The Narc-Sadistic No Win Situation Traps

Deciding whether or not to leave a narcissist feels like the ultimate no-win situation. You feel damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

Not surprisingly, narcissists are the experts at producing no-win situations. If you have or had a narcissist in your life, you’ve probably been cornered into your fair share of no-win situation traps. You know the ones. They’re the terrible dilemmas that leave you feeling stuck between a rock and a hard place; the lose-lose predicament that forces you to choose between two equally harmful options. No matter what choice you decide to go with, you lose. Choosing to go with one choice over the other results in a wrong decision, either way or an outcome where there is no foreseeable gain. Many of these traps are choreographed long in advance and are intentionally set by the narcissist, as a means of control, without the use of overt persuasion or coercion. They are laden with mixed messages, and subtle pressures, that put their victims in very difficult, confusing, and frustrating, Catch-22 like situations.


1. The narcissist will buy your favorite food, one that you can absolutely not resist, let’s say it’s a bag of licorice. Then they will leave the bag out, and not eat any, and when you finish them, they will come at you screaming, “YOU ATE THEM ALL?! I NEVER GOT ANY OF THEM!! YOU ALWAYS EAT EVERYTHING, AND I NEVER GET ANYTHING!”

2. A narcissist will accuse you of not being nurturing or loving enough, when you ask him/her what he/she would like you to do, they will say, “IF YOU REALLY LOVED ME, YOU WOULD JUST KNOW”.

3. The narcissist realizes you are struggling with a difficult decision to make, let’s say re-homing your large dog, that has been very aggressive toward the smaller dogs in the house. If you choose decision A) re-home the aggressive dog. The narcissist will criticize you, and drown you in a puddle of guilt, for being an unloving, heartless pet owner. If you choose decision B) keep the aggressive dog, and hope that the hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars of your money you spend, hiring a dog trainer works. The narcissist will say, “BUT IF THE DOG TRAINING DOESN’T WORK, AND ANYTHING HAPPENS TO MY DOG, I’M GOING TO BE REALLY MAD!”.

4. A narcissistic parent will tell their child to stand up for themselves against bullies at school. When the child comes home, and proudly tells their narcissistic mother that they told Jim the bully off, and put him in his place, the narcissistic parent will say, “YOU SHOULD HAVE KNOWN BETTER THAN TO TELL JIM OFF, HE HAS PROBLEMS, POOR KID, HE PROBABLY DIDN’T MEAN IT”.

5. The narcissist will praise another person for something. It could be about anything, but most likely it will be about something you are very good at, let’s say dancing for example. Although the narcissist will not explicitly insult or criticize you, you will be left feeling inadequate by comparison. If you bring this up to the narcissist, he/she will accuse you of being too sensitive, or be reading into their words. The narcissist might casually say to his female partner, “I DATED A WOMAN THAT WAS AN AMAZING COOK”.


CONTROL MONGERS“People in power need to control others to maintain power. One of the ways to do that is to take that which is threatening and demonize it.” ~ Jasmine Guy
In reality, narcissists are very dependent on their victims. The dependency a narcissist feels on their victims for supply overwhelms them with feelings of anger, inadequacy, and elicits feelings of not of being in control. They must counteract and disprove these feelings by choreographing situations to take control of every aspect of their victim’s life. They will exploit every opportunity to unload (displace) their hidden anger and prove their supremacy by devaluing and knocking their victim down a notch or two, by setting them up for failure.

WINNING IS EVERYTHING: “Strong people don’t put others down…They lift them up”. ~Michael P. Watson
Narcissists have a pathological desire to win, and if they can’t win by playing by the rules, they will just change the rules. It’s a game, one that is rigged, so the victim always loses and is delegated to the eternal one-down position. If it starts to look like the victim is winning, then the narcissist just changes the rules. The narcissist will change his/her opinions, and preferences on a whim, and deny that they ever did so. Creating no-win situation traps not only guarantees a real winner/ loser scenario, but it feeds the narcissist with endless amounts of supply, as the victim tries harder at playing the “How can I please you?” game. Although, no matter what strategy the victim uses, whatever they do will be the wrong thing, according to the narcissist, and they should have done something else instead. No-win situations set the victim up to lose. Thereby, the narcissist wins by default. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.

