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10 Emotionally Abusive Tactics Narcissists Use to Manipulate Their Victims

The effects of emotional abuse can leave a victim in permanent turmoil. So much so that emotional abuse becomes the root cause of stress-related health issues like chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia.

According to a study in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 95% of men who physically abuse their partners also psychologically abused them. Many women report that the mental prison emotional abuse creates is even more damaging than the physical abuse.

The first step to freeing oneself from this prison is recognizing the emotionally manipulative abuse tactics that are being employed. If a person blatantly disrespects your psychological wellbeing, they cannot be trusted to respect any boundaries at all. These 10 emotionally abusive tactics are among the most insidious:

Blame Shifting

Blame shifting occurs when the victim raises a concern or confronts the abuser about their behavior.​ Rather than taking accountability for their actions, the abuser attempts to avoid self-reflection by deflecting the spotlight back onto their victim. At the core of blame shifting is narcissistic entitlement. 

No matter how sinister or irrational the abuser’s behavior may be in any given situation, they will always find a way to justify it, even if it means mincing their victim’s words, editing history to suit their own false narrative, or flagrantly lying. Blame shifting sounds like:

• “You’re seriously going to ruin my day by bringing this up? You are always trying to start drama.”

• “I wouldn’t have done it if you didn’t make me so angry!”

• “The problem is deeper than me hitting you. The problem is that you don’t respect me.”

Minimization

When complete denial is implausible, abusers downplay the significance of their behavior and/or invalidate their victims’ emotions.​ Minimization is a form of cognitive distortion wherein an abuser reduces the impact of their behavior in an attempt to distort their victim’s perception and avoid feelings of guilt. 

As a result, victims feel unseen and unheard. If a narcissist is unable to circumnavigate irrefutable facts, their next best defense is attempting to convince victims that they are turning molehills into mountains. Minimization sounds like:

• “You’re being way too sensitive again.”

• “Oh, please. Enough with the dramatics.”

• “You are blowing this so far out of proportion.”

• “I don’t have a problem with drinking. You have a problem with me having fun.”

Projection

Projection is often referred to as psychological vomit. Unlike other items on this list, projection is actually an unconscious defense mechanism.​ A narcissist who projects uses their victim as a psychological dumping ground. Through projection, the abuser accuses the victim of exactly the behaviors or feelings they themselves are guilty of. 

Because narcissists are incapable of self-reflection, the only way they can cope with their unconscious guilt or shame is by attributing it to others. Think of it like this: a narcissist’s accusation is their confession. Projection sounds like:

• “If you could cheat on me without me finding out, you would so do it! And you wouldn’t feel bad either.”

• “You must feel so horrible about yourself. If I were you, I would hang myself.”

• “You sure as hell fooled me into loving you, but you are nothing but a liar and a fake. You don’t love me at all.”

Preemptive Blackmail

The #1 rule of dating a narcissist: Anything you say or do can and will be used against you. The narcissist constantly feels like they are under attack. Because they feel this way, they assume their victim must feel this way as well (projection). To prepare for inevitable warfare, abusers preemptively stash away collateral to use against their perceived enemies: the very people who seek true intimacy with them. Example:

The victim takes sleeping pills because they feel ill. In the morning, still groggy, they state they have “a problem” with sleeping pills. Uh oh. Wrong choice of words. Months later, when the victim accuses the narcissist of crazy-making, the narcissist fires back by dredging up the victim’s past statement about sleeping pills. Though the victim’s intention was simply that they dislike the effect of sleeping pills, the narcissist twists their words to accuse the victim of addiction and mental instability.

Stonewalling

According to Relationship Researcher, John Gottman, the selfish and destructive act of stonewalling is one of the strongest predictors that a relationship will fail.​ And it makes sense, because successful relationships cannot exist without communication. When an abuser stonewalls, they effectively shut all communication down and abandon their partner by becoming unresponsive or evasive.

The habitual refusal to resolve conflicts doesn’t make them go away. Instead, unresolved conflicts are forced into latency, only to re-arise at a later date when the victim’s frustration and hurt has merely intensified. Stonewalling sounds like: 

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Changing The Subject

Narcissists seem to think that if they can simply distract Their Victims from the topic at hand, their victims will magically forget and all will be well. MRI brain scans of people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) reveal that the empathic areas of their brains are less developed. Narcissists are physiologically incapable of changing for the better and will remain disordered for the rest of their lives. There is one thing they are good at changing, however: the subject.

After they have attempted to dodge, deflect, distract, and disengage their victim to avoid discomfort or accountability, narcissists will suddenly start talking about entirely unrelated subjects. This tactic only serves to prove how emotionally stunted they truly are. Changing the subject sounds like:

• Victim: “All I said was that I don’t feel comfortable with this idea. It wouldn’t be the right thing to do. Also-“

• Abuser: “Wow! Have you seen how blue the sky looks today!?”

