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Why Narcissists Manipulate: 6 Things They Stand to Gain

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There seems to be no logical reason why narcissists manipulate us when they could so easily have everything we have to give without going to all that trouble.

What hurts so much is the fact that the horrible things they do to us are coming from someone we love. But why? Why do narcissists want to hurt us, if we love them so much?

Narcissist do not want the same things from relationships that we do because they do not view themselves and the world the same way that we do. They even go out of their way to ruin special days–birthdays, holidays, and vacations. That is the first key to understanding why they manipulate and what they get out of causing so much pain.

Although narcissism exists on a spectrum, and there are many types of narcissists, each with their own motivations and methods of getting what they want, there are patterns in trying to understand the pain they cause.

Regardless of which type of narcissist you are dealing with, however, it is crucial to understand the types of pain they inflict and what they are trying to gain with each type of manipulation.

Six Reasons Why Narcissists Manipulate

(as Explained Through Types of Pain They Inflict)

1. Pain they inflict because they need narcissistic supply

Because of their fragile self-concept, narcissists need others around them who can distract them from their feelings of worthlessness and emptiness.

They need to be adored, flattered, noticed and admired, that is, to feed their egos, and gain narcissistic supply. Each experience interacting with others is an opportunity to gain that supply.

That means they are often unable to stay loyal, and they will do and say almost anything to get that adoration they crave. Examples include:

Summary: Narcissists manipulate to receive love and attention.


2. Pain they inflict because they have a narcissistic injury

They also do not like to be around those who they view as critical of them in any way.

This can sometimes include those who have differing opinions or challenge their view. It can include times when others focus their attention on something else or people who they view have a superior quality that draws admiration from others.

When partners of narcissists express their own thoughts or values and those things differ from those of the narcissist, or when the partner expresses a desire that the narcissist disagrees with, it threatens the narcissist’s ego and may cause narcissistic injury.

The narcissist then lashes out at or punishes the partner in ways that can include:

  • Verbal abuse or physical abuse
  • Incessant cheating
  • Smear campaigns
  • Silent treatments or discard

Summary: Narcissists manipulate to punish.


3. Pain they inflict because they have a sense of entitlement

Although narcissists have deep feelings of worthlessness and fragile egos, they mask those feelings with trumped up fantasies of grandiosity and arrogant superiority to others.

They don’t believe that the normal rules of relationships apply to them, and, in addition, will try to dominate their partners and subject them to double standards and nonsensical rules to maintain control.

They may use the following tactics to ensure that they always have the upper hand:

Summary: Narcissists manipulate because treating us with basic dignity and respect would be treating us as “equals” and would put them at a disadvantage in their own minds.


4. Pain they inflict because they’re bored and enjoy the drama

Some narcissists gain pleasure from seeing others in pain and will build up their partners only to tear them down and watch the confusion as they slip away coldly.

The narcissists who inflict this type of pain tend to be the narcissistic sociopaths who at first enjoy the thrill of a new conquest, however, when the new wears off the relationship, they are not content to let the relationship settle into a comfortable routine.

They have no empathy as their partners slide into an emotional breakdown one callous act at a time, drawn back in by the promise of the golden period only to be dropped into a black hole when the narcissist tires again of the game.

When the partner’s emotional turmoil no longer annoys more than excites them, they will leave for good. They may use any of the following or almost any of the others:

  • Lovebombing
  • Smear campaigns
  • Verbal abuse (covert verbal abuse or cold verbal abuse)
  • Devaluation tactics such as humiliation, long periods of silence, withholding affection, and other forms of cruelty
  • Incessant cheating and letting us find out about it
  • Hoovering
  • Triangulating us with others

Summary: Some narcissists manipulate simply because they enjoy it.


5. Pain they inflict because they’re only concerned with their own needs

Narcissists often do not inflict pain intentionally; they just do not care about how their actions affect other people.

Although only being concerned with their own needs would make any the tactics they use result in pain for their partners, what is really resulting in pain for us, in this case, is the fact that they try so hard to keep their true motives secret.

They betray us in so many ways and then offer excuses and reasons for the behavior that allow them to continue to exploit us. The result is that we may live for months or years unable to discern the fact that they are only “in it” for themselves.

The real tactics they use to cause the pain they inflict when they care only for themselves include:

Summary: Narcissists manipulate because they’re hiding what they’re up to, as whatever they are doing is not in our best interests and they don’t want us to know about it because it would interfere with their ability to exploit us.


6. Pain they inflict to preserve their own image

Narcissists fear the idea that others will sense that the face they present to the world is the “false self” and that what is underneath will somehow end up on display for the world to see.

First, they feel they must be perfect at all times, and that if any chink in the armor shows, they are failures. Anyone who makes them appear less than perfect gets punished (see #2).

But what they really fear is being seen as a lie. If they lose the ability to control the narrative of what they are because someone has seen through them or people who have compared notes start to understand the truth, then they themselves have to confront the truth of what they are. Then the emptiness inside will converge upon them and everyone around them will see it too. To them, that is the worst thing that can possibly happen.

In order to keep that from occuring, they must destroy anyone who threatens to pull down their image, and they might do it using some of these tactics:

  • Pathological lying
  • Smear campaigns
  • Circular conversation tactics such as projection, gaslighting, withholding, and stonewalling

Summary: Narcissists manipulate because they’re scared of being exposed as frauds and of having others find out about the masks they are showing the world.


But Why Narcissists Manipulate is Not the Same Question as How

It’s clear that narcissists need to manipulate to get their needs met. What enables them to do it, however, includes a long list of characteristics including:

  • low empathy
  • hypersensitivity
  • the ability to believe their own lies even when those lies contradict one another
  • compartmentalization
  • a lack of “object constancy” (the inability to hold a positive view of someone in mind when that person does something he or she doesn’t like)
  • a lack of self-insight
  • a fragile ego
  • a biological need for consistent stimulation
  • low self-control
  • the enjoyment of the pain of others

Although the ways they behave are painful, understanding why and how they do the seemingly illogical things they do is one of the first steps toward setting us free of their manipulation.


Don’t forget to check out these resources:

Kristen Milstead

Kristen Milstead is a narcissistic abuse survivor who has become a strong advocate for finding your unique voice and using it to help others find theirs.


  1. Mary Ann Stiegel

    Don’t know what I would do without your site. That is all I can say right now. You are my life line. So much gratitude.

    1. Kristen Milstead

      Hi Mary Ann: How are you doing? It’s been a long time! It’s good to see you again. I hope things have been progressing well for you in your recovery. Thanks for taking the time to stop in and leave a comment and for being here as a witness to my own recovery journey all of this time. I owe you my own gratitude for that. Peace and Love to you… Kristen

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