ONE-UP POSITION: “When a person attempts to control someone else’s life, it only reflects the lack of control they have on their own.” ~ Daniel Chidiac
Asking for what he/she wants would put the narcissist in a subordinate position, and place them in the uncomfortable situation of having to be appropriately grateful to the victim, for granting their request. By manufacturing no-win situations, the narcissist elevates himself/herself to a level of authority, and control, as they become the provider of the answers to the victim’s painful dilemma. This alleviates their feelings of inferiority, dependence, and obligatory gratitude while duping the victim into offering the narcissist what he/she really wanted.

YOUR PAIN IS THEIR GAIN: “People will attempt to hurt you in an effort heal themselves”. ~Anonymous
As painful as it is to believe, narcissists enjoy manufacturing situations that cause other people pain or distress. Not only do they delight in the rush of their own maliciousness, but a victim’s pain is a sweet feed of supply, that inflates their sense of control, and exaggerated view of themselves.

ANGER DUMPING: “Anger is an emotion that expresses insecurity. People who feel in total control of a situation and of themselves don’t show this emotion”. ~ Donald Lynn Frost
The narcissist’s core-self is filled with anger and plagued by constant nagging feelings of self-loathing. They displace and dump these feelings by passive-aggressively, and stealthily hurting others in the same way a bully overtly hurts others. Narcissists are also very vengeful, and diligent, grudge-holding score keepers. It’s not uncommon for a narcissist to turn a great day into a bad one in the blink of an eye, without the least bit of provocation. There is never an inappropriate moment to seize an opportunity to “pay back” their victim, for a real or perceived wrong, that occurred months ago. No alleged crime goes unpunished and is ever forgotten.

The bottom line is, you’re never right. Every decision you make is wrong. You’ll never be good enough, and you can’t win!

Narcissists use a broad range of manipulation tactics. The worst part about manipulation is that it is just that –manipulation– and it is difficult to put the finger on and identify.

If you experience any of the following feelings in your relationship on a regular basis, you are no doubt dealing with a very skilled and highly manipulative person:
1. Your partner makes you feel guilty, or to blame for just about… EVERYTHING

2. You constantly doubt yourself.

3. You feel like you are walking on egg-shells, and censor what you say to not provoke a fight.

4. You always find yourself on the defensive end of the conversation.

5. You always feel like no matter what you do, it’s never “right”, or quite good enough.

6. You avoid bringing certain subjects up,  especially those having to do with your own needs and wants.

7. You feel the need to constantly explain yourself, and justify your actions.

8. You don’t look forward to the holidays, as they are usually ruined, and fraught with drama.

9. You have arguments that never seem to get resolved.

10. You feel less confident and happy than you did when you started the relationship.


Bree Bonchay, LCSW, is a psychotherapist with over 18 years of experience working in the field of mental health and trauma recovery. She specializes in helping people recover from toxic relationships and shares her insights about Narcissistic Personality Disorder and psychopathy in her blog FreeFromToxic. Her articles have been featured in major online magazines and she has appeared on radio as a guest expert. She is also a dedicated advocate, educator, and facilitates survivor support groups and workshops.

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Similar articles that may interest you are:
The 8 Most Common Narc-Sadistic Conversation Control Tactics
The 4 Most Common Narc-Sadistic Triangulation Tactics
The Chemistry of Love & Narcissism

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11 thoughts on “The Narc-Sadistic No Win Situation Traps

  1. I am finding your posts to be very helpful. As I reflect on my relationship with my N it really was all about control and manipulation. Any type of attempt on my part to discuss our issues just made her angry. I suppose that is because discussion may have led to compromise and therefore loss of control. That constant feeling of walking on eggshells is for sure not a comfortable feeling.

