6 Tactics Narcissists Will Use To Silence You
Are you the victim of a narcissist’s toxic manipulation? Check out some of their most common approaches to twisting your mind.
ho among us can say that they haven’t sat in front of a computer screen for hours, playing armchair psychologist while trying to diagnose a friend, lover, family member—or themselves—with some kind of mental illness?
As humans, we love to categorize and to pathologize, but while every individual may contain traces of a number of diagnosable personality disorders, this doesn’t mean they actually have the disorder.
Personality disorders exist on a spectrum, and psychiatric professionals define these conditions with characteristics that everyone possesses to different degrees. As such, diagnosis is a difficult process best left to the professionals.
That said, it’s smart to know how to identify the signs that you’re being jerked around by someone with a disorder that blunts their capacity to experience empathy or treat you like a human being—for example, a narcissist.
As is the case with other personality disorders, narcissism exists on a spectrum. “At one end of this ‘self-loving’ spectrum is the charismatic leader, who is capable, has friends and family, but whose main vice is his or her inflated sense of self,” says psychologist and certified family law specialist David Glass, CFLS, PhD. “At the far other end of the spectrum reside individuals who have been diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).”
The only way to win is not to play.
“The NPD person is extremely manipulative to the people around him/her, and don’t truly think of these people as ‘humans’ but rather as ‘objects’ that they can move around to meet their needs,” Glass tells Urbo.
How do you avoid this type of manipulation? For starters, if you feel like someone is treating you badly, pay attention to that feeling, and to the ways someone may be orchestrating your breakdown.
That’s easier if you know the tactics that manipulative people use on their friends, family, and colleagues. For example:
The term “gaslighting” typically refers to psychological manipulation intended to make someone question their perception of reality.
Many cite the 1944 Hollywood film Gaslight, about a husband who chips away at his wife’s mental security by repeatedly suggesting that she is imagining things, as the origin of the term.
In 2017, the Los Angeles Review of Books ran a piece pointing out that the term’s origin story often relies on a misunderstanding of the way gaslights operate in the film, and the play on which the film is based—but murky semantics aside, anyone who has been the victim of a narcissist’s mind-bending can attest to the reality of this phenomenon, and its effectiveness in calling into question the sense of self.
Gaslighters might claim that something didn’t happen, or that the accuser imagined some elements of her story. It’s an extremely damaging tactic, since it can compel a person to question her sense of reality.
To respond to gaslighting, try not to engage. Remain as calm as possible and cultivate an awareness; by understanding what the narcissist is trying to do, you can respond more effectively.
Perhaps most importantly, know that you don’t have to convince the narcissist or win the argument. Maintain your perspective and give yourself credit; you’re not making this up, and your feelings are certainly valid.
This classic manipulation technique is also one of the most damaging. While the method may seem obvious, it can be quite subtle if carried out by a narcissist whom you trust and adore.
The implication is that the narcissist is more mature and has developed beyond the level of the other person.
As Christine Hammond, MS, LMHC, points out at Psych Central, there are a number of ways that narcissists use shame to diminish their victims, including speaking style. For example, Hammond lists “baby talk” as one way a narcissist might break you down.
“In any narcissistic relationship, the narcissist wants to be seen as the adult and the other person as the child,” she writes. “This belittlement is done in several condescending ways such as literally talking down, calling the other person immature, and saying the other person needs to grow up. The implication is that the narcissist is more mature and has developed beyond the level of the other person.”
Similarly, the narcissist may “talk over” the other person, using authority to diminish her. Physical posturing can be a part of this process.
Don’t respond in kind; widening your vocabulary, calling the other person immature, or listing your academic credentials won’t strengthen your position with a narcissist.
It can be frustrating when someone changes the subject in the middle of a conversation, but when a partner does this to avoid taking responsibility for their actions, diversion can be downright dangerous. Narcissists use this tactic to derail conversations that may lead to an unpleasant result.
“If the non-narcissistic person ever starts to get close to the core of any argument, or to the core of the narcissist’s deep, true lack of self-regard, the narcissist will go into overdrive to “divert” them away from the topic at hand,” says Glass.
An example of this would be someone turning the conversation to “crazy/off-track topics, or “escalating” the discussion to something more personal.
Instead, insist on keeping the topic of the conversation out in front. Resist the urge to respond to personal attacks; remain calm and focused, and you’ll be able to maintain control.
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