10 ways narcissists try to gain the upper hand in a relationship

Navigating a relationship can be tricky, especially when dealing with a narcissist.

Narcissists have a knack for asserting dominance in their relationships, often resorting to subtle tactics to gain the upper hand.

As someone who has been in such a relationship, I’ve picked up on the myriad ways narcissists try to maintain control.

It’s not always overt power plays or blatant disrespect, sometimes it’s an artfully veiled manipulation.

Here, I’m going to share ten ways narcissists often try to secure an advantage, hoping it will equip you with the insight needed to steer clear of such emotional manipulation.

1) Gaslighting

A common tool in a narcissist’s arsenal is gaslighting.

Gaslighting, if you’re not familiar with the term, is a form of psychological manipulation where the narcissist sows seeds of doubt in a person’s mind, making them question their own memory, perception, or sanity.

It’s a subtle but incredibly damaging tactic.

One moment you’re confident in your recollection of an event, the next you’re questioning your own sanity.

It’s like being caught in a mental fog.

The goal?

To destabilize and delegitimize your beliefs and experiences while reinforcing their own version of reality.

Gaslighting is an insidious form of control and one that narcissists frequently employ to gain the upper hand in a relationship.

It’s not about you or your memory.

It’s about them and their need to control the narrative.

2) The blame game

In my experience, narcissists are masters at the blame game.

Once, I was in a relationship with a narcissist who had a remarkable talent for turning every argument around to make it my fault.

No matter what the disagreement was about, by the end of the conversation, I found myself apologizing.

For instance, if we argued about him coming home late without informing me, somehow, it would become about my ‘overreaction’ or ‘insecurity’.

This constant shifting of blame is another way narcissists assert control.

By making you feel like you’re always in the wrong, they maintain their position of superiority. It’s essential to recognize this pattern and understand that you’re not always the problem.

It’s their tactic to avoid accountability and maintain control.

3) Lack of empathy

A defining characteristic of narcissists is their lack of empathy.

They struggle to understand or share the feelings of others, which can make maintaining a balanced relationship incredibly challenging.

This lack of empathy isn’t just an unfortunate personality trait; it’s actually rooted in their brain structure.

Narcissists have less grey matter in the left anterior insula, the part of the brain linked to empathy, emotional regulation, and compassion.

This neurological deficit can make it difficult for narcissists to recognize or appreciate your feelings, often leading them to disregard your emotions in favor of their own needs and desires.

This disregard is another way they maintain control and superiority in a relationship.

4) Grandiose sense of self-importance

Narcissists often have an inflated sense of self-importance.

They believe that they’re special and unique, expecting others, including their partners, to recognize and affirm their superiority.

This isn’t just about having a big ego. It’s about a deep-seated belief that they’re more important than everyone else.

This mindset can manifest in various ways, from constant bragging to demanding excessive admiration.

In a relationship, this can mean that your needs, opinions, and feelings are frequently ignored or dismissed.

After all, in their world view, they’re the sun and everyone else, including you, merely orbits around them. This is yet another way narcissists establish control and dominance in their relationships.

5) Love bombing

Love bombing is a manipulative tactic often used by narcissists early in a relationship.

They shower their partner with attention, compliments, and affection, making them feel incredibly special and loved. It’s like a whirlwind romance that sweeps you off your feet.

But here’s the catch – it’s not about genuine love or affection. Instead, it’s about gaining control.

Once they have you hooked, the dynamic often changes dramatically. The affection can quickly turn into criticism and the attention into control. By then, you’re so emotionally invested that it becomes challenging to recognize the shift or pull away.

So if you find yourself in an intensely romantic relationship that seems too good to be true, it might be a good idea to step back and assess the situation objectively.

6) Emotional withholding

Narcissists have a knack for withholding emotional support just when you need it the most. They might dismiss your feelings, ignore your needs, or fail to acknowledge your achievements.

I can’t tell you how heartbreaking this can be.

You’re in a relationship, expecting love, support, and understanding. But when you reach out, all you get is indifference or criticism.

This emotional unavailability is not about you or your worthiness for love and respect. It’s a control tactic.

By keeping you starved for affection and approval, they ensure that you’re always striving for their validation, giving them the upper hand in the relationship.

Everyone deserves to be in a relationship where they feel seen, heard, and valued. Don’t let anyone make you believe otherwise.

7) Using guilt as a weapon

In my past relationship, I often found myself feeling guilty even when I hadn’t done anything wrong. It was like being in a constant state of owing, always trying to make up for some perceived shortcoming.

For example, if I wanted to spend an evening with my friends, I’d be made to feel selfish for not prioritizing our time together.

If I achieved something at work, I was guilt-tripped for not giving enough credit to my partner’s support.

It took me a while to realize that this guilt wasn’t mine to carry. It was being used as a weapon to keep me in check, ensuring that I remained subservient in the relationship.

Using guilt as a weapon is a common tactic narcissists use to gain control. By making you feel guilty, they can manipulate your actions and keep you under their thumb.

8) Constant criticism

Being in a relationship with a narcissist often means being on the receiving end of constant criticism.

Nothing you do ever seems good enough, and they’re quick to point out your flaws and mistakes. This constant critique isn’t about helping you improve or grow. It’s about keeping you off balance.

When you’re always second-guessing yourself, you’re less likely to challenge them or assert your own needs.

You might start to believe that you’re not good enough, that you don’t deserve better.

But nobody has the right to belittle you or put you down. Recognizing this behaviour as a control tactic is the first step towards reclaiming your self-esteem and autonomy in the relationship.

10) Isolation

The most devastating tactic narcissists employ is isolation.

They slowly and subtly cut you off from your support network, making you increasingly dependent on them.

This might start as gentle suggestions – maybe spending less time with that friend who “doesn’t really understand you”, or avoiding family gatherings because they “don’t treat you right”.

Over time, these suggestions turn into demands, and before you know it, you’re isolated.

A loving partner encourages your connections with others, not sever them.

If someone is pulling you away from your support network, it’s not out of love. It’s a control tactic.

Awareness is the first step towards protecting yourself. Knowing these tactics can help you spot the signs early on and take necessary action.

It’s not about you

When dealing with a narcissist, it’s crucial to remember that their behavior is not a reflection of your worth.

The tactics they use, from gaslighting to isolation, are all about them and their need for control.

It’s their way of dealing with their own insecurities and inadequacies.

Renowned psychiatrist Dr. Carl Jung once said, “Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darkness of other people.”

This quote holds true in this context.

Understanding the mechanisms of narcissistic behavior can empower you to break free from their control.

It can help you recognize that you are not the problem and that you deserve to be in a relationship where you are respected and valued.

Remember, you have the right to stand up for yourself, to set boundaries, and most importantly, to choose your own path towards happiness.

You are more than just a pawn in someone else’s game of control.

You are a person worthy of love and respect.

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