3 Dating Mind Games Narcissists and Psychopaths Play To Create Competition and Devalue You In Love

A researcher specializing in narcissism and psychopathy shares the three narcissistic mind games you need to watch out for in relationships and dating.

Never trust a date who is rude to the waiter – but similarly, don’t trust a dating partner who flirts with the waitress. It’s long been said that narcissistic and psychopathic individuals provoke jealousy on purpose, and research is showing that is indeed the case. Here are three ways they manufacture competition and pit people against one another in dating contexts and beyond.

Attempting to enhance their own perceived value by surrounding themselves with other “options.”

A narcissistic person evokes jealousy for many reasons according to studies – these can include gaining power and control over others, exacting revenge, testing the relationship, or compensating for low self-esteem (more common with vulnerable narcissists as opposed to grandiose narcissists). That is why narcissistic individuals choose to surround themselves with people that enhance their desirability in the eyes of others. They like to be associated with people who bolster their status and prestige, as well as their “mating potential.” By surrounding themselves with a “harem” of potential love interests, crushes, exes, and people they claim are “just friends,” narcissistic people enjoy creating a circle of competition in dating so that they can communicate to you that they have options and will happily explore these options (if they aren’t doing so already) if you don’t cater to them. Some also play the “dread game” – a pick-up artist technique that is meant to spark someone’s insecurity by showering you with attention one day, only to suddenly withhold and withdraw pursue other interests, and create doubt about one’s position in the relationship so that you grow more dysfunctionally attached to them as a way to seek validation. They will also frequently mention these other options in the hopes of trying to make you “win them over.” For example, a narcissist may tell you they are going out to an event where their ex will be and refuse to answer text messages during that time in a deliberate attempt to make you jealous and anxious. Or they may constantly talk about a co-worker to make you feel suspicious about their fidelity.

Orchestrate “breaks” and break-ups tactic.

A narcissist doesn’t just break up with their partner like a normal person would. Instead, they choose to provoke their partners into feeling the potential pain of losing them early on by threatening break-ups or even asking for a “break” during the relationship – a time where they won’t be reflecting on themselves at all, but rather pursuing someone else for sex and attention. These breaks are conveniently timed just around the time they are love bombing another new victim or past victim. If you are dating someone toxic or even emotionally unavailable who asks for a break, be wary. Their motives may not be at all to eventually repair the relationship or even just to do some deeper thinking—rather, it’s a way to have their cake and have it too, assuming you will stick around. Such “breaks” are also purposely weaponized not only to pursue other victims but create torment and uncertainty about one’s self and the relationship. It is designed to devalue their relationship partners and lower their perceived value while heightening the narcissist’s.

The “praise others, ignore you,” strategy.

Depending on whether a narcissist is love-bombing you with excessive flattery and praise, or whether they’re devaluing you with contempt, they will usually create “love triangles” where one person is being love bombed, while the other is devalued. To do this effectively, narcissists have to praise other people in front of you and bring them into the dynamic of the relationship in some way. Let’s say you’re on a date, and you’ve just shared an accomplishment with your dating partner; perhaps you tell them you’re excited to move into the new home you’ve bought, or just started a graduate program. Rather than ask you questions or celebrate this, they may suddenly start praising their ex, while ignoring the accomplishment you just shared with them. The reason they do this for others associated with them, and not you, is because they perceive their ex-partner to be an object and extension of themselves, while you are a threatening individual who evokes their envy, and thus must be “humbled” to make way for their ego.

Remember: narcissistic people are the types to see you dressed in a ball gown, adorned in diamonds, and wearing gorgeous heels—and choose to be silent about it, while complimenting the clothing of the person next to you wearing sweats and a t-shirt in an absurd attempt to try to spark insecurity in you and make you feel invisible. Even the person wearing sweats is bewildered as to why they’re being praised. As another example beyond a dating context, similarly, let’s say in a university setting, one person aced an assignment a hundred times, and another person only did so once. The narcissistic person will go overboard praising the second person—which would be very nice and kind of them, if it wasn’t for the fact that they treat the first person who achieved twice as much with contempt and indifference. At the end of the day, this strategy of jealousy induction is all about pitting people against one another and trying to punish the person they are devaluing at the time out of envy or because the person threatens their ego in some way.

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