’m going to take care of everything.
At first, you may feel smitten by their generous offers to assist you. But be careful. These efforts are carefully crafted. The narcissist wants you to feel like you don’t have other options.
3. Isolating You From Others
Your mother doesn’t have your best intentions at heart!
Why are you still friends with her? She always makes you feel bad about yourself.
Your boss is such a jerk. You deserve better.
Do these comments sound familiar? From a compassionate friend, they might be coming from a genuine place of concern. But from a narcissist, they represent tiny fractures designed to make you second-guess the relationships you share with others.
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Narcissists don’t want you receiving outside influence- especially if it clashes with their opinions. They will try to get in the middle of your relationships if they suspect someone else might impact your behavior.
4. Literally Controlling Your Decisions
Who do narcissists target when they want to be in relationships? Usually, they find people-pleasing types who don’t want to deal with excessive conflict or distress.
Now think about it. Does the narcissist track how you eat, spend money, or raise your kids? Do they watch your every move and offer unsolicited feedback and what you should be doing better?
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Most narcissists hold extreme opinions about what they do or don’t think is permissible. And if you act against their wishes, there will be serious consequences.
5. Responding Passive-Aggressively
How do narcissists manipulate when their tendencies are more vulnerable or covert? The manipulative narcissist tends to rely on passive aggression to make others feel ashamed or confused.
Do whatever you want! I don’t care.
I’m not angry. Why would you think I’m angry?
It doesn’t matter what we have for dinner tonight. I have no opinion.
You know what passive-aggression feels like. It feels like, no matter what you decide, you made the wrong choice. Even if they explicitly tell you that they don’t care or don’t mind, you know they do. And you know they will use it against you.
6. Throwing Extreme Tantrums
What happens when you don’t let them control you? You already know the answer! You can expect their massive tantrums and emotional outbursts!
You probably try to tiptoe around the narcissist to save yourself the drama. You don’t want to cause any problems, after all. You don’t want to make things worse.
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And so, narcissists “use” the threatening nature of explosive tantrums as a way to scare you. They know you don’t want to deal with their inevitable backlash, which results in you acting in ways that suit their needs.
7. Changing Tactics Quickly
The narcissist’s hot and cold games can drive anyone crazy. One moment, they’re telling you how much they love you. The next, they’re calling you selfish and crazy.
What happened here? Did you do something seriously wrong, or are they just overreacting?
As it turns out, narcissists enjoy remaining somewhat mysterious and unpredictable. If you know exactly how they’re going to respond, they lose valuable momentum.
So, don’t be too surprised if the narcissist rotates between different behaviors (or even seems to change personality traits). It’s all part of the con. They want to keep you guessing and on your toes. They don’t want you to know what lies ahead.
8. Making You Feel Sorry For Them
Does the narcissist in your life have a perfect sob story? A shameful trauma? A terrible story about how their ex treated them? A saga that could make anyone cry?
Narcissists love attention, even when it’s negative, and so they will often try to gain pity from others by dramatizing parts of their pasts. Some of these claims may be complete lies. Others will be embellished truths.
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But the motive here is simple: they want you to feel bad for them. They want you to excuse their terrible behavior because they hope that you will believe, deep down, they are just a misunderstood person who needs love and approval.
9. Finding Out Everything About You
This often happens during the love-bombing phase. The narcissist is enamored with you. They want to know every last thing.
And you may willingly oblige. It can feel so freeing to finally be vulnerable with someone else. For the first time, you might feel genuinely safe with another person.
Unfortunately, narcissists will use your honest disclosures against you. Their motives aren’t kind-hearted. They want to discover your weaknesses and flaws so they can use them against you later.
10. Feigning Other Crises
At first, this control tactic may seem so confusing that you don’t even realize it’s intentional.
This strategy usually plays out in the following way: You start calling the narcissist out on their problematic behavior. Maybe you’re completely calm and even-keeled when you do it, but you have the evidence needed to substantiate your claim.
