When I found out that my ex-boyfriend was leading multiple lives, the furthest thing from my mind was thinking about how to manipulate a narcissist. I was merely in shock and wanted to break up with him.
When I say that he was leading multiple lives, I mean the following:
- he was living with me and frequently mentioning marriage and adopting children with me in the future
- he was engaged to someone else
- he was still involved with an ex-girlfriend and discussing marriage and children with her
- he was on dating websites and had who knows how many women in the queue
- several other things he’d told me about his past also turned out not to be true
- he waved the information in my face, using it to psychologically torture me
The events began unraveling over a period of weeks and then unspooled quickly into madness while on vacation in a tropical paradise, a holiday that bled into a nightmare where he alternated between plunging me into the ecstasy of our exclusive sexual universe where our eyes locked on each other’s were the gateway to another dimension and threatening to rape me. It was an alternate world where I sometimes stayed with a stranger, a man I feared might kill me because of the things he did while we were there. The settling of his new identity into my consciousness was slow, but I knew that it was over.
Oh, if only it had been that easy.
It was his blackmail that sealed things.
I wanted to move out of the apartment we shared. I couldn’t easily afford to stay in it on my own and had only moved far away from work to move in with him in the first place. Yet he has said he wasn’t moving despite what he’d done because his name was on the lease. When I told him I would then move out, however, his response was that I couldn’t leave him to pay all of the rent by himself because my name was also on the lease. If I didn’t, he said he would just abandon the apartment and move back in with his parents. But he wouldn’t move in with his parents if I stayed in the apartment and leave me in peace.
In other words, he was trapping me in the apartment where he had control of me. He didn’t want me to leave it, and he was giving himself the freedom to come and go as he pleased. With both his name on the lease and a bed at his parent’s house to sleep in, he would happily wreck his own credit to destroy mine just to keep me from finding a new home.
I had to find a way out.
Manipulating a Narcissist: My Goals
I read our lease agreement. There was a way to break the lease. We had to give sixty days’ notice and pay almost five thousand dollars.
I thought about how much of my savings I had spent to move in with him, and how much more I would have to spend now that all of this had happened. He’d moved from his parents’ house and so all the furniture we had was either mine or we’d bought it. Now I’d have to move it all out, after paying all the rent and utilities myself for the next few months and then pay a new set of deposits and fees on a new apartment that I could actually afford.
All that money wasted just to find out what I’d found out about him.
At the very least, I needed him to agree to sign paperwork to break the lease so we could both go our separate ways. That was goal number one.
Then, best case scenario, he would also pay for half of the fees for breaking the lease, but I knew I couldn’t count on that for sure. Even so, that was my second goal.
But getting him to sign all of the paperwork for closing out everything we had together– the apartment, the joint bank account, the gym membership– that was the main thing I needed. The money would be tough, but I had to break legal and financial ties to him.
The only way to do any of those things was to manipulate him into it and make him believe it was a good idea on his own, that it was in his own best interests.
He wanted to remain in control of me, so I’d have to let him think he had control of me.
He started off making it fairly easy. The week after everything blew up, he finally moved out in a huff, but still holding his right to enter the apartment over my head.
Yet, after a few days of no contact, he sent me a message and asked to see me “one more time” before he left the country. I did not know that at the time this was a new form of manipulation, through subjecting me to first a silent treatment and then a “hoover,” with the added urgency to it of “leaving the country” (which he never intended to actually do) to get me to agree to see him.
He didn’t know, however, that I needed something from him and during the meeting, I asked him to sign a letter stating we wanted to move out early. Because he’d told me he wanted to leave the country, and because he was also trying to manipulate me back into his life, he couldn’t refuse. Mission accomplished for goal number one.
He asked me for the money back that he’d paid on the furniture we’d picked out for the apartment and I gave it to him, biting my tongue over how “splitting costs” seemed to be only going one way as I bided my time.
