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Narcissists Destroy Who They Can’t Control

Reviewed by Karis A. Williams, MSMHC, LPC,   November 10, 2023

Narcissists need to control the  narrative.  Everywhere they go.  Everyone they meet.  Every situation.  They need to control everything in the same way they need to breathe.  They can’t live without it.

But when narcissists realize they are losing  control, and especially when they realize the other party is on to them and they aren’t getting that control back, those narcissists destroy who they can’t control.

So, why and how do narcissists destroy who they can’t control? Generally speaking, narcissists will destroy who they can’t control because they know if they can’t control the narrative, people will begin to see them as “less than,” or they will see exactly what is in the narcissist’s heart and mind.  So narcissists will do everything they can to discredit,  further abuse, and put those that don’t play along “in their place,” and destroy them for daring to stand up to them or out their narcissistic behavior.

Let’s take a closer look at how narcissists destroy who they can’t control.  But as you read through, keep in mind that the narcissist can’t really control anything but himself.  He only controls you if you give him that control!

Also, keep in mind, more narcissists are men than women.  I grew up with a narcissistic mother, then was married to a narcissist for 31 years.  While I use generally use male pronouns when speaking about narcissists, adjust the pronouns to fit your specific case.

And with that, let’s begin!

How Narcissists Control Others

For the most part, especially initially, narcissists control others through studying their victims and employing slick words.  They learn what makes someone tick.  They learn about their thoughts, passions, dreams, fears, just about everything they can learn.  Then they use what they have learned to craft the perfect words to convince their victim that they are perfect for them.

This can be done in any walk of life.  They can do this to win a husband or wife, to land their dream job, to be seen as the best neighbor, friend, church member–literally whatever relationship they need to win someone over in.  And they will make a great first impression more often than not.

For more on the tactics of a narcissist, check out my article here.

But the control doesn’t stop in trying to convince their targets that they are something they really aren’t in reality.  Here are some other methods of control common to narcissists:

Narcissists will isolate their victims from family and other loved ones.

But often they will not do it in a way that their victim will recognize.  My ex used to point out to me all the time that I could hang out with whoever I wanted to anytime I wanted to.  I didn’t find out the truth until it became public knowledge that we were separated.

I learned that he would isolate me by waiting until my friends or family were not near me.  He would catch them in moments alone and give them death stares or say menacing and threatening things to them.  He would speak in a low throaty growl to many of my friends and family members.  Because it seemed like an isolated incident to them, rather than tell me, they just stepped away quietly.  And I never knew.  Until 30+ years later.

A young woman leaning forward in a wicker chair, looking off into the distance and seeming isolated because nobody is near her. This photo represents the title of the article, "Narcissists Destroy Who They Can't Control."

Narcissists Will Gaslight Their Victims into an Alternate Reality

As I write this, I have to admit I am a little triggered by the words alternate reality.  I used to say it as a joke all the time.  Until the day I realized that he really was living in an alternate reality that he wanted to drag me down into.

Just like narcissism appears on a spectrum, gaslighting also happens on the same spectrum.  The more narcissistic someone is, the more severe the gaslighting.  And in many cases, gaslighting may start out pretty benign, but as the narcissist gets away with it over time with little to no repercussions, the gaslighting will continue in severity.

Some of the biggest gaslighting I experienced was that my ex would just literally deny everything that I confronted him with.  For instance, if one of the kids came to me upset about something he had said or done with them, I would approach him in a way that would help him to see how his kids felt and try to work through the issue.  But he would either say they were lying or that everything was fine and they couldn’t complain about anything relating to him.

Another example came up frequently toward the end of our marriage and when we were in counseling.  I would talk about some way that he would sabotage me, whether it was in my church ministry, or just even some small day-to-day thing.  Instead of admitting that he had done those things, he would say that he was actually trying to help me and he would never do anything to sabotage or upset me.  And then he would make sure I knew he was offended that I would even think he could do those things.

The gaslighting continues still to this day.  He just doesn’t have as much opportunity because his contact with me and the kids is minimal.

Narcissists Will Use Others to Make You Feel Wrong, Inadequate, or Even Crazy

Narcissists will convince others around you that “there is something really wrong with you.”  They will tell others that they are praying for you and ask them to pray with him that you may find some relief, peace, sense, or whatever fake thing he says is ailing you.  Because he has mastered the acting lesson on pretending he is deeply concerned for you, many people will fall for his act.

As a side note, the narcissist holds his friends at arms’ length so they don’t realize he is putting on an act.  They would never dream they are the victims of the narcissists web of lies too and that they are helping him to further abuse  the person he is lying to them about.

