7 Back-Handed Provocations of the Narcissist



We are masters of the back-handed compliment, the flattery which is actually a form of provocation, the kings of seemingly pleasant comments which are really put downs. We appear with that radiant and broad smile as we then slip a stiletto knife between your ribs with deft ease. Nobody else sees us do this. It appears to everyone else, as we stand there with our false smile plastered across our faces, that we are giving you a loving hug. Our outside appearance to the world and the maintenance of our façade remains intact as we slip through your defences and land a blow against you. We revel in seeing you smiling in return, your eyes lighting up with delight at our benign manner towards you only then for you to realise the import of what we have actually said. As the metaphorical dagger pierces your skin, you realise what is actually meant by what we have said to you. It appeared as a compliment but in actual fact we have told you something which will trouble you, upset you or anger you. Your eyes narrow with confusion and we see that look of uncertainty cross your face as you cannot quite believe what is happening. Did you hear what we said correctly? Have you misinterpreted the comment that we made? Did we really just say that? We can see how you are torn between wanting to accept the supposed compliment and then that sinking sensation as you realise that we have just made a barbed comment which appeared to be a pleasant one. The look on your face is akin to the look of bewildered astonishment that one might see on a wildebeest as it is brought to ground by a hungry lion and is eaten alive from behind. It cannot quite comprehend what is happening and neither can you.

What makes it worse is that to everyone else we appear to be smiling, hugging you and being pleasant. You want to react. You want to push us away from you. You want to chastise us, lash out and reprimand us for what we have just said, but the way that we framed this back-handed compliment means that you would appear mean, ungrateful and churlish if you did so. Just as we remain close to you, holding you, dagger still lodged between your ribs as we slowly twist it, you can do nothing but remain where you are as everyone else looks on thinking that we are being pleasant to you. We know that because you are a decent and pleasant person you are conditioned to accept the compliment and not rail against it, even when you realise that it is actually hurtful. This allows us to see just how strong our control over you is. If you react to the barbed comment and lash out at us, crying or shouting at us for our remark, then we gain fuel. If you remain silent and confused by it, unable to mask your hurt and disappointment, we still gain fuel but we also derive a significant indication of our power over you. We are able to make a hurtful remark seem like a compliment and have you accept it. This is a useful way for us to put you down whilst appearing to be pleasant. It also allows us to reinforce our perceived superiority over you through the application of this control. This technique also utilises our favoured mechanism of plausible deniability. There is a degree of ambiguity whereby if you attempted to pin the blame on us for precisely what we have intended to say, we would be able to reject that assertion. We are able to accuse you of reading too much into it, twisting our words and over-reacting. All favourite methods of rejecting you intended blame and of stoking the emotional fires further. We can feign hurt by stating we were paying you a compliment and you have taken it the wrong way. Again. We then want you to apologise, soothe us and feel guilty for trying to suggest that we would do anything other than be pleasant to you. Of course, this technique where we come with smiles as we plunge our critical knife into you, is one which we revel in deploying and is just part of our arsenal that is designed to mess with your thinking. Did we say what you thought we said? What did we really mean from that comment? Are you in fact over-analysing it or should you trust your initial judgement here? All of these factors unsettle, confuse and undermine you, eroding your confidence and clouding your judgement. It is all par the course and entirely why we behave as smiling assassins. There are numerous ways this is done and here are seven of the often used back-handed provocations.

  1. Condescend

We will talk to you in a condescending tone for the purposes of belittling you, making you feel inferior and causing us to look far better by comparison. We offer unwanted advice, talk to you from the position of always knowing what is right and what is best. Of course, should you challenge this overly paternalistic approach to the way we deal with you we will point out that we only want what is best for you, that we are only trying to help you and so have your best interests at heart. Is it a crime to do that for you?

  1. Insider Jokes

We will engage in making comments which cause members of our devout coterie to laugh and giggle but you are left in the dark as to what is so funny. We will use terms that amuse us and our followers considerably but seem meaningless to you. This will make you feel uncomfortable and isolated and if you should commence some kind of protest we will point out that we have not involved you because you would be bored by the silliness (thus inferring you have no sense of humour but making it seem as if you are above our schoolboy sniggering and this is a good thing) or that you would not be interested in our style of humour because you are too highbrow for such base comments and observations.

