11 Sneaky “Micro” Mind Games of Narcissists (That No One Ever Talks About)

We know all about the major narcissistic manipulation tactics, but what about the sneaky micro-habits that haven’t often been identified or talked about? A researcher shares the bizarre antics of narcissists that often fall under the radar, along with survivor accounts.

There are certain absurd “micro-manipulations” narcissists engage in that fall under the radar. Here are all of them, along with survivor accounts of how these toxic habits present themselves: 

Criticizing and nitpicking pronunciation, word choice, and grammar excessively.

A major bizarre micro-habit not often talked about but present in many survivor stories is how narcissists will criticize your pronunciation or the way you speak in general, even when you are pronouncing words correctly. For example, you may tell them, “I am going to pick up the kids from school. Can you do the laundry?” and they might respond with, “It’s not laundry, it’s laundry!” in a condescending manner, even if you said the word perfectly. This is just one minor habit in their larger pattern of hypercriticism that they use to make you a subject of their faux mockery and disdain. This hypercriticism is rarely about pronunciation or how you speak but rather a way to disorient you on a daily basis and keep you walking on eggshells, perpetually alert to how you present yourself. They can literally silence you over time by engaging in this behavior, micromanaging you and shaming you so you learn not to even speak at all.

“He would stand over me while preparing food and criticize everything like the way I chopped veggies… the way I spoke or pronounced a word, the way I took a photograph, literally anything he would try and criticize to the minutest detail.”

“I once didn’t go on a second date with a guy because he did this, and also because he was actually the one who pronounced it wrong.”

“Have you ever noticed how much you say the word ‘like’? I just wanted to make you aware because I don’t want you to sound stupid. You’re not stupid but you sound like you are.”

“Repeating and replacing my commentary with her word choice preferences as if mine were inadequate and invalid — even worse, she’s training to be a speech pathologist.”

“I am Swedish originally although I’ve lived in the U.K. more than 25 years. He would always, always pick up on how I pronounce “electricity” because it was wrong so he’d mock it. So I’d switch to talking to him in Swedish only, or stop talking at all, which would make him accuse me of being immature.”

“My ex had a temper tantrum when I wouldn’t pronounce the word “bombaclat,” and he physically attacked me for not wanting to say it.”

“Yes, he would make fun of how I pronounced words. Exactly.”

“Getting explosively angry at an innocent, unimportant to anything serious comment I made because it “didn’t need to be said” or I used the wrong word. Sometimes even because X should have been said BEFORE Y, not after. Expecting explanation for each syllable practically, while in the meantime, I forgot what I said exactly due to the shock of the reaction. Berated for forgetting. After a while, you just stop talking.”

“Trying to convince me that an actual word isn’t a word. The word was spigot. “That’s not even a word! What are you even talking about?!! Then laugh like I was dumb. He would say, “You’re a plumber’s daughter so you should know the correct word is hose bib.”

“During the devaluation stage, he asked me to not speak to him with that “tone.” To stop using that tone of voice with him. I mean…what tone?”

“They would criticize my pronunciation of words and inflection and my “accent.”

“I would often get told I’m not using the correct plural and would correct me to put an S on the end of a word then try again. Pathetic!”

“Ironically the narcissist in my life pronounces everything incorrectly after a lifetime of correcting how I speak!”

“When I first met my narcissistic ex, he told me how to say his name. And then months later, he asked me why I was saying that way, and I told him because that’s the way you told me how to say it and then he says no, it’s not, and then he proceeded to tell me the right way to say it. And then his ex came to visit, and we went out to dinner you see, I was being triangulated, and the ex was calling him the way that he originally told me to call him that he told me not to call him. And then I started laughing to myself and putting the pieces together. He was a piece of work. It might be noted also that I broke up with him twice and the last time it was the final time.”

“He would correct my grammar all the time even though I’m a writer and he uses ‘u’ or ‘l’ in business communications.”

Walking ahead of their partners, walking out of the room during conversations, and road rage.

“He would have fits in public that only I could hear or see which would end with him walking out in front of us and leaving us behind and I would be super stressed. I always thought that that would be the day I’d be forced to either walk home or take the bus home with three small children and that’s exactly the reaction he wanted.”

“Walking 7 to 10 paces in front of you or just flat out leaving you while walking together in public.”

