How To Manipulate Narcissists (10 Covert Ways To Exploit Them)

You can defeat any narcissist and outperform them in their game of manipulation.

But it is not so easy to beat a narcissist at their own game, because of a special reason.

Narcissists have a specific kind of empathy that allows them to read your mind while also remaining detached from your suffering. It elevates them to the level of a master manipulator.

They can convince you that they are helpless without you. When they have won you over, they will extract the price as your devotion to their godlike being.

Studies show that a narcissist can manipulate others to increase their status (Vaknin, S., 2019. Narcissism, Shame, Happiness. EC Psychology and Psychiatry).

So, how to manipulate a narcissist?

How To Manipulate A Narcissist
  • Manipulation is a psychological influence that leads a victim to the manipulator’s desired outcome.
  • To manipulate is to influence or control someone and achieve a specific goal, especially a goal unknown to the person being manipulated and beneficial to the manipulator.

Many people manipulate you throughout the day, mostly the marketers who lure you into buying their products. You can often find it out while they are doing it or shortly after they have finished it.

How To Manipulate A Narcissist: 10 Covert Ways To Exploit Them

Narcissists manipulate their victims delicately and over months or years. So it might be difficult to realize that you were being manipulated.

Here is how to take control away from a narcissist and manipulate them covertly:

1. Project A Formidable Appearance

This strategy is about how to make a narcissist fear you.

Narcissists usually do not try to manipulate someone who appears a no-nonsense, matter-of-factly, tough person.

First, they are afraid of the repercussions this person may carry out (like giving the narcissist a physical beating) if they ever find out about their manipulative actions.

A tough person can make them miserable in the public sphere, as well as ruin their reputation in their work and personal circles.

Second, most narcissists assume and are almost certain that it would take them a long time to get a tough person under their charm.

The issue is, they are typically searching for people who are easily gullible so that they don’t have to keep up their act for a long time.

Third, they assume that you are thick-headed and would not understand things unless you have discussed them with others. So, they are scared that others might spill the beans about your true character.

2. Exhaust Them In Their Act.

This strategy is about how to psychologically mess with a narcissist.

When the narcissist is manipulating you, they are putting up an act, or a series of acts.

Make them do it so long and so often that they get tired of acting who they are not, and slip up.

Suppose they tell you about how bad their family treats them and how they are left crying into the night so frequently. Ask them to repeat their sob stories every time they are with you.

Make them feel fed up, putting on a long, crybaby face while whining out their stories.

If they tell you how beautiful you are, make them go on to a sickening degree. Like, “What else do you find good about me?”

Keep that “What else?” going on until they get bored and leave or snap at you—when you can walk off.

Suppose they propose to take you to dinner. Ask them to book 5 dinners on 5 days, while going there to order food and eating not a bite more than you should.

Make them let you choose the restaurant. Ask them if you can ask your friend to come with you. If they say No, then you can walk off, asking them not to bother you anymore.

3. Compare Them To More Capable People.

Narcissists have fragile self-esteem. The grandiose ones have high self-esteem, while the covert narcissists have low self-esteem. But it is unstable and easily broken in both types of narcissists.

Most of all, their self-worth and self-esteem get sabotaged when they are compared to more powerful, more capable, more wealthy, and more accomplished people.

Do exactly that.

That tactic is called triangulation, where you introduce a third person in your two-way relationship.

Whenever they boast of a particular grandiose aspect of themselves, tell them of a person you know who is more accomplished in that field.

If they claim that they donate $1000 to charity, every year, tell them you know someone who donated $100,000 every year.

If they claim that they are good at making people laugh, prod them to tell you joke after joke to make you laugh (and you give out a boring little laugh after each joke).

Let the “What else?” and “Give me another one!” go ad nauseam.

4. Stay In Your Group.

A narcissist is unlikely to target you when you are in a group. They will isolate you from your homies first.

Do not leave your group, or you will be too vulnerable to handle their entire toolkit of manipulative tricks.

Whenever you notice they are trying to isolate you, tell them that you must take your friend along since they are your soul cousin.

If they manage to meet you outside your group, you can bet that they will praise you and then fill you up with “false facts” about how someone in your group speaks badly of you.

That is one of their strategies to alienate their victims from their support groups.

The best response is to tell them that you are going to call that person and inform them how horrible they are, as the narcissist says.

If the narcissist sticks to their position, then they may be honest about your friend gossiping behind your back. But if they back off from their claims, then you’ll know what their true intentions were.

However, you can go alone with the narcissist in at least two situations:

  1. when you will be in a public place the whole time, and
  2. when you are confident that you can keep yourself safe.

5. Stroke Their Ego.

This strategy is about how to make a narcissist respect you.

Narcissists know that they are unlovable and rather despicable. So, they respect you when you regard them as if they were your king.

They love it when you keep their egos puffed up with:

  • always seeking their advice,
  • always obeying their instructions,
  • apologizing when they feel you said or did something stupid, and
  • showing guilt anytime you stray from the standards they set for you (and they do keep changing those).

As a result, one of their many characteristics is to split their image into a good and a bad, then deny the bad image while inflating the good one to a level of grandiosity.

Narcissists have a strong need for social validation, which indicates they are concerned about what others think of them. They also have a strong desire to make a good first impression when meeting new people.

