The Narcissists’ Playbook

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by Ven Baxter

One of the first steps out of Narcissistic abuse is the realization that one is, in fact, dealing with a Narcissist.  I’m going to generalize a lot here (quite legitimately, I believe), but first, here’s my definition of a Narcissist:

a person who deceives others in order to take, deplete, and consume their life energy (“soul”) because the Narcissist lacks it

I wrote an article explaining and expanding upon this definition here.

The Uniformity of Survivors’ Experience

Narcissists all seem to operate according to the same “playbook”–as if they were all receiving basically the same instruction or guidance from the same source.  This is why survivors of Narcissistic abuse can legitimately refer en masse to “Narc(issist)s” or “a/the Narc(issist)” without further qualification and still be understood by other survivors.

It is in comparing one’s own experiences with the experiences of others who have endured similar (Narcissistic) dysfunction and abuse, up close and personal, that one finally becomes aware of the problem of Narcissism and all that it entails. With awareness comes choice, and with choice comes change.

These survivors’ experiences are characteristically similar…sometimes eerily, uncannily, almost exactly similar.  There is a certain calling card ormodus operandi in the behavior of a Narcissist.  These practically uniform behaviors seem to point in a single direction, to a single source, as if there were a “Narcissists’ Club” with certain rules and standards of behavior (however low they may be).

(Maybe there’s even a Secret Narcissist Handshake, accompanied by a wink and a smirk.  Notice that Narcissists tend to leave each other alone.)

The Unique Individual Narcissist

There is some variation, of course.  Narcissists are not all literally exactly like each other.  The possibly universal set of traits that comprise“Narcissism” are tempered in the individual by the personality:  the unique set of characteristics that are one’s own and nobody else’s.  This is the case even for Narcissists.

So not all Narcissists are identical to each other, though they all may be strikingly in accord with each other.  Even an army–the very model of uniformity!–has dozens of different jobs, each with its own set of behaviors, functions, and even equipment.

Still, one who is not a soldier, but who knows what a soldier looks like, can easily identify one by his or her appearance and behavior.  So also can one who knows what a Narcissist “looks like” can easily identify one by his or her appearance and behavior, despite his or her similarity to everybody else.

To others, alas, the Narcissist does look just like everybody else, and to point him or her out to others might make one look crazy to some people.  “He’s got a shirt and pants and shoes just like everybody else.  So what if he sulks a bit?  He’s just having a bad day/week/month/year/etc., that’s all.  Lighten up!”

But are Narcissists really “just like everybody else”?

Disorder, Distortion, and Dysfunction

I may risk seeming unnecessarily divisive here, but I submit:

I’m being necessarily divisive here because Narcissists are NOT “just like everybody else”.  They may LOOK just like everybody else, but on the inside…well, they use a different “playbook” than everybody else!

There obviously isn’t some physical book, issued to every Narcissist, that could be found and read and exposed and re-printed for all to see.  The “playbook” is a sort of mental blueprint or psychological programming.  It can be “read” by observing the Narcissist’s behaviors–especially up close and personal, such as in a romantic or familial relationship with a Narcissist.

Observing a Narcissist’s public display of “acceptable” behaviors generally will NOT reveal the inner workings of the Narcissist, who can and does (as a lifestyle) deceive therapists, co-workers, teachers, authorities, social acquaintances, business associates, and friends of the family.  There’s nothing necessarily wrong with the Narcissist’s intelligence (perhaps unfortunately).

The problem is in the Narcissist’s disordered thinking, distorted feeling, and dysfunctional behavior.  (Perhaps these are three chapters in The Narcissists’ Playbook.)

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Public vs. Private Behaviors

There are certain rules and standards that are understood and agreed upon in human societies.  Some behaviors are acceptable and others are not.  Many that are not acceptable are considered crimes.  Most people do their best to go pretty much by the same rules and standards that “everybody else” goes by.