“Walking in front of you. Infuriating! I am a super fast walker as well, but I have dated 2 narcissists that all did the same thing.”

“My narcissistic ex would demand my undivided attention when he spoke and any “conversations” with him were actually his monologues.  If I ever had something to say, he’d walk out of the room.  After initial love bombing phase, he avoided any type of physical affection.  He’d have frequent fits of road rage while I was in the car or on speaker while he was driving.”

Criticizing and nitpicking irrelevant and inane things, from cleaning, to cooking, to painting your nails, to how you sneeze.

“Getting verbally, psychology and emotionally abused when I painted my nails however I desired and not nude, white or French as “allowed” but the narcissist said I’d get called slut, trash, or low class. He for example would ask me to physically hand him something and I would not with red nails, black or any color but those three. It became such a symbol of authority. This micro misogynistic act made me freeze and take even one year after break up to actually paint my nails how I liked them. Took almost two years to reclaim my ownership upon my own body, specifically my hands, nails. BIZARRE. Crazy ride.”

“Every time I brought a beautiful meal to the table, while our two children under 7 were sitting there he would say “is this a recipe?”

“Criticizing how I sneezed.”

“I’d get into “trouble” for not slicing a banana “correctly” for my son’s breakfast.”

“They criticized how I clean, like when I used a broom versus a vacuum. Where I placed the bag of groceries to unload them – counter versus floor.”

“Yes, this! How I pronounce words, the way I say things, how I hold my fork, how I walk, how expressive my face is, how I light up when something brings me joy, how I look pregnant if I get bloated from a food reaction, how naive people like to pretend they believe I am when I am just being polite.”

“Criticizing my handwriting and saying it’s not readable… making fun of my handwriting in front of everyone while reading a heartfelt card I wrote.”

“They criticized how my children and I used our cutlery when eating a meal!”

“Critical about the foods you choose to eat, if you googled something once about a physical symptom you are a hypochondriac because you google “all the time,” anything you’ve done once you get labeled as doing it all the time. You tell a cute joke or show a funny meme that made others laugh but the narcissist makes it purposely fall flat with them so that you feel ashamed and embarrassed.”

“Trying to undermine my artistic confidence by telling me that my mindless doodle on a napkin looked like a 5-year-old drew it. These are such small instances, but they’ve still stuck with me a decade later.”

“They would criticize the tempo of my movements or my walking speed on a beach or in the grocery store.”

“He would tell me he accepts me for who I and then randomly criticize things that I do. Would make comments like: “When Mara cooks she leaves a mess in her wake. I mean she’s a great cook, but when I cook I clean as I go.’ Would comment on something I purchased in a derogatory way and then clarify with ‘you can spend your money how you wish’; would make comments about my appearance when I just woke up like ‘wow you look GORGEOUS.’ In the same tone as he did when I was actually dressed up so I didn’t know when he meant it, or if he did.”

“You sing along to a song and they shhhhh you everytime. I’m no Whitney or Mariah, but I can sing! I did competitions as a kid and teen and come from a musical family. My ex would do this all the time. My partner now loves when I sing and loves my voice.” – Pamela

Misusing your name and not making eye contact when talking to you failing to acknowledge you as a person – or staring you down.

“Mispronouncing my name but putting on a French accent when saying Sauvignon Blanc, pronouncing tofu “Dofu” because he lived in Asia, and barely saying my name but calling me babe instead.”

“My narcissist likes to misspell my name.”

“They call you by another name when they clearly know your name.”

“Never used my name when speaking to me or used eye contact, or spoke toward me when talking.”

“Lack of eye contact.”

“Looking you up and down when you speak.”

“They stare you down in a disapproving way hoping to make you feel uncomfortable in your skin, I’ve encountered this several times but I stare at them right back in a neutral way and they usually back down or hit you with a smug remark.”

Neglecting their partner while speaking to others, degrading or misrepresenting their partners to others or failing to introduce them altogether.

“He saw someone he knew in the shops or at an event he would purposefully not introduce me to them (especially if it was a woman) during their interaction. So I just stood there feeling awkward and insignificant even though I was his WIFE.”

“Inviting me to somewhere with them showing me off and then getting into an in-depth conversation with someone else talking shit, leaving me there but if I got talking to someone they’d come over and interrupt…it’s all about them.”