  1. Our Ex

We will repeatedly mention that our ex is still in love with us, indeed he or she still tries to contact us and they leave messages and have telephoned us a few times. Of course we tell you that you have no need to worry because that was in the past and we are with you now, you are the person that matters. This is designed to make it appear like we can brush aside the presence of our ex because we are in love with you. In fact, although it sounds like this, we use it as a means of securing carte blanche for mentioning the ex on many occasions so it unsettles you. Of course you are hamstrung from saying anything because that would make you seem insecure and you do not want to show that this is true. Thus we feel free to keep making mention of our ex and continue to triangulate them with you.

  1. Ignoring You

We ignore you and dole out a silent treatment with all of the fuel providing and control ramification which arise from this particular manipulation. Should you even begin to protest we point out that we are so glad we are with you because you understand our need for space and some time to ourselves. This appears like a compliment and is designed to flatter you into allowing us to keep doling out these silent treatments as and when we want in order to ignore you because we can then focus on gaining fuel from other parties when we are apart from you.

  1. The Ex Again

We talk incessantly about the qualities of the ex, highlighting all of their many wonderful attributes (which of course is a sudden change from when we were calling them demon spawn when we first seduced you but that’s all changed now). We babble on about how marvellous they are, the funny things they said, how beautiful they looked, the achievements they secured and so on before telling you that we are so pleased that you are so understanding that we can talk about past relationships with you. This supposed compliment restricts you from commenting adversely but we know that inside you are fuming and desperate to reprimand us in some way. How we delight in knowing this and seeing you trying to maintain a pleasant smile when inside we know you are dying.

  1. Flirtation

We flirt shamelessly and we know you see us doing this. We also know how it hurts and angers you but we fire a compliment your way by telling you that it is refreshing to be with someone who allows us to be ourselves, someone who is not jealous and someone who is so trusting. These compliments are designed to keep you quiet as we get on with doing what we please. We draw fuel from those we flirt with and all the while we keep casting backward glances to the trusting you seeing the gathering anger in your eyes.

  1. Spending Time with Others

We spend time with other people. It may be chatting someone up in the bar, hanging out with our friends, chasing down new prospects, wowing the crowd at a work function and so on. This blatant fuel-gathering is crucial to us and when we wander in later after our third consecutive night out we head you off at the pass by praising you by saying how lucky we are to have someone who understands that because they get all of our attention most of the time, we need to be able to spend some time with other people. Once again, this comment is designed to back you into a corner and have you standing, arms crossed and fuming, teetering between our control and providing us with even more fuel.

23 thoughts on “7 Back-Handed Provocations of the Narcissist

  1. Mary says:

    My online narc said “I bet you’re a really good kisser when you aren’t nervous.” He hadn’t complained about my kissing during or the months we talked after. (I had once expressed an insecurity that I was out of practice and hub and I rarely kiss. Plus I’ve never had anyone kiss with such intensity like he was going to devour me. That throws a girl off her game!) He saved that insecurity all those months, and his comment for when we were on Skype and he could watch my face drop when he said it. What pisses me off most is that I pushed it aside so we could have fun.

    I only wish I’d said, “I’m bet you are a much better kisser after a few drinks.” It would have been worth seeing his face.

  2. CB says:

    Painfully excellent descriptions.
    I’ve been victim of all of these and have also witnessed others get targeted, thinking:
    “What? Why did he say this to her now? … But ok, she thanked and smiled at him, so I guess she understood his compliment better than us others did”

    oh, my favourite moment of irritation is one I never understood through the years:
    When you begin to tell them about some achievement, and they interrupt after only four words: “You are AMAZING, you know that? ABSOLUTELY AMAZING”
    A quick way of silencing a person. I mean it feels a bit like he/she thinks I talk too much about myself, or they have very little time, or are preoccupied. Oddly enough, the conversation seems to go on for quite long after, but with the subject changed completely.

    Another is when somebody tells my ex a joke/something witty. Then instead of a ‘haha’ or a giggle, he goes (in a strong, haughty voice)
    “Yes, that is TRULY FUNNY indeed!”
    Again, we go silent, quickly, without any remark at all, with a feeling of being ‘too much’.

