Understanding a Narcissist’s Control/Validate Tactic

narcissist-abuseToday I realized that my ex, the Narcissist of my books, had given me the biggest clue into his twisted narcissistic mind when he described himself as a “simple man”. He would say this as a way of insisting that I was making too much of things…that he didn’t even think like I made it appear he was thinking. I, of course, believed this self-description to be absurdly untrue and even ridiculous but, now, while responding to a reader who felt baffled by her narcissistic partner’s behaviors, I think he may have actually been on to something.

The Narcissist Was Right – He IS a Simple Man!

To provide a quick background on the “I’m a Simple Man” story, here’s a paragraph from my book When Love Is a Lie:

“No matter from what angle you examine a narcissist, sociopath, or psychopath, the view is complicated. Of course, he’ll swear up and down that “complicated” is far too exaggerated a description and the problem, of course, is you. Consequently, when a narcissist scolds us for making mountains out of molehills, it’s his attempt, as always, to make us doubt our intuition and the ideology serves him accordingly. During one altercation where I was laying out the facts, my N made the statement, “Really, you’re making me out to be complicated and the truth is I’m just a simple man.” Even though I laughed out loud, he found his self-description obviously very clever because, from then on, I’m just a simple man became his new catch phrase for every argument where he felt he had to defend himself.”

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Now, to be clear, by saying that the Narcissist may have told the truth, I’m not relieving him of his guilt in any way shape or form.  What I am saying is that, by insisting “I’m really just a simple man”, he was – albeit inadvertently – providing me with the biggest clue ever into how these jerks really think. Because the behaviors of the narcissist are so mind-boggling and so out of the norm of how we might consider behaving toward someone we care about, we tend to trump them up, making the behaviors much more complicated than they really are, thus actually giving the narcissist too much credit in the long run! I now believe – as of today – that there are really only two reasons that a narcissist acts the way he does towards his partner and everyone around him and they both have to do with control. In fact, every thing that confuses us about why the N did what he did, why it still continues to hurt long after it’s over, and why it appears that he’s okay with someone else…all of the residual garbage he leaves us with can be broken down and attributed to this control factor.

The question asked of me by a reader today was this: Why is it that narcissists obviously want to be ‘loved’, adored & treated nicely yet they’ll use ‘love avoidance’ tactics to push us away or they’ll use manipulation to keep us just close enough or they’ll use all the above PLUS passive-aggression, contradiction, negativity (about the relationship, you, them & everyone else in general) to completely fuck our heads up??

And here was my answer – an answer, I believe, that neatly sums-up the entire complication dynamic of this type of relationship:

IT’S ALL ABOUT CONTROL. Re-read your question and ask yourself, “What kind of person have I just described?” A CONTROL FREAK, of course! The wording of your question was actually perfect because every tactic used by a narcissist and/or borderline is mentioned in it. Everything – and I mean everything – a victim partner is subjected to during a relationship with a narcissist (N) happens for either/or of the following two reasons: 1) as a means of controlling that person, or 2) as a means for validating that control. That’s it! That’s all it is! You have to keep in mind that it’s the relationship that’s complicated – and only for the victim. The narcissist himself/herself, in reality, isn’t all that complicated.

Imposters of the Emotional Kind

A narcissist’s main concern in life is to control the people around him – namely, us – so that he gets what he wants, whatever that may be. In order to control, of course, he must manipulate and mirroring our good qualities back to us is an excellent way of hooking us into the Lie. Never forget that these people are imposters of the emotional kind and they’re very good at what they do. To get what they want (i.e. adoration, ego boost, sex, money, etc.), a narcissist will tell us exactly what they know we want/need to hear to make it happen. Even when he or she is being as sweet as pie (which is, of course, a façade), the narcissist is controlling us.

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Then, once the narcissist gets what he wants, he starts a fight, creates narcissistic chaos, cuts us loose, disappears, subjects us to the silent treatment or the cold shoulder, erases us as if we never meant a thing, and generally makes us feel like shit – tactics that are fully intended to manage down our expectations of the relationship for future go-rounds. It is the victim partner’s reaction to this “managing down” process that ultimately validates, for the narcissist, that his control is still solid even when he doesn’t need that person. When he gets us worked up to the point that he can actually feel our desperation and codependency, then his control is validated and he can go about his business secure in the fact that we’ll be around when and if he does need us. And around and around it goes.

The entire control process can happen in an hour, several times a day, over two weeks, over many years…it’s a push/pull system that really means control/validate, control/validate, control/validate until we’re ready to lose our minds. For the narcissist, it’s a way to secure future narcissistic supply and that’s really all he cares about.

