Charm, charisma and confidence, or the 3Cs of narcissism coined by narcissist psychotherapist expert Dr. Ramani Durvasula, are often why we fall for narcissists. The dark side is that you also face controlling, careless and condemning behaviors.
So, how does a narcissist react when they can’t control you?
Read this article to learn more about various aspects of a narcissist’s reaction when they lose control that they had over you previously.
What is narcissism?
While the word narcissism and the phrase narcissist control have almost become mainstream, there is a huge debate. As this review of the controversies in narcissism explains, there are various models and theories that attempt to define narcissism.
The key point to note is that there’s a range of symptoms, from healthy narcissism to pathological narcissistic personality disorder. While the media quickly calls these people vain and self-centered, they are usually deeply insecure. This insecurity makes them feel so vulnerable that they need constant validation.
Without this validation, they may quickly become narcissistic control freaks in a misguided attempt to protect their fragile self-esteem. So, how does a narcissist react when they can’t control you? They’ll do anything to regain that control to feel in power and assertively.
Symptoms of a narcissist’s manipulation
What does a narcissist mean when they brag about their achievements, lie or antagonize you? It all comes down to trying to hide a deep shame by attempting to control you.
As children, either controlling or dismissive parents may have crushed their self-esteem. As this psychology review on narcissistic personality disorder explains, they then learned unhealthy coping mechanisms to cover an extreme lack of self-love. This can come across as controlling, paranoid, or entitled.
Narcissists often lie, infantilize and gaslight you. They can put you down and yet they crave your admiration. These tactics are all an attempt to control you because they artificially boost their self-esteem by exerting their power.
Sadly, narcissists destroy who they cannot control. There’s no escaping this fact unless you do something about it. Try to remember that it’s rarely with malicious intent.
Most narcissists aren’t aware of their behaviors which is why their rage can seem so out of control. Essentially, they’re only reacting to feeling lost and confused. They feel no empathy for others but are at a complete loss regarding their emotions.
What happens when a narcissist loses control over you?
A narcissist losing control can be truly terrifying. Depending on the type of narcissist you’re dealing with, they can become aggressive, violent, or withdrawn while isolating you from the outside world.
The question might now be, “how does a narcissist act according to the different types”? So, you could be dealing with an overbearing, overt narcissist or a paranoid narcissist who projects their flaws onto you.
You might face a narcissistic collapse at the extreme end of the scale. Essentially, losing control over you or your environment is highly triggering for a narcissist. When a narcissist loses power, you’ll see them revert to pure emotion completely out of control.
So, how does a narcissist react when they can’t control you? If they are so triggered, they’ll lash out at you verbally and physically. They’ll essentially do anything to cover the shame of being humiliated or stressed to such levels.
When a narcissist realizes your refusal to be controlled, they panic because their demands are no longer met. They’ll become coercive, manipulative and potentially aggressive. On the other hand, they might become superficially charming to lure you back in before they start controlling you again.
Where does a narcissist’s need for control come from?
Narcissism lies on a spectrum. While we all need a healthy amount of narcissism to be confident enough to live our lives, extreme narcissism is devastating for everyone involved. The problem with narcissists is that their issues are so deep that they rarely see the need for change.
Dr. Jeffrey Young specifically developed schema therapy to help those particularly resistant, like most narcissists. His therapy also gives us an understanding of where it all comes from. It helps us understand the question, “how does a narcissist react when they can’t control.”
Schemas, or maladaptive reactions and beliefs, come from traumatic experiences, especially during childhood. Without a supportive family network, narcissists develop deeply held beliefs of mistrust, perfectionism and shame.
These beliefs then translate into what we call narcissistic manipulation. The coping behaviors they learned to hide the pain of shame and mistrust blow up as the controlling bully, paranoid perfectionist or overbearing fanatic.
In summary, when a narcissist can’t control you, all the pain from the past comes up to the surface. Imagine a caged wild animal desperate to be set free.
That’s why what happens when a narcissist loses control is frightening. They can be physically violent and you should prioritize your safety. Simply walk away. A useful next step is to then reach out to narcissist support groups.
Common narcissist behaviors when their needs aren’t met
The things to expect when a narcissist’s needs aren’t met include physical and verbal violence. When narcissists lose control over their environment, their needs aren’t met. So, they panic and become reactive.
They might also try to distort reality to suit their needs again. Tactics include over-generalizing, blaming, catastrophizing, always being right and many more.
How does a narcissist act in that case? It doesn’t just involve immediate reactions. They might also become vindictive and manipulative behind the scenes. So, they’ll lie to your friends and family so they can all turn against you.
When narcissists can no longer control you, they might even go online and create rumors and stories about you. Alternatively, they’ll give you the silent treatment and make you feel like you’ve done something wrong.
Essentially, the question “how does a narcissist react when they can’t control you” has many examples depending on the type of narcissist.
So, the covert narcissist will blame everyone else and become highly defensive. On the flip side, an overt narcissist might become exploitative but the antagonistic one will fight.
At this point, you might be wondering how to control a narcissist. The short answer is that you can’t. If you do try, you’ll only trigger the issues that led them to become a narcissist. Remember that they’re often controlling to counteract previously controlling parents.
Nevertheless, you can be assertive with a narcissist and make yourself heard. The first step is to ensure you’re not in any physical danger.
Then, what does a narcissist mean when they control, dismiss or antagonize you? As we’ll see in the next section, knowing the underlying cause behind the behavior can help you strategize to assert yourself.
How does a narcissist react when they can’t control you? As we’ve seen, it combines physical and verbal violence with various forms of manipulation, gaslighting and isolation. How to take control away from a narcissist starts by getting to know yourself.
