Notes From Kristen

How Narcissists Play Mind Games to Make You Think There’s Something Wrong With You

They call it “morally equivalent,” the things they incite in the dramatic production they’re scripting off-stage while we wander through the storybook they dropped us into, wondering how things veered so sharply off-course.

Or worse, the imaginary things, the shadows they project onto us of their own behavior. The cheating. The lying. The stalking. The abusive and predatory actions. The contradictions. The controlling manipulations. The jealous attitude.

They manufacture emotions that look and feel like monstrosities in our own repertoire, then call us monsters for reflecting back to them what they wanted to incite or expected to see all along.

They create worlds for themselves in which no one can be trusted by acting themselves in an untrustworthy manner, and then trapping you into reacting to being betrayed.

It’s all just a mind game.  Everything they say, everything they do, ends up making you wonder if you are the one to blame, if there is something wrong with you, if you are no different than he or she is.

Here are just a few of the differences.

Behavior Narcissists Like to Use in False Comparisons

1. Falling Prey to Love-bombing Does Not Make You a Narcissist.

If narcissists are so self-absorbed and use people to boost their self-esteem, you may wonder:  Am I no different than the narcissist, since the excessive love-bombing that he or she used was so effective on me?

The tactics that they used to love-bomb you are intentionally designed to make you vulnerable and will psychologically elicit love, appreciation, trust and a sense of obligation from anyone.

They are the same tactics used by cults to indoctrinate. In fact, the very term “love-bombing” was originally used by the Unification Church (the “Moonies”), although they insisted it is genuine and it was critics of religious “love-bombers” who insist there are ulterior motives.

Either way, you are not a narcissist for responding psychologically to the way tactics such as “mirroring” naturally entice someone to like you. There is even a popular book out now called The Science of Likeability that discusses some of the same techniques that narcissists happen to use and why they work.

Narcissists use them during the idealization phase of the relationship under intense conditions in a very short period of time to encourage strong bonding.  The fact that you were susceptible to them does not make you a narcissist– it makes you human.

In addition, you actually loved him or her, or at least the person they presented to you.  You likely put all of your trust, commitment and care into the relationship and your feelings were real. Narcissists do not love people– they love how people make them feel or what people can do for them. The narcissist implemented these tactics with the goal of getting you to return the emotions so they could feel self-validated.  You had no ulterior motive or goal.

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2.  Searching for the Truth When Someone Conceals Their True Intentions Does Not Make You a Controlling or Jealous.

Narcissists are notorious for having double lives, and in addition, they gaslight and are pathological liars. At some point, you may have found yourself checking up on their stories, asking around, looking back through their social media, searching the Internet for clues, anything to find out what was really going on when things just didn’t add up.

When someone consistently lies, misleads, gaslights you, abuses your trust and purposefully tries to keep information from you, it leads you down a path where you are questioning your own judgment. You may have discovered partial truths or you may be concerned that you are wrong and you don’t want to jump to conclusions.

What may be confusing about this is that the narcissist may have also done a lot of checking up on you. Narcissists are very curious about what goes on in your life and like to ask you questions about who else you’re seeing, who else you’re talking to, and who all of the people are that are following your social media accounts. They ask where you’re going and who you are with. Maybe they go through your phone or your messages.

The difference between what you did and what your partner did, however, is that the narcissist monitored you to control your behavior and maintain power over you, your whereabouts or other aspects of you. He or she feels entitled to pry into your life or violate your boundaries for no other reason other than to gain this control over you.

In contrast, you turned to other methods of learning the truth, protecting yourself from further exploitation, clearing up mental confusion purpose generated by the person who may claim you’re the one trying to control or stalk them.

It’s pure projection. But for his or her actions, you would have no reason to engage in this behavior and you probably never acted this way before you got into this relationship.

3. Breaking Up and Making Up Again Does Not Make You Inherently Unstable.

The narcissist’s actions generate some serious cognitive dissonance in our brains. You may have been attempting to resolve their contradictory actions, to figure out whether they love you or not, and do it on top of the trauma and chemical bonds that usually develop in an abusive relationship.

Partners of narcissists tend to develop a trauma bond with them. The intermittent kindness they provide temporarily eases the pain they themselves cause, and clinging to these kindnesses because of the immense relief they cause is a way to cope with the extreme psychological stress. It’s similar to Stockholm Syndrome, and each time, it creates a new hope that the pain will come to an end.

The trauma bond is almost always supplemented by a chemical bond to the narcissist as well. The cycle between cruelty and kindness dysregulates the neurochemicals dopamine and oxytocin in your brain. Dependence and withdrawal symptoms similar to drug addiction can keep drawing you back in.

Yet narcissists, on the other hand, break up or discard you and then hoover you back to control you because they are the ones with the issues.  If you have trouble not going back to them, or if you break up with them only to return a few days later, it isn’t because you’re trying to control them!