The sixty-day waiting period was activated when I submitted the letter to the leasing office. He thought we were on good terms and I waited for a good time to talk about achieving goal number two: getting him to pay for half of the fees for breaking the lease.
When I brought the topic up nonchalantly, I realized that he didn’t understand that the apartment management company held both of us jointly responsible for the entire sum, not each separately responsible for half. In other words, he believed that by signing that letter, he was now already legally responsible for paying for half of the fees.
His false impression made it seem more likely that he would eventually pay the fees. Slightly. I had no illusions that just because he believed signing something made him legally responsible for paying them that that meant they would get paid.
There was one very important reason, however, why his misunderstanding mattered. Theoretically, if he believed that each of us now had separate financial obligations, then that should have kept me completely out of his mental calculations about whether he paid his or not and he couldn’t use it to reward or punish me. He couldn’t hold not paying it over my head.
I did nothing to correct his misconception.
Now my job was just to wait out the sixty days and make sure it actually got paid. I had to encourage him to want to stay on my good side so it would get done.
It was the sixty-day waiting period, however, that changed everything.
My Rules for How to Manipulate a Narcissist
You see, he had a story, a way to explain away everything that had happened: His parents wanted the engagement, you see, not him. It was called off and not happening anymore. I should ignore the fact that the woman seemed to think they were getting married, and that there were messages to her in his phone. And it was his ex-girlfriend who had been contacting him and he had only responded when we had “argued.” He had only been telling her what she wanted to hear about marriage. He only got on dating apps when he was bored. It was me he really loved. Why else would he still be around trying to work things out with me? Huh? Huh?
A million ways to explain a million betrayals.
And during those sixty days, here was my story– for the most part:
I was so hurt by what had happened, I could no longer live with him because my trust had been broken so deeply. But I still loved him and if he could give me a chance to process what had happened and earn back my trust, there was a chance we could still be together someday in the future, but he needed to give me space and I was still going to move out no matter what and I needed him to respect that.
I was playing a game. A stupid, dangerous game.
I didn’t know exactly how dangerous until it was all over. But I did have some rules for myself about how to get through this. I developed them as I learned how to interact with him during this time in a way that wouldn’t have him storming off in anger or have me tied up in knots.
I didn’t write them all down, not at the time, but I did remember thinking to myself how absolutely ridiculous they were because no one in their right mind would agree to live like this in the “real world” in a “real relationship.”
My rules looked something like this:
1. Don’t ask any questions about anything that looks suspicious or is obviously out of the ordinary, and for sure don’t ask about any girls, his phone, social media or his private life away from me.
2. Take everything he says about missing me and not wanting a new girlfriend if we aren’t together or dating any other girls at face value no matter how ridiculous it sounds.
3. If he lies, don’t call him on it. Pretend you believe everything he says even when there is blatant evidence that it’s false.
4. When he manipulates you blatantly, try not to call him on it even when you know he is doing it to humiliate you.
5. Compliment, compliment, compliment.
6. Lie back to him. About everything. Use the fact that he himself doesn’t want you to know what he’s doing via technology and is therefore not able to check up on you to your advantage. Tell him you’re in bed when you’re actually going out. Tell him you’re going to sleep or fell asleep when you don’t want to talk to him. Tell him you are with female friends if you want to be in a mixed group or with male friends. If he asks questions about when you want to date again, make him feel good about himself. Repress your frustration and true self, and stop telling him he is prying and it is none of his business even though it’s not. Stop trying to be honest. It doesn’t work.
7. Show mostly the emotion of happiness. But if you’re happy all the time though, he is going to get suspicious and think you found a new boyfriend. Show a little sadness sometimes over what has happened but not too much and mostly over what it did to your relationship, not directed at him specifically.
8. See him whenever he wants to see you. Be willing to change your plans. But don’t demand he come see you or be needy about it, and don’t be upset if he changes your plans together even at the last minute.
9. Do whatever he wants. Only if he says he wants you to choose should you pick something you want to do. It makes him feel good about himself, as if he’s being the good guy.
