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The Recovery Expert
with Sharie Stines, Psy.D.

Games Narcissists Play

One thing that is important to realize is that narcissists play games that others cannot understand. This is because the rules change as they go.  In order to help you better navigate your way through any of these games, some basic concepts may be helpful.

Once you think you’ve figured out how to play one of these games, you realize you were wrong. You cannot win any game you play with a narcissist because the cards are always stacked against you. The reason for this is because the entire point of any narcissist’s game is to make you lose. There is no other point. And since the narcissist creates the game in the first place – one you don’t even realize you’re playing – how could you expect it to turn out any differently?

Following is a list of some of the most common games played by narcissists:

  • “I know you are, but what am I?” This is a very common game played by narcissists. You will find yourself playing this game if you ever try to tell a narcissist what he/she is doing wrong. Renditions of this game look like this:   “Me offensive!!??  What about you?!?  You never pay any attention to anyone but yourself!  Ask the kids!!” “You’re the abusive one in this relationship?”  “You’re the narcissist!” “You’re such a hypocrite!”The main strategy of this game is projection – the narcissist projects his image/faults onto you.The best part about this game is that you will always walk away feeling frustrated, furious, misunderstood, and full of self-doubt.
  • The Rebellious Teenager. This game happens when you start replicating a nagging parent and the narcissist resists your requests in the same fashion as your teenager would, saying comments such as, “I told you I would get to it!” “Just because I’m not doing it on your time schedule doesn’t mean it won’t get done.”  “You’re such a control freak!”
  • Talking to a wall. This game is so much fun! Have you ever talked to a wall before?  It does nothing in response to anything you say. If you ask for something it will ignore you. If you yell at it, same result. No matter what you do, the wall never responds. This causes you to feel unimportant and devalued. How fun is that?
  • “Catch me if you can.” This game involves trying to pin your loved one down to a commitment, plan, or location. The narcissist hates to be controlled and refuses to be put into a position of accountability – no matter how minor. If you want to schedule some sort of appointment with your narcissist he/she will act as if that is too difficult of a task to accomplish. It’s akin to pinning jello to a wall. The fun part about this game is that you will always be kept guessing.
  • The silent treatment. This is by far the narcissist’s favorite game of all. When you play this game you most likely broke a rule. It is unclear exactly why the rule you broke was so egregious, but trust me, it was! You might have accidentally said something wrong or maybe you did nothing wrong at all. Since the narcissist writes all the rules to the games, does it really matter what you did? No, not really.  What is so satisfying about this game is how damaging it is to your sense of worth as a human being. What better way to punish someone than to banish them to the place of “not worth talking to?”
  • Come close go away. This game happens when your loved one convinces you that he/she wants more of you and can’t stand being away from you. Once you finally relax in the arms of your narcissist, you blink your eyes and he/she’s hurt, outraged, or otherwise insulted by you and must hastily make his/her retreat – or, more accurately he/she pushes you to get the “8&%$# out of my life!” This game will cause you strong feelings of fear and insecurity.
  • Step on this mat so I can pull it out from under you. This game is another rendition of the “come close go away game.” It also involves you putting your guard down and choosing to trust your narcissist’s words, being vulnerable and putting hope in to the relationship once again. Once you have found both feet fulling planted on the mat, your narcissist will swiftly, and without forewarning, pull it out from under you before you even realize it happened. You will be left astonished, shocked, and broken-hearted.  This game is very similar to the Lucy/Charlie Brown football game.
  • My way or the highway. This game is one of the more overt types of games the narcissist plays. The rules are rather clear in this game. They are: Do what the narcissist wants or else all Hell will break loose and you will pay a huge price. This game is only fun if you don’t mind being severely disrespected and punished by someone you love.
  • Brainwash the children. This is by far the most painful game of all. This occurs through manipulation and covert mind control of your children. The narcissist, through insinuations and blatant contempt, teaches your children to hate you and only love him/her. This game also involves rounding up as many other people as possible (such as lawyers, psychologists, and other experts) to side with the narcissist. The end result of this game is that you lose not only custody of your children, but also their hearts.
  • Dr. Jekyll Mr. Hyde. This game involves your narcissist portraying two vastly different personalities – one that loves you and is “normal” and fools you in to believing that all is well in the relationship, and the other that hates you. There’s no rhyme or reason to the switch; it’s random and just is.
  • Dump your rage. This is a game where the narcissist gets to yell and rage at you until he/she feels better. All you have to do is stand there and take it. Pretend you’re a trash can and the narcissist gets to dump his/her bad feelings into you.
  • Play “make believe.” This game happens when the narcissist in your life gets to set the stage and define the roles of all the players. You get to be whomever your narcissist decides.  In this game, any attempts at having your own thoughts, needs or feelings is a direct affront to your narcissist and you will be duly punished and probably kicked out of the game. The upside to this game is that you don’t have to be a unique individual. All you have to do is be what your narcissist wants you to be.
  • The Double Standard. The rules of this game are that the narcissist gets to do everything you don’t get to do and if you complain about it you get “in trouble.” An example of this would be answering or returning phone calls or texts. If you fail to answer a call or text from your partner, or fail to respond quickly enough you will be subjected to severe punishment; however, if your narcissist completely ignores your calls or texts and if you complain about it you will also be punished for complaining. What’s good for the goose is definitely not good for the gander in this game.
  • Walk on eggshells. People in relationships with narcissists constantly play this game. It never ends. Even if you get out of your relationship with a narcissist, you will find that the conditioning of walking on eggshells follows you for the rest of your life.

As you can see, there are many different games played by narcissists, and this list only touches the surface. There are as many games as there are individuals to conjure them up. The most common games are those which are tailor-made by the narcissist just for his/her victim. The best game is one which can specifically hurt the target in his/her most vulnerable spot.

While it is true that victims in the narcissist’s games will never know the rules, I can explain some common guidelines you can follow in order to find yourself triggering your narcissist to play a game with you:

  • Be a free spirit.
  • Say “no” to your narcissist.
  • Try to hold your loved one accountable.
  • Be an intimate or close partner/child/friend/co-worker.
  • Be conscientious and empathic.
  • Fail to meet your narcissist’s “perfect object” (i.e., perfect spouse, child, etc.) expectations.

You might try avoiding any of the above activities in order to hopefully circumvent playing a game with your narcissist. However, there really is no guarantee that this approach will work either.

Games Narcissists Play

Sharie Stines, Psy.D

Sharie Stines, Psy.D. is a recovery expert specializing in personality disorders, complex trauma and helping people overcome damage caused to their lives by addictions, abuse, trauma and dysfunctional relationships. Sharie is a counselor at LIfeline Counseling & Education Inc., in Southern California ( Lifeline Counseling is a non-profit organization 501(c)(3) corporation. Sharie is also an abusive relationship recovery coach -


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APA Reference
Stines, S. (2019). Games Narcissists Play. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 25, 2020, from