How to Survive Being in a Relationship with a Narcissist/Manipulator
By: Tonya Rice, MA, LPC
Relationships are hard. Relationships with a people who are narcissistic/manipulative are even more difficult. How do you know if you are in a relationship with a person who is narcissistic or manipulative? Answer the below questions…
1) Do you feel angry/upset or confused after conversations with your partner?
2) Do you do whatever your partner wants you to do, even if you told them “No, I won’t do that.”?
3) Do you tolerate behaviors that your partner does that others would not?
4) Do you expect more out of yourself then your partner?
5) Do you feel that you must act like things are “ok” when they aren’t
6) Do you feel that your partner blames you for problems?
7) Do you feel that you need to do everything your partner wants in order to avoid conflict?
8) Does your partner overreact most of the time?
9) Do you feel you put more into the relationship than your partner does?
10) Do you feel anxious or nervous around your partner?
If you have answered “yes” to more than 5 of these questions, it is likely that you are in a relationship with a manipulative or narcissistic person. This may seem like bad news, or it may just be confirming what you already assumed about your partner. However, the question is, what do you do from here?
As you have probably figured out, you cannot change another person. It is impossible. The only person what we can control is ourselves. Here is the good news- you are part of the problem! Those who are manipulative and narcissistic are drawn to people who are over-responsible, overly caring, passive, and easily controlled through obligation, guilt and blame. People who are entitled always are attracted to those who are over-responsible and willing to accept responsibility for things they do not want to accept. Usually people who are over-responsible are this way because they are people pleasers who want to be accepted and approved of by others (especially people they are in relationships with). This desire for approval and acceptance leaves the person highly vulnerable to manipulation.
You can change the dynamics of your relationship by changing your actions and reactions to your partner, but first you need to identify when you are being caught in a manipulation trap. To avoid being caught in a trap, you need to know when you are being baited into one. Here are manipulation methods or “bait” that is used by master manipulators and narcissists.
1) Badgering- continually asking you for something again and again. The goal of this form of manipulation is to wear you down by repetition. You finally give in to make the badgering stop.
2) Martyrdom-Playing the victim role. They portray themselves as a victim to gain pity, sympathy and to get what they want from someone else. Caring people cannot stand to see anyone suffering and the manipulator often finds it easy to play on sympathy to get what they want. Also, the manipulator falsely accuses you of being wrong, negative or abusive when you stand up for yourself or set boundaries.
3) Butter Up-includes praise, charm, superficial sympathy, excessive apologizing, money, approval, gifts, attention, facial expressions such as a forced laugh or smile, and public recognition. This comes just prior to them asking you to do something you do not want to do or also comes before you are about to find out about something negative they have done. The purpose of the “butter-up” is to get you to feel good so that they can get what they want.
4) Lying- either direct lies or subtle lies (subtle lies are withholding a significant amount of the truth). Manipulators lie about their intension and lie about lying. Manipulators love to falsely accuse you as “deserving to be treated that way.” They often claim that you are crazy and/or abusive, especially when there is evidence against the manipulator.
5) Denial- refuses to admit that he or she has done something wrong
6) Minimizing/Rationalizing- excuses are made for their inappropriate behavior. They state that his or her behavior is not as harmful or irresponsible as someone else says, for example, saying, “I was just joking.”
7) Guilt/Blame/Shame- the manipulator will say things like- “you don’t care”, “you are selfish” or “you have it easier than me”. This usually results in you feeling bad, self-doubting, anxious and keeps you in a controlled position. The manipulator uses sarcasm and put-downs to increase fear and self-doubt in you as well. Shame can be used in the form of an angry look or glance, negative tone of voice, and sarcasm. Manipulators can make you feel ashamed for even challenging them. Blame, is done in order to make you feel guilty about making healthy choices, correct thinking and good behaviors. It is frequently used as a means of psychological and emotional manipulation and control.
8) Anger/Threats-Manipulator uses anger to shock you into being controlled. The manipulator is often not actually angry, he or she just puts on an act. He just wants what they want and gets “angry” when denied. Controlled anger is often used as a manipulation tactic to avoid confrontation, avoid telling the truth or to further hide intent. Anger is also used as a defense so the manipulator can avoid telling the truth. Anger is often used as a defense to ward off questioning or suspicion because you become more focused on the anger instead of the manipulation. Threats are used by the manipulator to scare or intimidate you into being controlled. Blackmail and other threats of exposure are other forms of manipulation.
Now that you understand the methods of manipulation that are used, here are ways that you can change yourself and your behaviors to stop the manipulation cycle.
1) Address your Approval Addiction. People-pleasing is an addiction. It will lead you to doing things you may not normally do in order to get the thrill of being accepted for a moment. The high from the “approval drug” wears off and you need to do something else to gain more approval. It is a BIG trap. You need to learn how to be okay with people not being happy with you or approving of you in order to be truly free of manipulation.
2) Create Boundaries. Boundaries are safe and reasonable guidelines, rules or limits that a person creates for other people understand how to behave around him or her and how they will respond when someone steps outside those limits. When boundaries are in place and a manipulator violates those boundaries then they chose to have their consequence by their behavior. The important thing to note about boundaries is that in order for them to work- you MUST follow through with enforcing whatever consequence you stated.
3) Increase Assertiveness-Being assertive means that you respectfully express yourself clearly and directly while standing up for your point of view. This is a skill that must be taught, practiced and built- especially if you have never considered yourself to be an assertive person. Counseling may be helpful in obtaining this skill.
4) Increase Self Esteem. When you know your self-worth, you will be less likely to be manipulated. Often parents understand this concept as they will not defend themselves, but if someone mistreats their child then they will stand up for them, because they know their child’s worth and value. When you know your own value- you will stand up for yourself.
5) Increase Your Support Network- manipulators often work to isolate you from others in your life and prey on your loneliness. Your fear of being alone will fuel their control and manipulation over you as they know you will do anything not to lose them. Also, it is often hard to recognize when you are “taking the bait” and falling into a manipulation trap. I highly recommend that you see a counselor regularly and have a good friend with healthy boundaries that you can trust to talk to about conflicts in the relationship. They can help you identify when you are being manipulated and keep you accountable to setting boundaries and increasing your assertiveness.
I hope this helps! If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to email me directly at [email protected] If you’d like to schedule a counseling appointment with me, you may call my office at (586) 804-5501.