Have you experienced the narcissist in your life giving you a guilt trip or using the pity ploy to manipulate your feelings? The narcissist will use this to hoover, to get away with something, to deflect any blame and to play on your empathy to get their way.
Personality-disordered people can not and will not accept accountability for any issue they create and will project the issue in many ways, the pity ploy being one of them. By playing on your empathy to make you feel guilty and using that to manipulate a situation, the narcissist can gain narcissistic supply and control the delusional world they live in – as well as control of you.
The power of the pity ploy is in using your vulnerabilities and fears combined with your empathy against you through making you feel responsible for the feelings and emotional wellbeing of the toxic person. Pity ploys fill you with the mixed emotion of guilt plus compassion and that is the perfect way for the narcissist to gain supply, reinforce trauma bonding and basically suck you back into their toxic world.
Examples of Narcissists Using the ‘Pity Ploy’
Let’s look at some examples of how the pity ploy might be used. There may be many other ways but this may give you an idea and validation that what you experienced was indeed manipulative.
During a hoover attempt or during a relationship with a toxic person you may have a conversation, receive a text or email that is filled with what looks like sorrow and despair on the part of the narcissist. The pity ploy can be when the narcissist suddenly starts looking like the victim after they abuse you with toxic behavior. It can also be feigned or exaggerated illness or pain.
They may talk about how you are all they have and how much it hurts that you won’t talk to them. Words like,” if you really loved me then…” or “after all the love I give you …:” might ring through the messages they send.
They may project onto you the things they themselves are doing like silent treatment, devaluing or lack of emotional connection.
Things like this set you up to defend your love and caring of this person, the whole pity ploy ripe with supply. If you really look at it, the things said are all self-directed pity seeking attempts to pull you towards them. There is no room in the pity ploy attempt for any real conversation and your needs and feelings are certainly not considered.
How do you deal with a narcissist’s pity ploy manipulation?
If this is a hoover, the best thing to do as always is maintain no contact and ignore the attempt. No contact, as always means not even reading these messages. Delete, do not reply and block the narcissist, maintain your peace. Try to see this pity ploy for what it is – manipulation! Begin to free yourself by limiting the continued thinking about it and softening the guilt that may arise. Seeing the reality of the tactics used to gain your supply hopefully can help you to do this. Remember the narcissistic person has no empathy and is using yours against you.
For low contact situations, look at the real need of the situation and react accordingly with your own boundaries firmly in place. For example, during low contact with a toxic parent who you feel the need to help during this current COVID situation, you might ask if they have immediate needs like food or medicine and can those be delivered to them.
This is only if you should choose to help in that way. There is no need to respond to the emotional pity ploy for attention, only the basic need. If they write a long pity seeking message to you, simply reply to the immediate need and say nothing in response to the emotional manipulation they are using. Basically grey rock! Keep the topic to the topic of need only. You do not need to judge yourself based on the way this manipulation causes you to feel. Low contact is never easy and this is not your fault. You are being force-fed guilt!
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Lise Colucci is an intuitive healer and certified life coach, as well as a certified narcissistic abuse recovery coach. She is a long-time admin and mentor for the SPAN Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Group, actively helping survivors of narcissistic abuse in the expansive community to learn and heal.