If you’ve been in a relationship with a narcissist or are currently in one, you know that they can be controlling and manipulative. They can’t stand it when they don’t have the upper hand.
But what happens when they can’t control you? How do you think they would feel?
We asked experts to help us understand narcissists’ reactions when they can’t control you. Here are their insights:
Mary Joye, LMHC
Licensed Mental Health Counselor, Winter Haven Counseling
Narcissists have three major ways they react when they realize they can’t control you. They are usually in this order, and all are meant to perpetuate the trauma bond created by intermittent reinforcement of being kind or cruel or even may do this simultaneously.
They may act extremely nice and begin love bombing
They may act extremely nice and begin love bombing or attempting to get your attention with ingratiating gifts, acts of service, or kindness. They seem to know what exactly to say and how to say it to hook you.
Many narcissists have come to me for therapy and ask, “My girlfriend has dumped me and helped me do or say what will get her back, so I can dump her.” This also works for the other gender.
I diplomatically explain it is my duty to do no harm, so I do not help them, and they do not like it. Beware of love bombing as it can be very enticing and exhilarating but proceed with trepidation.
Narcissists seldom change, but they can change you if you allow them to manipulate you. It is a form of self-harm if you repeatedly let them betray or hurt you.
They make empty promises that things will change in the future
They future-fake. These empty promises may be to get therapy and then only go for a few sessions, finding fault with the therapist.
A masterful manipulating narcissist may even go so far as to discredit you to the therapist, and suddenly everything feels like it is your fault. A good therapist can see through this, but you must speak up for yourself, too.
Future faking is one of the most insidious tools of a narcissist because they follow through just long enough to make you believe they have changed. However, they wait until they see they have regained your trust and violate it.
Again, they make it look like your fault. For example, if they promised you a wonderful vacation and you are ready to make plans, they may say something to blame you.
Such as, “If you had not spent so much money on shoes, we could go on a vacation, but now we can’t.” They use guilt and obligation as tools of control to do future faking work on their behalf.
Related: How to Deal with Guilt
They may try to fill you with fear
They may try to fill you with fear in hopes you will fawn after them. They may become cruel or judgmental to get you to argue. Narcissist loves it when you fight with them as they perceive you are still attached to them.
As fear of abandonment drives them, they love it when they can get you upset, and they set you up to do that. It is what we call gaslighting, but it is brainwashing to keep you confused, full of self-doubt, and attached.
Getting angry with you so that you will argue with them may be a last-ditch effort to see if you are affected by their tactics. They may also begin playing the victim to make you feel guilty and doubt yourself further.
They express a lot of excuses for their past behavior in attempts to gain control through empathy and sympathy. Stand strong, and by not falling for these major patterns, the narcissist will exit.
They may do it angrily, cruelly, or quietly
They may do it angrily, cruelly, or quietly, but they need fuel for their disorder, and when they find it is not you, they will leave. Make sure you are not attached to or trusting them, as it will feel like they have discarded you.
Expect bad behavior from them, and you will not be disappointed. They usually come back a few times to attempt to trap you again, but when they know you are on to them, they will go off and find new members for their much-needed entourage.
When you detach from them and attend to your own life and find enjoyment and happiness with those who make you feel good about yourself, the narcissist will be unable to push you off your trajectory to happiness.
Living well is the best revenge for finding freedom from all narcissists. They cannot stand to be around anyone who is emotionally secure and diplomatically confrontational with good boundaries and self-esteem. Let that person be you!
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, The Relationship Therapy Center
Losing control over someone who used to be firmly under their spell is a narcissist’s absolute nightmare. Their reality has them cast front and center: The star of the show. Everyone else plays a supporting role; in the narcissist’s eye, they are there to support them.
A narcissist sees no problem in getting people to violate their boundaries. They have an insatiable appetite for love and admiration and will do whatever it takes to keep you, and whoever else is in their life at their service.
When it stops, and the narcissist feels like they’re losing control, there’s a problem. A narcissist is a master of manipulation. If you are in a relationship with a narcissist or have a narcissistic family member, you’ve likely experienced this firsthand.
