Narcissists brainwash their victims through various means including gaslighting, blaming, love bombing, ghosting, and holding the victim to unrealistic or impossible standards.
Because narcissists have no power over you unless you are emotionally involved, they will do anything they can to throw you off balance and cause intense feelings such as guilt.
How easy is it to be brainwashed?
For the purpose of writing this paragraph, I had a look at a few online resources about brainwashing — what it is and how it is done.
If you care about your mental health, please don’t do the same. You’ll find descriptions of experiments on animals as well as humans, and examples from the darkest times in history.
But hey, I’ve done all the hard work, so you don’t need to look into all that. In short, it turns out that…
It is surprisingly easy to be brainwashed as long as the person who’s doing the brainwashing is able to cause very strong feelings and emotions.
This includes traumatic events, excessive fear, shocks, etc. You can see why I warned you against doing any research yourself.
In theory, anyone is capable of brainwashing others as long as they have some sort of control over them. It just happens that narcissists are especially good at it.
Common traits of narcissists
- Obsessive need for attention. Including negative attention. Narcissists are terrified of being ignored, and want to be noticed at all costs. They want others to give them attention and energy. This is usually to compensate for a deep feeling of emptiness.
- Obsessive need for control. Specifically, controlling other people, even more so if it’s their partner. Narcissists believe that if people around them behaved spontaneously, they would be a threat to them. When they can’t control others, narcissists act cold; when they get a chance, they become manipulative.
- Lack of empathy. Those with a narcissistic personality tend not to understand other people’s feelings. Even when their partner communicates their feelings verbally or physically, they may still fail to empathize. And when they do empathize, they could deliberately choose to ignore how the other person feels.
- Superiority complex. I.e. an exaggerated sense of self-worth and self-importance. Narcissists believe they are better than everybody else. In their mind, they always deserve more. Their superiority complex may also lead them to believe they are responsible for controlling other people’s lives.
- Exploitative behavior. For narcissists, other people matter only to the degree that they add value to their life. Since narcissists lack empathy, or choose not to recognize other people’s emotions and needs anyway — they justify taking advantage of those around them.
How narcissists can brainwash you
In no particular order: ten brainwashing techniques that narcissists use to throw you off guard, make you vulnerable, and take advantage of you.
1. Love bombing
Aah, it feels so good to receive all those compliments, all those gifts, all that attention. Isn’t it nice to be told you are the most beautiful person he/she has ever met?
Make no mistake, the narcissist does this to connect emotionally, but not in a good way. If you respond to their words/attention, that makes you vulnerable and exploitable.
2. Lies, lies, lies
I don’t think there is anything wrong with not telling the absolute truth from time to time — sometimes we may even have to. But with narcissists, that’s a totally different story.
Many narcissists are basically pathological liars and what’s worse is, the more they lie to you, the more you will normalize the fact that they are dishonest, and somehow justify their behavior.
3. Borrowing money
I have already written a whole article on this. When someone owes you money and fails to repay you, particularly if it’s a large enough sum, that makes it very difficult for you to ignore them.
That’s what the narcissist wants — to get into your head, to know that your thoughts about them are consuming you. Borrowing money just happens to be an effective way to do so.
4. Playing victim
Another clever brainwashing technique is that in which the narcissist will pretend to be a victim. For example, they will make up things about their childhood, insecurities, fears, financial problems, etc.
And then scream for help, cry, beg you. The idea is to take advantage of your good nature to get, once again, your complete attention. That’s always the goal.
Imagine questioning your own perception of the truth. Not in a philosophical way, but as a result of systematic brainwashing, shaming, or any other cruel behavior.
The fifth way narcissists can brainwash you is through gaslighting — they will find ways to make you think you are the crazy one who needs to “get real”.
6. Conditional love
If you really love me, then you must do this. I can love you back, but only if you treat me a certain way. I am going to respect you, but only if you promise me this. You get the idea.
This is conditional love because it depends on a set of very strict conditions. Even worse, the narcissist will make sure these conditions, or rules, are practically unreachable.
“Sorry”. It’s such a powerful word. Narcissists know that and use it to their advantage. They will treat you like dirt, then apologize, then see what your reaction or response is.
If you accept their apologies — and if you are naive and don’t value yourself enough, you probably will — then guess what, they are going to repeat the same pattern over and over again until you reach emotional exhaustion.
Ironically, this is what the victim of narcissistic abuse should do to the abuser as soon as they sense a red flag. The act of ghosting isn’t just potentially cruel but it leaves the other person very confused.
Why have I been ghosted? What have I done to deserve this? Once again, the narcissist’s goal has been achieved: they have your (negative) attention, and this makes you vulnerable.
Another fairly common brainwashing technique is to blame you for literally everything that happens, even when it’s obvious that it has nothing to do with you.
For example, the narcissist may be angry or stressed out for their own reasons, but then meet you and tell you it wouldn’t be as bad if you had done this or that.
And lastly, narcissists can make you emotionally vulnerable, and consequently manipulate you, by convincing that you are absolutely perfect.
Why is this a problem? Because then they will expect you to actually be perfect, and hold you to unrealistic, unreasonable, unreachable standards, and then either ignore or punish you for being a “failure”.
How not to be brainwashed by narcissists
First of all, you have to pay attention and notice a pattern. What do all the brainwashing techniques listed above have in common?
You will find that they all tend to cause some kind of extreme reaction. Fear, shock, anxiety, guilt — these are the things that fuel your relationship with the narcissist.
Just like whole nations were brainwashed into doing horrible things to fellow human beings out of fear and anger, the narcissist turns you into a puppet by tapping into your feelings.
The narcissist first throws you off balance thanks to some kind of powerful emotion, then they inflict pain and humiliate you over and over again. Until you either cut them out of your life or reach an emotional breakdown.
If it’s the latter, you will be literally brainwashed in the sense that your brain won’t function properly. And that’s when the narcissist attacks.
Notice that the initial phase can involve positive emotions rather than negative ones. Love bombing is the perfect example of this.
The bottom line
Alright, so what’s the solution? Read the following two words very carefully until they sink in.
Yep. That’s the secret. That’s not to say you shouldn’t take legal action, or ask for help — please do ask for help if you ever fall into a narcissist’s trap and you are struggling.
The point is: narcissists, as well as other emotional vampires and toxic manipulators, can attack you only if you are vulnerable.
And you can be vulnerable only if you are vulnerable emotionally — that is, if you react to their words and/or behavior with anger, anxiety, guilt, fear, indignation, etc.
You never have to react or respond. You are allowed to ignore them. Even when they beg you, even when they compliment you. Total, complete, absolute indifference is key.
Don’t be brainwashed. Don’t give them attention. It is the narcissist, and not you, that needs that attention. You are in control, not them. They need you — you don’t need them!
You are free to do whatever you want, and “whatever you want” is called indifference.