10. Don’t spend too much time talking about the ways he has hurt you. If they come up, be sure and focus mostly on how good of a job he has done trying to make things right, which means completely ignoring the fact that he hasn’t made a genuine effort.
But what did I care? It didn’t matter if the effort was genuine… right? None of this was supposed to be real.
His lack of remorse was on full display and I was simultaneously dumbfounded and incredulous. How had things gotten so twisted that I was doing such an unreasonable thing to get someone else to act reasonable?
I found this funny video by Angie Atkinson about 10 ways to torture a narcissist not too long ago, and I watched it with some humor because many of the methods she describes are manipulative, but they are the opposite of the types of behaviors I was trying to live by.
But here’s the problem.
Playing a “game” with them, whether we give in to them or try to “torture” them is no joke.
Something strange happened while I was trying to be everything he wanted. At some point, our interactions took on a life of their own.
Because there was one thing I could not control: I loved him.
The Summer From Hell: How Manipulating a Narcissist Backfired
I wasn’t like him. I couldn’t shut my love on and off like a light switch. The things I’d learned about him I knew to be true intellectually, but my heart needed time to catch up. Our interactions left me caught up in some strange parallel universe where he had overt power over me and I had let him.
At some point, it became real.
My manipulation was both a success and a failure.
During those sixty days I stayed in the apartment, every stereotype about the narcissistic cycle of idealize-devalue-discard played itself out.
Though I tried to stay detached, through the repetition of that cycle, that story I was playing out that summer became true. It became my real story and the story he told me, the story that explained away everything, became the one I wanted to believe. As I continued to interact with him and played out those ten rules and we played out our roles, somewhere along the way, he locked me psychologically in place exactly where he needed me.
At some point, I lost track of when I was acting and when I wasn’t, and then suddenly, I was no longer acting anymore. I’m not even sure when it happened. He was being himself, but who was that?
He had become a stranger who had turned against me during that short period of time after I discovered his secrets. But somehow, he’d merged that stranger with the persona of the man I’d known before into some new person that I didn’t understand how to interact with. The very rules I had created to set me free bolstered his new mask so much that I become bound by my own rules into an everpresent state of subservience.
Can a Narcissist Be Manipulated?
Ordinarily, when someone has engaged in behavior that hurts their partner and is attempting to show that they will not do it again, when they want to earn back trust, that person will express genuine remorse, be completely transparent and show empathy. In this case, he did none of these things beyond the surface level.
He contradicted himself constantly (e.g., lied and gaslighted); he was secretive and defensive; he continued triangulating me with others; and he fluctuated between love-bombing me and talking about marriage, and devaluing me and insulting me with every name in the book.
He constantly tried to control my behavior and accused me of being with other men. He alternated between silent treatments and hoovering. He also went cold or sometimes just walked out when I cried or asked him to explain why he had done the things that had hurt me. It was emotional abuse.
Typically, when a person acts in this manner, you remove this person from your life. You don’t try to figure out how to manipulate them, unless they are narcissists, and they are trapping you in a relationship from which you cannot escape. In this case, I was intentionally trying to keep him around for a purpose, thinking I could handle it.
By the time I got out of the apartment, yes, he paid for his share of the move-out expenses.
But the price I paid for it was too high.
When the time had come for him to do that, whether he paid them or not had no longer become the primary reason I wanted to interact with him anymore.
I had entered a state of near-delusion that is difficult to explain now.
How does one stay with a person who traumatizes them in the manner that he did?
Why, by blocking it out, of course. My mind became my enemy (“How Narcissists Get Into Our Heads and Control Us“). I became someone I didn’t even know anymore.
It was more than two years before I was able to break the spell he had held over me and leave this abusive relationship forever.
The moral of the story is there is no way to manipulate a narcissist, especially if you’re in a relationship with one. You’re emotionally involved and they aren’t, at least not the same way you are. And since you’re caught up in their reality and not the other way around, that puts you at a severe disadvantage.