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Narcissists Are Clever, Cunning and Diabolical

Updated: Nov 17, 2022

Narcissists Are Clever, Cunning and Diabolical

Article written by Randi Fine

Narcissistic Abuse Awareness and Guidance with Randi Fine

Narcissists are clever, cunning and diabolical; treacherously brilliant at their craft. Some are obvious in the way they express their disorder, some more secretive.

Those who express it obviously/overtly are more outward and open about it. They like attention and have an insatiable need to always be in the spotlight. Often these people are very successful, high achievers, or in the public eye. They will do whatever it takes to attain the limelight and capture the attention of what they perceive as an awe-filled audience. To accomplish that they may intimidate others, make demands, or use their charm.

Overt narcissists show little interest or enthusiasm in what others have to say or share. They will deliberately show boredom or impatience while steering the focus back to themselves. When they succeed at redirecting the attention, their enthusiasm and animation noticeably resume. Whenever there is physical violence displayed in the home of a narcissist it often signals overt narcissism at work.

Covert narcissists, the more secretive of the two, gain the constant attention they seek using indirect or secondary methods. They are not obvious in their pursuit of this stardom. They may gain their admiration and feelings of importance through engaging in helping or nurturing roles, though they actually care little for the people or the cause.

Covert narcissists like to play the role of martyr—they take on heroic responsibilities, claiming that they have to do everything themselves because everyone else is undependable, unqualified, or uncooperative. They claim that no one is helpful to them; that they sacrifice a great deal for others and get nothing in return. This tactic is used to get sympathy and admiration. Their sacrifices are grandly exaggerated or imagined and always self-serving. They do nothing sincerely or for the welfare of others.

Narcissists are extremely sensitive to criticism and do not take blame very well. Anyone giving them negative feedback, even an innocuous statement from the person stating that she would like to be treated better, will be subject to the outbursts and viciousness of narcissistic rage.

Just below the surface of every narcissist lie repressed aggression, paranoia, suspicion, and fear. Whenever their expectations are not met they quickly react erratically with rage or blame. Any form of criticism or disapproval makes them furious. They simply cannot tolerate the suggestion that they are less than perfect. This often causes problems in the workplace because narcissists refuse to compromise their needs for the good of everyone else. And they never think they are wrong. It can be very stressful working with someone like this.

The fury of narcissist rage may be released at the slightest provocation. Any challenge, insult, lack of respect, or defiance, whether real, trivial, or imagined can send them flying into this rage—screaming, spewing horrible insults, belittling their target, dredging up sensitive or confidential information that was shared before and throwing it in the person’s face, acting out aggressively, or seeking revenge.

Very critical and judgmental, narcissists cannot accept people for whom they are. Others are judged as being good or bad based on whether they flatter or agree with the narcissist. Those good and bad labels are never carved in stone. They can easily shift in the narcissist’s eye. Self-righteous gossips, they put everyone down (even their closest friends) by making snide or degrading comments either to their face or behind their backs. And they enjoy turning other people against each other.

One of the most insidious forms of emotional and psychological abuse typically used by narcissists is a tactic known as “gaslighting.” Because narcissists are so subtle and sneaky with their cruelty, people on the receiving end find themselves questioning their own reality. Pathological liars, they lie sometimes intentionally sometimes not, whether the matters are inconsequential or trivial.

Narcissists believe their twisted realities and try to convince their targets that their reality is the wrong one. Not only does this tactic makes the other person feel insane, the narcissist will outright tell the person that she is insane for believing whatever she believes to be true, or not believing what the narcissist claims is true. This is very confusing and crazy-making.

Continually walking a fine line between fantasy and reality, they confuse imagination with true memories, or form false memories. False memories are distorted to make them fit into their fabricated, recreated world. Narcissists have a very selective memory—they will say that they don’t remember something, deny it happened, or claim that the other person is just making it up. Believing they are right or determined to convince the other person, they obstinately argue the point until the other person gives in.

