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Has a narcissist tried this manipulation on you?

fakeIf you worked with or for narcissists — or Dark Hearts as I call them here at Think Like a Black Belt — you know they have a knack for making people crazy.

Part of the craziness is their slippery, controlling, and manipulative ways to firmly place any blame for the relationship (or anything else) on you. Narcissists are too insecure to handle direct confrontation or blame. They develop a mastery of defection techniques to avoid this, including wielding guilt like a weapon.

I call one example of guilt deflection the “unsolicited action.” If you don’t know how it is used or the effects of it’s use, it can drive you batty wondering why you feel at fault so often.

Here’s how it works:

1) A Dark Heart says or does something nice for you or a family member or friend.
This is often an unsolicited action.  It will most likely be something very public or grandiose, such as telling a positive story about you to members of a board or attending an event important to you. But it doesn’t even require your presence. It can be as seemingly innocent as taking your mother a birthday cake.

2) The Dark Heart stores the incident in a memory bank, the one labeled “Look What I Did for You.”

The narcissist cultivates this area of his mind with the care of a master gardener and with the recall skills of an ultimate data storage program.

3) As soon as you do something — anything — that makes the Dark Heart feel inadequate or in less control, he will fire guilt shots at you by bringing up the unsolicited action as a weapon of mass emotional destruction:


  • “Just last week I told the board of directors what a great job you have done with the marketing project, and now you say you doubt my skills on marketing?”
  • “I spent an hour talking with your dad at Jen’s wedding, and now you act this way toward me?”
  • “I gave up my time writing a letter of recommendation for you for our local college, and now that you’re graduating, you want to leave this town?”

This is one reason I call them Dark Hearts:  they collect moments in the relationship like a squirrel hiding nuts or a dog burying a bone — all to be dug up later to attack others with constructed and controlling guilt.

What is the self defense against this type of emotional control?

  1. Recognize it. Kindness doesn’t come with strings attached; manipulation does.
  2. Realize they prey on insecurities to make this work, so you will need to work on your insecurities.
  3. Turn it back on them:

“Thanks for talking with my dad at Jen’s wedding, but I thought your kindnesses like that came with no strings attached. Now I feel you are laying a guilt shot on me using that previous action as some kind of leverage in this conversation. I don’t respect that kind of manipulation.”

When you come from a secure place where you can speak truth directly, it creates powerful emotional armor.

Want to know more? Take a look at
The Narcissist — A User’s Guide


Thank you for visiting and learning about self defense.
If you think others can benefit, please pass it on!

Lori Hoeck

Photo credit: Thomas Quine


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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Betsy Wuebker October 2, 2009, 7:44 am

    Wow, Lori – that’s a powerful strategy of turning it on them. I can hear the response: “Why are you so hostile?” or “bitter,” or whatever the ad hominem du jour. It takes intensive training, on your own or with a counselor’s assist, to be able to cue up an effective verbal rejoinder.

    You’re right. The key is to get past the shock of the wound – the point at which we tend to linger in bewilderment – and identify it by calling it out, and set the terms for future interaction. Then vigilance because they’ll ignore our terms and try again. Dog training is more fun because at least you get a dog with it. Narcissism is all about control. Great post!

  • Lori Hoeck October 2, 2009, 8:29 am

    Hi Betsy,
    Dark Hearts’ deflection skills are very much like the mythical beast who grew two heads after one head was cut off. And you’re right, the deflective comeback is often an attack: “What’s got you all riled up?” or the more subtle attack, “Is everything OK with you? You seem upset.”

    You could say, “Interesting you would say that I’m angry (or bitter.) It fascinates me how you try to deflect conflict (or this discussion) away from you. Frankly my inner emotional state is not in question here, nor is it for you to comment on. Now, can we get back to what we were talking about?”

    And yes, vigilance is key because they will simply do it all over again if they are less intelligent. If they are more intelligent, they will simply try another way of deflection.

    Thank you for your hard-earned insight into this subject! Maybe we should think of collaborating on an e-book, “Understanding and Overcoming the Wiley, Wicked Ways of the Dark Heart.”

