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Narcissistic Abuse Tactics: Subtext

Subtext is an idea that may not be spoken or referenced directly, but the implication is meant to be understood by the audience anyway. This is a form of writing or communication that is often thought of as creative. However, in the case of narcissistic abuse, it is plausible deniability, which can often lead to or tie in with gaslighting “I never said that” or “I’ve never threatened you in my life!”.

You might see this most often when the narcissist is asking you a closed-ended question, that is one that requires a yes or a no answer. Some narcissists understand that asking you a question is more socially acceptable than making a demand, however, the implication in these questions is 'you will give me the answer I want or suffer the consequences'. Most of the time, you have been conditioned to give the 'correct answer' in the past and this is one of the biggest reasons people who have suffered from narcissistic abuse struggle to say no. There is pressure to say yes, and if you say no, no is not accepted. Saying no to the 'request' may be met with any of the other tactics such as verbal abuse, guilt tripping, bombarding, stone walling or withholding any sort of affection until you change your answer. Over time, this type of behavior conditions you to automatically comply with the request and say yes, despite the cost to yourself or without considering your own needs. This automatic response is often a safety measure to reduce conflict.

Sometimes, the 'request' will be phrased in a way that puts extra pressure on the answer such as ending the phrase with something like the word, "right?". This forces the person trying to say no to contradict the speaker. In other examples, they might add pressure by preemptively listing reasons you are their "last resort" without addressing the logical flaws in their argument. This might also be demonstrated in the form of "dropping hints" instead of directly asking for their need to be met. When you do not meet that need, you experience their rage or depression, leading you to feel you must "walk on eggshells".


Narcissist: "I need a ride home from the airport, but I arrive at 1am on Monday night. You can pick me up, right?" The person being asked is expected to lose sleep on a work or school night to pick this person up, rather than addressing why the flight was scheduled at this time, or why they can't arrange a taxi instead.

Narcissist: "I am so broke right now but I really need an AC unit, it's going to be too hot this weekend!" This might be said to someone they know has an extra AC unit with the intent that that person feels guilt and therefor offers their AC unit to the person. Also, wants are often described as needs, which elevates the pressure to meet them. Having an AC unit is not a necessity, even in a heat wave, they can go to cooling centers or other places to stay cool temporarily without you needing to give away your belongings.

Narcissist: "I know where to hide a body where no one can find it". Although there is not a direct threat to the listener, the implied message is a threat intended to keep you in line. Further, this comment doesn't count in most legal jurisdictions as a threat against your life, giving the person deniability.

In recovery from narcissistic abuse, a person will begin to identify their own personal needs, and place them at the forefront of requests. Typically starting with basic needs like food, water, sleep. If a request/demand asks you to sacrifice one of these to do something for someone else, this is a good place to practice saying no. Start practicing with healthy and safe individuals first if you can to build up confidence before working on stating no to the abuser.


Learning about the tactics used in narcissistic abuse is a strong way to begin to notice ongoing patterns of abuse in your life, however this blog is not intended to replace therapy. If you determine that there might be narcissistic abuse in your life, finding a therapist who understands narcissistic abuse is highly recommended.

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