Characteristics of a manipulative person

Is a bully a narcissist?                                                                                                                                                                                   No….but a narcissist is always a bully

Is a manipulator a narcissist?                                                                                                                                                             No….but a narcissist will always manipulate

Is a controller a narcissist?                                                                                                                                                                 No….but a narcissist will always control

Is an abuser a narcissist?                                                                                                                                                                   No….but a narcissist is always abusive

The word ‘narcissist’ has recently become more prominent in our society as awareness of emotional abuse slowly improves.

Technically, narcissism is a label that can only be proved through a series of psychological tests and the danger is that by labeling too many people incorrectly as narcissists it could minimize the severity of their effect on their targets and victims.  On the other hand, perhaps by raising cultural awareness, more people might become aware of the tactics that abusers and narcissists alike use – and subsequently could be saved.

A whole vocabulary has developed around this topic and whilst those of us who are active on forums or who support survivors are well aware of these terms, I wanted to bring some of them to your attention…, so take a look at the descriptions that follow.

You might also like to complete the blue box below to add yourself to my mailing list – I’ll send you a copy of ’13 ways to lift your mood and become more positive’ in exchange.

So here we go, these are the most common terms and descriptions used in the world of abuse.



This is a common tactic of narcissists and abusers alike and stems from a film of the same name. The actress in the film was made to feel that she was going mad due to her husband manipulating their environment,  This made her doubt her actions, her sanity and ultimately undermined her entire self confidence.

Her husband would go around the house turning the gas lamps up or down but he insisted that she had done it herself or that she was imagining things.  It created a total state of confusion in her mind as he led her to believe that she was going mad.

Abusers can gaslight by using actual items (for instance moving the remote control or moving cups around) or it can be a psychological head game.  You might be sure that you had passed on a message to somebody but it may be strongly denied.  You might find out about a meeting after the event – yet be informed that you were given the correct information and you must simply have forgotten.

When somebody gaslights another they are very aware of what they are doing and they are also aware of the subsequent consequences to that person’s emotional well being.

Flying Monkeys

This term comes from the ‘The Wizard of Oz’ and refers to people who act on behalf of the narcissist and who knowingly, or sometimes innocently, contribute to the smear campaign of the victim.

Interference from these people whether intentionally or not could place the victim in very real danger physically and psychologically.

The flying monkey might pass information back to the narcissist who can use that to track somebody down who is trying to stay hidden or they might influence others to believe untruths and gossip and alienate the victim at a time when she or he needs all the support that they can get.

Sometimes a flying monkey is a drama queen who enjoys getting into the thick of the drama or maybe they are looking for approval from the abuser, but have no doubt, they can be harmful.

The best course of action in life in general is to steer clear of gossip and be very careful of any personal information that you might be asked to reveal.  Who knows what damage can be caused by passing on somebody’s address!


Triangulation occurs when the abuser brings in a third party to a situation in order to play one person off against the other.  The purpose might be to make one person  jealous or insecure.  It might that the narcissist wants to appear popular or to test the boundaries of someone.

But it’s a game and the narcissist will quickly discard whichever person serves no further purpose to them – however they will often do their best to keep people hanging on a string – firstly to boost their own ego and sense of importance and secondly, keeping a supply in reserve in case they need it again.

‘Supply’ is the term used for the third person in any relationship.  They may be the new girlfriend or boyfriend that an abuser has lined up to use in order to further their games.  Usually unsuspecting, they are drawn in via triangulation or love bombing and eventually will probably get caught up in the whole cycle of abuse themselves

Love bombing

This tactic is commonly used at the beginning of a relationship, when the potential abuser turns on the charm at full speed.  They’ll often tell you that they love you very early in the relationship, putting you up on a pedestal and mirroring your behaviours, interests and experiences to give an illusion of a strong connection and understanding.

They’ll make you feel like a prince or a princess, that you are the centre of their universe and they will often find ways to make you depend on them.

They might encourage you to give up your friends, your job and even move you to a different area.  They might suggest moving in together very quickly or even having a baby together.

Then one day, and that day WILL come, they will test you, to see how great their power is over you and how dependent you are on them.

They may begin to exhibit nasty behaviour: sulking or flying into irrational rages.  They may ignore you, threaten you, try to make you accept the blame for something that wasn’t your fault, poke fun at you in public or overstep boundaries.

Often there will come the day when they will tell you that they can’t continue with the relationship but they will be vague.  The breakdown will be dressed up as your fault….but if you could change just a little bit then everything will be just fine and maybe, just maybe you will have the chance to stay together.

This is often the dangerous time when people understandably give the bully a second (or more) chance and then they are sucked back into the vortex even quicker or worse, they opt out but may then be the victim of full frontal stalking and harassment.


This is something that’s often used during the love bombing stage.

If you seem to have found somebody who has an unusual amount of likes and dislikes in common with you, previous shared experiences or activities, be on your guard.  Yes, hopefully you have found your soul mate but perhaps you might have somebody in front of you who is crafty and who can ‘read’ you and is responding accordingly.

Adopting your likes or dislikes builds empathy and connection.  We all want somebody who understands what makes us tick but it has to come from a genuine place.