  • janice October 2, 2009, 12:29 pm

    I think this article’s great, Lori. Preparation and awareness is everything. I have several DH’s in my family. They get frustrated because they can’t manipulate me. I speak my truth, quietly and firmly, pleasantly and with an inscrutable smile when they start the guilt tripping with the points they’ve stored up.

  • Lori Hoeck October 2, 2009, 12:40 pm

    Hi Janice,
    Good for you! I so love a frustrated Dark Heart! I like your inscrutable smile — leaves them wondering and unsure.

  • vered | blogger for hire October 3, 2009, 1:46 pm

    Oh yes. There are plenty of them! I won’t mention names of course, but there’s one in my family.

  • Betsy Wuebker October 4, 2009, 10:13 am

    Hi Lori – Collaborating is the name of my game these days. I’d love to explore the idea!

  • Lori Hoeck October 4, 2009, 10:50 am

    Hi Betsy,
    An email is on its way to you now!

  • Lori Hoeck October 4, 2009, 10:52 am

    Hi Vered,
    It’s quite tough when they are in your family! There are so many other dynamics to consider.

  • jan geronimo October 4, 2009, 10:29 pm

    OMG. There’s one in my family.

    I love it that you give us examples how to parry their deflection tactics. Splendid reading – learned something valuable today.

  • Lori Hoeck October 5, 2009, 8:54 am

    Hi Jan,
    Thank you for your comment. Sorry you have one in the family, too.

    I should add for all — a similar guilt flinging technique has also been used by moms (I changed your diapers and wiped your nose for years and you don’t tell me you’re dating?!?) Many people try use guilt as universal remote control. A narcissist uses it as a second language to both control and deflect away criticism.

  • Barbara Swafford October 6, 2009, 12:23 am

    Hi Lori,

    I can see why you label them as “dark hearts”. It’s scary to know how much control someone can have over our lives, if we let them.

    I had a boss who was a narcissist. She could be so sweet one day, and the next day, a real witch – trying to throw stuff back at me. I finally left that department and about a year later, was promoted to her position. 🙂 (she retired).

    I love what you said in the comment to Jan (and all) about moms. I’ve seen that happen. It ain’t pretty.

  • Cyndi October 14, 2009, 3:27 pm

    This is a really great article and such excellent advice for how to call them on their nonsense. They really are laughable once you can see through them. I recently encountered this exact technique! I got an e-mail from a “friend” that accused me of all sorts of things I hadn’t done and ended with a comment about if I change my mind and wish to be friends again, she ‘ll be more than happy to provide me with info about breast cancer anytime, as she did once before. The message was more subtle than your example but the same idea. How dare I end our friendship when 5 months ago she provided me with info that I asked for. Ugh. No thanks.

  • David October 15, 2009, 8:54 am
  • David October 15, 2009, 8:56 am

    I will try to incorporate this article into http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychological_manipulation unless somebody beats me to it.

  • Lori Hoeck October 15, 2009, 9:15 am

    Hi Cyndi,
    I liked these two points you made, “They really are laughable once you can see through them,” and “Ugh. No thanks.” I’m glad you are there emotionally. For others, it is still a very tough extraction process.

  • Lori Hoeck October 15, 2009, 9:17 am

    Hi David,
    AWESOME links! Thank you! And thank you for getting this information out there. The better we can educate and arm people, the less emotional trauma and drama they will have to go through.

    You might also like these posts:

    Five traits of a narcissistic ‘crazymaker’
    Three ways a narcissist can take control
    The Blame Game of emotional predators
    Signs and traits of emotional predators
    Defense Against the Dark Hearts

  • David October 15, 2009, 10:11 am

    Lori Hoeck thanks i will see if i can use the material in those links on Wikipedia. It is fascinating stuff and enjoy the work but at present i am doing most of the work myself on Wikipedia. I dont want to do everything myself.

  • Lori Hoeck October 15, 2009, 10:29 am

    Hi David,
    I understand. Perhaps someone else will read this and contact you. A network is a powerful thing!

  • David October 15, 2009, 11:14 am

    Lori Hoeck – your links are good. How come you are so well informed ? Are you trained in psychiatry ?

    Incidentally anybody can work on Wikipedia – its just that any contributions have to conform to certain rules such as text should be supported by an authoritative citation.

