8 Head Games the Narcissist Plays – Ping-Pong, Anyone?

Narcopath Manipulation Characterized as Games

Narcopaths (malignant narcissists, narcissistic sociopath) are masters at playing mind games. They play to win and take no prisoners. They are sore losers and if they don’t win they will often react in a fit of rage and stomp away like a little child.

I have to say upfront, I am not comfortable calling what a narcopath does to us as games, but I can’t think of a better alternative. I used manipulation characterized as games, but that’s a mouthful. Anyway, every therapist I’ve talked with uses the term, so I will, too. When I think of games, I think of fun, laughter and enjoying myself. Nothing about my experience with the narcopath comes even close, so it’s hard for me to think of the narcopath and games in the same setting. Polar opposites in my mind.

I don’t want to play games with a narcopath anymore. The rules are not written down and change according to her whim. I’ve lost before the game even begins. However, I am not a pacifist by any stretch of the imagination. I won’t walk away when I’ve been challenged very often, so when I urge you not to play the narcopath’s games, it’s not because I don’t like a good challenge. I just want a fair playing field or at the very least be playing by the same rules. The narcopath is too skilled and had far more experience playing these games than we ever will. If we are going to triumph against the narcopath, and we are going to, we have to play by OUR rules, not theirs. Oh, you may win a skirmish here and there, but remember, they don’t think like we think. This article reminds me a story a friend of mine, Dale, told recently. He and his young five-year-old son had a marathon checkers match one evening, and after several hours of winning game after game, Dale told his son he was calling it a night, but his son looked perplexed and exclaimed “But, the game’s not over yet!” Dale said he told him they played about a hundred games already, and what did he mean “the game’s not over?” His son looked at him with the most serious look a five-year-old could muster, and said, “the game’s not over until I win”. This mentality is what we face with the narcopath.

The most important thing you must remember about all these game is that no one can know the rules except the narcopath. Here are some of the more common “games” that narcopaths play:

