9 underhanded techniques narcissists use to undermine your self-confidence

There is a fine line between tough love and emotional manipulation. The latter is a favourite tool of narcissists.

Narcissists have a knack for destroying your self-confidence, and they do it so subtly that you may not even realize it’s happening.

They are masters at using underhanded techniques to make you doubt yourself while maintaining an air of innocence. It’s not about helping you improve, it’s about keeping you off balance.

In this article, I am going to shed light on 9 tactics that narcissists use to undermine your self-confidence. I will be your guide to discovering them so you can stand strong and protect your self-worth.

1) Gaslighting

This is a favourite tactic among narcissists, and it’s as sinister as it sounds.

In essence, gaslighting involves questioning your reality. Narcissists do this by denying things they have said or done, or by twisting your words and actions to fit their story.

It’s like a psychological magic trick: you start to question your memories and your judgment. You start to believe their version of reality over your own.

It’s a treacherous technique that can slowly erode your self-confidence until you question every decision you make. Suddenly you don’t trust yourself anymore.

Recognizing this technique is the first step towards reclaiming your reality. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Trust your instincts and hold on to your truth.

2) Constant criticism

I remember a time when I was constantly criticized for the smallest things.

The colour of my shirt, the way I prepared a meal, even the way I smiled – it was all scrutinized. It came from someone I considered a close friend, someone whose opinion mattered to me.

At first, I brushed it off, thinking they were just being honest. But then I realized it was more than that. It was an incessant stream of negativity designed to undermine my self-confidence.

This is another common technique that narcissists use. They will notice your shortcomings, real or imagined until you start to believe that you are not good enough. It’s a subtle and gradual process, but incredibly damaging.

The key is to recognize it for what it is: an attempt to control you by making you feel small. Once you see that, you can start to regain your self-esteem and remember that their criticism says more about them than it does about you.

3) Love bombing

Narcissists have a knack for making you feel like you are the centre of their universe. In the early stages of a relationship, they shower you with attention, compliments, and affection. This is called love bombing.

However, it is not real affection. It’s a calculated move to get you to link to it for validation.

Here’s something intriguing: it’s a technique often used in cults to recruit and control their members. The same principle applies to personal relationships with narcissists. They create an emotional dependency, which makes you less likely to challenge or abandon them.

Recognizing love bombing can be challenging because it can feel good to be admired and cherished. But remember: a healthy relationship involves mutual respect and understanding, and not one person constantly seeking validation from the other.

4) The silent treatment

Nothing can make you feel more rejected and insignificant than being treated in silence by someone you care about.

Narcissists often use this tactic to punish you for perceived slights or disagreements.

It’s a form of emotional manipulation intended to make you feel guilty or anxious, ultimately causing you to seek their approval or forgiveness.

5) Projection

Projection is a complex and tricky tactic that narcissists use to maintain control.

In simple terms, they are projecting their insecurities and shortcomings onto you. If they feel guilty about something, they will accuse you of the same thing. It can be incredibly confusing and painful.

It’s an attempt to distract from their shortcomings by shifting the focus to you. This shift can leave you constantly on the defensive and questioning your actions and intentions.

6) Playing the victim

Narcissists have the uncanny ability to twist any situation to make them appear as the victim, regardless of the actual circumstances.

It’s a heartbreaking tactic because it can make you feel like you’re the bad guy even though you’re not. You may find yourself apologizing for things you didn’t do, or trying to make amends for situations that weren’t your fault.

This is a manipulative strategy designed to make you feel guilty and keep you off balance. It is a way for them to avoid responsibility and keep you in a state of self-doubt.

It’s not your job to solve someone else’s problems, especially if he or she refuses to acknowledge their role in creating them. You deserve to be in a relationship where there is mutual respect and responsibility.

7) Insulation

There was a time when I became increasingly isolated from my friends and family. Invitations to meetings became less frequent, phone calls became shorter, and I felt more and more distant.

Looking back, I realize it was a carefully orchestrated move by the narcissist in my life. They had slowly but surely driven a wedge between me and my loved ones, making me more dependent on them for social interaction and emotional support.

Isolation is a classic tactic used by narcissists. By cutting yourself off from other people, they can exert more control and influence over you.

It is essential to maintain your social contacts and ask for support when you need it, because a loving partner or friend encourages, not hinders, your relationships with others.

8) Triangulation

Narcissists are often experts at playing people off against each other, a tactic known as triangulation.

They may bring a third party into a situation, either to validate their perspective or to undermine yours. It can be as subtle as casually saying that someone else agrees with them, or as blatant as comparing yourself unfavourably to someone else.

This technique is designed to create uncertainty and doubt. It can make you feel like you are competing for the narcissist’s approval, leaving you off balance and on the defensive.

9) Invalidating your feelings

Perhaps the most damaging technique used by narcissists is invalidating your feelings.

They ignore your emotions, belittle your experiences, and downplay your concerns. They may tell you that you are too sensitive, or that you are exaggerating. They may even laugh off serious issues you raise.

They often use this tactic to undermine your confidence in your perceptions and feelings. It makes you doubt your worth and can make you feel voiceless and insignificant.

If there’s one thing you take away from this, let it be this: your feelings are valid. Your experiences are real. You have the right to express yourself and be heard. Don’t let anyone make you feel different.

Final thoughts: It’s about regaining control

Understanding the tactics narcissists use is more than just an exploration of human behavior. It’s about regaining control of your own life and self-esteem.

The American Psychological Association defines self-esteem as the “extent to which the qualities and characteristics embodied in a person’s self-concept are perceived as positive.” When narcissists undermine this, they take away our sense of self-worth.

Most importantly, their tactics reflect their insecurities and shortcomings, not yours. By recognizing these underhanded techniques for what they are, you can start to rebuild your self-confidence.

Realize that you have the right to express your thoughts and feelings, set boundaries, and be treated with respect. Your experiences are valid. Your emotions are real. You are enough just the way you are.

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