The Narcissist knows very well what those social rules and standards are.  In fact, his or her survival as a Narcissist (read: his or her double identity) depends on knowing them very well.

But, as already mentioned, the Narcissist has his or her own (read: secret) rules and standards, as demonstrated by the behaviors endured–again, almost universally–by survivors of Narcissistic abuse.  Moreover, the Narcissist is able to “behave” him- or herself in certain (read: public) scenarios, while being quite secretive about his or her more abusive and socially unacceptable, or even criminal, behaviors.

This is one reason why Narcissists aren’t considered “crazy” by mainstream society (apart from simple public ignorance of the problem).  The popular logic goes somewhat like this:

If the Narcissist doesn’t do it all the time, then he or she can control it and therefore is NOT “crazy” because crazy people can’t control their behavior!

But they can surely hide their many dysfunctions and abuses when it really matters, can’t they?  There are words that describe this sort of behavior in grown-ups, such as slimy, manipulative, shady, sketchy, two-faced, treacherous, devious, deceptive, lying, and insidious…but, of course, not crazy.

Crazy people can’t all follow the same playbook, can they?

Author Bio – Ven Baxter lives in Florida, where he works as a canoe outfitter, teaches, writes, and enjoys being father to his three children.  You can find this article on his blog, Ven Baxter – Go deep into the nooks and crannies of life and the human experience…

If you’d like gentle guidance on taking your power back from the narcissist, join other wonderful thrivers in the therapist-approved Break Free program for narcissistic abuse recovery.  You will learn real-life ways to develop new and empowering habits that heal – AND are backed by psychology and neuroscience.

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Annie says December 6, 2023

Unbelievably helpful!!

Tor says May 6, 2023

I think the love bombing time is a time where the narc mirror you to realy understand you. Get you to feel safe an tell them most of you’r secret- to use it against you later on. I think it is also a time where you are their life. They have no emotional life them self, so some way they live true you. They take your energy, and some way become you. If you have good relations to dogs suddenly they havet it too. The same whit children and other things. This way they “become you”, and they slowly drain you for energy. Are your soulemate and all that stuff.
And all they learn about you no, and that is not just a litle bit of you. They will use agaist you later.
I confrontet the nars that bother me now a days. It’s a nighbour. Among many things she is stalking me, and have done so for nearly 2 years. She was walking behandling me, and I turned around walking strait against her. She tryed to awoid me. Acting afraid. But I went up in front of her face saying “I am fed up by you and your stalking”. When I looked into her eyes, it was not like looking into next to nothing, it was like looking into nothing. She didn’t even blink. Just stared at me whit her eyes vide open. She was not afraid at al. She was eating me sushi with her eyes. She said “what” and “What is this” “What is this”. So I too just repeted. ” I am fed up by you and you stalking me”. So she came whit more questions. “What do you mean”. I said “that you now wery well”. Once more she came with the same question, and I with the same answeer. And she just came with questions, questions, questions. I understood she would go on like this. Trying to get information that she could use against me. So I just went away. And when walking saying ” I dont talk whit such like you”.
I have never confronted a nars before, so after I was thinking “What did I learn by this”.
And of corse my thoghts also refleckt my other excperienses whit narc.
But what I thougt was” learn by the narssissist what to do whit the narssissist”. For example “why do going grey stone work”. Isn’t it much like the narc silent treatment of the abused one. Why do the narssisst ask and ask and repeat same question. Isn’t it to get info abort you. So when you “talk” whit a nars just answeer whit a question or repeat and
repeat the answeer. If it is possible don’t even stop when repeating your self. And so on.
But first of al. If you live under same roof as the nars, get away. You now hove dangerous the nars you live with are. Don’t do anything that can be dangerous to you as long as you are in such a situation.

    Millymollymandy says December 8, 2023

    Hi yes, the narc in my life has such a skill at claiming to be innocent and pretends to be surprised and shocked/hurt when I catch him in the act of behaving inappropriately, now I’ve learned to not be fooled and stand my ground, if I insist and and explain to him clearly, he now backs off!

