top of page

Glossary of Terms and Phrases

For better or worse, narcissistic tactics are universal. These strategies have a psychological lexicon, terms and phrases that are becoming household labels. It does help to name crazy-making behavior. I hope that this list helps you recognize manipulation sooner, rather than later. I've linked some entries to YouTube recordings from narcissism expert, Dr Ramani. I'll keep adding to this list, as needed:

Terms & Phrases from Experts

Baiting: The exploitation of personal vulnerabilities to provoke a response. The template--float out an emotional carrot (upsetting, enticing, or otherwise) and pull the string until the target responds. Pathologize the response as "overly sensitive" and "unstable."


Example: Your cousin Trudy wants to invite herself over. She knows that your family ignored your needs. She proposes days and times, that don't work for you. She proposes a Tuesday night. You say, "Weeknights don't work for me." Trudy comes back with, "Tuesday nights work for me! How about next Tuesday?"

Different versions of this exchange rinse and repeat, but the theme remains: she contradicts your stated needs, like your family did. Exasperated with this passive aggressive attempt to override you, and assert herself, you blow up at her.

Her response, "Oh my
God! You're so emotional! Your reaction is so overblown! I'm just trying to make plans with you. This must be triggering your mom issues."

Betrayal Trauma: The shock felt when you realize that someone you've trusted systematically lied to you for some kind of personal gain. You see that he or she took advantage of your empathy and good nature.  

These experiences leave you mistrustful of others and yourself. You wonder how your perceptions misled you. We are hardwired to trust first. Narcissists are hardwired take advantage of trust.

Blame Shifting: A rhetorical sleight of hand that flips a confrontation into an accusation. You confront someone for being inconsiderate. They immediately accuse you of -- anything, really, deflecting responsibility back on to you. Strategies include:
*projecting; a cheating spouse when confronted, says, "Well, you were flirting with the waiter last night..."
*alleging transgressions from the past. The spouse says,"What happened between you and Tom on that business trip last year?"

*feigning hurt over a fabricated slight. The spouse says, "You weren't very nice to my mother at at Christmas!"

*guilting you into silence with something unrelated. The spouse's scheduled medical procedure becomes "life threatening." The person yells, "I could die and you don't care."
*dumping responsibility on you for their behavior, "Well, If you weren't so distracted all the time, then I wouldn't have to get attention from other people." ...etc.


The narcissist changes the subject to deflect responsibility back on you. They claim that you victimized them. (see also DARVO below.)


Bread Crumbing: Right when you start letting go of a relationship, your partner starts peppering in occasional apologies, affirmations, supportive gestures, gifts, etc. These gestures hint at reciprocity, offering false hope and keep you waiting for something that won't happen. And, as Dr. Ramani says, "You learn to live on crumbs."

Cognitive Dissonance: A constant ambivalence between contradictory psychological forces. You emotionally need to believe in someone's, or some group's, goodness or narrative but witness them doing and saying destructive things. Then they justify the terrible things.

A debate starts devouring your psyche; truth tellers point out contradictions and inequities. True believers echo justifications and false narratives. A phenomenon called sunk cost fallacy plays out: The more time and effort that you invest, the harder you try to make it work, even in the face of obvious failure, or fallacy.


The inner battle escalates, consuming cognitive skills. It cripples focus, attention and energy as self-doubt grows. Your functioning declines. Increasingly, you start turning to others for help and answers.


Ironically, when cognitive dissonance becomes intolerable, it forces you to choose between living in escalating inner turmoil, or trusting yourself, come what may. The moment that you trust your inner moral compass, you break free of false belief.

DARVO: (see blame shifting): Deny, Attack, Reverse Victim/ Offender. The template for narcissistic deflection:
1) They DENY -- "I never [FILL BLANK]" ...when they clearly did the thing.
2) They ATTACK --"You always [FILL BLANK]"...projecting the accusation on to you.
3) They REVERSE VICTIM/OFFENDER, painting you as the perpetrator and themselves as "hurt."


Flying Monkeys: People who defend the narcissist, echoing their justifications and blaming you. These are henchmen, or women, do the mob bosses bidding, or preach the cult leader's gospel, surrendering personal voices for someone's false narrative.


