50 Shades of Narcissism

Fifty Shades of Narcissism

The Many Ways that Narcissists Use & Abuse

Full disclosure: I didn’t read the book “50 Shades of Grey,” but I appreciate the intriguing nature of that title. And I did watch the movie, which was an exploration into the seductive nature of power and control. These themes are prominent in narcissistic abuse and manipulation. Yet, unlike the book and movie, there is nothing sexy about them.

In this month’s blog, along with the accompanying #CompassionateChat on YouTube, I am going to run through 50 different tactics that narcissistic people tend to exhibit, particularly when manipulating sensitive or empathetic people. Some of these will shock you, since they are so common in terms of societal norms. Like me, you might not have even realized how harmful these tactics can be. Sadly, a good portion of negative behavior is overlooked as normal when, in fact, it is unhealthy and draining to be around.

The ultimate goal of today’s blog and chat is that you recognize negative or bullying behaviors so that you don’t get depleted by them or take on the shame, guilt, or abuse that they are intending. I want you to be able to recognize these things and protect yourself knowing that you deserve better than this kind of treatment.

Buckle up as we explore the “grey” areas of abuse with the following 50 actions and traits that signal someone might be unhealthy for you to be around:

  1. They get you to do things for them. [Learn more about this in 🎥 The ONE Common Element in Narcissistic or Manipulative People
  2. Overtly bragging about themselves.
  3. Exhibiting little or no genuine empathy. They don’t actually care about your feelings or needs.
  4. Displaying a lack of self-awareness. They have no idea how they come across and don’t care.
  5. They always redirect the conversation to themselves.
  6. Using projection, which means to accuse you of all their most negative traits or actions. With narcissists, an accusation is often an admission.
  7. They’re hypocritical, following a “do as I say not as I do” philosophy. They will often accuse you of being too judgmental, which, by nature is them judging you. They don’t want to be held to the standards that they hold for everyone else.
  8. They’re always changing the rules. This is common in marriage, where the household and parenting responsibilities are always shifting so that you have to do more and more.   
  9. They actively seek large sums of money or fame. They need to feel superior to others.
  10. Being excessively greedy. They take just to take and not because they need something.
  11. They are superficial. Everything is about appearance and status. They surround themselves with designer items, fancy cars, and other displays of wealth. They portray the perfect image of themselves and their children, while not caring at all about the reality beneath the surface.
  12. They aren’t interested in self-growth and find such efforts to be odd. They don’t believe they have flaws or anything they should be working on.
  13. Using negative nonverbal communication. It is estimated that 90% of communications is nonverbal. Covert narcissists use their tone of voice and body language, like rolling their eyes, sighing, giving the silent treatment, or looking away, to subtly abuse.
  14. Sneering or smirking at you. This is a very specific and passive-aggressive form of negative body language that sensitive people in particular will receive as threatening.
  15. They’re happy when other people have hardships. For example, someone I knew laughed at how “cranky” her sister was, when that sister was dying from a terrible disease. There is no joy in seeing another person suffer.
  16. Making snarky or insulting comments. People act like this is normal or funny. It’s not. Oftentimes it is dismissive and cruel.
  17. Justifying their insensitive behavior by adding insult to injury. “I wouldn’t have been so rude if you weren’t so annoying.” Or, “I was only telling the truth. You are too sensitive.” They bully you and then shame you for having a normal reaction to the negativity.
  18. Springing things on you – like an unexpected meeting or a party. This is a form of gaslighting used on people who like to be prepared. It is done to intentionally cause a person distress.
  19. Using vague criticism. You might ask, “How’s dinner.” And, they reply with, “It’s fine.” It is clear they aren’t happy with it but they won’t tell you how to make it better. Or, they ask questions that imply that something you did wasn’t right, like “Why did you do it like that?” Yet, they refuse to help you correct or improve the situation, which leads you to feel disempowered and helpless.
  20. Using very direct, harsh criticisms. I knew a very narcissistic woman who referred to her children as “useless” any time they didn’t do something she wanted them to do. Words like “useless, disappointing, a failure,” are incredibly hurtful and shame-inducing. Healthy people know that. Abusive people will use them to cut others down.
  21. Exerting their power needlessly and excessively. A manager who forces you to work late on a project, which you later learn wasn’t due for weeks. They are letting you know who is boss.
  22. Being actively disrespectful of other’s time. A manager who changes meeting times haphazardly without concern for anyone else’s time. They feel entitled and WAY more important than everyone else.
  23. Using your vulnerabilities to shame and dismiss you. The person who calls you, “The Skinny Bitch” behind your back because they think you are too thin. Meanwhile, they know that you have a thyroid condition that has caused your weight to fluctuate.
  24. Rallying other people to be on their side. Those who support narcissistic individuals are referred to as, “Flying monkeys.” They will often side with the narcissistic person at all costs which leaves their targets feeling ganged up on.
  25. Backstabbing and sharing your secrets publicly. For example, you tell a friend something deeply personal and then they blurt it out in order to embarrass you in front of others.
  26. Actively dismissing your hurt with criticisms or disbelief. They readily victim blame with statements like, “Quit being such a baby,” Suck it up buttercup!” or,  “Learn to take a joke.“
  27. Laughing at the things you say. They are literally laughing AT you and not with you. The tone and the nature make it clear that they are dismissing you and trying to make you feel small.
  28. Constantly making fun of others. Their insecurity requires them to mock others all the time, even the people they supposedly love.
  29. Not paying attention to you. They will look away or focus on their phone when you are speaking.
  30. Telling you how you feel or saying they know how you feel when they really don’t. Their assumptions are usually wrong and it becomes clear that they don’t actually care about your true feelings.
  31. Finding it weird or silly when you cry or exhibit genuine emotion. This is a very clear display of a lack of empathy.
  32. They make their problems much bigger than they really are. They assume the role of the victim saying things like, “This is the worst thing that has ever happened,” which is clearly lacking in perspective or acceptance of the fact that everyone has difficult things happen to them.
  33. They don’t feel the need to help others. They don’t give to charity or offer support when people are struggling. The instinct to help doesn’t even cross their minds.
  34. Exhibiting controlling behavior. It is always their way, yet if you dare to exert your desires you are called a “control freak.”
  35. Not acknowledging or thanking you for gifts or things you’ve done for them. They don’t want to show you appreciation or make you feel good in any way.
  36. Giving thoughtless gifts. They clearly show you that you aren’t important to them by giving you gifts with little meaning or value.
  37. They refuse to put things in writing. They don’t want to be accountable for their words.
  38. They won’t apologize. They can’t take responsibility for their actions or ever admit that they were wrong.
  39. Throwing temper tantrums. They are very immature. Just like a toddler, they will throw a fit if you prove them wrong or demand that they show some accountability.
  40. They disregard laws and basic rules. They feel entitled and special, so the rules don’t apply to them. They will park in “no parking” zones or refuse to wear their seat belt.