  2. my friend nowadays its a no no.
    As soon as a relationship dynamic becomes sick…. its out thorough the door.
    I really have no more time for sick people.

  3. narcissism is a really sick mental illness I remember the first few dates that I went on with a narcissist, while I’m talking trying to have a productive conversation he’s looking around in the restaurahis making it appear that he was not interested with what i had to say and there were other things that he could be doing.there were times I would sit with him and he would get up and go into another room and didn’t say excuse me or I will be right back I have learned to grab my bag and say I will back and let him sit in his own septic tank of silence . Its really sad to know that another human being would treat another this way. there were times he would ignore my presence completely. the narcissist I’m involved with is also a gambling addict and of course when he wants to ask for money he give me attention but is so superficial….so fake. Do individuals not know that we see through their bullshit.I have went out with him and he totally turned his back to me at the bar! The same bar that he love bomb me and gave a public display that I was his girl…Bahhhhaha

    1. Gin, malignant narcissism is as close to true evil as I have ever experienced. I’m glad you are able to see through it. I’m hoping that by spreading awareness, others will be able to detect it early on as well!

  4. My question to anyone who cares to help me figure this out does the narcissist conjure up or demonstrate these behaviors because he is seeking to inflict humiliation…shame inadequacy worthlessness and pain onto you because these are the very things he is feeling at the time? And what are some ways of handling this selective ignoring?

    1. Yes, that’s exactly what they do. They disavow their own feelings of shame, inadequacy etc… by projecting them onto others, as well as, using other manipulation tactics that make them feel superior and in control and serve to keep their false construct or persona alive and inflated.
      If you are being selectively ignored, the best thing to do is confront it. If it continues to happen. Walk away and never look back. Do not engage with people who are unable or unwilling to provide you with basic common courtesy and respect. ~ Bree

  5. Thank you so, so much for this article. I’m finding it really hard to take, but I scored 9/10 on the list at the bottom. And possibly a 10/10. It’s further confirmation that I have done the right thing and left a 3 year relationship to someone I really thought I knew. It’s really difficult to accept the truth about her, but the evidence is everywhere.

  6. I never comment on blogs, but this is one that I have to put in my two cents.

    Background: She cheated on me. We have 2 kids.

    A recent no-win occurred in my life and it’s so painfully obvious what was happening now. She had stonewalled me from any intimacy for 4 months a while after I found out about her cheating. No sex, then moved out of our room, then no hugs, then no I love you’s, then wedding rings removed. During this time I was doing everything I could to please her (in between my confused bouts of anger which of course were used against me). I bought her a new car (it was in her name, but I was paying so perfect rationalization there), I took her to Palm Springs, I spent thousands of dollars on her birthday gifts. All while being denied any communication or intimacy.

    Anyway, I had enough so we decided to sell the house to make splitting up an option. She agreed it was a good idea, but constantly complained how sad she was going to be that it was gone. She was already well aware of how scared I was to sell the house for fear that our relationship would end.

    On the day before closing she was mourning the loss of the house like you wouldn’t believe. Bemoaning what a bad decision it was.

    So my lose-lose/no-win option was to sell the house and potentially lose my wife forever OR back out on closing so that she could keep her “dream house”. I backed out. Stood up for her. Once she found out she was so pissed at me. After she had just told me what a bad decision it was to sell it.

    I wasn’t the hero. I was the jerk. Now it was my fault that we were probably going to get sued.

    It’s never ending. I’m finally getting out of this enabling roll and finding myself again.

    If there is one phrase I’ve applied to my life with her after realizing her behavior and that can help someone else it’s “lack of accountability”. If your narc never lets you hold them accountable for anything then you know it’s time to go.

