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  • Narcissists are self-obsessed individuals who control others for their personal gain; they use a few specific tactics for getting and maintaining control.
  • First, narcissists guarantee success by targeting codependents: the narcissist takes advantage of the codependent’s shortcomings.
  • Narcissists also try to make others feel special to gain control; for example, they might compliment or flatter the individual to get them on their side.
  • They then go on to play with difficult emotions like shock, awe, and guilt to maintain control over their victim.
  • Narcissists also gaslight or practice master manipulation; they weaken and destabilize their victims to gain control.
  • Finally, they’re hot and cold with their target, meaning that they utilize positive and negative emotions or moments to trick others. 

Narcissists are self-absorbed. They often dominate conversations, manipulate their loved ones, and engage in deceptive behaviors for profit. We try to steer clear of these disingenuous individuals, but we also fall victim to their manipulation. So, how do they accomplish this? How do narcissists control you? What techniques do they use? Here are 5 methods narcissists employ to control their targets:

1. They target codependents.

Narcissists often find success in controlling others because they target codependents. “Narcissists generally seek out those with codependency characteristics,” Tom Gagliano, Relationship Expert, explains. “The narcissist reinforces the codependent’s shortcomings where they are manipulated to believe everything is their fault or that they are responsible to fix any discomforts in the relationship. The partner becomes afraid of the narcissist to the point where they lose their sense of self by believing all of the narcissist’s distortions.”

2. They make you feel special.

These self-centered individuals also go out of their way to make others feel special—not because they genuinely value something about the individual but to manipulate them. “In their personal relationships, narcissists most often gain control over others by playing to a person’s (very understandable) desire to feel special and highly valued,” says Clinical Psychologist Forrest Talley. “The narcissist may say, for example, ‘Although I only just met you, it’s clear to me that you are exceptionally bright and capable. I have a very select group of people, much like yourself, that I like to keep in contact with… I want you to be part of that group. Just give me your phone number and I’ll add it to my secret black book.’ (Sound ridiculous? It is, but nevertheless this is what one narcissist told me years ago… no, not a patient).”

3. They use shock, awe, and guilt.

Narcissists continue to gain control of the people in their life by eliciting difficult emotions. “After going through a period of ‘grooming’ someone for a close relationship, the narcissist moves on to use shock, awe, and guilt to maintain control,” Talley explains. “The shock and awe come from the over-the-top, emotionally charged tantrums that erupt when the friend (spouse or lover) has done something that disappointed the narcissist. Most normal people find such dramatic reactions exhausting and strange, therefore, they begin to work hard to avoid a repeat performance.” 

4. They gaslight.

Narcissists are also commonly gaslighters as well, meaning that they are master manipulators. “Gaslighting is a tactic of narcissists, sociopaths, and psychopaths,” Christine Scott-Hudson, Licensed Psychotherapist, explains. It is a manipulative behavior designed for self-gain, and even for sport. It is designed to weaken, trick, and destabilize the victim. Gaslighters will deny they said something or did something that you know they said or did. They move through the world dishonestly.”

5. They play hot and cold games.

Finally, narcissistic individuals are also known to play games. “One of the ways that narcissists try to control you is by playing manipulative hot and cold games,” says Adina Mahalli, Master Social Worker. “One week, they’ll flatter you to get you to do what they want, and the next week, they’ll use aggression. The negative moments are interspersed with positive ones so that you might not even realize that you’re being manipulated. The only way to defeat this is to be cautious of the flattery and positivity when it comes. Take every action with a grain of salt, and don’t let the love-bombing be a form of bribery towards you. Niceties shouldn’t be conditional.”

Make yourself aware of these 5 common tactics of narcissists. If you think you’ve fallen victim or are being targeted by these manipulators, do what you can to get out of their grasp. This might involve cutting ties with friends or family members—but that’s okay because your mental health and wellbeing is on the line, and that always take priority. 

Taylor Bennett

Taylor Bennett

Taylor Bennett is a staff writer at Thriveworks. She devotes herself to distributing important information about mental health and wellbeing, writing mental health news and self-improvement tips daily. Taylor received her bachelor’s degree in multimedia journalism, with minors in professional writing and leadership from Virginia Tech. She is a co-author of Leaving Depression Behind: An Interactive, Choose Your Path Book and has published content on Thought Catalog, Odyssey, and The Traveling Parent.

Check out “Leaving Depression Behind: An Interactive, Choose Your Path Book” written by AJ Centore and Taylor Bennett."

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