So clever, cunning and diabolical, it is nearly impossible to pin them down or call them on their predatory behavior. Deliberate about where and when they do things, there will never be witnesses to what they say and do to their victims. It is very difficult for victims to explain to others what happened. To the outside world narcissists seems harmless and innocent. They wear a disguise in public and painstakingly cover their tracks.

Overestimating the effect they have on others, narcissists truly believe that everyone loves them. They find it difficult to identify with the emotions and needs of others. Any reactions from others that are relevant to them and their needs are misread and misinterpreted.

Though narcissists generally have a wide circle of acquaintances, they fear vulnerability. Keeping an emotional distance from everyone, those who attempt to get close to them will be rejected. A narcissist’s true self really has nothing to give and therefore resents any demands put on her.

Consummate actors, often worthy of academy awards, they pick up on social cues and then play whatever role is needed for them to fit in. Their charm can be turned on and off like a light switch. The chameleon-like persona shown to the public is gracious, charming, helpful, generous, light-hearted, apparently sensitive to other’s needs, and engaging. But it is only a mask.

Narcissists know exactly how to fool others to get what they need; a constant outpouring of praise, flattery, and adoration. Their ever-dry well must constantly be replenished. The wider their range of social connections, the more insurance they have that they will continue getting their supply.

Their need for a constant influx of complements and attention can be likened to a drug addict needing their drug. As long as they have their fix they are satisfied, but it never lasts for very long and it is never enough.

When they want or need something from someone they will lure the other person into their sinister web, flatter him, flirt with him, and seduce him. They are adept manipulators. Everything they do appears spontaneous but it never is. Every thought or action is planned and premeditated; sometimes within seconds of executing it.

Narcissists are highly impressed by those who have money, power, influence or those who are their superiors. So eager to please these people they will do anything to be recognized and liked. Impressive, accomplished people are the only people they will act slavish to.

Accomplished students of human behavior, observing the emotions and reactions of others and then mimicking them, they are able to blend in with society. That is how they know when to show caring and concern; what is proper to say and how to react. Narcissists fool people because they can perfectly mimic empathetic behavior, though they are incapable of feeling it; of loving or caring for anyone else.

Not only do they lack empathy, they are unwilling to recognize others’ thoughts, feelings, perceptions, and needs—especially those that conflict with their own. Uninterested in hearing the perspectives or problems of others they will tune them out or rudely cut them off. The feelings of others are never listened to, supported, or validated.

Narcissists treat others like objects, not people. Others are seen as disposable and interchangeable. People are only useful if they provide narcissistic supply. Those they cannot control and manipulate are rejected and scorned.

They are volatile, dramatic, emotional people who feed off of any kind of drama good or bad, negative or positive. If there isn’t enough drama in their lives they will create it.

Lacking emotional self-control they are prone to extreme, wild, aggressive mood swings triggered by external events. As long as everything is going their way, they have everything they want, and no one is challenging them they can be happy, loving, and fun, but the good times are few and far between. Anything can set them off at any time.

With their precarious state of mind, those around them never know what’s coming. This confused those who are close to them. One minute the narcissist is up and the next minute she is down. She's pleasant one minute and then furious the next, euphoric one minute and depressed the next, feeling powerful one minute and helpless the next, passive one minute and punching holes in the wall the next.

Narcissists do not recognize their behavior to be irrational or unacceptable. Their insatiable need to maintain their pathological self-image of perfection, they see justification for all their reactions. It is always someone or something else’s fault.

Narcissists are clever, cunning and diabolical barbarians with no redeeming qualities. To think otherwise is a trap. Trust yourself, trust your intuition-and beware.

Randi Fine is an internationally renowned narcissistic abuse expert and coach, and the author of the groundbreaking book Close Encounters of the Worst Kind: The Narcissistic Abuse Survivor’s Guide to Healing and Recovery Second Edition, the most comprehensive, most well researched, and most up-to-date book on this subject. In addition to helping survivors recognize their abuse and heal from it, this book teaches mental health professionals how to recognize and properly treat the associated abuse syndrome. She is also the author of Cliffedge Road: A Memoir, the first and only book to characterize the life-long progression of complications caused by narcissistic child abuse.


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