Their level of empathy pertains to their life — their wants and needs — do not stretch far beyond the end of their nose. This makes it hard for them to see other people’s needs, opinions, and desires as necessary. It also explains why their reactions are so over the top.
Here are some common ways a narcissist may react when they realize they are losing control over someone.
They will be angry and throw temper tantrums
Anger or throwing a temper tantrum that rivals a toddler is not uncommon. If that behavior worked for them in the past, they’d use it again. Perhaps even take it up a notch.
They will gaslight you
Gaslighting is something else narcissists frequently do. They want you to question yourself and begin to doubt if you see the situation clearly. They hope to keep you under their control by attempting to convince you that you are nothing without them. You’ve got it all wrong.
Related: How to Respond to Gaslighting
They will humiliate you
If they were close to you, a narcissist would probably know about your mistakes. They will have no problem bringing up things you’re ashamed of, parading these painful moments maliciously in an attempt to hurt and humiliate you, and sometimes sharing that information with others.
Again, their goal is to keep you under their control. They will stoop as low as needed to make you believe they’re the best you’ll ever get. You need them.
They will use the love bombing charm
Love bombing is a tactic commonly used by a narcissist at the onset of a relationship. They will give you all sorts of attention and do everything they can to make you feel good.
They can be charming and fun and move quickly as they attempt to seduce you. Narcissists are well-versed in getting what they want; if this worked before, they would return to this behavior to try and hook you again.
They will resort to stalking and other types of extreme antisocial behavior
If you refuse to consent, they may get nasty. In some cases, narcissists resort to stalking and other types of extreme antisocial behavior.
It’s important to remember someone with a narcissistic personality disorder diagnosis has an overinflated sense of self-worth, entitlement, and feelings of superiority.
This is usually borne of shame or severe wounding in childhood. This prevents them from connecting in any deep and meaningful way with themselves or others.
While it does not excuse their abusive behavior, it does help shed a little light and compassion on their situation. Real and meaningful connection is one of the best things in life. To think that some never get to experience this is truly heartbreaking.
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist | Doctor in Integrative Mental Health
They might fluctuate between anger, sarcasm, and victim
Narcissists are natural control freaks; making their victims feel dependable on them is a way to feel in control over the relationship and their insecurities. They get confused and often enraged when they think they no longer control you.
As they have low control over their emotions, they might fluctuate between anger, sarcasm, victim, and love-dove behavior towards you.
If you are still a good resource for them, they will do everything to keep you, and they will do more of the same:
- mine your sense of confidence and self-esteem
- make you sound crazy
- increase your insecurities
- make you believe that life will be hard without them
- lie to make their point
They will find other ways to seduce you
However, when they notice that you stand in your power, and if they do not want to lose you, they can change quickly and find other ways to seduce you and feel in control.
They will adapt to the new situation and present the best version of themselves to drag you back again. As they are not authentic individuals, their true colors appear when things are not working as expected.
They will show tantrums to express their frustrations
They might get resentful and angry and will increase anger outbursts and tantrums to express their frustrations.
A relationship with a narc will never be fully satisfying. They do not know what love is, and they know how to take advantage of the ones who love them. They do not value people’s emotions as they see them as weaknesses.
Instead, they take advantage of them. Therefore, narcissists cannot feel that you are totally in love with them or they have complete control of you.
They need to think that they always need to conquer you; otherwise, they might quickly lose interest in you. And narcs love to take advantage of vulnerable or weak personalities. However, once they feel confident, their true colors tend to appear again.
Engaging in a relationship with a narc is not easy and not recommended, especially if you have low self-esteem and self-confidence.
However, if you still decide on it, you must be strategic.
- Go to therapy and empower yourself first. You will need it so to deal with their weak character.
- Learn more about their personality. The more you learn about narcissists’ personalities, the better you will learn to protect yourself and be conscious of their behavior.
- Never show your vulnerabilities to them; they will certainly use them against you.