How does the narcissist respond? They don’t! They start talking about something horrific or strange or completely tragic that just happened. They want to hear more, but their mom is in the hospital! They understand where you are coming from, but they need to rush their dog to the emergency vet! They want to talk about this further, but they need to deal with their flat tire first!
Of course, some of these crises may be coincidental. But if it’s a repeated pattern, it’s just another sneaky form of manipulation.
11. Needing Constant Approval
The narcissist constantly feels petrified that you will leave them at any given moment. Remember that abandonment represents the ultimate form of rejection. And yet, they fear it above anything else.
Narcissists often put loved ones through vigorous “loyalty tests” to affirm their commitment to the relationship. These tests may consist of repeatedly asking you if you still love them. But they can be far more destructive, like checking on your whereabouts just to make sure you aren’t with someone else.
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Needing constant approval becomes a form of control because you start feeling guilty when you do anything for yourself. You doubt your motives and become paranoid that you’re doing something wrong- even when you know you’re not.
12. Pretending to Change
This can be one of the most devastating forms of narcissistic control. Some narcissists will make great efforts to pretend to change to get their loved ones off their backs.
I know you keep talking about marriage. You’re right- let’s do something about it tonight.
I’m ready to have a baby.
I really understand that you want to move. Let’s start looking at houses tomorrow.
With these statements, the narcissist appears to be making a genuine effort to improve themselves. They also seem to care deeply about the relationship.
But what ends up happening as a result? You know the answer! They don’t stick to their word. They only “change” until they know you’re sticking with them. And then it’s right back to business as usual.
Even if they make those serious commitments (marriage, baby, a new home), that doesn’t mean their personality will change! Worse, you may now be even more trapped.
Why Are Narcissists So Controlling?
Narcissistic people see other people in their environment as extensions of themselves. They are the center of the world, and they often consider themselves idols who others should adore and admire.
In their distorted minds, this rationalization makes it seemingly acceptable for them to control and abuse others. They also consider themselves experts on how people should behave. Therefore, they see it as their moral duty to control people to act in ways they see fit.
The fear of abandonment is the heart of nearly every type of controlling behavior. If you don’t immediately agree to the narcissist’s demands, they become threatening, coercive, and manipulative. Abandonment is the ultimate narcissistic injury, and they will do whatever they can to avoid this pain.
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The connection between narcissism and control is strong. It’s one of the main symptoms mental health professionals use when diagnosing narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).
Narcissists have an extraordinary need to control others to maintain their own self-image. Subsequently, they also devalue people as a way to enhance their feelings about themselves.
Narcissists also believe they deserve special recognition for their superior talents, intelligence, or personality. They feel this gives them the inherent right to exploit others.
In relationships, narcissists feel entitled to their partners wholeheartedly. They don’t have genuine empathy, and they will not respect someone else’s autonomy or boundaries. They often become jealous, possessive, or aggressive to exert control.
Are Narcissists Control Freaks?
Yes, the narcissistic control freak stereotype is completely true.
Most narcissists rely on control tactics to get what they want. They don’t value someone else’s autonomy. They don’t care about what you think is best. Once they assume they know how something should work, they make that their core mission.
Narcissists often try to control every person or situation that matters to them. Even if they pretend to be “casual” or “unfazed” by what happens, this is usually an act. They are only trying to give an impression that they can be agreeable and flexible.
7 Things to Expect When The Narcissist Loses Control
When a narcissist loses control, expect the backlash! They’re going to be unhinged and volatile. But despite their seemingly crazy behaviors, you will probably be able to recognize some common patterns.
1. Narcissistic Rage
If you think you’ve seen your narcissistic partner angry, well, hell hath no fury like narcissistic rage! You will witness their wrath in a way you’ve never experienced before, and let me warn you that it will scare you. The narcissist is terrified of who they really are, as they spend an excessive amount of time and energy protecting themselves from their own reality.
