When you see a narcissist for what they really are and decide to stop putting up with their manipulative behavior, that’s when things can really get ugly. While you’re used to them being hostile and defensive, these negative traits get kicked up a notch when they realize you’re onto them. Here are some behaviors you might expect.
1. They Become More Aggressive.
When a narcissist realizes they can no longer manipulate you, their behavior might become more aggressive. They may start to belittle you, criticize you harshly, or even resort to personal attacks out of frustration. This shift in behavior can be their attempt to regain the control they’ve lost.
2. They Play the Victim.
A narcissist might paint themselves as the poor, innocent person who’s been hard done by when they realize you’re onto them. They may portray themselves as the misunderstood victim or imply that you’re being unfair to them. This tactic is often used to evoke sympathy and manipulate the narrative in their favor.
3. They Gaslight You.
Gaslighting is a common tactic used by narcissists — you’ll be well aware of that by now. When they realize you’re not going to put up with their BS anymore, they might deny their previous actions or words, questioning your memory and sanity. This is a damaging form of psychological manipulation intended to make you doubt your own perceptions and reality. Obviously, you’re too smart for that, but it won’t stop them from trying.
4. They Seek A New Supply.
Narcissists thrive on other people’s attention and admiration. When they realize they can’t fool you anymore, they might start seeking a new person to manipulate. This can manifest as them spending less time with you and more with new friends or romantic interests. They may cut you off entirely, realizing they’re just wasting their time with you since you see through them.
5. They Give You the Silent Treatment.
The silent treatment is another common tactic used by narcissists. If they can’t manipulate you, they might resort to ignoring you as a form of punishment. You could literally be in the same room speaking to them face-to-face and they’ll just act like they can’t hear a word you’re saying. This passive-aggressive behavior is their way of expressing displeasure and regaining power.
6. They Try to Make You Jealous.
Because narcissists thrive on being the center of attention, they’ll want to get yours back by making you jealous. They may flaunt new relationships or successes in an attempt to provoke a reaction from you. This tactic is used to make you feel insecure and to regain their lost power. Sucks for them — it won’t work!
7. They Project Their Faults onto You.
When a narcissist loses their power over you, they might start to project their own faults onto you. If they’re accused of being manipulative or selfish, they might flip the narrative and accuse you of those very things. This is a defensive mechanism to shift the blame and protect their ego.
8. They Threaten You.
In extreme cases, a narcissist might resort to threats when they can’t manipulate you anymore. These threats can range from ending the relationship to more serious threats to physically harm you or the people you love. This is a desperate attempt to regain control and should be taken seriously. Alert the police and stay well away from them, whether or not you think they’d actually follow through with it.
9. They Doubt Your Competence.
When a narcissist’s place in your life is called into question, they might start to undermine your intelligence. They may belittle your accomplishments and question your abilities to make you doubt yourself. They hope that if your self-esteem gets destroyed enough, you’ll become reliant on them for validation again.
10. They Use Triangulation.
Triangulation involves using another person or people against you. The narcissist might start involving your friends or family members in your relationship dynamics, attempting to paint you in a negative light. They do this to try to isolate you and make you feel like the odd one out.
11. They Try to Ruin Your Reputation.
A narcissist may try to tarnish your reputation when they can’t manipulate you. They’ll spread rumors or lies about you to other people in order to damage your social standing and hopefully make your friends dump you. This is a form of punishment meant to isolate you even further and make you the bad guy. They believe that if you feel alone enough, you’ll come running back to them for acceptance.
12. They Use Guilt Trips.
When they can’t fool you anymore, a narcissist might resort to making you feel bad about things you really shouldn’t feel bad about. They may bring up past mistakes or use emotional manipulation to make you feel guilty and question your actions. This is another tactic to regain control over you.
13. They Show False Remorse.
At times, a narcissist might pretend to be sorry when they’re not when they realize they can’t fool you anymore. They may apologize profusely and promise to change, only to revert to their old behaviors later. This can be a manipulative tactic to regain your trust. Once they have it, they can go back to the way things used to be.
14. They Become Overly Charming.
They may become extremely polite and attentive, trying to win you over again. This sudden change in behavior can be a last-ditch effort to regain their control. What they don’t realize is that you can see through them and know that this switch-up is for their own gain, not to truly repair the damage they’ve caused.
15. They Overcompensate with Gifts.
When a narcissist can’t manipulate you anymore, they might start showering you with gifts or favors out of the blue. This behavior is an attempt to win your favor and throw you off balance. While the gifts might seem generous and thoughtful, they often come with strings attached and are a way for the narcissist to regain control.
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Emma is also the author of the upcoming Hachette publication, "Off the Beaten Track: Finding Lasting Love in the Least Likely of Places," due out in January 2025.