The 12 Laws of Power, According to Narcissists

The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene is one of the most famous books of all time. But what would similar laws look like in the hands of narcissists and what kinds of laws do narcissists operate on? Here are the 12 laws of power according to narcissistic traits and behaviors. Note that this article will help you identify manipulation tactics narcissists use and is not meant to be used to manipulate others.

Law #1: Do as I say, not as I do.

The narcissist doesn’t criticize you because they exercise lofty moral standards themselves; they do so to keep you under their control, walking on eggshells, and mired in self-doubt so they don’t lose you to a better partner or a better life away from them. That is why they will display astounding hypocrisy when they tell you what to do – while engaging in opposite behaviors themselves.

Law #2: Whoever cares least is the most powerful. Distance yourself and retreat shortly after love bombing.

The narcissist acts on the morally warped principle that the more interest you show in a person, the less they will desire you. That is why they try to weaponize their absence, silent treatments, and stonewalling to keep their partners “in line” and always obedient to them.

Law #3: Never tell the whole truth, let others tell you theirs to identify potential vulnerabilities to exploit. Then, use their oversharing against them.

The narcissist fabricates stories of their past to make themselves look like the victim. They hide their true intentions for pursuing you to match and mirror what they think you want – your dreams, goals, desires, and even personality to sway you into falling in love with them. These lies distort reality and the nature of their true character, allowing you to become infatuated with their mask and addicted to them. However, as they conceal the truth, they convince you to disclose personal traumas, insecurities, and fears that they will later use against you in the relationship.

Law #4: Break-ups are a display of power, not permanent. You must always be a presence in someone’s life regardless of the status of the relationship.

Narcissistic and psychopathic partners wield power through “orchestrated break-ups.” This is how they make sure they keep you fixated on them and the relationship. Such break-ups are manufactured not because the narcissist authentically wants to detach from you but rather as a twisted display of power, as they always come crawling back to ensnare you into the toxic cycle once more. Research indicates that psychopaths and narcissists tend to stay connected to their exes to maintain access to resources and sex, after all. Through these staged break-ups, they essentially say, “I am the one in control here. I am the one who gets to leave. You should do everything possible to win me back.” If met with this manipulation tactic, make sure you do everything possible to detach and leave rather than go through the abuse cycle once more with them.

Law #5: Wear a mask for however long it takes to get someone invested. Once they are, remove the mask. By that time, they’re too invested to flee. 

The narcissist and psychopath use superficial, glib charm to keep their victims hooked on their façade. Watch out for the minor discrepancies and micro-betrayals that seem to contradict this mask. Their long-term behaviors will tell you everything you need to know.

Law #6: Boundaries are just lines waiting to be crossed. Always test them, frequently and with escalation.

Manipulators incorporate covert insults under the guise of “sarcasm” and “just jokes.” They poke and prod at you and your insecurities, even manufacturing flaws that never existed with comments designed to destabilize you and cast doubt on your talents and abilities. They learn your boundaries just to violate them. It’s important to observe how dating partners treat your boundaries early on and also in the long-term. Watch out for the slow erosion of boundaries over time as well as rage attacks when a boundary is enforced.

Law #7: Always play the victim when held accountable. Feign trauma as an excuse, even when it is not present or when it is not a motivator for your actions. Conceal your malice with pity ploys.

Narcissists and psychopaths may tell stories of a childhood they never experienced early on in the relationship (some even go so far as to “steal” the childhood stories of others to make themselves seem more victimized) or pretend they were cheated on even if they were the ones doing the cheating. Watch out for forced premature intimacy and disclosure early on in dating – if someone is dumping their trauma on you without getting to know you organically first, it’s a red flag, even if they’re not a narcissist. It may mean they’re not emotionally ready for a healthy relationship.

Law #8: Get them excited about a future that may never pan out, so you can get what you want from them in the present moment.

Narcissists use future-faking to make you believe that they are interested in a long-lasting healthy relationship just to get whatever they want from you – labor, resources, sex, praise, attention. Once they’ve depleted you of your energy and time, they move on to other sources of narcissistic supply – other victims they can drain.

Law #9: Leave a brutal impact on the victim so they always remember you, even if the victim did not desire you in the beginning.

Inflicting trauma is one of the narcissist’s few natural talents (the others, they just steal and fake from meeting actually talented people). They know that the bigger the trauma, the more memorable and significant they are to you and your life. It’s not your hatred they fear – it’s their insignificance. Once they lose control over you, they lash out to try to regain that significance just to re-traumatize you all over again. This can traumatize you even when you weren’t that interested in them in the first place.

Law #10: Competition makes you seem more desirable. Lure your targets in by mentioning other love interests or past partners frequently to keep them alert and focused on you, and not the manipulation.

Robert Greene actually mentions this in his book The Art of Seduction. Researchers call it jealousy induction and confirms that narcissists deliberately provoke jealousy on purpose to maintain power and control and to test the relationship. For years before studies came out on this phenomenon, it was known as romantic “triangulation.” Narcissists and psychopaths know that jealousy can be a primal reaction to the possibility of losing their partner to someone else, even if you’re not necessarily that interested in the narcissist. Once such an “aura of desirability” as Robert Greene calls it is established by the manipulator, you are mobilized to compete for and vie for their attention – unless you choose not to play the love triangle game at all and leave instead.

Law #11: Hot and cold is better than consistency. Keep them working for approval once the honeymoon stage has passed.  

Research reveals that it’s not consistently warm behavior from a partner that gets us “most” addicted to them; it’s actually intermittent reinforcement of positive treatment mixed with mistreatment and devaluation. That is what gets dopamine flowing most readily in the brain and creates such a strong trauma bond and attachment to the narcissist. Remember: if someone is playing hot and cold with you, it’s time to go cold for good.

Law #12: Master the art of indifference even to things you care about; true narcissists will do this by default.

Even when the narcissist does care, they will pretend not to in order to deliberately provoke you. They will ignore you after a break-up while posting shady references to you or your relationship on social media; they may flaunt a third party to try to make you compete for them even if you have no interest; they might suddenly contact you once they see you’re moving forward with someone else, only to neglect you once more. These are just power ploys to make sure they’re the ones who are affecting your life. Become indifferent to the narcissist and start investing in yourself.

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.