14 Thought-Control Tactics Narcissists Use to Confuse and Dominate You
By Dan Neuharth, Ph.D., MFT
Narcissists’ lives are about winning, generally at others’ expense.
Many narcissists pursue a win-at-all-costs, anything-goes approach.
The casualties: Honesty, empathy and reciprocity.
Narcissists distort the truth through disinformation, oversimplifying, ridiculing and sowing doubt. Narcissists can be incredibly skilled at using classic elements of thought-control and brainwashing.
To get free of narcissistic thought control it is essential to spot the distortions narcissists deliberately and instinctively practice. Applying critical thinking skills can inoculate you against their campaigns.
Here are 14 thought-control tactics narcissists frequently use:
1) Emotional Appeals: Attempting to play on emotions such as fear, guilt and loyalty rather than using logic and reasoning.
Narcissists use emotional appeals to disguise false or outrageous claims. Since many narcissists tend to be Drama Kings or Queens, using over-the-top emotionality to control others comes naturally for them.
Example: “How dare you question me! After all I’ve done for you.”
2) Bandwagon: An attempt to pressure another to go along because “everybody is doing it.”
Narcissists know the power of numbers. They slavishly follow their “likes” on social media and other measures of attention. Having lots of followers reassures them of their worth. They use the power of group-think and peer pressure to play on others’ fears of missing out, being ostracized or being in the wrong.
Example: “All your friends agree with me.”
3) Black-and-white / Either-or: Pretending there are only two choices when there are several.
Narcissists view the world in either-or terms. Nuance is lost on them. They derive a feeling of power from this divide-and-conquer approach.
Example: “You’re either with me or against me.”
4) Burden of Proof: Asserting that the speaker does not need to prove his points but, rather, that the burden is on the listener to disprove them.
Such an entitled stance comes easily for narcissists. Narcissists love to take credit but have little interest in acknowledging their faults. They hate to be wrong, so putting the burden on others the prove them wrong is a stonewalling strategy that makes it time-consuming and tedious to disprove them. And even if you do point out their error, they are likely to dismiss it or distract and change the subject.
Example: “I know I am right. What I say stands until you can prove otherwise.”
5) False Flattery: Buttering others up to make them more receptive to their arguments.
Narcissists rarely meet a compliment they don’t like. They think others are as susceptible to flattery as they are. They ply listeners with pseudo-compliments, hoping to get things in return.
Example: “I couldn’t possibly be manipulating you, you’re way too smart for that.”
6) Incredulity: Acting as though what someone said is unbelievable.
Narcissists often use this tactic when they don’t understand what another person is saying. Rather than admit they are confused, they pretend that what the other person is saying is beyond belief. This is an attempt to dismiss valid concerns.
Example: “You seriously think there are other husbands who are better than me? You really think other wives get anywhere near what I have given you? You are not living in the real world.”
7) Labeling: Applying a negative phrase or attributing negative characteristics to a person or position.
Narcissists love labels. Having a single word to invalidate or humiliate another feels like an ultimate power for narcissists.
Example: “You’re too needy. You’re a loser.”
8) False Compromise: Offering to meet half way on matters in which there is clearly a fair and unfair choice.
If a narcissist has a choice to treat another person fairly or unfairly, a “compromise” that still treats the other unfairly is no compromise – it’s still wrong.
Example: “Okay, you win, I’ll pay you back $50 of the $100 you gave me and we’ll call it even. Hey, it’s better than nothing.”
9) Empty Promises: Promising to give you what you want without any plan or intention of fulfilling the promise.
Example: “You’ll get your turn. I promise.”
10) Quoting out of Context: Repeating only part of what another person said or using another’s words completely out of context.
Narcissists do this to discredit others and put them on the defensive.
Example: “You always said people have to take responsibility for themselves so I didn’t think you needed my help when you had to go to the ER.”
11) Ridicule: Mocking or humiliating another person or their requests or feelings.
Narcissists devalue others through dismissive remarks, sarcasm, or hostile humor instead of taking the other person seriously.
Example: “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. You’re just embarrassing yourself.”
12) Slippery Slope: An appeal to fear which takes a small problem and predicts that it will lead to an escalating series of worst-case scenarios.
The goal is to use an extreme hypothetical to distract from a reasonable complaint or argument.
Example: “If I do this for you, you will think you can get whatever you want from me. I’ll become your slave and have no life.”
13) Dehumanizing: Classifying others as inferior, dangerous or evil to justify oppressing or eliminating them.
This ends-justifies-the-means tactic is second nature for narcissists, who view most other people as inferior.
Example: “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”
14) Slogans: A simplistic phrase that is a catch-all designed to shut down dissent.
Narcissists often have pat phrases they employ when they feel threatened.
Example: “Believe me. I’m your last best hope. I’m all you’ve got.”
Knowledge is power. Recognizing narcissists’ tactics is the first step in setting healthy boundaries against their manipulation. Read additional thought-control techniques used by narcissists in my blog 12 Classic Propaganda Techniques Narcissists Use to Manipulate You
Neuharth, D. (2019). 14 Thought-Control Tactics Narcissists Use to Confuse and Dominate You. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 11, 2020, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/narcissism-decoded/2017/09/14-thought-control-tactics-narcissists-use-to-confuse-and-dominate-you/