    After living with a person like this for long, one will quicker and quicker get silenced, scratching ones head, thinking “But wait, I only said two words now; was this too much already?”

  3. Fuel on the Shelf says:

    My MMRN talked about the girl before me (former DLS) more than he talked about his wife. He would say (slightly) provacating things about her (never bluntly negative but never overly positive either). “She was so brilliant BUT….” or “I loved her so much BUT….”
    He also called her a sociopath too. He then said he was able to get over his feelings for her and be a good friend to her though. He would say things like “I was in love with her the way you are in love with me.”

    In regard to flirting…he would tell me that other people would always flirt with HIM all the time. And that they would do it in front of his wife as if she “was not even here” and then it turned into a little rant of how the whole ordeal was “so disrespectful” to her. Shall I assume that was done for pity? He’s obviously the one being flirty but it’s just everyone else’s fault right?

    Meh. Saint Piano.

  4. Chihuahuamum says:

    Passive aggressiveness and a dash of gaslighing as a result gotta love narcissists mind games.

  5. geyserempath says:

    Yep…been through all of these, except “the Ex” was all of “the Exes”. Until I found your blog, HG, I thought I was just imagining these things. Thank you!

  6. Korova says:

    If the victim escaped but didn’t block the narcissist and he is able to contact her, why he hoovers her passively? This narcissist is unblocked but is silent – doesn’t try to call or text. But at the same time he posts songs directed at his ex and they are about him hoping she will come back. I’m not that ex, I’m just curious how you work. I think he is mid range narcissist and this is his favourite hoovering tactic. And at the same time he flirts with others online so everybody can see it. So he sends two different messages to his ex “I love you but not enough to contact you” and “you are nothing to me, I’ll try to seduce someone else” at the same time!

    1. HG Tudor says:

      The passive hoover will be used because it requires less energy to apply and there is a reduced risk of wounding and if wounding does occur, it is less extensive.

  7. LYNN says:

    lol would never have the control to put up and shut up

  8. Laurie says:

    So if we have not yet given the narc the permanent boot, what is the response that will irritate or wound him when he lobs one of these barbs our way?

    1. HG Tudor says:

      Do not react at all and walk away. This starves us of fuel and will wound us.

      1. Horseyak says:

        I had my bitch narc neighbor, who thankfully moved away this year, stand in my kitchen during a dinner party where I was preparing dinner and she was babbling with her coterie, suddenly turn to me and say”Oh, I hope you don’t mind that we’re talking about the wonderful week we just had at Wayne’s cabin.” ( Wayne is also in the coterie and narc bitch neighbor always liked to be in control of Wayne and his special provisions ( getaway cabin in the woods where bitch neighbor made sure I was never invited). Long way of asking you what do you do when a barb is hurled at you and you can’t walk away? I think if I had it to do over I would have ordered her to go home, carried on with the dinner party and whoever wanted to stay post ousting could stay. Thoughts, HG? What I did was casually say, “ I’m not even listening. I’m cooking.”

        1. HG Tudor says:

          Your response was pretty good so long as it was delivered neutrally. You could have pretended not to hear which would have wounded and if pressed for a response when the narcissist realised you were not responding, you could answer as you did but in a neutral tone.

  9. Strongerwendy says:

    HG, do you look anything like this Herve Renard football coach I happened upon while watching world cup today? Very nice.

    1. HG Tudor says:

      Ha ha, there are some similarities, but not dead ringers.

      1. LYNN says:

        If you look like Elvis I’m your victim forever 😂😂😂

        1. HG Tudor says:

          Will you be all shook up?

          1. Asp Emp says:

            Yes, I probably would 🙂

          2. Asp Emp says:

            purring guinea-pig twerking……..

    2. blackunicorn123 says:

      Stongerwendy – I’ve just googled him. See what you mean! 😳

    3. EmP says:

      For some reason I have the feeling HG looks like young Adam West.

      1. HG Tudor says:

        Holy aerial cupcakes EmP, do you think so?!

        1. EmP says:

          Ha, yes. Finely-chiseled features with soft, pleasing proportions.

  10. pascaleshealingjourney says:

    Number 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 were his all time favourite. I wish I would have found your blog earlier. Then maybe I would have been able to see through him. Well better late than never.

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