- Never show that you love them deeply; they do not know how to appreciate your feelings and will minimize or discount them.
- Never make them the center of your life and attention. You never know when they will discard you or find another exciting person to substitute you.
Chris Leeth, PhD, LPC-S
Licensed Professional Counselor | Assistant Professor of Practice, Levelup-Counseling
People with narcissism can be charming and enticing. The common understanding of narcissism is that the person has a grand sense of self. However, at their core, those with narcissism tend to be quite insecure.
These individuals will rely on various methods of control to mask that insecurity and continue to gain what they want. This control manifests in multiple relationships, from professional to romantic. Yet, some people will not be controlled, whether from a personality trait or experience.
There will be a few internal reactions and changes to the strategies used by them
It’s important to realize that narcissism thrives (perhaps survives) based on positive reinforcement and feedback. If I have narcissism, I seek awe, affection, and adornment. I need you to validate me.
But when the allure is gone, and you can see that you are being controlled, manipulated, and your needs are unmet, chances are that you will stop doing what I want you to do.
The feelings of dismissal
When this happens, there will be a few internal reactions and changes to the strategies used by the person with narcissism. The first wave will be feelings of dismissal. “You must not appreciate what I’m telling you,” is the initial thought.
The strategy here will be to double-down on what is being shared, followed by some ridicule that “You don’t get it.”
The feelings of vulnerability and anger
When you continue not to do what the narcissist wants, the second salvo of feelings includes vulnerability and anger. Of course, the narcissist isn’t going to show you that insecurity.
They will continue to try and wring out what they need from you, whether it’s a feeling or behavior.
They will attempt to make you jealous
Although some will go to a place of interpersonal violence, that is not until much later (if at all). What happens now is jealousy induction.
Jealousy induction is precisely what it sounds like: An attempt to make you jealous. If I have narcissism, I might say, “Well, ‘this person over here’ gets me. Too bad you don’t get me. Maybe I’ll talk to this person some more.”
My goal would be to make you jealous enough that you revert to a position where I’m in control. Ironically, my goal is to make you insecure and place you in a defensive position, while in fact, I’m the one who is on defense. I’m reacting to your lack of submission.
But you still won’t listen. The narcissist is now getting increasingly frustrated, and the feelings of dejection are increasing. “How could someone like you ignore someone like me.”
They may flirt with others and try to rub it in
The narcissist may flirt with others and try to rub it in. They may even start to ignore you. Gaslighting has entered the chat. “You are pushing me away. You never loved/respected/wanted me.” Notice the switch from grandiosity to vulnerability.
When all of the (perceived) greatness of the narcissist goes unnoticed, there can be a switch to “Woe is me. If only someone would treat me the way I deserve, instead of ignoring me.” [I’ll stop here about the different types of narcissism].
Recent studies have shown that the use of jealousy induction strategies is strategic. These behaviors are calculated and done intentionally (as opposed to naturally or genuinely losing interest in someone for another person).
They will leave and show you how horrible you’ve been
Finally, if all else fails, the narcissist will leave. It will be under the guise of “You never loved me. I deserve to be loved and treated better than this.”
When you refuse to be controlled, when you refuse to give your power over, the narcissist can’t be fulfilled. On the way out, the last thing the narcissist can do for self-preservation is to make sure how horrible you’ve been.
That said, it typically takes several months for this cycle of control to be identified and broken. Narcissistic Personality Disorder can be treated, and people with it can manage their symptoms and have fulfilling relationships.
However, counseling is needed, and it can be a lengthy process. It typically takes several failed relationships, and some amount of confrontation before a person with narcissism will seek help.
Licensed Clinical Social Worker | Psychotherapist
They will apply pressure to solicit you back into your role
Narcissists use others to meet their needs. If someone useful becomes less valuable, often the narcissist will apply pressure to solicit the other back into their role of pleasing the narcissist.
Pressure can come in the form of name-calling, guilting, or suggesting the target is doing something to them instead of for them.
They can accuse you of being selfish, uncaring, cruel, or rude
Narcissists do not understand that it is their job to fulfill their needs. They can create drama and demand the other to fix it. They can feign toxic incompetency to regain another’s caretaking.
