Protecting Yourself from Manipulation

Narcissists are known for “playing the victim”. But could it be that narcissists are actually victimized more by others? Narcissists — even those with narcissistic traits or “fleas” — are easy targets because we are incredibly easy to manipulate. Just show us approval. Because we never had it growing up, we soak it up.

Furthermore, our trouble with interpersonal relationships means that after we’ve been victimized, it’s likely no one will believe us and/or care. That’s because we haven’t built up the close personal relationships people rely on in these types of situations—meanwhile, our manipulators have. Sadly, if we were scapegoated as children, this victimization feels normal for us.

The question was posed to the sociopaths of Reddit, “are narcissists more susceptible to mirroring and manipulation?” Here’s what they said:

Yes…it also makes them more predictable.

Having stemmed from personal suffering, their drive is stronger.

…it’s just fun to fuck with them.

Narcissists are incredibly easy to manipulate because their needs are quite simple… you will have them wrapped around your finger. The narcissist will jump through hoops to earn your approval…

Absolutely, there is no one easier to manipulate…You bring them stupid, cheap trinkets you know they’d like…food: trifles, truffles and gourmet, home-cooked goodies. One you’re clearly on the narcissist’s side…RUN. These days the kids call it ghosting. Get out of there.

Do you have a history of being taken advantage of?

We are told that narcissists are manipulative – and many are. After all, being “interpersonally exploitive” is sixth on the DSM’s list of behaviors that define NPD.

But not all narcissists are overtly manipulative – or even any more manipulative than the average person. To meet the criteria for NPD, you have to exhibit only five of the nine behaviors, not every single one.

Personally, I was always terrible at manipulation. Sure I knew what buttons to press with those closest to me, but in general, I didn’t listen to others enough to gather the necessary information, or to develop a strong understanding of what makes those around me “tick”.  I was too busy talking about myself.

As a narcissist, or someone with narcissistic traits or “fleas”, you are among the easiest targets for manipulation yourself. This is true for multiple reasons:

  1. We are approval seeking and respond immediately and positively to flattery and approval – even, and sometimes especially, from people we don’t like or who have shown us little respect.
  2. We talk too much about ourselves, which gives manipulators lots to work with for purposes of gathering personal information and mirroring. Because we have weak boundaries, we overshare this personal information more so than the average person.
  3. Without realizing it, we put our insecurities on display. A narcissist who feels insecure about their intelligence for example, will talk about how smart they are. By attempting to conceal our shame we are inadvertently drawing attention to it and handing over to a manipulator the keys to our psyche. Manipulators and con-artists call this a “tell.”
  4. We are extremely susceptible to mirroring and behavioral mimicry. Humans by nature generally respond well to being mimicked, but narcissists even more so – it confirms that we are everything we are hoping others see us as. Remember, in the original Greek Mythology, narcissus fell in love with the mirror image of himself.

As the story goes, Narcissus disdained those who loved him. The aptly named, Nemesis, noticed Narcissus’ fatal flaw and lured him to a pool, where he saw himself and fell in love not realizing it was his own image. Upon realizing he had fallen in love with his own reflection, he died out of grief for having fallen in love with someone that did not exist outside of himself. Those who are good at mirroring can manipulate a narcissist quickly and easily by reflecting us back to us.

We tend to think of that story as Narcissus being in love with his own physical image, but your “image” also includes your thoughts, feelings, sense of humor, insecurities, likes and dislikes, fears and hopes. When manipulators mirror us back to us, we feel like we have finally met our best friend or soul mate.

We may as well be walking around with big red targets on our backs – and to those who are highly manipulative, we are. This sets us up for further abuse or to be used as abusers (flying monkeys) by others.

In her book, Who’s Pulling Your Strings, Harriet Braiker, outlines seven areas of vulnerability that make us receptive to the tactics of manipulators. Among them are several that apply to narcissists, the most glaring of these vulnerabilities, or “buttons” as she calls them, is approval addiction – a willingness to do anything to avoid criticism, rejection and abandonment.

How do we prevent ourselves from being manipulated? The most effective way is by fixing your insecurities, which will require exploring your inner motivations, confronting painful experiences and working hard to change your thought patterns and triggers, usually with therapy. You absolutely must do this, but it takes time.

Thankfully, there are some more immediate things you can do to prevent yourself from being manipulated while you work on your vulnerabilities.

Braiker explains how to control your vulnerabilities, including learning how to “desensitize your fuse”, journaling to explore your triggers, and reversing what she refers to as our “soft target thinking.” She relies in part on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) which has been shown helpful to those with NPD and Borderline Personality Disorder.

In part II we will discuss some other behavioral changes narcissists can take to stop manipulators in their tracks.

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