Gerhard Botha says February 24, 2023

To deal with this tipe of person you end up in “hell”. But i have learned there are those who came from a bad parent care and grow up like this for protecting them self.

Olivia says July 8, 2022

It is very telling how when I was in an online group for Daughters of Narcissisitc Mothers, whatever I wrote about my mother would get the replies ‘I could have written that.’ ‘My mother does that.’ ‘OMG do we have the same mother?’ etc.
Even friends in real life say ‘I could have said that, it’s exactly what she does.’
It’s like there is a secret world underneath what most people understand, where narcissists go about their secret business abusing us in private. As if they are an alien race.

Patricia says July 7, 2022

I lost 8 years of my life during 38 year marriage and my assets and still suffer from the abuse

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Kristin says December 18, 2016

Someone please help!! I’ve been “with” my narcissist for 2 years. At the beginning, we spend quite a lot of time together… But we did argue a lot of the time. He was SO unreasonable, and unrealistic it was UNBELIEVABLE. He was also a “recovering” heroin addict… Only “recovering” because I was very clear about my feelings for that particular drug. But he had me roped in right from the start, with the “love at first sight, you’re so perfect for me” B.s.
6 mos into the relationship he went to Alaska to work for 1 month. And apparently he drank heavily the entire time.. Missed several days, even though he lived with all his co-workers right next to the job. And if anyone there had heroin, I have no doubt he did that too. We talked VERY little while he was there. And not from a lack of effort my part.
When he came home.. Things felt tense … Awkward… lots of narcissistic rage. But at that time i thought narcissist was just a word to describe somebody who thinks they’re better than everybody ..I had no idea what a horrible thing it really is. One day during an argument, narcissistic was one of the names I called him.. and the look on his face when I said it was so subtle, but I knew he knew that about himself. He’d heard that before. So I looked up the definition of narcissistic online… And now, here I am LOL.
Within a month of him coming home he started slamming heroin. He had only been smoking it before that, which is a significant difference in the effect.
… and that really was the end of our relationship. 8mos. He just disappeared. He would tell me he’s coming, he’s on his way over to my house, and not show up for 2 days if sa at all and then tell me it was because I was so upset with him that he didn’t come …when I wasn’t that upset until he didn’t come. He’s definitely a pro at blaming me for being hurt by him. So for the last 16 months , I’ve been hearing him say he loves me..he comes around and gives me just enough affection to keep me in the line. I’m very co – dependent, highly sensitive and an empath… So the last 2 years have been a form of torture for me that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.
2 days ago, I found out he’s been cheating.. which isn’t a shock , considering his actions and demeanor
The last year. He then proceeded to blame me for him cheating, and then dumped me for her… He had invited me over to reconcile (again) ..I thought. We were having a good time. We were getting along..Had lots of sex. (I now see thats because he was trying to get in as much as possible before his new gf came back)
Which all sucks and hurts like nothing I’ve ever known …
I DON’T UNDERSTAND HOW IT CAN HURT SO SO SO MUCH…WHEN HE HASNT EVEN REALLY BEEN AROUND FOR 16 MONTHS..AND WE WERENT THAT CLOSE FOR THE FIRST 8! How can I miss someone who was never there SO much?! Why can’t say “what an asshole, oh well” and forget him?!! What’s wrong with me?!! I KNOW how toxic he is. I KNOW I NEED to shut him out and forget him… which seems like it would be super easy to do with someone you spent MAYBE 4-5months of halfway decent time in a 2 year span. It makes me sick to my stomach that I feel SO MUCH for someone that gave me SO little. Being cheated on hurts .. so does Being dumped and so does knowing that love was never part of any of it. But it’s not being able to STOP THINKING ABOUT IT. I don’t want to!! I’ll be distracted for a min or 2 and he just pop back into my thoughts. I hate it! I hate him for not loving me! I hate myself for loving him!!! I hate feeling so powerless to control my emotions and thoughts. Emotions and thoughts i shouldnt even have for someone I never had!!! Ahhhhhh

