12 Mind Games Narcissists Play At Your Expense

You need to know the rules when a narcissist is playing mind games with you.

Last updated on Jun 06, 2023

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No matter how you cut it, dealing with a narcissist is painful. The mind games they use against you can create a level of agony that would make the cruelest, most infamous dictators in every history book raise a glass to toast them.

True narcissists with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) tend to have a constant need for admiration while having a grandiose sense of self. But there are also people who either don't have NPD or haven't been diagnosed who display behaviors and tactics that are characteristic of the disorder, such as a lack of empathy and a pattern of taking advantage of others for their own gain.


These master manipulators run narcissistic mind games on their romantic partners like gaslighting, love bombing, ghosting, playing the victim, and scheming to get revenge on anyone who slights them.

Because these games are meant to be subtle and sneaky, they tend to go unnoticed until you're already tangled in the twisted webs they've woven to ensnare you.

RELATED: 17 Disturbing Reasons Why Narcissists Prey On Anxious People


Before you become collateral damage in a narcissist’s power play, it’s best to understand the kinds of mind games you’d need to endure — and hopefully evade, or escape altogether — when you make the painful discovery that, for days, months, maybe even years, you've been a pawn in a narcissist's game.

9 Mind Games Narcissists Play to Get What They Want From You

1. The blame game

Narcissists can’t accept responsibility for anything negative that happens in their lives.

To the narcissist, everything that is, was, or ever will be wrong with your relationship is your fault. Even your breakup will be your fault and they will weigh you down with one guilt trip after another. The more you try to prove that you’re right, the harder your narcissistic partner will fight to prove that you’re wrong.

2. Snake charming

Most narcissists can be amazingly charming … when they want to be! Since many of them are very accomplished, highly driven professionals, they end up making a great impression on your family, coworkers, and even your closest friends (the ones who can always sniff out a bad boyfriend they don't approve of from a mile away).


They'll woo everyone in your life with their charisma to the point where they would think something is genuinely wrong if you confided in them that your partner is messing with your head in all kinds of ways that are becoming excruciating.

The thing is, they don't understand that they just got played, too.

3. Blurring the lines between you

Narcissists don’t respect boundaries.

They have no problem walking into your house uninvited, your office in the middle of an important meeting, tagging along with you and your friends when you've explicitly said it's a spa day just for you and your friends, or assuming they're invited to go camping in the mountains for the weekend after their "weekend plans fell through" when it's just meant to be for you and your closest buddies.


Unless you set firm boundaries — and enforce them — your narcissistic partner will walk all over you and turn your world upside down.

4. Gaslighting

Narcissists will tell you they are going to one thing, then do the diametric opposite. When you ask them why, they'll look at you like you've grown two heads and assert, "That's exactly what I did. What is this other thing you're talking about? Are you sure you're OK?"

You start second-guessing yourself until you think you're seriously losing your mind. That's their whole objective, and because of how well it works, it makes it so difficult to realize that it was them engineering the stunt all along.

Part of each game is seeing how pervasively they can invade each corner of your life, and this is one of the hallmark mind games of a narcissist.


They make you look like the crazy one.

RELATED: 18 Signs Of Gaslighting & Examples Of How It Plays Out In Abusive Relationships

5. Truth or dare

To a narcissist, “truth” is relative. They will say and do whatever they need to make themselves look good, or to make you look bad. If you make the mistake of believing that once they are in court and sworn to tell the truth they will actually do that, they will walk all over you.

You will be standing in court with your mouth gaping open in disbelief as they lie to the judge — and the judge believes them!

6. My way or the highway

Narcissists can’t be wrong. Ever.

If you continue to defy them by disagreeing with your partner, they'll either paint you as a shameful fool or explode in a terrifying fit of rage. Even though they are quick to judge, criticize, or ridicule you, don't think for a second that there's any even playing ground here.


If you try to do the same thing to them, they will either throw a temper tantrum or accuse you of abusing them. (Yes, you read that correctly.)

7. Love bombing

Part of what makes dealing with a narcissist so dizzying and agonizing is how they are masters at convincing you that they’ve changed. After acting like a lunatic, they will suddenly treat you with apparent kindness and concern.

They love bomb you with promises to change and be a better partner, and they might even seem like that sweet, charming person you remember falling in love with when you first them.

Then, as soon as you forgive them and start to believe that they will now do the right thing, they immediately revert back and take advantage of you. Gotcha!


Be careful when assessing every move they make, especially if it's uncharacteristically kind of them, because this is one they love to do over and over again — as long as they can get you to play along.

8. Rules? What rules?

The one running narcissistic mind games on you thinks that rules don't apply to them.

For those clinically diagnosed with NPD, researchers claimed in an article published in 2020, "We argue that at the core of grandiose narcissism lies the hierarchical and comparative perspective that is characteristic of status hierarchies: Viewing oneself as superior implies viewing others as inferior; viewing oneself as entitled to special privileges implies viewing others as not."

Those with NPD or who play narcissistic mind games believe they're above the rules.


RELATED: 7 Traits That Make You A Prime Target For A Narcissist

9. Shapeshifting

Narcissists have an uncanny ability to morph into whatever form they need to take to get sympathy, attract attention, or stay in control. If you are strong, your narcissistic spouse will become weak. They will appear to be the victim of your “abuse.” (Yes, really.)

If you are weak or codependent, your narcissistic spouse will paint you as lazy or incompetent.

What’s even more frustrating is that as soon as try to change yourself, your narcissistic spouse will change, too. Trying to pin your spouse down is like trying to tack Jell-O to the wall.

10. Projection

Because narcissists have such fragile egos, they typically project onto others the negative traits that they have themselves.


They can’t admit to themselves, or anyone else, that they could ever be anything less than perfect. You can expect your narcissistic partner to accuse you of lying, cheating, manipulating them, and even abusing them.

In short, they will accuse you of doing everything that they are doing.

11. Hoovering

Narcissists love drama! They enjoy creating and spreading negative emotions. It puts them in the spotlight, makes them feel powerful, and keeps you off-balance.


So when you finally call it quits, they will do anything they have to do in order to suck you back in like a powerful vacuum cleaner, whether that means calling you crying and desperate for help or manipulating your emotions in some other way so you feel compelled to let them back in.

12. Winner takes all

To narcissists, every interaction with others is a game. Not only is it a game they have to win, but it’s a game you have to lose.

If doing that costs every penny you have, your narcissistic ex is okay with that. If “winning” means destroying your children’s lives, your narcissistic ex may be okay with that, too. Because of their “winner take all” attitude, reaching a reasonable settlement with a narcissist is usually either extremely difficult or totally impossible.

If you or someone you know is suffering from domestic abuse or violence, there are resources to get help.


There are ways to go about asking for help as safely as possible. For more information, resources, legal advice, and relevant links visit the National Domestic Violence Hotline. For anyone struggling from domestic abuse, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). If you’re unable to speak safely, text LOVEIS to 1-866-331-9474 or log onto thehotline.org.

RELATED: What Happens To Narcissists When Other People Realize They're Narcissists

Karen Covy is a divorce lawyer and advisor.