Narcissistic rage is fueled by the thought of them being exposed as false and weak. They have convinced themselves that they are a perfect human with no flaws. To acknowledge that this is far from the truth is their worst fear.
As you will have experienced, narcissists are exceptionally calculating, and every action is meticulously assessed before it is carried out. However, when narcissistic rage takes over, they become impulsive. They are no longer concerned about the potential consequences.
How narcissistic rage is expressed is dependent upon the individual. Nevertheless, the deeper the narcissistic injury, the more severe the reaction. Most reactions will be verbal, but some narcissists may physically harm others during this state. Here is what narcissistic rage typically looks like:
- Aggressive Outbursts: An aggressive outburst can take the form of intimidation, overtalking their victim, yelling, threats of harm, throwing objects, and verbal abuse.
- Violent Outbursts: Violence typically takes place when narcissistic rage gets to an uncontrollable level, and they feel they have no other outlet aside from physical force. The violence is either towards their victim or themselves.
- Passive Aggressive Behavior: This is a more subtle form of rage, but it is equally as damaging. Passive aggression can involve methods like withdrawing or engaging in silent treatment. In addition, it can include behaviors like gaslighting, highlighting someone else’s failures, procrastinating on important tasks, guilt-tripping, or agreeing to do something and then refusing to do it later.
- Suppressive behavior: This type of behavior entails playing the victim. For example, the narcissist acts as if something is wrong to get attention. In a similar vein, they might also downplay certain problems or withhold vital information from loved ones.
2. Smear Campaigns
The narcissist must protect their reputation at all costs. When they can’t control someone, their worst fear is that person has uncovered their true character. Equipped with what they think they know, the narcissist will go into self-defense mode and run around spreading damaging rumors.
They will contact everyone you know through social media, text messages and email telling them how evil, manipulative and abusive you are. They may go as far as contacting your boss or colleagues to impact your work reputation.
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If they do something harmful to you, they will twist the situation to say you do it to them. Their main intention is to “get to you first.” If they suspect you are going to talk poorly about them (or even expose them for their truth), they will do whatever it takes to spoil your name first.
3. Do a Disappearing Act
Narcissistic supply is like a drug to the narcissist. If they can’t get it from you, they will get it from someone else. When they have pulled every trick in the book, and they still can’t control you, expect your narcissistic partner to pull a disappearing act on you.
They might disappear in hopes of getting your attention, so you beg them to come back. You can tell this is their motive if they keep popping in and out. You may even hear that they’re asking about you to mutual friends.
Some narcissists will disappear for real in search of a new supply. In this case, you will probably never see them again. The narcissist will do everything they can to rid themselves of your life, including blocking you on all social media platforms, changing their phone number, and even changing locations.
4. The Narcissist Will Stalk You
Some narcissists simply refuse to take no for an answer. They will ignore your feelings and act as if they don’t exist. The narcissist will force their will onto you, which sometimes involves stalking. You may not even be trying to escape from your narcissistic partner- you may have chosen to shut them out of a certain area of your life.
For example, let’s say they embarrass you at a company party. As a result, you avoid inviting them to the next event. You don’t want to deal with the public humiliation again.
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But let’s say the narcissist finds out. You tell him you’re going to have dinner with your mother that night, and guess who shows up to the table?
5. The Narcissist Will Subject You to Public Humiliation
How does a narcissist respond to rejection? The first thing you need to know is that they will never tell you they feel rejected.
Instead, they will likely scheme how to make a complete fool out of you in public. Whether it’s an outright rejection or a perceived rejection, the narcissist will become quietly threatening and demeaning, and every act of wickedness will be done with a smile on their face.
Your partner will have a deep desire to punish you for what you have done. The slightest disagreement or constructive criticism will lead to an all-out cold war, and you won’t even know it’s happening until you are slapped in the face with it. Here is what to expect if you are ever subjected to public humiliation by a narcissist:
Exposing Nude Pictures
Depending on the extent of the Narcissistic injury and how badly the narcissist wants to shame you, they will “accidentally on purpose” send one of your nude pictures to a family member.
