For a narcissist, control of their environment is everything. They need to control the people in their life because they need them to support the narcissist’s fragile self-esteem. The narcissist has no internal support mechanism so they must manipulate the people they love to get the supply of adoration that makes them feel good about themselves.
When a narcissist cannot control you, they respond in various ways designed to either get you back under their control or discredit you. Initially, they may display their characteristic narcissistic rage, but they might also stalk you, initiate a smear campaign against you, or disappear altogether.
Because the need for control is vital for the narcissist, you need to understand how they use it against you and what happens when you stop allowing them to control you. Let’s explore why control is so important for them and what you should expect when you stop permitting their manipulation.
Why Does a Narcissist Need to Control Everyone and Everything?
Narcissism develops due to childhood experiences where the narcissist was dominated either by toxic parents or overprotective parents who regulated all aspects of their life. They weren’t allowed to have control over their actions and choices.
Healthy parenting means teaching children how to recognize where boundaries lie and to respect them. Additionally, healthy parents let their children gain more control over their own lives and choices as they mature.
Narcissistic parents will exercise complete emotional control over their offspring because they can’t take the chance that their offspring will expose them as the damaged person they truly are. They take control over everything their children do and they subject them to emotional manipulation throughout their young lives. As a certified life coach and narcissistic abuse recovery expert, Angie Atkinson recalls, “Growing up, I was always under my mother’s thumb.”
With that level of control exercised throughout their youth, by the time the narcissist is an adult, they may still be heavily dependent on their parents’ input to make choices in their life. They also definitely don’t see themselves as capable individuals, at least not inwardly.
Overprotective parents never allow their children to make choices as they get older, and while they might think they’re doing their kids a favor, the end result is that the child is never able to develop the self-confidence and sense of self they need to function in a healthy way.
The effect of these experiences in childhood is that the adult narcissist feels an extreme sense of insecurity. Additionally, since they were never able to fully develop a sense of self to support themselves internally, they now need external validation from the people around them. Both of those factors result in a strong sense that they need to control everything and everyone around them.
What Does the Narcissist Fear Will Happen If They are Not in Control?
When a narcissist fears they are losing control over a person or situation in their life, they feel extremely threatened. They had buried their true self a long time ago as a result of their childhood experiences.
They buried it because they became convinced they are worthless. They are deeply ashamed of their true self and they have developed a sense of self-loathing as a result. They hide it away and try to find support for the grandiose false self-image they created in its place.
That support comes from other people in their lives, but they need the admiration to be explicitly stated almost constantly. For that reason, they are always trying to manipulate the people around them to get them to do what they want and need to feel good about themselves.
If that control is threatened, they fear they will be exposed as the hateful person they believe they are deep down – that worthless, inept true self they buried so long ago and are ashamed of today. They also fear they will lose the narcissistic supply they so desperately need.
When the narcissist confronts this possibility, they are terrified and it can even cause a mental decompensation. This often sends them into an attack mode to prevent the worst from happening.
How Will a Narcissist Respond When They Lose Control?
Because the narcissist in your life sees you as a mere extension of themself, they believe they have the right to control you. When you defy their attempts to control you, they see it as almost the ultimate form of betrayal. It’s as if a part of themselves is betraying them.
Given that a narcissist desperately needs other people as sources of that external validation, they have a deep-seated fear of abandonment. When you don’t succumb to their efforts to control them, it feels as if you’re abandoning them. In fact, abandonment is seen as the ultimate narcissistic injury.
For that reason, the immediate response to a loss of control is narcissistic rage. This often involves dramatic and sometimes violent outbursts directed at the object of their anger. The purpose of such a grandiose display of anger is twofold. The narcissist is striving to distract you, and they also want to discourage you from ever doing something similar again.
If you’re able to withstand their rage or continue despite their outburst with taking away their control, they may turn to other tactics.
What Other Tactics Will Narcissists Use to Re-Establish Control?
Aside from a shocking outburst of narcissistic rage, narcissists often use several other tactics to try and re-establish control. When they lose control, they will begin to devalue their victim, and when they turn to devaluation as a technique, their goal is to crush their victim. Here are a few tactics that a narcissist might use when they fear losing control over you:
The Silent Treatment
The silent treatment is designed to guilt you into doing what they want. The narcissists who employ this tactic do so as a way to make their victim feel as though they don’t exist anymore. They ultimately want to isolate you completely from your family and friends. They want you to have no one to turn to except them, and if that happens, the silent treatment will be even more effective.
Sometimes, the narcissist will disappear altogether from your life. This is a passive-aggressive technique designed to leave you confused and feeling insecure. You don’t know where they went or when or if they will come back. They see themselves as the winner because you never get to exercise your own self-control while they’re in your life. You also no longer pose a threat to them.
The Smear Campaign
The narcissist’s ultimate goal is to preserve their false self-image. They will do anything toward that end, and if they’ve lost control over you, they fear you will now work against them to expose them. They think that way because that’s what they would do and they presume you will do that too. They will, therefore, try to make you look like the bad person, the crazy person, and they will position themselves as the victim of your manipulation and lies. As part of the smear campaign, they will also, of course, deny any role they might have had in the problem.
Humiliate, Antagonize, and Stalk
Another tactic commonly employed by narcissists when they fear they’re losing control is to humiliate, antagonize, and even stalk their victims. If you are simply disagreeing with a narcissist and refusing to accept that you’re wrong, they will turn to humiliation. If you’ve left them or are refusing to let them control you, they may reveal any secrets they know about you to your friends and family members.
They might, for example, tell friends or family things you’ve said about them in confidence or they may even make them up. Their goal here is to try to turn other people against you. They might also say things to you or in front of you just to get a reaction that will then validate the things they’re saying about you.
It’s also not uncommon for narcissists to stalk you if you’ve left them. They might go behind your back to your work and tell your boss things about you, they might track your movements, and they might also physically shadow you. They believe the terror this creates for you is a form of control.
They Charm You
Perhaps the most devious strategy a narcissist might use to get you back under their control is the same tactic they used to get you to like them: charm. You liked them in the first place for a reason.
They can be very charming, and they will often try to convince you that they have changed or that they are the same loving person you were attracted to when you first met them. Just like the first time around, however, this usually doesn’t last long if you get back together with them.
The narcissistic mind is a truly frightening, even torturous place. They must constantly remain vigilant and proactive to keep their true self from being exposed. As a result, they are hypersensitive to even the slightest criticism. When their fight or flight system is activated — which happens anytime they feel threatened — they often respond with an energetic outburst of rage. All of this has to be exhausting for them.
For their victims, it’s a world of eggshells where their intentions are constantly called into question and their perceptions are devalued. When you finally break free of that controlled environment, it represents such a severe threat to the narcissist that it can even cause a mental breakdown. They’ll do almost anything to re-establish control; anything except change.
It’s vital to understand how narcissism develops to understand why they have this obsessive need to control everyone and everything in their life. This post about how narcissists feel and the emotions they have can help give you more critical insight into this condition.
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