It’s because you’ve been manipulated by their actions to be unable to act in your own best interest and stay away.  Your actions may be currently inconsistent, but they do not make you inherently unstable.  Your actions are a response to being abused.

4. Reacting to an Abusive Environment Generated Over a Long Period of Time Does Not Make You Cruel and Sadistic.

Narcissists generate an abusive environment from day one by using false narratives about themselves, love-bombing, isolation, and other tactics to control you. Then they slowly begin to abuse you in other ways.

In an environment in which the purpose was always to dominate you and extract as much attention and affection from you as possible, you were vulnerable from the beginning.

There is a term called “reactionary abuse” when the target of abuse reacts to a pervasive pattern of abuse by eventually getting angry and lashing out.  Narcissists love using these reactions to argue that they are the ones being harmed in the relationship, that it is you who is the cruel, abusive one, or at least that they are no worse than you are if after months or years of abuse you become defensive and react.

Again, you were likely not like this before the relationship began– it is situational and generated by the circumstances that the narcissist has placed onto you and that he or she wants to happen.

He or she is hurting you to be cruel.  Any reaction you may have to that cruelty is human– not because you have a sadistic streak.

This is not to argue that any actions and words are acceptable as long as they are from you and not the narcissist. Rather, it is to make the point that, as with the love-bombing, you were reacting as anyone would under the circumstances.

Your behavior was being purposely manipulated to result in a particular outcome.


5. Feeling Temporarily Uninterested in Other People Does Not Make You Unempathetic or Narcissistic.

Have you found it difficult to focus on other people or care as much about their problems?  Maybe you have felt guilty for feeling more self-absorbed than usual.

Perhaps you’ve felt selfish for not being there as much as you used to be for your friends or for feeling less patient than you used to be, or even for withdrawing and flaking on plans.

Am I turning into a narcissist? You may think.

No, you are most certainly not.

People who feel guilt and shame, who are conflicted by their actions, who are worried about how other people feel because of how they are behaving are usually not narcissists.

People who have been abused may end up with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or Complex-Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. They may be coping with severe anxiety or depression, may not have the emotional energy to devote to others that they once did. They may feel drained or irritable.

This doesn’t make you a narcissist.  It makes you traumatized.  When you are able to heal, you will return to your baseline, engaged self.


“See, you’re just like me.”

Narcissists play a confidence game where they can not only extract what they want from you, they can also make you believe you were responsible for it.

They steal your consent, blatantly abuse your trust and willingness to forgive, drain your positive energy, shame you for wanting the fundamental human needs required for emotional safety and psychological well-being, and then blame you for the very reactions they generate when those things are not forthcoming.

It is rare if you are able to leave a relationship with a narcissist without doing one or more of these things described above, such as “playing detective,” falling for hoovers, or reacting to their abuse.

You did these things because your relationship never took place on an equal playing field.  They are reactions to something that the narcissist has done to you within the relationship, something that they have done either to manipulate or directly harm you.

Making you forget that there was nothing wrong with you before you met them is just one more mind game they play.


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Kristen Milstead

Instagram: fairytaleshadows

18 thoughts on “How Narcissists Play Mind Games to Make You Think There’s Something Wrong With You

    1. Hi Jacky: No, thank you, Jacky. I had this article written and scheduled to publish when I got your E-mail. It must have been meant to be for me to write about this. I hope you are having a good week. -Kristen

  1. Hi,

    He hoovered me for the…time and today he ended the relationship again. The abusive cycle goes on and on..
    I thought i would help myself by reading this article over and over to remind me of whats happening but you know what went through my mind..
    I’m the narcissist but trying to pretend i’m not by reading this article and being the victim.
    Is this cognitive disonance? I really dont know what to think or feel anymore. What can i do to believe in myself find myself again. I feel lost and so insecure.

    1. Hi Jacky: I’ve been traveling. I apologize for the delay in responding! Please try to remember that narcissists don’t ever question whether there is anything wrong with them and certainly wouldn’t worry about it. They feel entitled to treat people in horrible ways. You don’t seem to feel *entitled.* You are worried about whether you are based on how he has projected blame onto you. If you were a narcissist, you would just dismiss what he had said because you would see what happened as his fault– *you* would be the one projecting. Do you see what he did? He will continue to come in and out of your life until you decide it’s over. Every time, you will get weaker and there will be less for him to take. The only way I knew how to do it was to do things to make my ex not want to come around me anymore and then get my head clear and try to understand the relationship from his point of view so I could stop having all of these things that didn’t make sense keeping me from moving on. Can you go to a therapist who knows about trauma and/or abusive relationships?

  2. Hi Kristen,

    Happy to hear from you. Thank you. I will see my therapist again next week. He already warned me about the way a narcissist can behave and how damaging it is.

