If you have ever fallen for a narcissist or psychopath and have spun your wheels combing through every memory, conversation, email and text message searching for clues of where things went wrong, what was real and what was fake, and any signs you may have missed along the way, what you’ll come to discover are the veiled tracks of very deceptive and powerful manipulation tactics that were used to seduce and control you. Pathological individuals (most notably narcissists and psychopaths, but non-pathological individuals can be extremely manipulative as well) tend to be innate, master manipulators. And, since manipulation, by its very nature, occurs below the radar and just outside the realm of our conscious awareness, it makes it very difficult to detect.
It’s a lot easier to manipulate people’s emotions than one might imagine. Take for example what happened in 2012 when researchers from two major universities teamed up with Facebook to conduct an experiment where they intentionally manipulated the emotions of more than half a million of Facebook users. For one week, Facebook modified the newsfeeds of a group of its users so half of them would only see positive stories and updates and the other half would only see negative stories and updates. As expected, when the users in both groups posted their own status updates, they were reflective of the mood of the posts and updates they had been exposed to. 
What’s scary about this research is that if Facebook was able to manipulate the emotions of its users just by controlling what they saw in their newsfeeds for a week, think about how easy it would be for someone to manipulate you who actually knew you and had insight into what makes you tick?
The Devil Comes Disguised As Everything You Wished For
Basically, we can boil down the manipulation tactics pathological individuals use to manipulate and control their victims into two main strategies: positive reinforcement manipulation tactics and negative reinforcement manipulation tactics. The phrase ‘positive manipulation tactics’ might sound a lot like an oxymoron since manipulation isn’t considered a good or positive thing to do, but the tactics I’ve listed in the positive category were placed there because if the narcissist or psychopath were to only use positive reinforcement manipulation tactics throughout the entire relationship, the relationship would actually be experienced by the target as quite nice and rather pleasurable. However, since that’s never the case, the tactics are truly the most deceptive of all tactics.
Pathological individuals use both positive and negative reinforcement manipulation tactics throughout the entire relationship, but positive reinforcement tactics are most heavily concentrated during the beginning phase of the relationship. The narcissist or psychopath uses the promise of some reward or gain (positive reinforcement) to accomplish the following objectives:
- Quickly earn your trust
- Lower your guard
- Win you over
- Get you invested in the relationship emotionally, and often times finanically
- Reinforce desired behaviors
- Set you up to take the abuse to follow
The 7 Most Deceptive Narc-Sadistic Manipulation Tactics
The following 7 deceptive, narc-sadistic manipulation tactics are described in the context of a romantic relationship, but they are used in all types of relationships. Not all narcissists and psychopaths use every one of these tactics, but many do to some degree or another.
Isn’t it ironic how when you remove the letter c from the word charm, it turns into the word harm? It’s said that if you have charm, you don’t need anything else. Author, Albert Camus, describes charm as, “The ability to get someone to say “yes” without asking a clear question.” Charm is usually the first indication you might be in the crosshairs of a pathological person.
After one conversation, narcissists and psychopaths can leave you feeling like you’ve known them for years. They can be smooth, entertaining, warm, confident, and always seem to know exactly what to say. Although, if you stick around them long enough, you’ll probably notice that those witty comebacks and perfectly timed, endearing comments are just a bunch of rehearsed lines they recycle with every new person they meet. Narcissists and psychopaths use the tactic of charm to quickly build a connection with you, so you’ll instantly lower your guard and not be tipped off to their self-serving agendas.
Society conditions us to view charm as an attractive and positive quality but according to the author, Lundy Bancroft, “People who choose to put that much exaggerated effort into how they present themselves are often doing so because they have something to hide. They move through the world taking advantage of people, so they need to put that way of operating in a package that looks appealing or everyone would run away from them. Exploiters tend to be charmers.” 
Part of the pathological individual’s charm is the ability to leave you feeling like the both of you are wonderful, and so much alike. We’re naturally drawn to people who share common interests, goals, quirks, views and understand us on a level that others don’t. You know that feeling of instant connection you get when you meet someone and reveal something about yourself and they respond with, “me too!” Those two little words not only convey empathy, acceptance, and the feeling of I get you, but they can be powerfully bonding as well.
