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Do narcissists play the victim?

What is a narcissist?

A narcissist is someone who has an inflated sense of self-importance and lacks empathy for others. Narcissists tend to have an excessive need for admiration and entitlement while exploiting personal relationships for personal gain. They often engage in behaviors like bragging, showing off, and taking advantage of others. Some key characteristics of narcissism include:

  • Grandiose sense of self-importance
  • Preoccupation with fantasies of success, power, and attractiveness
  • Belief they are special and should only associate with other high-status people
  • Need for excessive admiration
  • Sense of entitlement and expectation of special treatment
  • Exploitation of others for personal gain
  • Lack of empathy
  • Envy of others and belief others envy them
  • Arrogant behaviors

While many people may exhibit some narcissistic traits, true narcissistic personality disorder is diagnosed based on meeting at least 5 of the above criteria. Narcissism falls on a spectrum, with narcissistic personality disorder reflecting more severe symptoms.

Do narcissists play the victim?

Yes, narcissists often play the victim or martyr in relationships and social settings as a way to control the narrative and elicit sympathy and attention from others. There are several key ways narcissists play the victim:

Blaming others

Narcissists Externalize blame onto others, portraying themselves as innocent victims of mistreatment by abusive, incompetent or unreasonable people. They shift accountability for their own failures and shortcomings onto others in an attempt to gain sympathy and avoid taking responsibility.

Exaggerating hardships

Narcissists exaggerate or even fabricate struggles, obstacles and illnesses to appear as though they are enduring terrible hardships. This elicits concern and support from others.

Using emotional displays

Narcissists leverage emotional displays like crying, sulking or having an emotional outburst to demonstrate their victimization. This manipulates others into pacifying them and offering reassurance.

Seeking favors

Narcissists play the victim to compel favors and special treatment from others, often implying they are too burdened or distressed to help themselves.

Envy narratives

Narcissists claim others are jealous of them or out to get them to appear under attack or disadvantaged. This garners sympathy and affirmation of the narcissist’s inflated self-worth.


Narcissists may construct elaborate narratives of being victimized by romantic partners, friends, family members, coworkers or systems to justify their own entitlement, lack of accountability and undesirable behaviors.


Narcissists deflect blame for their own harmful actions and project them onto others, claiming they were only responding to being victimized first.

Why do narcissists play the victim?

Narcissists play the victim due to the following core motivations:

Needing sympathy and attention

Narcissists have an extreme need for validation and admiration from others. Playing the victim elicits praise, concern and reassurance from those around them.

Avoiding accountability

Portraying themselves as a victim allows narcissists to dodge responsibility for wrongdoings or incompetence. It enables them to blame external factors.

Reinforcing special status

Claiming they are disadvantaged or under attack reinforces the narcissist’s narrative of being superior, exceptional and deserving of special treatment.

Justifying aggression

By claiming they have been victimized, narcissists feel entitled to retaliate against or mistreat others. It provides cover for their hostile behaviors.

experiencing narcissistic injury

Narcissists may perceive negative feedback, disappointment or rejection as a profound personal attack. Exaggerating their victimhood helps them save face.

Eliciting reassurance

Narcissists leverage victim narratives to compel others to console them and assure them of their self-worth after experiencing narcissistic injury.

Examples of how narcissists play the victim

Narcissists employ a wide range of tactics to portray themselves as victims. Here are some common examples:

In relationships

  • Blaming their partner for relationship problems
  • Exaggerating their partner’s faults or misdeeds
  • Claiming their partner is abusive, controlling or unstable
  • Sulking or having emotional outbursts to elicit sympathy
  • Asserting their partner makes unreasonable demands of them
  • Portraying themselves as making endless sacrifices in the relationship

In family settings

  • Casting themselves as the unfavored child
  • Claiming their needs were neglected by selfish parents
  • Overstating how much they do for other family members
  • Asserting family members are critical, jealous or exploitive of them
  • Becoming emotional to compel family support