“Mine claimed to be happy that I was willing to be his girlfriend, but refused to tell anyone in his life about me (telling me to just be happy between the 2 of us). I didn’t realize its extent until even his mother told me that he said to her just before our dates, “Hey mom, I’m just going to be out with some girl.”

“I dated a couple narcissists like this. One of them, I had an age gap with so he was preying on me when I was a young woman and he knew I was out way of his league. I guess he thought the only way he could keep my interest was to try to spark competition. He would deliberately approach someone of the opposite sex and engage in a long conversation with them to try to make me jealous, looking over at me to see if I was paying attention. Once I turned the tables and started talking to another man at the same social event, he suddenly began staring at me and came over to interrupt.”

“When we were having a disagreement, (which was most of the time), if I said white and he said black, he could never agree to disagree. He would say he was going to ask all his friends. What friends? Then he would come back and tell me ALL his friends agreed with him, and wanted to know why he was living with such a stupid woman.”

Deliberately taking or posting terrible photos of you on social media

“Take awful photos of you and pick those ones to post on social media.”

“Taking deliberately bad photos of you at terrible angles or queuing up you to smile for a photo then taking it when you’re fed up posing – especially if it’s your special occasion.”

“A narcissistic acquaintance ignored the several photos I shared with her to post on Facebook. I looked great in the majority of photos and she didn’t like being upstaged. This was after a Halloween party where a guy hit on me and ignored her, and she was visibly angry because she was one of those women thirsty for male attention and would come in between me and any man who showed interest in me. Weirdly, during one of our first conversations she also talked about getting hair extensions when she first met me which I now know is a sign of jealousy and mirroring as I have naturally long hair and she wanted to find a way to imitate that. She chose the the worst photo she could find of me to paint herself in a better light, and didn’t even bother to post the others. I had to ask her to take it down which she did very condescendingly.  Awful, disgusting person inside and out.”

Hiding things from their partners, planting their misdeeds onto their partners to make them look like the abusers and gaslighting them.

“They’ll hide their own stuff and then accuse you or others of stealing it.”

“Stealing your car keys secretly to control your freedom, while making you look like you are irresponsible.”

“Hiding from you at crucial moments like going through customs, boarding a plane or arranged time to leave a venue. Or hiding important objects like keys and making you pointlessly search.”

“We would be having an argument. Our neighbors are close on either side of the house. He would be yelling and screaming at me. The very moment I raised my voice, he would get up and open the door and tell me he was going out to smoke or suddenly the cat needed to come in. I was the one my neighbors hear yelling. Every. Single. Time.”

“One I’ve heard from clients is when an argument starts, they lower their voice and then accuse the other of yelling.” – Pamela

“Finding ways to hit and physically abuse you so that you look like you fell into the furniture or on the floor or don’t have bruises but have issues (like broken cartilage in a nose). Also, hitting themselves if you try to get help and threatening to blame you for their aggression… this goes with starting physical altercations once your phone is charging or away and placing themselves between you and your phone.”

Asking questions or using fear-mongering comments to plant seeds of self-doubt.

“He asked me every morning before I left for work what time I was supposed to be to work. For 10 years!”

“Whenever I ran, he would say I looked like I would fall any second. This went on for nearly a decade. Just, you know, running while hurrying over the road to catch the bus. At first I thought it was cute how “worried” and “caring” he was but yeah… it wasn’t actually because he cared.”

“He would make me feel self-conscious by commenting how over or under dressed I was before or at events.”

“Acting like they care while insulting you. For example if you play sports, commute long distances, or do any activity with an assumed risk they comment “I don’t want you to get hurt…if you get hurt I will have to take care of you.” Then if you continue the activity they become controlling and angry as they assume you must care more about the activity than them.”

Sleep deprivation.

“Sleep disruption. Not allowing sleep or rest, even with a newborn. I would try to sleep when the baby slept, and he would wake me every 20 minutes or so to show me items on Marketplace for sale, or jump on me and laugh about it… saying it was because he missed me and I was making everything about the baby.”

“After a long argument of him gaslighting and screaming and outburst at me – he’d just go to bed and OUT! Fall asleep within a minute and sleep like a baby. I’d be up half the night shaken and so upset but nope, not the narc. Sleeping like the best sleep ever. Go figure.”