  • David October 15, 2009, 11:16 am

    Moderator – my post 18 says “Awaiting Moderation.”

  • David October 15, 2009, 11:33 am

    I will try post 18 again.

    I have long lists of narc/psycho red flags
    and manipulative wheezes

    on my website http://www.bullyeq.com but cant put them straight up on Wikipedia as you cant link to self research and text has to supported by a referenced citation by a acknowledged expert in the fleld such as a psychiatrist.

  • Lori Hoeck October 15, 2009, 11:46 am

    Hi David,
    My comment settings doesn’t allow comments with lots of links to prevent spam. Thus your reply went into moderation until I could approve it.

    Your site is excellent. Thanks for the resource!

    My education comes from a journalism degree, life-long research skills, and the school of hard knocks, not psychiatry. I spent 5 years of hard emotional labor figuring out that I was being manipulated by a narcissist.

  • Survivor February 4, 2010, 3:29 pm

    Lori and David,
    I had explored some of the links that have been posted before i found this site. I feel very strongly about informing people about these type of people. I have just started more research. I just got out of a relationship with one. He was the worst person I have ever met. Sad part, I let him take control and didnt realize what he really was doing until after I got pregnant. Even then I thought he would change. Thinking I was the crazy one at the same time I tried hard to figure out what I can do differently to make things better in our relationship. It was only when he almost choked me while trying to take our son from my arms when I got a rude awakening. The problem now was how to get out. We had moved to Dallas and I had no one to help me out. I finally just quit my job and left back to my family. He started getting physical once I started standing up for myself. There was a book that I read that helped me see more clearly that he was the crazy one. “The Verbally Abusive Relationship, How to recognize it and how to respond,” By Patricia Evens. WOW that was the best thing I can do was read that book to make me realize I needed to get out. He also got fired for pornography and stalking me on my computer at work, we both worked for the same company, he still denies he has a problem.

  • Survivor February 4, 2010, 3:38 pm

    I am now the the beginning process of trying to find myself again and not allow him to bring me down. He claims all of his past relationships were great and they just ended because of other reasons (for example his ex girlfriend I believe works for the CIA and according to him she didnt want to move to CA with him) but I on the other hand am the crazy one because he has never had these problems before. It’s hard I won’t lie but I am feeling much better each day with people like you posting sites on the internet to inform many women who may be in a similar situation. I started typing about how Steve and I started and even thought about writing a book about it. I may never get to the point of publishing but something so that I can share with others around me and they can understand how these type of people just get into our lives and don’t reveal their true selves, sometimes, until it too late.

  • Andrew July 12, 2010, 6:53 pm

    Help…I live with 3 narcissists…My mother, my father and my older sister who are all drilling me simultaniously with this sort of stuff. My older sister keeps running after me, without me asking, sends me emails with university infromation etc., then tricked me into talking to a pychiatrist about our parents and suddenly she started crying about what a burden I am on her and how she can’t handle it . The psychiatrist looked at me like I was the devil and wanted to place me under the care of a guardian. She then uses this against me with my narcissistic parents. All three of them keep cutting into me. All the narcissistic manipulation and control are coming at me from 3 sides. I don’t know how to describe it. I’ve become a Zombie. I can’t move, it’s like im paralyzed, while being suffocated…

  • Andrew July 12, 2010, 7:05 pm

    Every effort on my part to leave is being cut down…I shouldve realized the warning signs when I was 18, I am 24 now. At age 18 they did it gradually and stealthy…they made fun of my plans, laughed at them for being ridiculous and that I watch too much tv, because I wanted to become a cook. I picked up boxing for selfdefense as I was picked on as a kid and my dad went berserk and threw my boxing equipment away, cause of course he was threatend by the idead that he would no longer have the physical upperhand, which he used when I was 22 and for the first time didnt want to visit grandmother, like we do every year. My mother tells me that I will never amount to anything anyway and that I should go steal. I have started studying, but quit to go to the army. My parents don’t even acknowledge this. They say I havent done shit. Yeah…anybody who lived with a narcissist knows what I’m talking about…what the hell do I do?…they have systematically erased me. I dont even feel human anymore.