Debbie says November 19, 2016

I was involved with a narc for 3 years and finally left him. He lied to me about his whereabouts and tried to turn it on me saying that he was afraid of me and my reaction and used playing poker as his excuse. I had a gut feeling that he was not honest about this so I left him. Then he started telling me that I’m the narc that I have the problem and Im a liar and a cheat! He keeps texting me and calling me but I want to end this once and for all. He says things like all I wanted to do was flirt and Hit the bars like I used to do. Is it true that a narc tells you things that they want to do and are doing? Like the are mirroring themselves to you.

    Kim Saeed says November 19, 2016

    Hi Debbie…they accuse you of things they know aren’t true, but are designed to make you feel guilty – like you’re doing something wrong. He’s also trying to use your past (which was probably quite normal) as a way to justify his inexcusable behaviors.

    So what if you used to hit the bars and flirt? That describes half of America at some point in their lives.

    And yes…they often accuse you of doing the very things they are doing.

Sherri says November 8, 2016

I was married 28 years and together 30 years total. I left 2 other times and this time no contact almost 2 years. I figured that out on my own. We have 3 adult children..2 finally realized what was going on and they are no contact. My youngest son is still with him. I pray that he is ok. He will not talk to me . So I can only be here when he is ready. I urge anyone that suspects they are involved with a get out as soon as possible..even if you have to plan it and take baby steps to get there. If you can’t carry yourself..God will..just have faith

Stace says November 8, 2016

What are ur thoughts about a man that is lying about sleeping with a women, who he has been fooling around with for years and tells me he has never been with her. Says and tries to prove to me that she is a low life. Convinces me to let him back in, only to find out he was involved, has never stopped and tells this other women, who is begging him to buy her a diamond, ” The day you show me a picture of your daughter’s chest, is the day I will buy you a diamond.” The daughter, at this time was a minor. Sadly he claims this other women attempted to get that picture. He later claimed he never told me this, but I brought the subject up and recorded the conversation as he admitted it once again. Embarrassed to say when he spoke of it the first time, laughed, in his arrogant laugh, treated it like it was a joke. Basically what I’m asking is what kind of man would even have that gross thought in his head?

    Kim Saeed says November 16, 2016

    Hi Stace, my thoughts are…a man like that is not one you’d want to be in a relationship with. Nothing good will ever come from being with a man like that.

Mandy Carroll says November 8, 2016

My father, now deceased was and is a powerful narcixsist. To this day he rules a few of my siblings from the grave. Being conditioned by him, I married a narc and produced four more narcs. In value and knowing the preciousness of my life I have left it all behind.
Recently ended a 3 year relationship with one. And feel bad. Not because of ending it but because I keep having g to go to place to place to get safe in physical and spiritually.
I left 2 jobs because of this. And I will leave more because I know they do not fill the world.
People used to say my dad and husband and sons were crazy. I wish I had this article and many like this to show the truth.
Thank you for your many pieces of information and to the gift of knowing.
Mandy Carroll

Rebecca says November 6, 2016

I spent 2 years with my “narc” that was a crazy, hurtful ride. He only worked for short periods & that was after many arguments about it. He claims to be very religious & follows old testament laws. He also likes to take pills & smoke weed. If he drinks that is a whole new level of crazy. I finally made him leave via the police after a night of me going next door to get away from him & he almost burned my house down. Then a year later in my lonliness I contacted him & started the whole mess up again. Why??????? He went through several jobs and has now worked at my job for 8 months. He moved out right after starting there & takes every opportunity to fuck with my head. No matter how clear I make it that I want NO CONTACT he just loves to speak to me. And flirt with every woman. It is seemingly impossible for me to move on or heal in this situation. I have worked there for 15 years so I don’t want to quit.