“Pretending to desperately need your company right as you start falling asleep. “Accidentally” diverting your attention with a “crisis” when doing something important to you.”

“Finding some way not to let me sleep. Sleep deprivation.”

Getting into arguments right or displaying a sulky mood before important events or during times of joy and positive news.

“My narcissistic ex would make it a point to get into an argument with me right before my family events then have me on pins and needles because he’d then display antisocial behavior to my family, so I’d have to make excuses for his behavior like “Oh he’s just tired,” or “He’s not feeling well.” Sometimes he’d even sit in the car for the whole gathering. I thank God every day it’s over.”

“Regardless of where we had to go to be it the market or a day out with the kids, he would have a major fit minutes before we had a walk out, then he would say “Well do you want to go or what?” and if I would respond anything other than a yes, I would be the one messing up the day AND we would be forced to go of course he would then be in a fantastic mood.”

“When you excitedly experience something they’ve already experienced and they say “Well it’s hard for me to get excited for you because I’ve already experienced those things (sea turtles coral exotic fish while scuba diving). Those things are always amazing. If you care about someone, why wouldn’t you be excited for them?”

“Starting stuff on an important day, making you late to important events… weaponized incompetence, acting like they have no clue on how to do something you know they can figure out how to do.”

Setting up scenarios in conversations where you can’t win and moving the goal posts

“Arguing with you even when you agree with their point. Incomprehensible but true.”

“Countering; disagreeing with everything I say, even when I know they agree, no matter how insignificant it is. For example, when they’ve always held a certain opinion, but the moment I agree with them or say something similar, they suddenly claim that my idea is absurd. Or when it’s common sense to do something a certain way and most people do it that way, they make me feel like I came up with something weird.”

“Having to one-up all the time. If it’s windy where I am, it’s windier where they are…furthermore, since they are west of me, they get the weather first. So if it’s rainy here, they already had the rain.”

“So many things. I’d be made fun of for how I said breakfast and salsa. Be told the sky isn’t blue – it’s some reflection or whatever, just to be contrary if I said something nice. Said I didn’t like or do certain things that I did. I didn’t even know what I really liked at all for the basics – like my favorite food. So many tiny things, just bizarre creatures.”

“They set up a scenario of opposites so that you can’t win, even in trivial ways like implying you’re getting in the way then saying you’ve left them alone too long, and it’s so subtle over such small things that you feel bad for not guessing the right thing to do in each situation (even if you apply one day’s learning to the next day – it will then be wrong and implied you don’t care enough to just “know” the right answer).”

“Saying things about my personality that are untrue as if it were a fact. You don’t know how to be generous. You don’t know how to be grateful. Also, constant interruptions to accuse others of interrupting.”

“Always cutting you off when you talk and changing the subject. It can even seem positive/supportive for a while. They cut you off to say something supportive, but that also tries to discredit others. Then of course they change the subject to themselves. It takes a long time to recognize the pattern, but it gets worse over time and eventually you just stop sharing. This was a weird one I recently went through. The narc can make themselves look really nice or supportive, but it’s really all about them and gets worse over time. Also playing dumb and not acknowledging your feelings/needs or showing you respect as an individual. You only become an extension of what they want in a partner: a possession.”

Turning on read receipts to show they’re ignoring you or even reaching out after a long period of no contact in an attempt to “one-up” you for leaving them. 

“They would constantly reply to me within seconds when we first began dating and the read receipts showed how quickly they did after seeing messages. But during the devaluation stage, the read receipts stayed on, and they would take longer and longer to respond, even though they were the ones begging for responses in the beginning of the love bombing stage.”

“Still texting you every couple of months to tell you he’s ‘done with you.’ After you went No Contact a year ago.”

“He turns on read receipts, so you’ll know that he saw your text and chose not to reply.”

About the author

Shahida Arabi

Shahida is a graduate of Harvard University and Columbia University. She is a published researcher and author of Power: Surviving and Thriving After Narcissistic Abuse and Breaking Trauma Bonds with Narcissists and Psychopaths. Her books have been translated into 16+ languages all over the world. Her work has been featured on Salon, HuffPost, Inc., Bustle, Psychology Today, Healthline, VICE, NYDaily News and more. For more inspiration and insight on manipulation and red flags, follow her on Instagram here.