• Victim: “Excuse me, please let me finish what I was saying. I wouldn’t feel right about-“

• Abuser: “You know, the fact that you made hardboiled eggs the other day instead of a burger was really disrespectful. You have no respect for me at all, do you? You wouldn’t even buy me cereal the other day at the store. If you loved me, you would be more attentive to my needs.”

Future Faking

Relationships with narcissists are built on the love bombing stage, when giant displays of attention and affection are used to gain power over the unsuspecting victim.

They’re lies. To stop conflicts in their tracks, abusers will remind their victims of a plethora of empty promises designed to woo them back into submission, just as they were (ever-so-blindly) in the love bombing days. This tactic stops working once the victim realizes their abuser can’t clean their own dishes, let alone write a resume. Example:

The narcissist claims they want to go back to school to learn new skills, get a better job, and build a house with their victim in the coming years. The victim supports them, helps them research institutions, and creates a list of application deadlines. Come time to apply, the abuser is all-talk. Surprise, surprise. Meanwhile, the victim has invested more time in the abuser’s dream than the abuser himself.

Although disappointed, the victim lets it go. Some time later, the abuser fails to pay a bill, so the victim confronts them. The abuser averts the conversation by saying, “Why do you want to fight? I want to marry you some day. I want to build us our dream home. Don’t you trust me? I’m going to do whatever it takes to-“

Playing The Victim

Healthy individuals in relationships own up to their mistakes, take full accountability, apologize, and strive to do better. Disordered narcissists evade accountability by fabricating evidence against their victims. They believe they are entitled to abuse, no matter how illogical their reasoning may be.

After concocting untruths, narcissists will often blame their vindictiveness on the conditions of their childhood, effectively punishing their victims for things the victim had nothing to do with. As an example:

In a fit of childlike rage, a drunken narcissist strangles their victim. Thankfully, the victim survives. The following morning, the narcissist claims they don’t remember physically abusing their victim, because they were “blacked out.”

Curiously, they still managed to remember how the victim had called them names. Of course, this is a lie, and even if it were true, it’s no justification for physical abuse. Such a thing doesn’t exist.

Exploitation

From day one, narcissists take mental notes of their victims’ childhood wounds, self-doubts, weaknesses, goals, and desires. Narcissists see the world in black and white. To them, a person is either entirely good or entirely bad. Healthy individuals in an argument can ultimately look past the other person’s faults to honor the good.

They will respect their partner by leaving personal truths shared in confidence out of the argument. Narcissists are incapable of this. They strike below the belt because they do not respect their partners. They would rather betray them than “lose.” For example:

The victim confides in the abuser that, when they were a teenager they saw a therapist to cope with a sexual assault. Later in the relationship, the victim raises a concern and the abuser stonewalls them. The victim becomes frustrated and desperately tries to get the abuser to come back and work through the conflict. 

The abuser eventually returns, but for one thing: to tell the victim that they should see a therapist again, “because obviously they need it.” Although the victim could retort in a similarly vile fashion, they choose to be the bigger person and bite their tongue instead.

Rage

“People who are narcissistic are very, very hyper-sensitive. That hyper-sensitivity often means that they over-interpret even the slightest insult, and that over-interpretation can result in massive shows of rage.” -Dr. Ramani

Survivors of narcissistic abuse often describe the moment before a narcissist inappropriately lashes out like this: Out of the blue, the narcissist’s eyes turn black, the soul leaves the body, and rage erupts like wildfire, destroying everything in the narcissist’s path.

After the narcissist’s first show of rage, they will either justify it, blame their victim, or assure their victim it will never happen again. Don’t believe them. In some cases, the abuser will convince their victim that they understand their rage is a problem, and that they cannot control it. If they can convince their victim that their rage is uncontrollable, they will use this as an excuse to rage whenever they feel they have lost control of their victim.

Because of course their rage isn’t their fault. Nothing ever is! Nobody wants to be the target of the narcissist’s rage. When it happens, the narcissist behaves like a schoolyard bully who doesn’t get their way. These are emotionally-stunted children costumed as adults.

“Rage is definitely a sign of the disregulation that we watch and observe regularly in narcissism, and when you see it coming once- even once- to see an expression of rage should be a major red flag that something is not quite right.” -Dr. Ramani

The goal of the narcissist was never to love.

The goal of the narcissist is to inflict their own depraved worldview onto their victim. Like a soulless vampire, they seek to gain narcissistic supply by sucking the life out of their victims and by turning them into the same empty shells of human beings that the narcissists themselves are.

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