Whenever you have an argument with a narcissist, it can quickly become a serious one where they threaten to leave. It seems contradictory given that the narcissist needs other people to provide them with their narcissistic supply of adulation so they can feel good about themselves. They need other people and yet it seems with even the most minor conflict, they threaten to leave. Why do they do that?
One big reason a narcissist will threaten to leave for even a minor infraction is that they use this threat as a way to control you. Narcissists see other people as extensions of themselves and feel that a threat to leave will get them to fall in line. If you call their bluff, they often back down.
When you learn about the reasons behind this seemingly contradictory behavior, you will better be able to respond to these kinds of threats. They are often empty threats, but even if they mean it, you will want to set some boundaries so they can’t control you by threatening to leave.
Why Do Narcissists Feel the Need to Control Other People?
Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) results when a child fails to fully develop a healthy sense of self. This happens either because the child has emotionally abusive parents who control their every move and never let them try anything for themselves or because that child has overprotective parents who do the same thing.
In either case, the child comes to view their true self as worthless and they bury it deep inside. In its place, they construct a false self and infuse it with grandiose ideas about their superiority and entitlement. The child is full of shame and self-loathing about their true nature, however, and they work hard to prevent its exposure.
Because the false self is unable to do the work of a healthy ego, the narcissist must turn to external sources of validation. In healthy people, their sense of self maintains an internal sense of value even when things go wrong. Additionally, it helps the individual self-soothe. They can do something wrong and still know that doesn’t represent the whole of them. They are still valuable and good.
The narcissist’s false self can’t do that work, and thus, the narcissist needs other people. They view other people as extensions of themselves since they are doing this critical internal support work. That delusion causes them to believe that other people should be willing to do whatever the narcissist needs to feel good about themselves.
But, of course, other people don’t constantly focus on other people, at least not if they’re healthy. So, the narcissist turns to manipulation to make them focus on them and to make them praise and adore them.
They must lie, gaslight, use triangulation, and any other form of manipulation to control those people so they will provide them with that adoration, something known as narcissistic supply.
What Kinds of Control Techniques Will Narcissists Use?
Because control over other people is central to their sense of self, the narcissist will employ numerous methods to make people do what they want. There are a number of ways they will manipulate you to make you give them what they feel they need. Here are descriptions of several common narcissistic manipulation techniques:
Lying is the number one manipulation tactic you can expect a narcissist to use to control other people. They will lie about virtually anything, even small things and things that don’t require a lie. Narcissists will lie without any compunction or sense of guilt.
By the time a narcissist is an adult, they are already accomplished liars and can do so smoothly with no hint that they are not telling the truth. Many victims are astonished to learn they’ve been lied to by a narcissist because they had believed them to be so sincere.
Lying allows them to manipulate you into believing almost anything. They will even lie about lying. If you catch them, they fly into a rage as a distraction tactic and may even accuse you of lying as a way to project their bad behavior onto you.
Gaslighting is another favorite manipulation tactic narcissists will use to control you. This refers to making you think you can’t trust your own interpretation of reality, and in severe cases, your own sanity. They will tell you that you’re too sensitive, that they were joking, or they may even claim that what you say happened never actually happened.
When you combine gaslighting with such glib deception, the narcissist can get many people to do exactly what they want. They can have you second-guessing your interpretations and afraid to say anything because you’re not certain about your own interpretations.
Triangulation is a control tactic that pits you against other family members or friends. The narcissist will tell you one thing and they will tell your children, your siblings, your parents, or your friends something else entirely. They will always be sure to tell you things that put them in the best light.
They do this to keep everyone focused on them, and to ensure you won’t talk to the other person in the triangle and discover exactly what the narcissist is really doing. They are like chess masters moving their pawns around the board.
They want everyone to see them in the best way, and they want everyone to be on their side. They want their children to see them as the loving, progressive parent and you as the controlling shrew. They want your parents to see them as the savior providing stability in their child’s life, and they want your friends to see you as the unhealthy one in the relationship
They can use this technique to destroy your whole life. They may even use it to manipulate your work colleagues into seeing you as an abusive partner. Triangulation is a particularly destructive technique that can isolate you from everyone in your life leaving only the narcissist to seemingly be on your side. That’s their plan all along because it gives them more control over you.
This is another manipulation technique that, like gaslighting, can make you doubt your own interpretation of reality and even your sanity. They use this if you dare to confront them or to prevent you from even suspecting them of doing something wrong.
They may, for example, accuse you of cheating when they are the ones being unfaithful. They will try to make it seem like they’ve been hurt before and would never do that. They are so fiercely jealous of you that you think they surely would never cheat because they feel so strongly about it.
In reality, this is nothing more than projection to keep your suspicions under control. Should you dare to accuse them of cheating, they will use that same projection to put you on the defensive and distract you from asking any more questions about their behavior.
How is Threatening to Leave a Control Tactic?
Threatening to leave is yet another control tactic the narcissist uses to manipulate your behavior. These kinds of threats usually begin early in your relationship when the narcissist is still in the idealization stage. They are treating you like royalty and you’re getting hooked.
You have started to fall in love with them, and suddenly, for reasons you don’t clearly understand, they are threatening to leave. This leaves you with a strong sense of insecurity in a relationship you thought was something very special.
You feel a need to ensure they won’t leave, and as a result, you try to make sure they are happy with you. You have to remember that we’re talking about the stage of the relationship where they might even seem like your soulmate. You have so far only seen wonderful behavior.
Now you feel as though there is insecurity, but you’re still feeling like you don’t want to lose this perfect person. Additionally, the narcissist makes it seem as though they were only threatening that because they were so hurt by what you did.
They may claim you don’t seem to love them as much as they love you, and they may also present themselves as the victim of past lovers who abandoned them. That puts you on the defensive and makes you feel very insecure in the relationship.
Once they’ve accomplished that, they can employ other techniques to further manipulate and control you. In hindsight, most partners of narcissists can see how this all played out, but in the moment, it feels like you’re at risk of losing your best friend.
How Should You Respond to This Narcissistic Control Tactic?
It’s a difficult question because this often happens early on before you even realize you’re dealing with a narcissist. It’s easy to say that you should never let anyone cause that kind of insecurity in you, but when you fall head over heels in love with someone, well, it doesn’t quite work that way.
Still, when you do realize you’re being played, it will be important to set strong boundaries and consistently enforce any violations. That’s if you decide to stay with them. As marriage and family therapist, Dr. Jenn Mann points out, when a partner acts as if they’re ending things, “even if you don’t intend to follow through, you prevent the real issue at hand from being processed and addressed.” In fact, she goes so far to call this kind of behavior a relationship killer.
If you do intend to stay in the relationship, let the narcissist know that their behavior is not acceptable and what you will do about it the next time they do it. Then, do what you say you will do. Be certain that you don’t make threats you won’t follow through on because if you do that, the narcissist will get exactly what they’re looking for — control.
Narcissists are constantly employing techniques to control the people in their life, and threatening to leave is just another one of those. They want you to feel insecure and like you can’t question anything they do or go against their wishes.
That’s not love, though, and that kind of behavior won’t form a strong basis for a long-term relationship. Most people get sick of the threats sooner or later and call the narcissist’s bluff. When they do, they usually find out that’s all it was, a bluff.
At this point, it’s likely you’re wondering if it is even possible to be in a relationship with a narcissist and be happy. If you’re considering that, you need to read this blog about what it takes to live happily with a narcissist. It has valuable insights you need to know if you hope to save your relationship.
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