How to Read a Narcissist (& Turn His Ploy to Your Advantage)

why-narcissists-returnEven though a narcissist is a pathological liar, there are those moments where he/she offers riddles of truth amongst the lies. We, as victims, can actually get to that truth – if we would only listen. Yup, that’s right, if we really pay attention to the narcissist’s word garbage, 95% of all of our suspicions about this person would be confirmed and we’d know all we needed to know about exactly what the narcissist is up to at any given moment. In other words, it’s absolutely possible for you to read a narcissist in the same manner that he reads you and no one – especially the narcissist – will be the wiser.

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You see, the reason that a narcissist is so good at what he does (i.e. sucking us in during the Idolize Phase) is because he does something that we quickly forget how to do after meeting him. He listens. From the first conversation, the narcissist begins to process our personal information, listening carefully to our words, drawing out of us the answers to all those questions that he uses to measure a target’s long-term potential. And while he mentally takes notes, honing in on both our weaknesses and strengths and calculating the future reward of each, his charm distracts us. By the time he moves into the Devalue Stage, we’re wound like a fucking top, feeling suspicious about his every word and action yet seemingly unable to dig up a shred of evidence. Like all narcissists, my ex savored this process. Slowly but surely, I transformed into the lunatic he had been cleverly creating and, ultimately, my craziness became his justification for everything he did. Thus, as a Discard approaches and the narcissist starts accusing and twisting, calling us delusional, we switch into desperation mode because we know, without a doubt, exactly what’s going to happen. He will leave or disappear, he will hoover and return, and he will continue to use, abuse, and manipulate. We do in fact, become very in tune with the pattern of the phases and can predict what this person is going to do. The problem is that the narcissist keeps us so busy apologizing for nothing and dodging distractions that we completely miss something very important – that, amidst the narcissist’s word garbage is the missing link we need: the evidence!!!!

Now, it took me quite a few years, but what I discovered was a subtle but sanity-saving flaw in the narcissist’s façade…a crack in the mask, if you will. …and, I have to admit, it fascinated me because, once I figured it out, the method itself was foolproof! You see, narcissists, despite their propensity for lying about everything, are like little children who can’t help but give themselves away when they do something bad. It has little to do with confessing, of course, and everything to do with bragging, accusing, projecting, lying, and gas-lighting all combined.

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For years, just like you, I made myself insane trying to quietly validate a nagging feeling that my boyfriend was always up to no good. This feeling was usually stirred by his uncanny ability to accuse me of the very thing I was thinking about accusing him of. In other words, as soon as I’d gathered the courage to confront him with a suspicion, he’d suddenly accuse me of the very same thing before I even spoke a word. How the hell did he do that? Was he really reading my suspicious mind or was something else going on? Then one day the light bulb went off. In a flash, I realized that he wasn’t reading my mind about what I thought he was doing at all, but he was, in fact, actually giving himself away and telling me exactly what I needed to know. In effect, he was telling on himself in a big way and had been doing it for years. By suspecting himself that I was on to his shenanigans, he would attempt to distract me by accusing me of the very same thing. I finally discovered that if I stopped throwing fits when I recognized a lie or a ludicrous story or when he tossed out a ridiculous accusation…if I just sat back and really listened to what he was saying, I’d know EXACTLY what he was up to. So, I shut the fuck up!!!

In my book, When Love Is a Lie, I discuss the narcissist’s accusatory distraction tactic in detail and I also recommend using it to get a handle on what the narcissist is up to. This is a golden opportunity to turn his ploy into your advantage. Either a narcissist will accuse his partner of the very thing that he is doing at any given time OR he will verbally project this behavior upon exes, friends, co-workers or whoever he happens to be gossiping about while engaging in casual conversation with you. Again, narcissists are like little children who can’t help but tell on themselves. If we stop reacting and start listening, we’ll have the answers.