We automatically assume a more favorable opinion and are quicker to trust people who remind us of ourselves, which is the reason why narcissists and psychopaths pretend to share all the same interests and views as their targets. Their ability to convincingly morph into your perfect match is why it’s so hard to believe when we see them switch their entire personalities and go from being someone who was a hardcore red meat-eating, country music-loving, conservative, foodie to suddenly claiming to be a bohemian, alternative music-loving, vegan in the next relationship.
However, building rapport and bonding through “similarity” can be conveyed just as strongly, if not more so, in non-verbal ways, using a tactic called mirroring. Back when I was in graduate school learning to be a psychotherapist, we were taught to mirror our clients to help put them at ease and quickly build rapport. Mirroring is a reflective listening technique where you not only reflect back the content of the client’s disclosure, but you also closely emulate certain characteristics of their non-verbal behavior, such as; the tone and tempo of their speech, their mannerisms, and body language. Simply put, the reason why mirroring is an effective tool to connect with people and influence their feelings is because we all have cells in our brains called mirror neurons. These mirror neurons respond the same way whether we perform an action (i.e.: throw a ball) or witness an action (i.e.: watch someone throw a ball). So, when our behaviors are subtly reflected back at us, the simultaneous firing of our mirror neurons enhances our feelings of rapport and creates the perception of similarity. Numerous studies have confirmed when salespeople were instructed to use mirroring techniques with their customers, their customers responded more approvingly and they gave higher ratings on customer satisfaction surveys.   
The Illusion of Intimacy
The quicker the narcissist or psychopath can get you invested in them emotionally, and financially too, the less time they have to spend keeping up the Mr./Ms. Nice guy/gal act, and can start focusing on their real goal- fulfilling their needs by exploiting and controlling you. To swiftly accomplish the illusion of intimacy and gain your trust, the narcissist or psychopath will carefully share something very personal with you upon meeting you. (It could be something true or something they completely made up.) Although, they will share it in a way that makes them appear honest and vulnerable, not socially inappropriate as in a TMI (Too Much Information) kind of way.
Another way narcissists and psychopaths may use the illusion of intimacy and attempt to intensify the connection is to suggest that there are higher powers or forces involved in bringing the two of you together. It could be God, the universe, the stars, the supernatural, destiny, or anything that might appeal to your spiritual side. Because after all, who are you to doubt the will of the divine?
You know you’re being loved bombed when you feel dizzied by the constant displays of affection and adoration. This is a common tactic used to lower your defenses, knock you off balance and get you to quickly commit, but it also plays a part in keeping you hooked as well. All that self-esteem boosting attention, adoration, and flattery also provides short-term, boosts of dopamine levels. When you’re being love bombed, the neurotransmitter dopamine gives you that little rush of pleasure and energy. Over time, your brain begins to associate the love bomber with the pleasure-inducing chemical spikes of dopamine. So, when the love bombing ends and the abuse starts, it can feel a lot like drug withdrawal and send you into a dopamine seeking frenzy.
Social media and smartphones are a favorite love bomber’s tool since they allow greater access to the target and the means for constant communication and more intense love bombing. A narcissist may blow up your social media with complimentary comments, likes, snapchats, tweets and DM’s. They might send you around the clock “I’m just thinking of you” text messages and kissy face emojis, or call you and spend hours talking to you on the phone. Very early on in the relationship, they will shower you with expressions of eternal lasting love, declarations of soulmate status, or give you gifts or tokens of affection. Love bombing from someone you’re interested in and attracted to is one of the hardest things to resist because not only does it appeal to your human desire to feel loved and appreciated, but it will cause you to ask yourself, “How can something that feels so good be wrong?”
Carrot dangling occurs once the narcissist or psychopath has determined what it is you desire and has taken inventory of your future dreams (i.e.: love, a relationship, marriage, children, vacation to Italy, house in the country, and so on…) which of course, will coincidently match their desires and future dreams. They will not only convince you that they share your desires and vision for the future, but that they can and will make them come true. But, since they really have no intentions of fulfilling your desires and future dreams, they will lead you on by regularly dangling glimpses of hope and promises of a future together (future faking) in front of you, but just slightly out of your reach.