  1. Ping-Pong: When a person begins to understand how a narcissist works, he or she realizes that it’s a bit like playing ping-pong. Anytime a narcissist has to self-reflect about anything, they will immediately throw the ball back to the person they consider their opponent. Narcissists will always throw the ball back to the other person. They do this in the expectation that they won’t have to take responsibility for their behavior. Narcissists hope that by not taking responsibility for their own actions (by using blaming, shaming, projection, denial, etc.) their partner will do what they have always done-forgive the narcissist, make excuses for the narcissist’s behavior, claim the narcissist couldn’t help himself because he was having a bad day, and so on. The narcissist is a moving target and you are always on the firing line. To get away from them (or expose them), you always have to keep an eye on the ball i.e., their actions and motives for playing their games with you. You have to stop wanting to play. You can stop catching the ball and put it back in the narcissist’s court by setting boundaries and making him aware of his actions. He then realizes he has no one to play with anymore. He will either drop the person like a hot potato, try to punish the person, or run away.
  2. Crazy Eights: This is a favorite game of narcissists. YOU are called crazy anytime you confront them, bring up past issues or behaviors, or expose them when they’re doing something appalling. The game goes like this: he/she tells you that you have an overly active imagination, you don’t know what you’re talking about, they have no idea what you’re talking about, or that you’re simply making things up to cause problems. They’ll tell you that it’s obvious that you are the one who is crazy (and tell you that everyone around you agrees with them about you being crazy). They will claim not to remember even unforgettable events, flatly deny they ever happened, and will never entertain the possibility that they might have forgotten. This is an extremely aggressive and infuriating tactic called “gaslighting”, a common technique used by abusers of all kinds. Your perceptions of reality are continually undermined so that you end up without any confidence in your own intuition, memory, or reasoning.
  3. Liars Poker: Individuals with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) play this game fantastically. They lie better than anyone I’ve ever been around. Unless you know them well, they don’t show any of the tells experts look for in exposing deception. My guess is this is how they are able to con so many therapists. I know first hand what that look is on a narcopath. When she was here, the things she didn’t tell us, most with tears in her eyes. I felt so much sympathy for the horrible things that her ex and her parents did to her trying to control her. The stories she told us were outrageous and I bought every one of them, hook, line and sinker. Their persona and their entire world are totally based in lies. Their positive attributes and alleged actions are all made up to trick and seduce others into giving them their fix of narcissistic-supply: praise, adulation and accolades.
  4. Gotcha! The narcopath is a master of phony empathy. He/She appears to take you in, appears to understand what you are experiencing, and appears to genuinely be able to put himself in your shoes. These acts cause you to let your guard down; just when you think there is a genuine give-and-take in your relationship, he pulls a fast one on you-a “gotcha”- most often when you’re at a low point. He will suddenly tell you about his extraordinary new career move, a luxurious trip that he’s taking, or a huge shift in financial status that will make you feel even more diminished. Narcissists perfectly execute an unexpected psychological pounce; their purpose is to grind you down, to humiliate you, and make you feel small and inferior.
  5. Death by a Thousand Cuts: This is a really fun game that all narcissists like to play! Some of your strongest trauma bonds are created with this sadistic game. It involves destroying your soul, your ego, your accomplishments and any belief system you have that does not agree with their beliefs. You both start with empty buckets. The first one to fill his/her bucket wins. They win the game if they are successful at turning everything about you and everything you do into a complete failure. They earn extra points when they successfully take all the credit for everything good that has ever happened in your life, and you thank them. They earn double points when they manage to put all blame for everything bad in your bucket.
  6. King/Queen Game: Either the king narcopath or the queen narcopath gets to make up the rules as they go along; they don’t have to tell the you the new rules, and they change the rules when it suits them. They are the king/queen and, as your superior, entitled to win this game, always. You suffer the consequences for breaking the rules, even those you didn’t know existed.
  7. Cat and Mouse: This is a kind of competitive patience (solitaire) game for two players. It is also known as Spite and Malice. You start this game by arranging the cards from low to high with the Kings/Queens being wild. Suits (the normal order of things and/or common societal rules) are irrelevant in the game. The game ends when someone wins by playing the last card of their “pay-off” pile. The game can also end if the players run out of cards, in which case the result is a draw. Cat and Mouse (or Spite and Malice) is a perfect game for a narcissist because it is actually a form of solitaire, it requires “one-upmanship”, and involves pulling out “better” cards to beat the opponent. It involves a “payoff” and for the narcopath, that usually means hurting you somehow. They keep track of real and imaginary things you do, have done, or might do. This is their “pile” and they will pull a card from it and use it against you when they feel like it.
  8. Guess Who?: This is a pretty simple game, and quite popular. The rules are few. Basically, you must summon all your psychic skills for this game. It is your job to read the narcopath’s sick mind, then decide what kind of mood he/she is in, and respond to her without her saying a word. Your options include, but are not limited to, two-year-old throwing a temper tantrum; Guilt-tripping puppeteer; Poor unappreciated Cinderella; Cock of the Walk; Coy tease; Inquisitor; Keeper of the Gate; add your favorites to the list. If you get it right, then you win the right to change your behavior to mirror his/hers, and your day will be a good one. Get it wrong and you lose. You get to listen to what a loser you are all day long. Either way, they win. OR, you don’t guess at all this time. Instead, you pack up and leave crazy narcopath and win you back.

The only way for the you to win any of the narcopath’s games to not play. If you are in a relationship, you can walk away from the toxic narcissist in your life. If your boss is an abusive narcissist, you can find another job. You can walk away from your parents, too, if they are abusive. If it’s a family member, move away, go no contact or low contact.

Keep Away Game for You: Keep Away is a game the narcopath doesn’t play, but if you must stay in near the narcopath, it’s one you need to master, and the rules of this game are not to respond the any of the narcopath’s attempt to pull you into one of her no-win games. You are not allowed to respond to jabs, barbs, promises, put-downs, etc. It will take focus and determination to break old habits and create new ones. It only takes 21 days of consistent behavior modification to create a new habit. This is not going to be easy, but you’ll get the hang of it pretty quick. Think of it like this: if you’re playing a game of catch, the only way to stop the game is to not catch the ball when someone throws it to you. It’s possible to stop playing games with a narcissist, as long as you mentally prepare for the challenge, and prepare yourself for the onslaught of negativity, accusations and histrionics. Ignore inciting words, don’t respond to inciting words, hang up the phone politely or leave. Take a drive, go for a long walk, anything. Just get away. There are many ways you can refuse to catch the ball and not throw it back. This is the game of “Keep Away”. You stay away, walk away, and refuse to play. This is a game that you, yourself, must learn to play. It is important to recognize that the narcopath will never acknowledge that he/she is now, or has ever played mind games. It’s up to you to stop playing. Don’t try to get them to acknowledge or take responsibility for their words or actions because they will always say they didn’t do it or it never happened or it was your fault.

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