4 Sadistic Mind Games Narcissists and Psychopaths Play In Relationships (That Empathic People Never Do)

A researcher specializing in narcissism and psychopathy reveals the four sadistic mind games you should watch out for if you’re in a relationship with a narcissist or psychopath.

Narcissistic people don’t live by any kind of moral code, so they play the game of, “I’ll do whatever I want to people, even if it harms them, so long as I get what I want.” For the narcissistic person, the ends justifies the means. Psychopaths are even more Machiavellian in the sense that they will deliberately con others for profit or the pleasure of duping delight. They don’t mind lying to people, threatening them, deceiving them, or pulling the wool over their eyes if it means they will get their needs met, no matter who they hurt in the process. This is the type of person who will promise you marriage, children, and a white picket fence – only to run off with your savings or be exposed for having a second family and double life. Most people with a solid sense of morality and compassion (or even the bare minimum) would be careful not to lead people on, dangle the carrot of a false future to get them to invest in something under false pretenses, be excessively duplicitous about who they are or punish the generosity and kindness of others with cruelty. Narcissistic and psychopathic people do so frequently and without remorse.

The “waiting” and stalking game. Empathic people don’t deliberately withhold or cruelly withdraw their kindness, attention, or affection on purpose just to provoke you. Narcissistic and psychopathic people do this in spades. They issue the silent treatment, stonewalling, and pretend to abandon you to train you into complying to their demands. They wait, watch, and track your every move to ensure they know what you’re up to. That way, they can strike at vulnerable moments. This is the type of relationship partner who will subject you to the silent treatment, only to watch you silently on social media and give you a text as soon as they know you’re out with friends. Or the dating partner who leads you on for months and then ghosts you, only to resurface during the holidays to deliberately tarnish times of joy and peace. Empathic people do not engage in these types of “monitoring” behaviors nor do they go out of their way to provoke people.

The “jealousy” game. Jealousy induction is associated with both narcissistic and psychopathic traits. Narcissists and psychopaths try to provoke jealousy on purpose for power and control, test the relationship, compensate for insecurity (mostly in the case of vulnerable narcissists rather than grandiose narcissists) or to exact revenge. This is the relationship partner who cannot stop bringing up their ex as a way to compare you or the dating partner who repeatedly checks out the waiter or waitress while side-eyeing you for your reaction to their behavior. It gives such types a thrill to feel like they might have others competing for them, even if no one is.

The “devaluation” game. Ever wondered why, in a relationship with a narcissist or psychopath, you felt like if you were “out of sight” you were also treated as “out of mind” – as if you had simply disappeared or been handed an invisibility cloak? Narcissists can treat you that way on purpose to punish you for perceived slights, but for some narcissistic and psychopathic people, they feel unable to regard you as an autonomous human being once you have slighted them, preferring to view you as a threat or even try to disregard your existence altogether once you’re no longer considered an extension of them, someone who caters to their needs and desires without boundaries. There is also something known as relational object constancy or emotional permanence, and narcissistic and psychopathic people especially lack it. This is the ability to hold two states at once, such as, “I love this person and have a close bond with them,” and “They threatened my ego.”  Many dark personality types lack the full ability to establish such close bonds in the first place, so they were never truly attached in the beginning when they proceeded to love bomb you and shower you with praise, attention, and affection. This is the husband who immediately becomes infatuated with his secretary after years of marriage and abandons his family without a second thought, or the wife who conveniently “forgets” her husband exists during her numerous affairs, only to treat him with callous indifference or gaslighting when called out. If you are in a relationship with a narcissistic or psychopathic individual, know that you are not to blame and that you never deserved the mistreatment or manipulation you endured. You deserve to be in a healthy and safe relationship and to free yourself from toxic cycles. | Shahida Arabi is a published researcher specializing in narcissism and the bestselling author of Power: Surviving and Thriving After Narcissistic Abuse.

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.