The final 10 behaviors are the TRICKIEST because you want them to be true. Or, they are SOOO unbelievable or unrelatable that you can’t even believe anyone would behave in such cruel ways.

  1. Lovebombing you with amazing compliments. They say the very things you’ve always wanted to hear just to manipulate you. Then, over time, they stop offering any compliments or praise.
  2. They praise you without really knowing you.
  3. Playing the victim to feed off your empathy. They make it seem like they are in a a really difficult situation so that you will offer sympathy and support.
  4. Ruining special events. For example, they throw you a surprise party when you hate surprises. Narcissistic people need to make everything about them, even other people’s special days like weddings, birthdays, graduations, and even funerals.
  5. They kick you when you are down. If you experience a death or a health crisis, they refuse to help or support you. They seem happy to see you struggle. It makes them feel more powerful and you are much easier to manipulate and abuse.
  6. Displaying willful or weaponized ignorance. They get things wrong on purpose so that you will swoop in and fix the situation.
  7. Pretending to be an animal-lover. This seems to imply a loving, caring person. Yet, they are just using the animals’ unconditional love in the same way they use humans. Ask yourself, “Do they love other people’s animals? Do they really self-sacrifice for their animals or do they just put on a good act?”
  8. Pretending to be interested in nonprofit causes. They display a persona of a good, kind-hearted person. But it’s all just an act. They don’t do it for the inherent good of it. They do it to make themselves look good or to attain power and money.
  9. Claiming to be highly spiritual and using that to be above others. This is the “holier than thou” person who upon careful inspection doesn’t practice what they preach.
  10. A self-proclaimed healer. We all have healing abilities. Humble, authentic healers recognize that they are simply a conduit or a partner with the person they are assisting. People who claim to heal others are typically just looking to have power and control.

WHEW – that was rough! It is hard to accept how many ways humans can be cruel to one another. Again, I am offering this information so that you can protect yourself when someone exhibits these behaviors or traits consistently. We all deserve to be surrounded by loving, supportive connections who genuinely want the best for us.

If people you associate with treat you in these ways, please don’t blame yourself. It is never about you! Also, don’t expect the person to change. When people utilize these tactics, they are typically doing so with intention. They know better, but have chosen not to do better. So, you will need to choose your own protection and self-preservation by avoiding or limiting your time around them. Remember too, that “50 Shades of Grey,” was considered by many to be a romance, yet there is nothing romantic or loving about abuse.


Michelle Gibeault Traub is a health writer, compassionate coach, and the author of Free From Narcissists and Online Dating for Sensitive Women. Her mission is to help women be their best in body, mind & spirit. Sign up for Michelle’s FREE Gifts The Natural Healing Toolkit and 33 Ways to Add More Joy to Your Life.

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