If I were to outline the most manipulative things that the narcissist did, it wouldn’t have been the apparent charm or the violent behavior/rage that would transpire when he didn’t get his way.
No, the most devastating manipulation happened subtly. It happened in the moments when the narcissist would casually mention the future or ask me to prioritize him instead of my friends because he missed me. The manipulation occurred when he slowly placed his judgment above mine or pretended to be concerned when exercising his control.
Manipulation is subtle. Abusers must be careful and strategic when weaving the toxic web for their victims.
Subtle manipulative tactics are often missed even though they can potentially trap the victim in a toxic/abusive relationship and can appear in the following behaviors.
#1. You will begin to be isolated in a way that feels intimate
The narcissist wanted to see me all of the time. When I had plans with friends, he would ask me to leave early to spend time with him. Although I would communicate about plans, he would beg to see me, claiming he missed me so much and needed my time.
At the moment, it felt romantic and sweet. I didn’t realize that the desire he portrayed as wanting intimacy and time together was simply isolation so that he could begin exercising control.
It’s normal to want to be with your partner all the time, especially at the beginning of dating. However, a healthy person will have their life/friends and won’t pressure you to see them so they can constantly isolate you.
#2. They will disguise control as being concerned.
A narcissist will constantly talk about their victim's friends and family negatively. They want you to believe their fabricated lies that the cherished people in your life don’t have your best interests at heart. As this constant narrative is spun, the victim will question if everyone in their life is indeed toxic.
An abuser is always wary of influences in their partner’s life that could recognize their behavior/help the victim realize that they are in a dangerous situation.
Ultimately, your community is a threat to the narcissist, and they will start planting the seeds early on to make you question all the other relationships in your life.
#3. They will put themselves in the position of being above you
The narcissist is an expert on everything, and they will explain that you need to trust them entirely because they have your best interests at heart.
By placing themselves on a pedestal as an expert, they will begin to doubt themselves and believe that they know better. This gives them the home-ground advantage. Eventually, you will allow them to run the shots entirely, which opens the door for them to begin fully gaslighting their victim.
Anyone who causes you to believe that they are better than you/above you is not a healthy partner in any shape, way, or form. Relationships should be equal, and the moment they are not, it is an uneven and toxic playing field.
#4. They will weaponize the future to keep their victim from leaving
When dating the Narcissist initially, he spoke of the future together and how we were soulmates.
It wasn’t until the aftermath that I learned that the promises of a beautiful future together were a manipulative tactic called "future faking" often used by narcissists to cause victims to feel more bonded and intimate with them, primarily in the beginning stages of the relationship.
When the future faking from the narcissist stopped, it felt like a loss/death.
The beautiful picture that the manipulator had painted dissolved; it had never existed, and all that remained was the invalidation, anger, and at times, abuse.
Manipulation can be nearly impossible to detect
People who have not been through narcissistic abuse often struggle to relate with victims or empathize with their experiences.
Often victims are blamed because they “should have known better” or “recognized the signs” that someone was a narcissist/abusive.
The truth is that even the most informed/educated/intelligent people miss the signs. Narcissists often target people with strength and positive qualities as they subconsciously know they lack them.
It is important to remember that manipulation is subtle and that, far too often, it isn’t until we are in the depths of it that the little voice in the back of our head begins to whisper that something is wrong.