Toxic incompetency is when another behaves as if they cannot complete a task, even though they can, just to avoid the task. Narcissists feel empty, unworthy, and invisible without consistent attention.
They will send you repeated negative texts or calls
They can also withdraw from the targeted person to punish them. Receiving repeated negative texts or calls from the narcissist is expected when they feel like they are losing control of another.
Narcissists believe they will be left if they do not get complete focus from another. Their control of a significant other is their insurance to prevent abandonment. When they sense they are losing control of another, narcissists up the stakes of the relationship.
They send the message:
- “Either you do this for me, or you are a bad person” and/or
- “You do this for me, or I will leave you.”
They can solicit others — friends, family members, or coworkers. Often we call them flying monkeys to pressure another to care and do for the narcissist.
Dr. Sanam Hafeez
Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Comprehend The Mind
Narcissists are self-centered, egotistical, manipulative people who crave control. Gaslighting, emotional abuse, manipulation, guilt-tripping, and even physical abuse are a few associated traits of a narcissist.
They will feel threatened and react irrationally
When a narcissist feels someone slip out of their control, they feel threatened, react irrationally, and could potentially threaten. Narcissists seek control because it allows their fragile identities & egos to be masked.
They become more manipulative and release a new level of rage
When the control is in the other person’s favor, a narcissist becomes more manipulative and releases a new level of rage. This can manifest as physical or verbal, including yelling, hitting, and lashing out with abusive words.
The purpose behind this narcissistic rage is to scare their partner into thinking they cannot be independent and that they are worthless. The silent treatment is another tactic narcissists will use. This form of guilt-tripping will pause any or all forms of communication.
They will weaponize the past
Humiliating their partner and weaponizing the past is another narcissist tactic. This manipulation tactic makes the victimized partner feel at fault, and seeing the victim break down creates an ego boost for the narcissist.
The love bombing and extra effort a narcissist will put forth when they feel they have regained control is another ploy. Narcissists promise they have changed, but in reality, they hate to see things not go their way.
A narcissist will ensure everything goes according to their plan. They will create a smear campaign and blame the victim for being “crazy.”
Master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy | Director of Marketing & Content, Divorce Answers
They will keep pushing your buttons to find your weak points
Most narcissists will find a weapon to use against you. Typically, they will try ways or learn about your fears, so they know where to hit you where it hurts in an attempt to bring down your self-esteem and make you feel small.
They want you to weaken your spirit, so it’s easier to manipulate.
They will character assassinate you to other people to discredit you
It’s common for narcissists to start ruining your reputation, so your words hold no substance. You should begin to defend yourself or try to expose the narcissistic person’s behavior.
For narcissists, other people’s perception of them is essential, so they will try to make other people as bad to achieve the same results.
They will try to find a new target or supply
Narcissists who know they cannot fool a person will likely move on to a new target or supply to feed their ego since they don’t hold any emotional attachment to other people.
This is also an attempt to bring down your confidence because they know your emotions are involved and invested.
Relationship Expert, Sameera Sullivan Matchmakers
Narcissistic control tactics can range from risky behaviors to subtle, unnoticeable gestures.
Loved ones are frequently confused and frustrated by a narcissist’s hot and cold games. You never know what mood they’ll be in. You never know whether you’re on their good or bad side.
They’ll most likely lash out in narcissistic rage
A narcissist interprets your withdrawal as an act of aggression. In response, they frequently erupt into a narcissistic rage. They’ll tell everyone that it was your fault. They may even hold you accountable for their actions.
Narcissists enjoy eliciting an emotional response from you to make it appear as if you are the one who blows up. They’ll lie to you, call you names, or set you up for failure in the hopes that you’ll blow up.
Narcissists value attention so much that they may decide that pulling away from you is the best way to punish you.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Common Behaviors a Narcissist May Display When They Can’t Control Someone?