Abusers seem to instinctively know how to charm and create an atmosphere of understanding.  This is why they can be so good at what they do and how when you finally split many people believe their side of the story rather than the truth


Hoovering is similar to love bombing but generally happens after a breakup and is an attempt to suck the victim back into the relationship.  However, no matter how sincere the abuser seems, the behaviour is not sincere and things usually go downhill rapidly if they are successful in winning you back.

If they fail in their hoovering attempt they may turn and become threatening and abusive.

An excellent test early on in any relationship comes when you have to say no to your partner.  See how they react.  Are they happy to accept no or do they fly into a rage?


This is a defence mechanism which people use unconsciously to avoid their own feelings of shame, negative emotions or bad behaviour.  The person who is projecting will accuse the other person of just the thing that they have done or would do.

A common example is somebody who is cheating or thinking of cheating yet accuses their partner of being unfaithful.  This deflects the attention from their own behaviour.  It can cause the victim confusion and ultimately they will try harder to please.

Insulting others about the way that they look or act is downright mean and rude but it could also be hiding an underlying insecurity.  He’s too fat/too skinny/ugly….could all mean that the person picking out these traits feel the same way about their own self and they are projecting their loathing onto others.

Smear campaign, victim blaming and the victim card

These three traits can go hand in hand and are usually employed when the relationship finally breaks up.  The abuser will often go around acting like the victim, crying and doing their best to get sympathy from anybody who will listen.  They won’t tell the whole truth about how and why the relationship ended – in fact, they will often downright lie.  It doesn’t matter to them – What does matter is not losing face and getting people on their side.

The smear campaign will add to this and will ensure that people shun the other person (despite this being when they need as much support as possible) and this is when they will rope in their flying monkeys.

Victim blaming also reinforces this as the narcissist puts all the blame onto their partner, never telling the whole story and painting them in a very black way indeed.

Nature vs Nurture

I truly don’t know whether people are born bad or are a product of their environment but the one thing that the majority of abusers and bullies appear to have in common is something that happened to them and affected them in their past – often something which undermined their self confidence and made them feel inadequate in some way.

The only way that they know to make themselves feel of value is to elevate themselves above others – not by raising their own standards and improving themselves but by belittling and dis-empowering others around them.  They often have a chip on their shoulder about anybody that they believe is better than them in any way and take delight in tearing people down in public.

It becomes a game to them and the more confident and intelligent the target is, the better.  If a bully can ultimately reduce somebody high skilled, sociable and well liked to a shadow of their former selves then the bigger the win for them.    Whether it’s in education, looks, confidence or ability the higher they perceive their target to be above them, the greater the prize will be once they can reduce them and exert control over them.

Contrary to popular belief abusers tend not to target timid people – they see people better than them as more of a challenge – but this is also one of the reasons that it can take so long for their victim to finally admit defeat and realise what has happened to them.  They often spend so much time fighting and standing up to their abuser that they don’t see how their self esteem is being worn away.

How can you help somebody who has been a target?

Be open-minded.  Don’t be too quick to judge or to jump to conclusions.  Abusers and narcissists rarely show their true colours in public and are often the last people that you would expect of behaving this way behind closed doors and this is reinforces when they swing into their smear campaign and victim mode.

Listen to the language used.  The narcissist will often use vicious and abusive language.  They may cry and beat their chests and have a huge sense of being hard-done by.  The true victim on the other hand may appear shell-shocked and confused and in an attempt to distance and heal may withdraw and go into hiding for fear of a prolonged stalking and harassment campaign.  They often choose to say nothing, afraid that they will lose the confidence and love of children, family members and friends.  They may have emerged from the wreckage with their self worth in tatters and totally unsure of their own identity any more.

Don’t spread gossip and certainly don’t pass on information about the whereabouts of anybody concerned.  Who knows what will happen in the middle of the night.  What doors will be watched or who will be followed.

Remember, no matter how close you are to your friend or relative, the very nature of abuse means that you will rarely be told all of the facts while they are in that relationship.  It’s not intentional – often we are unaware of quite how we are held in the psychological grip of another person – but there is also shame, lack of self belief and fear that play a part too.

Additional resources

The following links are useful for you and offer additional support and advice.  If you would like to chat to me or you have any questions about any issues raised in this article drop me an email at and I will be very happy to offer any help that I can.

The Freedom Programme is a domestic violence programme in the UK: click here for more information…

The Paladin National Stalking Advocacy Service offers help and advice for anybody who feels threatened….

Living with the Dominator – a brilliant book by Pat Craven that, in my opinion, should be available and read by everyone – get your copy here...

My own bookBecoming Stronger through Mindfulness‘ which will help get you back on track with positive thinking if you have had any dealings with an abuser and you are trying to find your identity again.  Click on the link above to get your copy

Note:  Abuse is not gender specific nor confined to heterosexual relationships.  Work colleagues, family members and friends may be toxic, abusive or narcissistic however the majority of people are kind, caring and thoughtful.

The aim of this article is to educate but not scare or make you cynical of others.  

Be the person that you want others to be.

Thank you to Andre Konstanzcer for the image (taken in New Zealand)

Posted in emotional development.

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