Or, if they want to be really vicious, they will post the picture online. Then, to ensure that you know, the narcissist will tell you exactly what they’ve done, but pretend as if it was a dreadful mistake.
Using Your ‘Friends’ to Humiliate You
Flying monkeys are people who assist narcissists in their smear and shaming campaigns. If you ever experience this, don’t take it personally. Remember, narcissists are master manipulators, and they are capable of getting anyone to do anything.
If you have been a victim of narcissistic abuse, you know how easy it is to fall for their charm. Using your friends or people you know to humiliate you might go something like this:
Let’s say, one night, you just aren’t in the mood for sex. You’re polite but firm with your boyfriend about it. Not tonight, babe. I’ve got a terrible headache. The narcissist may present as supportive and understanding, but he will also interpret your refusal as the highest form of rejection. As a result, he may spend the rest of the night trying to discover the real reason why you said no.
Since many narcissists suffer from extreme anxiety (coupled with grandiose imaginations), they often make up various scenarios and believe them to be real. So, after denying your partner sex, he might conclude that you slept with your boss. There’s no other explanation as to why you wouldn’t be in the mood!
To prevent this from happening again, the narcissist might manipulate your coworkers into spreading a rumor that you have a sexually transmitted disease. But, even if this is far from the truth- and even if you’ve never entertained the idea of sleeping with your boss- your office reputation has now been destroyed.
6. Lie, Lie, Deny
What happens when a narcissist is exposed? A narcissist will never admit they are in the wrong no matter how much evidence is stacked against them. Even if you have photographic or video proof- or even if you caught your partner red-handed, they will lie so hard that you will convince yourself that you’ve got it wrong.
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Despite the vindictive nature of narcissists, it’s easy to compare them to children. They tell the same shameless lies. For example, a two-year-old will look you in the eye with chocolate around his mouth and tell you he hasn’t eaten the chocolate that was on the counter.
Narcissists tell the same type of lies. But when they are found out, they are not going to cry, cower in shame, or suddenly become enlightened about their wrongdoing. Instead, they will gaslight you, as this is their first line of defense and the narcissist’s specialty.
7. The Narcissist Will Bait You
When you stop showing the narcissist emotion (whether it’s positive or negative), they will bait you to get a rise out of you. This intentional act of provoking an emotional reaction is their way of confirming power or superiority.
During the baiting process, the narcissist removes their mask and gets really ugly. They are feigning a sense of profound vulnerability. They want you to think they are a good person who truly loves you but has temporarily lost their senses.
They will trigger you intentionally to have a negative reaction. It is also important to note that there are levels to baiting. The first level starts with love bombing you at the same time as devaluing you.
How to Take Control Away From a Narcissist?
Narcissists want all the control. But they can only receive as much as you are willing to give them. And so, you have more power than you may even recognize in stopping obnoxious behavior.
It may sound shockingly simple, but it’s the one strategy that tends to irritate a narcissist like nothing else. Narcissists hate being ignored- they lose their audience, their control, and their illusion of a limitless platform.
And so, don’t comment on any of their behavior. Stop trying to fight back. Avoid picking fights. In other words, remove yourself from the drama.
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Even if it’s tempting to give them a sure piece of your mind, try to resist the temptation. Many narcissists love a good fight, and egging them on only maintains more problems.
If you can’t completely ignore the narcissist, consider the gray-rock approach. This is an approach that focuses on acting as bored and disinterested as possible.
Let’s say they share a wild story about how their brother is trying to steal from them. You know the narcissist’s brother- he’s a nice guy, and you have significant reason to doubt that any of these claims are true.
Instead of arguing back (or even trying to defend the brother), you might respond with, “Hmm. That’s something.” Or, you might simply nod and say, “Oh, I see.”
With this approach, you want to avoid showing any emotion or using any emotionally-charged language. In other words, you’re basically acting like you have no thoughts or feelings about the situation.