  7. How do I find the strength to just go? With my husband now for 5 years.. In the discard stage. Your article and many of your articles are spot on. I am 10 for 10 and yes he is a Narc and I believe a sociopath as well. He has a way to pull me back every time. He left and with another woman but says he doesnt want to divorce me he loves me just doesnt want to be with me because of all the things i did and put us through! Total projections! He is only with her because I messed up so badly and he is trying to come back to the way we were but wont give me a divorce! I am always blamed, always no win…. I was such a different person before. My lovebomb stage lasted about 3 years then it started to fail until where we are now. Separated and I’m still the blame.
    I am at the crossroads of staying and leaving. Im older 48 years old. Just had a birthday a few days ago he forgot or so he said begged for forgiveness came home at 2 am and said he didnt forget said all kinds of horrible things so I asked if I’m so horrible and you dont want me why are we married? So he said you’re right and left.
    Next day I send a text saying how much I dont want to be with anyone who feels the way he does. He replies with say whatever you are trying to say and stop with foolish rambling! I said it was not foolish or rambling. Then later that day I texted again asking him to please fix my car so I can have transportation and so I can clear things. He texted “explain” i texted so we can no longer prolong things. He said prolong what? I said everything and i need transportation
    Crickets… Havebt heard anything since. I read a lot and realized he is a narc. But why cant I just leave? I want to i know its best but I feel so alone and dont think I. Can find someone at my age… I used to be so happy, successful . now my life is a stranger to that life. Ive been isolated the works. How do I get my life back. Hurting so much. Need help

  8. I’ve researched my Dark Triad mother’s NPD for month’s and because of this website have finally found something pertaining to the No-Win situations my dysfunctional Narc mom creates. There’s too many to count, but here’s a few of my fav’s. My mom offered up her diamond for my engagement ring. It was extremely small, and from what I could tell, had very little sentimental value invested in it (which isn’t the point here, but I had never heard of the ring prior). What does my Malignant Narcissist mom do? She holds the diamond over my finances head using statements such as ” well I gave you that diamond” … “you know I gave you that diamond”…”see that diamond there? I gave that to you.” After about 4-5 of these comments I had to no choice but to give the diamond back stating we wanted something for ourselves even though I returned it due to her behavior. She fully understood (air quotes), but when we picked out our own diamond later on, no one even bothered to ask to see the new ring. She had triangulated/smear campaigned family and friends against us and the ring situation and created the elephant in the room no-win situation.

    My fiancé and I went to a concert and had my NM watch our son. We heard through my brother that we were out to late. No-Win situation = Last time baby sitting your grandson.

    My wife and I sat down w/ my parents to try and figure our family situation out. Keep in mind I wasn’t aware of NPD at this time, and during our convo I was visibly upset that my mother had completely destroyed/severed the family, she just sat there in a unemotional Narc daze, completely unaffected by her own son being distraught. She looks up at the mantel in our living room and says ” well, I gave you that décor from the lake house.” No win situation here…I’m allowed to treat you like garbage since I bought you things.

    When Lucifer (my mom) asked if her and my dad could get us a wedding gift, I had to decline the offer. I’m sure the list of mothers who have had a diamond returned and wedding gift declined is a very short one, but it’s one of the many lists she’s made.

    My advice to anyone dealing w/ a Malignant Narc is no contact. No texting, no Happy mothers/father’s day phone calls, and absolutely do not accept gifts. If a gift ends up on the porch, don’t open it, send it back or trash it w/o letting them know you received it. Put up a wall forever. I found this out the hard way.

  9. mine told me one of the reasons he had an affair was that our dog died (ten years before the affair) our cat died (5 years before the affair) and my son went off to college (15 years before the affair) and that we never got another animal to replace them (mainly because we decided now that we were free, we could travel and camp and enjoy the empty nest. So it was a really no win for me cos those were things we talked about and it was I thought a joint decision, except for my son going to college. So it became all my fault of course. How was I to know or predict that the death of our 16 yr old dog would make him cheat?

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