Future Faking: Similar to bread-crumbing, a promise made purely to generate false hope and keep you waiting. For example, a narcissistic partner keeps promising, "We'll have kids when I get the promotion...."; "When I finish this project..."; "When I get the raise ...".

Cults promise a fictional "enlightenment." If you obey rules and follow instruction well enough, and work hard enough, you'll get "there." There are no clear benchmarks to define "there", empowering leaders to make it up as they go, whatever best suits them in the moment.


Future faking keeps you waiting for nothing. The person making the false promise has the upper hand, until you stop believing. You self-empower by letting go of false hope.

Hoover-ing: Like bread crumbing and future faking, hoover-ing sucks you back into a relationship. Your soon-to-be ex-partner calls you a few days after a fight. They apologize for bad behavior and offer a sudden and unexpected moment of empathy and insight. They beg for another chance. You feel a palpable and powerful sense of relief. You accept the apology and soon after they revert to business as usual.

Bread crumbing, future faking, baiting and hoover-ing are all variations on a theme: false promises that keep you waiting for nothing and can only be recognized as intentional lies over time. You have to see and experience the pattern play out repeatedly. They all induce heartache and devour your time, energy and focus.


Gaslighting: The intentional denial of obvious reality to foster psychological instability in someone. The intent is to make him or her feel crazy. A slightly exaggerated version as an example: the sky is neon pink, not blue. Everyone else knows that. What is wrong with you? The narcissist induces uncertainty and undermines agency as you start mistrusting personal perceptions.


The template: deny an obvious reality, then pathologize the target.


When exposed to gaslighting long enough, you start internalizing the damaging narrative and gaslight yourself. Gaslighting is especially effective in cults, and narcissistic family systems, when surrounded by others who echo the false narrative and bolster a superficial presentation.


Moral Injury: A social, psychological and spiritual wound that comes from betraying your own values, ethics, or principles for someone else's benefit and behest. Extreme circumstances, like war, force extreme actions. For example, someone who believes in the sanctity of life, might be forced to kill another person in self-defense. He or she is then faced with moral injury. Cults use moral injury as a strategy. They require and justify seedy and unethical tasks from members for the group. Compliant participants end up betraying their own moral compass, stated principles and compromising integrity. Cultic groups use those fissures to drain authentic identity and program the one dimensional cult self: an assigned role in a fictional fiefdom, catering to the leader's delusions of grandeur and self-importance.


Love Bombing: Phase one of cultic, or narcissistic, relationships in which the perpetrator, or group dynamic seduces a target, acting smitten, offering the moon and stars, over-the-top compliments, grand gestures and big promises. This seduction induces an initial high that cannot be maintained. It's a set up for trauma bonding (see below), in which the love-bombed target starts chasing the high in the same manner that an opioid addict chases a high.

Trauma Bonding: An addiction to a relationship or group that triggers the same neurological chemistry as an opioid dependence. Love bombing activates dopamine and natural oxytocin levels, inducing the initial giddiness. When the manipulator flips into the discard phase, your brain chemistry signals you to pursue the initial high. It does not distinguish between healthy and unhealthy. It views attachment as a survival necessity, so it rewards returning to the relationship, releasing neurotransmitters that calm the nervous system. That's why many people stay in damaging situations. That's why former cult members sometimes cult hop, replacing one group for another. Often people must go no contact to stay out of the relationship, like alcoholics who simply cannot drink a beer, without falling back into alcoholism.

Triangulation: A divide and conquer strategy, in which a narcissist sets people against each other to sever bonds, foment mistrust and foster alliances that serve his or her agenda. For example, in narcissistic family systems, children get assigned roles. The golden child can do no wrong, while the scapegoat is blamed for all problems. A narcissistic parent, as self-appointed directors of a self-aggrandizing stage show, plays siblings against each other. Cults always demonize non-members and those who leave, perpetuating a false us versus them narrative by creating fictional enemies. This narrative fabricates tensions and fosters disagreement, by playing on loyalties and jealousies.

bottom of page