Maintain Your Own Identity
Stay connected with your friends and family. Regularly engage with your usual interests and passions.
This independent sense of self will enrage the narcissist because it causes them to lose control. But more importantly, prioritizing yourself allows you to focus on having a meaningful, fulfilling life. This ensures that nobody has the power to control you!
What are your motives for staying in the relationship? At this point, are you choosing to stay and condone malicious behavior?
If the answer is yes, it’s time to seriously reconsider your priorities. Why are you continuing to let someone harm you? Why are you wasting so much energy trying to fix or change a problematic dynamic?
Ending the relationship may feel painful, but staying in this toxic pattern will probably cause you even more harm.
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How to Control a Narcissist?
Knowing how to control a narcissist comes down to knowing what you are willing to tolerate in the relationship. They cannot control you if you don’t listen. They also cannot control you if you choose to stay independent and seek ongoing support from others.
But how do you control them? You don’t. At least, it shouldn’t be your main focus.
Even though they may spend months or years controlling your every move, it isn’t helpful to try to seek the same revenge. You’ll only feel more exhausted, and they have the upper hand in manipulating others. In some ways, they might even be inviting you to try to play their sick game.
Ultimately, controlling a narcissist means opting out of the game altogether. Instead of playing by their crazy rules, you choose to avoid them entirely. You choose to play a different game- the one that healthy, loving, safe people are playing.
Here are some commonly asked questions people have about narcissists and their strange behavior.
Who Do Narcissists Target?
Narcissists can target anyone, so don’t blame yourself if you fell prey to their awful, predatory behavior. You’re only human, and it’s easy to get trapped in a moment of weakness.
That said, they may be more likely to target compassionate, empathic people who have past experiences with abuse? Why? They may believe that you’ll be more likely to “understand” their behavior. Following this train of thought, they are hopeful that you will subsequently excuse or rationalize how they act in the relationship.
Narcissists may also target people who:
- Just got out of relationships.
- Struggle with compulsive issues like drugs or alcohol.
- Identify as empaths.
- Have histories of narcissistic abuse.
Remember that they are banking on finding people who will “cosign” their personalities. They don’t want someone who will constantly question, fight, or disregard their tactics.
What Do Narcissists Do To Their Victims?
As mentioned, narcissists aim to exert power and control over their victims. They want the relationship to go their way. Therefore, they use other people to meet their own needs, even if those needs are erratic or inappropriate.
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Narcissists believe they are entitled to whatever they want. So, they will treat their victims however they see fit. Depending on the context, the abuse can range from mild annoyances to severe breaches of trust and safety.
How Long Can a Narcissist Go Without Supply?
It depends! You may be surprised to discover that ending a relationship with a narcissist doesn’t always result in an extreme reaction.
That’s because many narcissists have different types of supplies. They don’t want to keep all their eggs in one basket because they know what’s at stake if something happens.
This explains why so many narcissists are serial cheaters. They don’t commit to anyone because they don’t want to invest all their time or energy into just one person. Instead, they keep their options open- just in case the right opportunity presents itself.
Remember that a narcissist will protect their supply at all costs. If they feel like they’re losing you, they’ll either double down on their efforts to lure you back in. Or, they’ll move on to whatever they perceive as the newest, shiniest object.
What Eventually Happens to Narcissists?
Unfortunately, narcissists rarely change their behavior. Instead, they bounce around from job to job, relationship to relationship, drama to drama.
They continue creating chaos wherever they go, even if they change their tune as the years go on.
Instead of dwelling on what happens to them, the best thing you can do is focus on yourself. Once the manipulative narcissist can’t control you anymore, you have true freedom to move forward.
If a narcissist can’t control you anymore, they will often make significant efforts to restore their sense of power. Knowing these tactics in advance can prepare you for what lies ahead.
But remember that you can decide what you do (or don’t) entertain. You are not obligated to maintain a relationship with the narcissist. Subsequently, you don’t owe it to them to enable their awful behavior!