Donna says November 3, 2016

I’ve been married to my narc for 22 years. I mistakenly thought that the repeated cheating over the entire relationship was all isolated incidents. A few years ago I came across an article about sex addiction & thought that’s what I was dealing with. I even went to the spouse support groups for quite some time. His problems were getting closer and closer to home as he showed a complete lack of boundaries by violating 2 neighbors on our block & multiple friends. Last year I attempted NC & was told by family that he was finally getting help. They encouraged me of his changes & played on my sympathies to work through things. I dropped an order of protection & tried again. The person that came back after 3 months NC was 10 times worse & most definitely vengeful. It took me 8 months & a private investigator to get him out again and to obtain another order of protection. The day after he was served with the order & out of the house, our daughter (adopted, developmentally delayed) disclosed for the 2 months prior to having him leave again that he had been sexually inappropriate/molesting her. She didn’t tell me because she was afraid that he would hurt me. (Even though he has never been physically violent, the air of intimidation could not be ignored) It’s been reported. He lawyered up to avoid an interview with the PD & is now contesting the order (hearing next week). In the past I had never, ever imagined that he would cross that boundary. Now I see that anyone can be subjected to his dysfunction & he will continue to hold steadfast to his own sick lies indefinitely. He has never been held accountable for his actions. I have been NC once again & finally for just over 2 months. His new supply, who knowingly engaged in a long term affair with my narc & hid to conduct herself in that manner from her own husband of 20+ years has no clue what she has entangled herself into. I am committed to working on myself. She will come to her own sad conclusions the same way I had to. It’s sad & definitely dangerous but you’re right, she has already been programmed with his opinion of me. Nothing I could ever say would matter and my focus does not need to be altered because of someone else’s pending problem. I’ve done enough fixing for everyone else for one lifetime. Time to fix my own.

    venbaxter says November 8, 2016

    I believe your approach is the right one for you at this point in time. Thank you for sharing your experiences! Other people will benefit from them.

ThePinch says October 30, 2016

I am not an expert, but I recall from previous experience that both concerned women and neighbours did reach out to me. I thought that they had the wrong person. We believe what we want to believe.

Less than 2 years later he was in jail for kidnapping a woman.

    venbaxter says October 30, 2016

    That sounds like both Narcissistic abuse (gaslighting/brainwashing) AND a close call for you! I’m glad to hear that you dodged a bullet. 🙂

Paulette Mackay says October 30, 2016

I have a question. My husband and I were married for 47 years and separated 8 months ago. He cheated and lied our whole marriage and drained me financially and emotionally. About a month after I left the marriage he had another woman in his life. She visits every weekend bringing liquor and food. Should I tell her what type of person he is???? We have one daughter who no longer has contact with her father. He has had many affairs over the years and many children, who now after all these years are adults and are coming to me to get contact with him. What do I do???? Tell her??? Tell them??? Please help me.

    venbaxter says October 30, 2016

    I don’t recommend talking to the new woman because he has likely told her already how “crazy” and “jealous” (etc.) you are, so she would keep that in mind — and probably discard everything you say as the rantings of a jilted, vindictive ex.

    She’s a grown-up. Let her see for herself what she’s gotten into.

    As for his adult children, if they can find you, surely they can also find him. Narcissistic Abuse Recovery “protocol” or conventional wisdom says that it’s best for you (and your HEALING) to have No Contact with him, if possible.

    This means NOT passing on info to him about his long-lost (and probably unwanted) now-adult offspring…and also NOT knowing how often the new woman visits, or what she brings with her.

    I recommend learning all you can about Narcissistic Abuse and Recovery and finding supportive people (both in person and online) so you can start to find YOU again. <3

      Robbie says October 30, 2016

      I agree! NO CONTACT! I was married 22 years to a narc. He remarried right away. Stay away from him!

      Paulette Mackay says October 31, 2016

      Thank you so much!!!

        venbaxter says November 1, 2016

        You’re welcome, Paulette!

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