One of the dangers of dealing with a narcissist is that they tend to lash out when they feel they are losing control of a situation. In my life and work with clients, I have seen how disastrous narcissistic tantrums can be. Here are nine ways that a narcissist might act when they lose control.
Try to Push Your Buttons
Narcissists have are very skilled at finding out your weak points and using them against you. The more time you have spent around a narcissist, the more likely they are to know your secret fears and embarrassments. They use this knowledge to hurt you as efficiently as possible.
A narcissist losing control will make cutting comments to try to scare you back in line. For example:
- “If you leave me, you will be alone for the rest of your life.”
- “You’ve always been a quitter!”
- “You should be embarrassed by what you’ve done.”
For more examples of things narcissists say to hurt you, see “Catchphrases Used by Narcissists | Real Life Examples from Victims”.
Ruin Your Reputation
Character assassination is a common tactic used by narcissists when they feel like they are losing you. To a narcissist, it is paramount that they control other people’s perception of what happened between the two of you.
Whether you are firing a narcissistic employee, leaving a narcissistic husband, or taking space from a narcissistic family, the narcissists in your life will see your effort to distance from them as a criticism of their personality.
So, they try to counter this indictment by making you look as bad as possible. In essence, narcissists want to turn the tables, make you the broken one, and make it seem like they are leaving you.
Some examples of things a narcissist might say about you include —
- You are a bad mother or father
- You cheat on your partner or are sexually promiscuous
- You are a liar
- You are an abuser
Usually, a narcissist will try to keep the fact they are spreading false rumors hidden from you. Instead, they will pass them off as natural or originating from someone else and attempt to use them to convince you to come back to them.
This tactic of spreading lies to control someone is often called “triangulation,” which I discuss more in-depth here:
- “Triangulation and the Narcissistic Boss | How They Lie and Get Away with It”
- “Triangulation in Narcissistic Families”
Fall into a Narcissistic Rage
Narcissistic rage is a fit of uncontrollable anger that arises when we irritate a narcissist’s original “narcissistic injury.”
Emotionally, narcissists have an internal mentality like that of a young child that persists because of emotional injury that happened as they were developing emotionally. This raw point is usually in the area of self-esteem and is frequently called the “narcissistic injury.”
When the injury is aggravated, either intentionally or intentionally on your part, narcissists are prone to flying into an over-the-top rage.
Narcissistic rage has obvious cause from the perspective of an outside observer.
Seeing a narcissist go into a rage is a clear sign that they feel like they are losing control of the situation, and are experiencing extreme negative emotions as a result.
Playing the Victim
If a narcissist can’t be the abuser, then they will pretend that you were. I find it stunning just how often a narcissist will accuse their victims of the same forms of abuse that they prefer to use.
If a narcissist lies, they will accuse you of lying. If they spread rumors, they will say you spread rumors. If they cheat, they will accuse you of infidelity.
This is classic psychological projection, where a perpetrator sees their worst qualities in everyone else.
Additionally, it provides them with a form of social protection because by accusing you first, it will seem less believable to others if you accuse them right back. It’s a similar principle in domestic abuse cases where whoever called the police first generally wins.
By Making Themselves Ultra Desirable
When a narcissist feels they are losing you, they will do anything they can to make you feel like you are missing out.
In relationships, this is the classic situation where the partner who is being left dresses up, works out, and tries to find an attractive date to make their partner jealous.
One narcissist boss I had would use the same tactic on employees he feared were getting ready to quit. While he usually was quite stingy with time off and company events, whenever he felt someone was on their way out, he would suddenly plan company parties, give paid time off, and plan numerous workplace improvement efforts. These improvements lasted only as long as the narcissist felt out of control and would cease as soon as the employee’s situation resolved itself.
Narcissists use love as a weapon to control and seduce you. When the feel like they are losing their grip on you, they may revert to extreme flattery.
Narcissists often employ love bombing early in relationships. They will praise you, show you off in public, give you gifts, and put you high on a pedestal. All of this is to train you to expect and desire their favorable attention.
Over time, and little by little, they will withdraw their praise, hoping that you keep craving more and more attention from them.
More info on love bombing in the workplace here:
Make It Seem Like They are in Control
If nothing else works, a narcissist might pretend like what you are doing was their idea. In essence, they will pretend they are still in control, even when they aren’t.
This tactic is particularly likely if what you are doing, which they opposed initially, has proven to be a good idea. Some examples would be —
- A narcissist lover saying splitting up was their idea
- A narcissist boss taking credit for your idea
- A narcissist parent claiming they “taught you everything”
To a narcissist, perception is more important than reality, and as long as they appear in control, they might regain control at some point. Or, at least they won’t lose their authority in the eyes of other people.
Force Their Way into Your Life
If they can’t convince you to do what they want, a narcissist may look for ways to force you. Some examples of this might be —
- A narcissistic partner trying to get pregnant so you won’t leave her
- Narcissist parents stealing your money or getting you fired so you can’t be independent
- Narcissist siblings destroying or stealing your property, so you have no choice but to follow their advice
Cut You Off Completely
Lastly, a narcissist might fight your independence by ghosting you or giving you the cold shoulder. In this case, losing control was too much for the narcissist to bear, so they retreated entirely from the situation.
Additionally, a narcissist will cut you off to regain some semblance of control over you, given that you did not consent to altogether ending the relationship. Or, it shows that you do need them when you try to get back in contact.
I find this behavior most commonly in professional relationships with narcissists, as well as in families. More information on what to do when a narcissist gives you the cold shoulder here:
- When Your Narcissist Boss is Giving You the Silent Treatment
- Why You Narcissist Coworker Is Ignoring You & What To Do About It
What happens when narcissists lose control?
When a narcissist loses control over their victims, they respond either with narcissistic rage, by employing manipulation techniques designed to regain power, or by attempting to spin the situation so that it looks like they still have authority over you.
What are the signs that a narcissist is losing control?
The best sign that a narcissist is losing control is when they get angry for no apparent reason or when their anger isn’t proportional to the situation. However, in some cases, they may suddenly reform, act extremely likable out of the blue, or make themselves highly desirable in an attempt to regain control.