The narcissist will also just tell people he is worried or concerned about you and then proceed to tell them why he feels that way.  It is usually something secretive that he tells them so they would never go back to you and ask you about it.  And in that way, their secret stays safe forever.  And nobody ever realizes that there was nothing wrong with you.  They were just trying to make you look bad and they succeeded in such an underhanded way that you would never see the attack until many years later if at all.

Narcissists Project Their Shame, Shortcomings, and Fears Onto You

This method of control is incredibly bizarre.  Even to the end of my marriage, I still couldn’t comprehend how he thought that literally everything in his own brain, his reasoning, motivations, dreams, nightmares, thoughts…was also in mine.

For instance, there was a young boy from a troubled home that I would welcome into our home.  He needed love and got none, even with his counselors and caseworkers.  And he fit in well with my own kids and the neighborhood kids.

As he got older, my husband told me he didn’t want him to come around anymore.  I was so sad about that because I was fearful that he would never get any more encouragement in his life from other sources.  My ex’s reasoning was that he was sure that boy, by that time 18 years old, only came around because he wanted to sleep with me and I should not entertain him.  That was never even remotely anything this boy indicated or thought out loud about.  In fact, he was a very respectful and kind boy.  In spite of the rest of his world, his piece of life in our world was a chance at peace and ease.

I still pray for that boy every day and wish I could see him again and see how he has grown.

Narcissists Will First Try to Regain Control Before Destroying Those They Can’t Control

If you are a narcissist’s major source of supply (a spouse, best friend, or other close relationship), they don’t want to lose you.  It is much harder for them to start over than to bring you back under their thumb.  And in a narcissist’s mind, they feel that since they knew how to suck you in the first time, they could do it again.  They knew how to be charming since the beginning.  And now they know you well enough to know exactly what charms and words will get you to come back again.

I told my ex I was done ten years before I actually left.  I kept wanting to believe that he would change or that our marriage would improve.  So every time he would apologize, I would accept his apology and allow myself to believe that things would get better.

When a narcissist realizes that they can’t control you by charming you back into their influence, they will then panic.  There are a couple of reasons for this panic.  First, they can’t stand the fact that anyone can see them as less than perfect.  They have to be perceived as the best person in the room.  And second, they panic because they don’t know how they are going to find another source of supply that will give them what you did for so long.

This is why narcissists tend to find a new significant other within days, weeks, or months of breaking things off with you.  My ex met his current wife before he filed for divorce.  And they were married 6 days after we got our divorce papers.

Why Narcissists Destroy Those They Can’t Control

When narcissists finally come to the realization that they are not going to get control back from someone who was a source of narcissistic supply ( or even someone who was never actually narcissistic supply to them, but he wanted them to be), he will then seek to destroy them.

The narcissist finds justification in destroying others that don’t go along with him because he feels like that person owed him that supply. How dare they go against his wishes!  Don’t they realize that they are not giving him what he desires the most?

Part of the reason the narcissist feels this way is because he has likely been receiving good supply from that person all along.  Spouses of narcissists will go above and beyond to please their narcissist.  It will prevent them from paying the price later.  If they talk about their difficult marriage, friends, family, and church will tell them to be a better wife.  So they strive harder.  All to no avail because the narcissist will continue to take advantage of all the benefits of the spouse working harder while they choose not to reciprocate.

When the spouse or friend of the narcissist decides that enough is enough, the narcissist is jarred out of his comfort.  And when he realizes he isn’t getting that control back, he is then angry that someone would pull away from him something that he already had and felt entitled to.  So much of that need to destroy comes from narcissistic rage at not getting the supply he so desperately needs and now feels cut off.  It is virtually the same as an addict who is cut off from their addiction suddenly and without warning.

And that probably makes it easier to understand why narcissists destroy who they can’t control.

How Narcissists Destroy Those They Can’t Control

There are several ways that narcissists destroy who they can’t control.  Many of the tactics the narcissist will use are the same ones that kept their victim trapped for as long as they were.  Here are some of the most common tactics narcissists use to destroy those they cannot control:

Narcissists Destroy Who They Can’t Control by Making You Look Bad

They will make you look bad.  My narcissist ex was expert at making me look bad while saying the nicest things about me.  It was maddening because the people who didn’t see through it saw him as the poor victim while I looked like the mean abusive person.

Over time I learned to be able to let it go when people chose to believe the mask of the narcissist over the truth.  It still hurts to know that they are still talking about me and telling others who have no idea what they thought happened.  But if people choose to believe that without coming to me or someone else close to our situation for the truth, that isn’t on me.  I can only control myself.

A young man and woman standing very close to each other and facing each other. The man is angry and holding the woman's wrists tightly. The woman looks fearful. This represents the title of the article, "Narcissists Destroy Who They Can't Control."