When narcissists can’t control someone, they may exhibit certain behaviors that reveal their underlying insecurities and anxieties. Here are some of the most common behaviors that a narcissist may display when they feel that they are not in control:
• Blame-Shifting and Deflection: A narcissist will often deflect blame and make it seem like others are at fault when things don’t go their way. They may also twist the story to make themselves look good, and others look bad.
• Aggression and Anger: A narcissist may become angry and aggressive when they feel they are not in control. They may lash out at others, engage in verbal abuse, or even become physically abusive.
• Gaslighting: Gaslighting is a tactic that a narcissist may use to manipulate someone into doubting their own perceptions and memories. They may deny that certain events took place or claim that someone remembers things wrong.
• Withdrawal and Stonewalling: A narcissist may withdraw from a situation or relationship when they feel they can’t control someone. They may become distant and unresponsive, which can be confusing and hurtful to the person they are withdrawing from.
• Projection: A narcissist may project their own negative traits and behaviors onto others, accusing them of being selfish, manipulative, or deceitful when they themselves exhibit those traits.
• Demanding Special Treatment: A narcissist may require special treatment or become entitled when they feel they are not in control. They may make unreasonable demands, expect others to cater to their needs, and dismiss others’ feelings and opinions.
• Jealousy and Envy: A narcissist may experience intense jealousy and envy when they see others succeeding or being praised. They may become competitive and try to discredit or undermine those they see as a threat to their status.
Will a Narcissist Discard You if They Can’t Control You?
Yes. When narcissistic individuals realize they can no longer control or manipulate a person, they often become disinterested and lose all emotional investment in that person. This is because, to the narcissist, relationships are not about love, respect, or genuine connection but rather about exerting power and control over others.
In some cases, the narcissist may try to re-establish control by using various tactics such as gaslighting, manipulation, or even aggression. However, if these tactics are unsuccessful, the narcissist may simply abandon the relationship and move on to someone else who they believe they can control more easily.
Does Ignoring a Narcissist Bother Them?
Many people wonder if ignoring a narcissist will have any effect on them. The answer is that it depends on the individual and the situation.
Some narcissists may not be bothered by being ignored, as they often have a strong sense of self and may see it as a challenge. They may see it as a way to prove their worth and win back the attention of the person ignoring them.
However, other narcissists may be deeply affected by being ignored. This is because they crave attention and validation from others. When they are not getting the attention they crave, they may feel rejected and become angry or upset.
It is also important to note that ignoring a narcissist can sometimes escalate the situation and lead to further manipulation or abuse. This is because they may feel threatened by losing control and power over the person ignoring them.
What Silence Does to a Narcissist?
Silence can be a powerful tool when dealing with a narcissistic individual. They may become confused and frustrated when they don’t get the reaction they’re looking for. This is where the power of silence can be harnessed.
By simply not giving narcissistic people the attention and validation they crave, you can disrupt their pattern of behavior and put them off balance. They may try to bait you with provocative comments or behavior, but if you remain silent and unresponsive, they will eventually get the message that their tactics aren’t working. This can lead the narcissist to move on to someone else who will give them the attention they crave.
However, it’s important to remember that silence isn’t a permanent solution when dealing with narcissistic individuals. Eventually, they will learn to adapt and find other ways to get what they want. But using silence as a temporary measure can provide some relief and give you time to develop a more comprehensive plan for dealing with their behavior.
How Do You Take Power Away From a Narcissist?
• Educate yourself: Learn about narcissistic personality disorder, how it affects relationships, and how to recognize the signs.
• Set boundaries: Clearly communicate your limits to the narcissist, and stick to them. Refuse to engage in behaviors that feed their ego.
• Focus on self-care: Take care of your own needs and emotions. This includes seeking support from friends and family, therapy, and taking time for self-reflection.
• Practice empathy: Try to understand the narcissist’s perspective, but do not excuse their behavior.
• Don’t engage in arguments: Narcissists often use arguments as a way to control others. Refuse to engage in these power struggles and remove yourself from the situation.
• Cut ties: If necessary, you may need to cut ties with the narcissist to protect your well-being.
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