Narcissists attract us because they’re charming and successful.They can also attract us because of our issues. If you’ve found yourself partnering with more than one narcissist in your past, there might be a pattern.
Having a narcissist controlling you can sometimes be because you also suffer from damaged self-esteem. Perhaps you grew up with a narcissist and subconsciously, you’re recreating what you know from your past. Codependency is another trait that narcissists are attracted to.
Whether you fall for the love bombing because of childhood emotional deprivation or get triggered into self-sacrifice, you can heal your issues. Working with a therapist will help you heal from within, from which you’ll be able to start developing boundaries with the narcissist in your life.
How to stop being controlled in a relationship means not getting triggered?
Imagine a small and scared child when considering the question, “how does a narcissist react when they can’t control you.” As long as you’re not in physical danger, talk to the small child your narcissist has become.
We all know that anger only alienates a small child. Empathy is the true solution. This isn’t about excusing the narcissist but establishing boundaries with empathy and understanding. So, point out how the behavior makes you feel and what you expect instead.
The non-violent communication framework is critical for connecting with your narcissist and rebuilding a healthy partnership. Don’t fall into the trap of the consequences of “how does a narcissist react when they can’t control.”
Instead, listen to this TED talk explaining the framework in action that includes a short clip by Dr. Marshall Rosenberg, who developed the tool:
Confronting the narcissist
What happens if you take control away from a narcissist? Essentially, they panic and can quickly become narcissistic control freaks.
Then again, the question “how does a narcissist react when they can’t control you” can sometimes bring up different scenarios. Often they deny having done anything wrong and blame it on you.
In this article on what to do when the narcissist knows you’ve figured him out, you’ll also see that taking power away from a narcissist can cause them to resort to projection. This is a subconscious defense mechanism where they accuse you of their flaws and fears.
When they get into this phase, focus on your self-care, stop trying to please subconsciously and create distance. The other option is to manage them, especially for those you choose to keep in your life. In those cases, set clear boundaries and practice non-violent communication with empathy.
Facing a narcissist’s reactivity
When a narcissist loses their grip on their environment, things can quickly escalate into a narcissistic collapse.
In those cases, how does a narcissist react when they can’t control you? Essentially, they retaliate. With such retaliation, you need to consider how to take control away from a narcissist.
It’s easier to walk away from a narcissist you no longer need. If you’re married or related to one, it’s about managing them with as few outbursts as possible.
Dr. Durvasula has a useful way of summarizing the approach in her book “Don’t You Know Who I Am?” She says, “validate, smile, don’t engage and exit gracefully.”
Some of you might be squirming at the idea of validating a narcissist. Remember, though, that they need it to stay stable. When a narcissist can’t control you, they get triggered. Instead, support their world if you must but bring in boundaries, gently but firmly.
Narcissist control can be subtle, which is why we sometimes wonder if we’re making it all up. Remember the 3Cs of narcissism? Not only are narcissists charming but they’re also often successful.
Nevertheless, how to stop being controlled in a relationship starts by educating yourself on the range of narcissist types.
Start by reviewing the following questions as you reflect on those people around you:
What happens when a narcissist no longer controls you?
First, you’re free of your triggers and secondly, you can set your boundaries. How to control a narcissist then comes down to managing their reality and sticking to short interactions.
Why do narcissists react angrily when they don’t control you?
When a narcissist loses power, they are triggered back to their child’s state of fear, mistrust or helplessness. This sets off deep, primitive emotions such as anger because they never learned healthy coping strategies.
How do narcissists impact their victims?
Narcissistic manipulation is devastating. It’s a mental drain that leaves you questioning yourself and doubting everything you say and do. This can lead to anxiety and depression.
How does a narcissist react when they can’t control you? Essentially, they can also turn your friends and family against you.
What do you do to make a narcissist miserable?
When a narcissist can no longer control you, they are miserable. They need to control their environments to give themselves the ego boost they need to survive. Without it, they’re lost and confused.
What endpoint is there for narcissists?
A narcissist losing control isn’t fun for the narcissist, either. The lack of control also triggers their insecurity. Often though, they quickly recover by finding other sources of validation.
What happens if you take control away from a narcissist? Depending on the person, they might finally experience deep enough pain to drive them to seek help.
They need something substantial to destroy their world before they can admit something’s wrong. Otherwise, they’ll stay on their track of manipulation and jumping from one source of validation to the next but somehow never getting enough.
How does a narcissist react when they can’t control you? In short, narcissists destroy who they cannot control unless they do something about it. In violent cases, taking power away from a narcissist involves walking away and keeping yourself safe.
Overall, a narcissist controlling you is not sustainable for your mental health. It will destroy your self-esteem and could trigger other issues, including anxiety and depression. Nevertheless, sometimes our issues fuel the dynamic with narcissists.
Your first step is to find group support or therapy to establish your patterns. Then, you’ll be better equipped for when a narcissist realizes you refuse to be controlled.
You can then learn to be assertive and empathic in establishing your boundaries. The more you share your inner compassion and strength, the more the narcissist can connect to and possibly even heal their inner child with time.
If you feel disconnected or frustrated about the state of your marriage but want to avoid separation and/or divorce, the marriage.com course meant for married couples is an excellent resource to help you overcome the most challenging aspects of being married.
Anne’s passion and purpose in life are to guide people to find their own path and contentment by learning about themselves. Only then can we build and nurture the deep connections we all deserve to have. With a background in psychology and neuroscience coaching, she has helped countless couples transform their communication from aggression to assertiveness and appreciation.
She is both an ICF certified coach and mindfulness-certified, while being a counselor in training, meaning that she offers a holistic approach. You can expect to transform your view of yourself, your relationship, and the world by better understanding the habits of your mind and letting go of the unhelpful ones. You have power over your mind but you don’t have to do it alone.