  1. If he accuses you, out-of-the-blue, of cheating or suddenly begins acting insanely jealous, he’s either cheating or getting ready to cheat.
  2. If he accuses you of lying about something ridiculous, he’s worried about you catching him in a lie that he told recently. Think back and you’ll find it.
  3. If he casually chit-chats about a girl – any girl (supermarket checkout girl, co-worker, neighbor, etc.) – who “really gets on his nerves” or annoys him, you can safely assume he’s getting ready to put the moves on her or he’s already seeing her. Allow me to share two examples: #1 During a six-month period where my ex carried a title loan on his vehicle, he continually bitched to me about the rudeness of the counter girl who took his weekly payments. Although this rhetoric quietly raised my suspicions, the loan was soon paid, he stopped mentioning her, and I never gave it a second thought. Imagine my surprise, a year later, when a peek into his cell phone prompted me to investigate a mysterious reoccurring number which led me to a girl named “Rebecca FXXXX” who happened to be a former employee of – you guessed it – the title loan company! #2 During another period where he drove for a shuttle service based at the airport, he’d go on and on about the “loud mouth fat girls” that worked in customer service and, apparently, did nothing but eat all day. One girl in particular (whose husband also worked there) disgusted him above all the others and he simply “couldn’t stand her”. Much later, long after he either quit or got fired, not only did I discover he’d been to this “fat” girl’s house (sans husband) at least once during a time when I was getting the silent treatment, I would, over the next few years, periodically find that he had contacted her again and again.
  4. If he does something out of the ordinary, wears something out of the ordinary, or says something out of the ordinary, look deep into it. Quietly read between the lines and don’t take it at face value. NOTHING a narcissist says or does is random even if he is not quite aware of this himself.

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I decided to write this article not because I think you should expend all kinds of energy reading the narcissist and guessing what he’s up to but because I want you to STOP expending the energy that you do just trying to validate your suspicions. You do not have to participate in the narcissist’s game a single second longer. If you still have to deal with this person, I am giving you a great excuse to NOT become insane at his accusatory bullshit. I’m telling you that the truth has always been there. I’m telling you, this is a foolproof method for reading the narcissist. Sure, the narcissist appears to be cleverly deceptive but the truth is that he/she is only as cleverly deceptive as the transparency of the bullshit. From now on, stop, look, and listen. Trust your gut feeling – always. Take the monster’s ploy and turn it into your advantage. And then, with the truth by your side, do the right thing and go No Contact, once and for all. Do it for yourself and for the rest of your life.


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  • Heather Zeller

    July 10, 2017 at 2:23 am Reply

    I appreciate the author of this article(& all corressponding articles). After 14 years,& children, to describe my [separation]experience as overwhelming &/or an understatement! It’s more like experiencing,what you think of as, a slow death. I’ve read & researched a lot of articles addressing narcissism, however, this was written in a way that has swayed me to believe that I’ll never have to read another one! Im exhausted,on so many levels, and cant wait to experience some relief by practicing the tips you’ve shared. Thank you so much!

    • Zari Ballard

      July 10, 2017 at 3:13 pm Reply

      Hi Heather,

      Thank you for reading…I tried to cover every topic and scenario. I survived after 13 years and you can too. You will experience relief, I promise. Practice DETACHMENT and INDIFFERENCE and practice makes perfect. Stay strong!

      Zari xo

  • Kelly Slayton

    July 3, 2017 at 8:28 am Reply

    how funny listening to the narcissist, and I ended up turning his venom on him. He would call me the c word, and I would tell him he is yelling his identity about himself to the world. he would talk about how bad I was at my job, while he has been a bum off another relative for 5 freaking years. He challenged me to court over MY property and him living for free there, eviction and court held my rights up, and he was escorted from property by cops. Lovely not hearing or seeing him anymore. Oh yeah, he is a sibling who has recruited 2 out of 6 kids, so now i have 1 sis and 1 brother left to communicate with. i miss the guy that i thought he was, not the asshole he proved to be!

    • Zari Ballard

      July 10, 2017 at 3:33 pm Reply

      Hi Kelly,

      Kudos to you for calling him out and winning in court! I’m sure that caused a bit of narcissistic injury – GOOD! It is hard when they are family, that’s for sure, but you’ve got it down. I wish you nothing but the best in this life…

      Zari xo

  • Trisch

    June 3, 2017 at 7:41 am Reply

    Thank you for your article. I was in a relationship with a narcissist on and off for years. It is emotionally exhausting, and would leave me questioning myself, only to leave me feeling beaten down and insecure.

    Your article is spot on. I started to notice a pattern during my relationship where my boyfriend would accuse me of doing the very things he was doing. If I ever dared confront him i was crazy, unstable, or had issues loving myself and needed to work on my confidence. The tell-tale sign for me were his comments just as you stated in your article. The hardest part is realizing the person you fell in love with does not actually exist and cutting off all contact 100%.

    For anyone in a relationship with a narcissist , run, don’t walk, run away as fast as you can. This toxic relationship can cause you harm long after the relationship is over. They will not change, they cannot be fixed, they lack empathy and do not care how much harm they cause you long term.