They also refuse to listen to criticism or accept responsibility or blame.

However, they often shy away from confrontations when they feel they can be attacked into defeat or humiliation.

Narcissists are strong with weak people and weak with strong people.

So, they love hearing how great and accomplished they are, as it strokes their ego into an inflated ego.

Tell them, “You did amazing! Only you could have done it!”

As they smile and gloat, tell next, “Can I catch up with you later, as I have to do something urgently?”

6. Make Them Feel Essential.

Narcissists are people who will often remind you, “What will happen to you without me?”

Play their game, and ask them, “You’re so indispensable to me. Only you understand me so well. What shall I do without your help?”

It will make them deliriously happy and swimming in the belief that they have already influenced you with their charms.

They hate people disagreeing with their ideas and opinions. To feed the narcissist’s ego, agree with all they say, sometimes even when you know they are wrong.

It will keep them in the safe belief that you value them, so you could get them to do a few things for you.

However, always remember to get the narcissist to agree first that the things they would do for you will not require you to reciprocate the favor.

Like, “Will you do that without expecting anything in return from me?”

Narcs crave agreeableness

7. Keep Their Fears Alive.

Narcissists are often driven by fear.

One of their greatest fears is being publicly humiliated. If they ever had a public shaming incident in their life, they will almost certainly have never recovered from it.

So, if you want to manipulate them to do something, get them to say it in public.

Narcissists are insecure, and they deal with that insecurity by overvaluing themselves.

Mary Kowalchyka & Helena Palmieria, 2021

Once they have agreed to something, narcissists rarely back down. They fear being shamed for making false promises, since they always wish to keep their public image spotless.

If they hesitate or delay, you can use their words against them.

“Hey, you said you can take any day off for me. Take tomorrow off and help me with finishing this assignment.”

They will be irritated as hell, but they will do it out of fear of being exposed as a liar.

8. Threaten To Withdraw Support.

Narcissists often find comfort in other people doing things for them. So, they build parts of their lives around them.

If someone has been helpful to the narcissist, they will go overboard trying to extract more from them by playing on their generosity.

Like, if you gave them a gift on their birthday, they would keep expecting it forever.

To take advantage of this behavior, you may tell them, “If you don’t do it, you are not going to get your birthday gift.”

By the way, is that how narcissistic parents manipulate their children into getting good grades?

9. Do Not Give In To Them Easily.

If they want you to tattoo their name on your body, then you can be half-sure that they will always play the puppeteer and move your strings.

Don’t allow that.

If you really want a relationship with them (which you simply should not), make them agree to your conditions and promise to never violate these six boundaries.

Get their consent in writing, such as an email, and forward copies to common family and friends.

Do not commit to anything in a rush that they want you to. Always say, “I need time for this. Let me mull it over.”

And if they force you, tell them, “I’m not sure if I can continue with you.”

10. Stay Patient And Keep Reading Them.

This is about beating a narcissist at their own game by learning about their true nature.

Narcissists know the art of manipulation too well. Moreover, they keep perfecting it.

How do they do it? They will closely observe you and note down the things that interest you or trouble you, keep a mental note of your expressions when you emote certain feelings, what your fears are, and how you react to others.

You do the same thing. Keep observing and noting their behavior, especially when they try to use gaslighting to deny your version of events.

Never lose your patience and snap at them. Instead, move away, and engage your energies in something worth your time.

If you lose your patience, they will trigger you and then blame you for misbehaving.

Instead, keep reading their intentions and what they actually want from you.

You will most likely need help from other victims’ narratives to unmask a narcissist.


Is narcissism a defense mechanism?

Narcissism develops as a defense mechanism to mask low self-esteem, especially in vulnerable narcissists. Defense mechanisms are automatic psychological responses to anxiety, stress, and conflict (American Psychiatric Association, 1994).

When a narcissistic parent refuses to love their child or ignores their attention needs, the child responds with narcissistic tendencies.

Over time, narcissists develop at least 12 defense mechanisms, which help protect their egos.

Researchers have observed defenses, such as omnipotence, idealization, devaluation, denial, fantasy, rationalization, dissociation, projection, projective identification, acting out, and self-image splitting, in people with narcissistic personality disorders (Defense Mechanisms in Schizotypal, Borderline, Antisocial, and Narcissistic Personality Disorders, Perry & Presniak, 2014).

How to make a narcissist realize they are wrong?

Narcissists are usually very confident in their own abilities and skills. They think they know everything and don’t like to be challenged. To make a narcissist realize they are wrong:
1. Use the “yes, but” technique to refute their claims.
2. Address their feelings first, then address the facts.
3. Use humor or sarcasm to engage them in the dialog.

Final Words

Here’s a firsthand account. My narcissistic friend always tries to get free medical advice from me.

But they always ask me first what I did last week and how I feel about some upcoming events.

Now, as I tell them about my last week, they don’t even hear me beyond two sentences. They simply use my half-second break to interject their issues and ask for my professional counsel.

Well, I give them my advice for free, and then study their behavior for understanding narcissism.

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Author Bio: Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy — medical doctor, psychology writer, and happiness researcher. Founder and Chief Editor of The Happiness Blog. Writes on mental well-being, happiness, positive psychology, and philosophy (especially Stoicism).

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