To seduce and control their targets, pathological individuals use trance and hypnosis, which is a relaxed state of high suggestibility. Through the use of a combination of techniques that can include; a rhythmic tone of voice, intensity, prolonged eye-contact, and repetition, they induce their target into a trance state and then verbally plant suggestions into their subconscious mind.
Unlike the conscious mind, the subconscious mind doesn’t use logic, reason or think for itself. Its function is to permanently store data and follow commands. The information that gets stored in your subconscious mind permanently stays there and compels you to act accordingly.
Also, research studies have found that just the act of staring into someone’s eyes in a warm, non-aggressive manner for ten minutes or longer produces altered states of consciousness.  So, basically, lovingly staring into your lover’s eyes for a prolonged period of time and saying things like, “Do you see your future?” or “We’re perfect together” is not only experienced as intense, romantic, and bonding, but it can be a powerful form of mind control.
The tactic of isolation is used to accomplish three main objectives.
- To separate you from the advice and influence of your loved ones
- To preemptively decrease your sphere of social support so you won’t have people to turn to once the abuse starts
- To condition you to be dependent upon and focus solely on the narcissist or psychopath
This tactic can arguably fit into both categories depending upon the way it’s played, but I included it in the positive category because while the loss of social support is certainly a negative effect of the isolation, the manipulation isn’t carried out using explicit or implicit threats of loss, punishment, rejection, or abandonment, but it certainly could be. Also, during the beginning phase of the relationship, the massive amounts of time spent with the pathological individual is typically desired by the target and perceived as enjoyable.
Early in the relationship, the tactic of isolation can easily be missed because it’s natural to want to spend a lot of time with a new romantic partner. The narcissist or psychopath might say things like, “I’m just so in love with you, I want to spend all my free time with you.” Or, they might take something negative you’ve said about a friend in confidence and use it to their advantage. For example, “I don’t like you hanging out with Judy because I’m worried she will stab you in the back the way she did with your sister.”
Love is an amazing feeling but it is often blind and tends to cloud good judgment. It’s advantageous for the pathological individual to monopolize your time and first secure your love and get you invested in the relationship before your family and friends have a chance to get a good read on them and influence your opinion. They may also delay introducing you to their family or friends so you don’t accidentally hear anything about them that might sound any alarm bells or contradict the narrative and persona they’ve been presenting to you.
If you have strong family ties, this can be rather threatening to the pathological individual’s desire and need for control. So, they may attempt to isolate you are under the guise of suggesting the two of you move in together or move to another city or state that will conveniently take you further away from the protection and support of your loved ones.
From The Frying Pan Into The Fire
Now, to make matters worse, the most effective way to intensify and solidify the effects of the positive reinforcement manipulation tactics, while increasing the grip of control over the target is to begin by introducing negative reinforcement manipulation tactics. Creating an unpredictable atmosphere that randomly shifts from one of love and concern (reward or gain) to callousness and cruelty (punishment or loss) is the most powerful way to motivate and sustain desired behaviors. The idea that the most effective way to sustain behavior is through using a random schedule of rewards and punishments is called intermittent reinforcement, and was introduced by a psychologist, B.F. Skinner. 
In addition, when the pathological individual introduces negative reinforcement manipulation tactics into the relationship, he/she creates an environment ripe for traumatic bonding, which occurs when the victim develops unhealthy bonds of attachment for their abuser. Trauma bonds are formed and strengthened when the additional elements of intensity, anxiety, and fear are added to the mix. As the manipulation switches from promises of rewards or gains (positive reinforcement) to negative reinforcement (threats of punishment or loss), the intensity increases, and produces feelings of anxiety and fear in the victim. When this happens, the trauma bond is further reinforced, as the victim begins to view the narcissist or psychopath as the savior or the cure every time he/she decides to relieve the victim’s fear or anxiety with temporary crumbs of love and concern.
In part two of this article, I will describe the most common negative reinforcement manipulation tactics and a few lesser known ones. Don’t forget to subscribe to my blog to receive articles directly in your inbox.
Bree Bonchay, LCSW, is a licensed 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.
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