Now, after writing my response to this reader, I had an immediate relationship flashback of those instances where I’d be in tears, lamenting to the narcissist that I knew what he was up to…that I had figured out his MO and could predict his every move before he did it (which I could). And I remember him always giving me that look when this occurred…that stupid blank stare that only a narcissist confronted with his own lunacy can give…and he’d say, “You’re making it all so complicated and it’s not. I’m really just a simple man.” And hearing this, of course, would only catapult me further into the insanity. I felt it was just another fucking lie…a distraction reaction intended to add insult to injury. But today…..today I’m thinking maybe he was telling the truth! Maybe what appears to us to be well-thought out, calculated manipulations to wreck us really boils down to the narcissist either controlling us or validating that control – or, for that matter, controlling others (i.e. the other women) or validating that control.  Maybe a narcissist really is just a dumbed-down sociopath (like sociopaths proclaim) and we’ve been giving him far too much credit in the intelligence department!  I’m fairly convinced that this is the key to the narcissist’s psyche.

Mind you, my little discovery in no way pardons the narcissist for his despicable behaviors or for causing everyone – and even his own children – so much pain. He is absolutely guilty as charged. And if, in fact, I’m right and narcissists – like my ex – really do believe in the simplicity of their own evil, then that makes these losers even more un-fixable than ever before. And, believe it or not, the fact that a narcissist’s evil agenda is not nearly as complicated as we’ve perceived it to be is very good news. It would mean that we no longer have to think so hard about why he does what he does. It means we now have yet another way to use a narcissist’s ploy – in this case, the control/validate process – to our own advantage when dealing with the narcissist or even when we’re dealing with our memories of the narcissist. Using a control/validate process of our own, we now have another way to determine the narcissist’s motive – as simple as it may be – each and every time he opens his mouth….and I bet it will work. Let’s experiment.

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From now on, when engaging with the N (i.e. as a partner, co-parent, co-worker, or relative), no matter what he’s saying or doing or how hard he tries to push your buttons, silently ask yourself this: “Is he trying to control me or is he trying to validate the control?” Know the answer and you will respond accordingly. From now on, whenever you feel weakened/saddened/haunted by all those memories of the “good times”, review each event individually and ask yourself:  “Was he trying to control me or was he trying to validate the control?” With the answer, the memory will weaken. Watch and see….control or validate…for the entire time that you are “together”, it was either one or the other and never anything else.


  • Marina

    April 22, 2017 at 7:34 am Reply

    You can explain to you teen children tbat daddy is a personality disordered individual. That’s because they are suffering, give them a reality check. They certainly know what a real unconditional love is.

  • Shelia Troy

    February 19, 2017 at 1:00 am Reply

    I am trying to figure this out (trauma bonding and narcissistic control) regarding my ex and our children. I am not playing anymore, I divorced him. However, he has my young teens in a trauma bond of giving and witholding affection. I would like to help the kids wrench free of this grip he has on them so they can grow up and live their own lives. The children are with suffering very serious effects like missing school, physical symptoms and emotional despair. If anyone has any ideas how to help the kids out of this please share. Therapists do not work because the ex attends their therapy and they are afraid to tell the truth in the therapy for fear of retaliation.

    • Zari Ballard

      February 19, 2017 at 3:59 pm Reply

      Hi Shelia,

      I’m sorry for the emotional hardship being brought upon your children and you’re a wonderful mom for wanting to fix it. However, do not say that therapists do not work without giving it the chance it deserves WITHOUT THE DAD PRESENT. Why on earth does he attend the therapy sessions? This needs to stop immediately. If he doesn’t understand or like this, so what? And if the therapist doesn’t see this group counseling thing as NON-THERAPUTIC, then you need to find them another therapist. If, as you say, the children are “suffering very serious effects like missing school, physical symptoms and emotional despair”, something very horrible is happening here. Call the therapist on your own and express your concern. If you don’t want to come right out and blame the narc, simply explain that it is your observation (and the school’s) that the children are having very serious, possible long-term side affects and they can’t possibly feel comfortable telling their side with their father (or either parent) sitting right there! This is SO not fair to the children. What is the purpose of the therapy with the dad sitting there supervising???

      I believe that the best idea anyone could suggest to you as to how you can help your children is that you must stand up for them! I hear you that “you are done playing” with this creep but that has to also include the kids as well. You can’t allow his behaviors or, at the very least, you must ask the kids questions as to their feelings and try to offset his emotional abuse. There is no easy fix, girl, but it has to start with YOU and trying to get these kids the counseling they deserve ON THEIR OWN. With the right therapist, therapy for your children certainly CAN work but HE has GOT to go.

      Who has custody here and how is visitation set up? I wish I knew more information. If it’s possible for you, I do provide phone consultation support and would be happy to work with you on this. You have to take a stand or this will go from bad to worse. If we face our fears, they do usually fall away of their own weight – even with narcs. Your children only have YOU and you simply have to come through….

      Zari xo

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