    You know, i thought i would get stronger to stop alll of this by understanding it better but at the same time i get weaker because the abuse still is going on and seems to get worse. I’m so insecure at this moment that i’m questioning myself all the time also in other situations. I’m i not being to selfish, did i answer correctly etc etc…I’ts not okay but i keep thinking i’m not good enough and that is why, i believe, the narcissist can come into my world over and over again and abuse me. I also feel addicted because when he returns and tells me sweet things i dont feel the pain anymore and dont want to say what i really think because he will leave again.

    What also confuses me is how he talks so intellegent about what he thinks and my insecureties. When i open up to him and tell him my vulnerabilities i feel no empathy but its like he feeds on me. When he gets angry he uses everything i told him against me and i’m in a corner because i told him all the things myself so i cant defend myself. I feel anxious even by writing this to you. It feels i’m traumatized.

    My mind is playing tricks with me and says; but he doesnt cheat, he doesnt hit me, he misses and thinks about me when i’m not there, he is sweet and funny sometimes. You should be happy he is in your life and you see it all wrong Jacky its really your fault. And then…he comes back and it starts again because i’m so glad he still wants me. Every time i hope he doesnt come back and i dont have to take any difficult steps myself to keep him out of my life.

    I will have to start taking care of myself.
    I realize that.
    It hurts because that means i have to say goodbye to him and everything i hoped for.

    Thank you for taking the time to read my story. I hope its not to long but it helps me to know someone hears and hopefully understands me. Maybe it can even help someone else to see that they are not alone.

    1. Hi Jacky: Thank you for telling your story, and I’m sorry you are going through this. Everything you describe sounds so very familiar to me personally and from what I have read of others. It really says something I think that so many of us experience such similar relationships, down to what they say, do and the emotions we have at various points in the relationship. You are part of helping people to see that they are not alone, including me. Please keep reading everything you can get your hands on about narcissism. It helps to strengthen the part of you that knows you need to end the relationship. Take care of yourself. -Kristen

  3. Kristen,

    I began sobbing when I read this. You struck a nerve with this one. What they do is so heartless and so cruel. Why? I know the answers but reading about it all makes me sad.

    Thank you so much for writing in a way that disects what we went through. I for one am so appreciative of it.

    Thank you!

    1. I’m so sorry. I know you have been through so much! It really makes me mad when I think about how they turn the tables on everything they do and make us feel like the bad ones. I’m so glad you found this article helpful. -Kristen

  4. Hi Kristen,
    I have recently left my Narcissistic Husband, everything you said in your article may very well have been about our marriage, the controlling manipulation, the isolation, stalking checking my phone belittling me in every possible way. I did leave him twice before but like a stupid idiot went back after the threats he made about committing suicide and he’d change blah blah (lies) this time I’ve left for good for my sanity, I am divorcing him as I need to enforce its definitely OVER. I’m very insecure in fact I’m an emotional wreck, but I’m slowly getting my life back but occasionally I find myself looking around to see if he’s lurking around somewhere (paranoid I know). Does this paranoia and insecurity disappear in time or will it be a mark left for good after being abused for years?

    1. Hi Michelle: I’m so sorry for all that you have been through. I don’t know the answer to your question, as I think it depends on so many factors, such as how long it went on, what other traumas in our lives have happened, whether we are able to have good therapy, etc. I can say that it does get easier with time. Also, it’s not a linear healing process, as I’ve discovered, so please be patient with yourself. If you can, i would also suggest trying to find a trauma therapist who is familiar with emotionally abusive relationships. Thank you for taking the time to tell your story. Be well and take care of yourself. -Kristen

  5. Hi,

    I’m so lonely at this moment and in need of a someone who wants to listen and hopefully understands me because i dont even understand myself.
    After the…time the relationship ended again. We had a discussion. I was unreasonable and he left. After that he texted me that if i could’nt behave myself the relationship was over. I felt offended and said that it was over. He agreed. Now i’m feeling so much guilt and pain. It’s like i’m drowning and dont have anything to hold on to.
    I doubt myself and cant remember anything he done to me. I try to give but i cant give anymore. Instead i’m getting more frustrated and impatient.
    It seems like he’s the good guy now and does everything the right way. It makes me feel so insecure.

    We went to see a counselor and that has made me more confused. During the session when he was telling his side of the story i felt like i was breaking down. He told it in such a convincing way and it came all down to that we needed counseling because of my behaviour. After that day moving on to the next appointment it seems like he’s doing everything the right way but it doesnt feel right. I feels like its a game to him to be the best. Am i going crazy? I feel guilty about al these feelings and thoughts. Even afraid that he will read this. Whats going on with me and how can i move on from here. I should feel relief that its over but i feel fear and i’m paralyzed.

    Sorry for any language errors..


    1. Hi Flower, have you tried to go to your own counselor on your own without him? I think that would be a good idea. He is controlling the narrative and just as he has you confused. At some point you will have to realize that he has instilled this guilt and pain in you and examine it because it enables you to deny what he has done and take the blame for what goes wrong. This is all part of the trauma of what you have endured. I’m sorry this is happening to you. Take care, Kristen

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