    • Zari Ballard

      June 21, 2017 at 12:55 am Reply

      Trisch wrote…For anyone in a relationship with a narcissist , run, don’t walk, run away as fast as you can. This toxic relationship can cause you harm long after the relationship is over. They will not change, they cannot be fixed, they lack empathy and do not care how much harm they cause you long term.

      Couldn’t have said it better myself!

  • gina

    April 4, 2017 at 7:19 am Reply

    Thank you for this article. In my head, I’ve been really going over all of my narc friend’s comments since I first met him back in the 1990’s. This article in spot on. I’m a very good listener and remember conversations and specific details within conversations. Some of the stories he would tell me were exactly like you described in this article. I remember just thinking “Well, that was odd of him.” However, I would usually brush questionable things because by nature, I try to avoid confrontation and give people the benefit of the doubt. We lost touch over the years but I recently missed him about three months ago and reached out to him on social media. I found out he was married and told him congrats etc. all in good intentions. He immediately responded back with a round of lies about his wife that he so called separated from and haven’t seen here in a month. It’s hard when you are at a lonely stage in your life and come in contact with a Narc because upon initial contact with you, they immediately start love bombing and because we had a 20+ years and I “thought” I knew him. You brush off these very clear clues that he’s up to no good because he’s constantly messaging you all day and night confessing his love for you. He tells you how beautiful, how sexy, how amazing you are. Hell, mine even said I was an angel sent from heaven….lmao. But, you fall for the baloney and totally miss what is right in front of you on a platter! For everyone here, listen to how he words his stories. It’s always directed at the victim being abused. I got a lot of this: SHE cheats all the time. SHE steals money from ME. SHE is crazy. SHE kicks me out of the house. SHE drinks all day long. SHE is abusive. It’s hard especially when you are an empathetic to think that he is lying. You immediately go into the role of being his savior to all this so called abuse he’s dealing with. I once questioned him during our first cycle of abuse in the devalue stage. I notice he wasn’t messaging me as much. He was becoming distant and not as romantic. I questioned him one night and I got this from him “Why are you thinking I’m talking to girls all of the time. YOU talk to guys all the time. That’s all you do. I’m not being distant, I’m just saving myself for you.” Narcissists LOVE when you defend yourself from these accusations. They love to watch you become uncomfortable and argue that you are not the one cheating. They get off on your actions of getting angry off this and in their messed up brain, they now see us as the crazy ones while he sits back and enjoys the show. It’s not just with saying every single ex or current spouse is psychotic, they give off lies about friends and people that are in your life as well. He hated my ex and knew I was still in contact with him (he’s my boss). My ex had narcissistic traits but he was more of a control freak with a lot of insecurities. But, he had popularity and money and my Narc friend hated that. He would say things like “He’s hiding his porn from you and that is why he’s got a password on his phone.” It was during a rant session I had with Narc friend but porn wasn’t even in the discussion. Again, I thought it was odd and moved on. Now, I realized it was HIM that hides his porn from his wife. It’s so easy to pick up on their lies once you finally stop and navigate through the narcissistic verbal garbage. What was the nail in the coffin was that at the end, I did reach out to his wife and she confirmed my final thoughts on him. Everything he accused her of, he was doing and it was the reason why their marriage fell apart. So, if you are with someone and they are constantly bad mouthing someone, you know damn well, he’s trying to bang them or is banging them or wants to bang them! Whoever a narcissist is talking negatively about, you know now that it’s the narcissist that is doing all the bad stuff. ALWAYS remember that and you will be able to spot a Narc from a mile away.

    • Marina

      April 22, 2017 at 11:25 am Reply

      Thank you; I also used to be an angel sent from heaven..) THEY say the same crap..

  • Laura

    January 23, 2017 at 4:05 am Reply

    Maybe this will help someone:

    Not answering a question, going on the attack:
    When I questioned him about something… If he didnt answer the question, and acted like I was crazy…I knew he was Guilty..i.e, “this is getting old, I can’t help you with your insecurities”

    Pose an innocent question, you’re prying:
    When asking how his day went, not even being suspicious, and say, ‘ oh, i thought that was next week…”.if I got, “do I have to give you a play by play?” Homey is lying about something….

    Adding a detail to try and minimize guilt:
    I recall saying, “we both know you did it, might as well admit it”..he said, “well, yeah, but just once”. If it was”just once” he would have said, “yeah, I did, because…”. Adding, “but just once”, told me it occurred more then once…. (like telling a cop you only had 2 drinks) Busted, admitting to something, but it wasn’t that much, is ok…..