Narcissists Destroy Who They Can’t Control by Trying to Beat You in Court

They will try to beat you in court.  My narcissist spent little to no time with his kids.  Usually, he only spent time with his kids in public when he was trying to prove he was the best dad.  But in our neighborhood, he was always known as the father of eight children who didn’t like kids.  But yet, when he was removed from our home and filed for divorce, he also sued for 50/50 custody.

Fortunately, the entire court system saw through his crap.  And I got sole custody.  He got 3 hours of visitation every other week with 6 hours on the opposing weeks so he can have some time on Saturdays.  He cannot have Sundays at all because of the extensive religious abuse.  And he rarely fills the 18 monthly hours.  It is usually more like 12.  Which is okay because our youngest son (the only one out of the 4 my ex tried to force custody of) is fine with just a short amount of time.  And there are no overnights so he doesn’t have to worry about being alone at his dad’s house and feeling unsafe.

I did give in on the financial aspects of the divorce because I didn’t have the energy to fight for more than custody and that was more important.  Plus it helped to give the narcissist something to win so that the rage and destruction would not be quite so severe.

For more on dealing with narcissists in divorce issues and court, click here.

Narcissists Destroy Who They Can’t Control by Trying to Force More Control

Often, when counselors and legal counsel are involved with a couple who are trying to save their marriage and one of them is a narcissist, they will try to help the narcissist work through some of their issues.  The narcissist generally doesn’t respond well.  He will shift the blame, make up offenses to distract from his own, act out in rage and mock surprise, or simply storm out.  Then, he will go home to his spouse (and kids if they have them) and dictate even more rules in order to regain the control he feels he has lost.

This happened in my home frequently.  And by this time I had enough support to get help every time.  In our case, there was usually a “family meeting” we were required to attend.  Half of my older kids were refusing  by this time.  And my ex usually had a paper outlining his demands that he would print up for every kid so they would know exactly what he expected of them.

I would attend these meetings for the sake of the kids.  And I would usually tell him he couldn’t impose what he was attempting to.  And then I would tell him that I would be showing the papers to my counselors and pastor.  He would encourage me to, being very proud of how he was “leading his family.”  He refused to believe that what he was doing was abusive.

The last “family meeting” was the straw that broke the camel’s back.  It was at this point that the church decided he needed to leave our home.  His expectations were ridiculous.  We were at that point prisoners in our home.  And his temper was reaching alarming levels.  Everyone was done trying to wait for him to heal.  He was making it very clear that he didn’t think he was the one that needed healing.

A well-dressed man standing to the left with his arms crossed, facing to the right side of the picture. He is looking at a woman, sitting in a chair inside of a glass canister with a lid. She is leaning forward in the chair, holding her head in her hands in despair. This photo represents the title of the article, "Narcissists Destroy Who They Can't Control."

Narcissists Destroy Who They Can’t Control by Ignoring and Avoiding Them

A narcissist does not like to be messed with.  You are supposed to do what they want when they want it with no questions asked.  Only great words of support about how great they are and what a good job they are doing are allowed.  So when you dare to go outside of their expectations or will, some narcissists will ignore or withdraw from you.  They think that you need them so badly that you will come groveling back to them to make things right.  And often that is the case.  It is easier to be reconciled to a narcissist than to deal with their wrath.

This was never really my situation.  My ex never gave me enough space to be alone with my thoughts.  Maybe he realized that I wouldn’t come groveling back to him.  Maybe he tried it earlier and it didn’t work.  I don’t remember.  In any event, it never became a pattern of behavior for him.  I would be interested to hear how it plays out for other people who experienced a narcissist that punished them in this way.

As an interesting side note, often a narcissist will accuse his spouse of this exact same behavior if they say they need some space after experiencing narcissistic abuse.  They don’t realize or care that sometimes we need some time to recover from whatever just happened to us at his hands and we may need to process and work our way through it.


I have tried to give you a complete picture of how and why narcissists destroy who they can’t control.  At the end, it boils down to the fact that they need to be in control of everyone and everything all the time.  If they feel that control slipping, they will do almost anything in their power to regain that control.

How has this played out in your life?  How did the narcissist attempt to regain control?  Did it work?  For how long did you allow it before finally realizing you couldn’t anymore?  I would love to hear your experience.  Feel free to comment below.  If you are not safe to comment publicly, change your username to prevent being identified!  Or contact me privately here.

Hugs and love to you,

If you found good value in this article, I think you will love how helpful the following articles are as well!

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Hi! I am the founder of Navigating Religious Narcissism after being raised under a narcissistic mother and married to a narcissistic man for 31 years. It is my prayer that I can be as valuable on your journey to healing and peace as were so many who crossed my path of healing.

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