    The week we broke up, I had told him I knew so many lies he was telling me to my face. He asked what? I told him a few. He said, Maybe you should’ve thought “he’s lying to keep me from getting hurt”. Really? That’s all ya got???? Lmao. I had thought he was smart. Well, when someone sees thru your Bullshit, I guess that is your only comeback. He also said maybe I shouldn’t be “looking for lies”. (meaning I’m jealous and insecure). I didn’t have to look. The amount of lying he did, Id have to be an idiot not to spot some.

    That just shows how much he thought his gaslighting had worked. This idiot, is finally over him and he won’t try to Hoover me again, because he knows he can’t fool me and I don’t want him anymore, so on to a new victim. I’m an honest person, and expect others are the same. Now I know to pay attention to things that aren’t normal human behavior nor responses. There’s your sign!

  • Cass

    January 3, 2017 at 2:29 am Reply

    I only wish I knew this before I began begging like a dog for him to stay for our families sake. I feel so stupid, humiliated, angry, torn, as well as all the other feelings of distrust now. All this time he was saying he was the loyal and faithful one and that I was the piece of shit. I never cheated on him, but he would accuse me all the time of cheating. I had to defend myself constantly. That lying jerk made himself out to be holiyer than thou. I think of all those times he would set up fights so he could go out and party while I stayed home with the kids. He was probably having random sex or paying for it. I am so angry for believing his lies and deception. He made out I was just not good enough and I actually started to believe it. How could I ever got with such a dirty piece of shit. Excuse my language. He must have been out with a lot of women. Because he always found a excuse to be out. He made me out to be a neurotic bitch. I wasn’t. I didn’t yell at him. I would cry, beg and ask why did he ignore me. I am so greatful for this site, thats too some kind soul from another social sight asked me to come check heart goes out to everyone.

    • Zari Ballard

      January 10, 2017 at 4:53 pm Reply

      Hi Cass,

      I’m grateful that you found your way here and we all know very well what the “a-ha” moment is like! When it dawns on you what this person has actually been up to the whole time, it about knocks you over. Don’t feel humiliated and all that because how could you have known? Narcissists keep us so deliberately distracted by their own accusations (of us) and the overall manipulation that we don’t know up from down. All this bullshit buys them time to do whatever they want whenever they want it with whomever. From here on in, no begging. Stop and listen and you will always know whats up.

      Stay strong!

      Zari xo

  • Helen

    November 4, 2016 at 9:36 am Reply

    After reading this article (and all the others) I was given an opportunity to really listen yesterday and this morning… N of 3 years came to pick up something yesterday (he had gone to a friends who is away and he has the key for for my silent treatment) and he warns me people might say they saw him with someone but it was a “damsel in distress” he just met who he was “pretending” he was the boyfriend of to get rid of some unwanted attention she was getting… Then there was this whole CRAZY story about why he ended up at her place (but that’s a whole different subject). I would have normally questioned this but I just changed the subject like it didn’t matter. He then leaves and after texting me for a while he goes completely silent. Then he shows up unannounced this morning (he normally doesn’t wake until the afternoon and he still smelt of alcohol so I immediately thought he had been out all night) and asks to be let in. He says he had a “really sexy dream” last night and then makes a move on me. I give in but during he talks about how “I” was wearing something I never would (he pointed out in great detail what “I” was wearing and the fact I never would) and all sorts of other details like where it happened in his “dream” and the things “I” did…. Whoah. I would have always dismissed this as a dream before but when I LISTENED the details were just a little too clear… He stays for about 6 hours (initiating sex again), admits he hasn’t showered in 2 days (!!) and then leaves… Before he leaves he sets me up for not being able to contact him by telling me he is locked out of his phone and the phone company is probably shut so he won’t be able to get the code to unlock it today. I would have NEVER really taken notice of these things (apart from the first one but I would have reacted differently) if it wasn’t for this page. Thank you for giving me another tool to protect myself! I am still in love with him (dumb) and I know he will be moving back in soon (I’m not strong enough to resist yet) but little by little I hope to gain strength by applying some of the things on this page ?

    • Zari Ballard

      November 7, 2016 at 5:02 pm Reply

      Hi Helen,

      As I always say, a narcissist lies even when the truth is a better story! In doing this, he can pump himself up if he needs to with others and he can confuse his partner as to what is fact and what is fiction. I agree, it’s crazy.

      If you haven’t read my books, please do because they will really help you. Since you like to journal (and I agree that it helps), please check out my codependency workbook for narc abuse victims. It will help you work through the remnants of the relationship and get you to a point of understanding. It was never ever you.

      Stay strong,

      Zari xo

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