At work

  • Blaming coworkers or bosses when things go wrong
  • Complaining they are targeted by an abusive boss
  • Claiming they are overworked, unappreciated and unsupported
  • Pointing to unreasonable expectations on them
  • Crying or having outbursts to get others to take over their work


  • Portraying themselves as left out, rejected or marginalized by others
  • Talking about being betrayed by friends
  • Framing themselves as disadvantaged compared to peers
  • Posting on social media about being victimized
  • Sulking publicly to garner attention

How to identify victim playing tactics

Here are some key ways to recognize when a narcissist is employing victim playing tactics:

  • They externalize blame for problems rather than take accountability
  • Their claimed victimhood seems exaggerated compared to the actual situation
  • They leverage emotional displays in an attempt to manipulate
  • They demand special treatment by asserting their disadvantages
  • Their narrative casts them as morally superior and constantly wronged
  • Support and sympathy from their victim playing is temporary and unsustainable
  • Patterns emerge of them frequently playing the victim in different contexts

Trust your instincts – if someone seems overly invested in portraying themselves as a victim for sympathy and validation, they may be employing manipulative narcissistic tactics. Pay attention to any tendencies to exaggerate, distort the truth or blame others when playing the victim. Authentic victims generally want solutions and accountability, not just external validation.

Why do people fall for narcissistic victim playing?

Narcissistic victim playing is an effective manipulation tactic because it exploits people’s natural empathy, compassion and tendency to trust others. Reasons people fall for narcissistic victim playing include:

  • They feel sympathy for perceived suffering or disadvantage
  • The victim narrative resonates with their own experiences of adversity
  • They want to defend or support those they see as wronged
  • They are avoiding holding the narcissist accountable
  • The narcissist’s charisma blinds them to ulterior motives
  • They are emotionally invested in validating the narcissist
  • The narcissist intimidates others into accepting their narrative
  • They want to minimize conflict or tension by appeasing the narcissist

Narcissists leverage human psychology to get their needs for validation met through playing the victim. Most people find it very hard not to extend compassion toward those portraying themselves as suffering or mistreated.

How to stop falling for narcissistic victim playing

If you want to stop falling for narcissistic victim playing tactics, here are some tips:

  • Listen critically rather than accepting narratives at face value
  • Watch for patterns of frequent victimhood across contexts
  • Note exaggerations or distortions of the truth in their claims
  • Validate them objectively rather than showering them with sympathy
  • Avoid letting your own bias or emotions cloud your judgement
  • Don’t offer reassurance or special treatment
  • Point out contradictions in their victim narrative calmly
  • Set boundaries around manipulative behavior
  • Direct the focus towards problem-solving

The more you can approach the situation objectively rather than emotionally, the less vulnerable you’ll be to manipulation tactics. Maintain empathy while still enforcing accountability.

Healthy ways for victims to seek support

For true victims seeking support, some healthy approaches include:

  • Owning their part in the situation honestly
  • Focusing more on solutions than validation
  • Expressing appreciation for support already given
  • Asking for specific help needed rather than general sympathy
  • Avoiding exaggerating or distorting the truth
  • Not allowing victimhood to become their whole identity
  • Seeking multiple perspectives to challenge narrow narratives
  • Working on building empathy for others, even perpetrators

Genuine victims don’t seek to manipulate others through exaggerated narratives of victimization. They take accountability where appropriate and seek constructive support aimed at healing, growth and progressing forward.


In summary, narcissists frequently play the victim as a way to elicit validation and sympathy, avoid accountability, justify poor behavior, and manipulate or exploit others. Recognizing exaggerated, one-sided victim narratives and patterns of victim playing across contexts can help identify this behavior. Withholding blind compassion and focusing more on accountability and problem-solving can help stop falling for narcissistic victimhood tactics. True victims take responsibility while seeking solutions-focused support. Understanding the distinction can help you respond appropriately to both genuine suffering and manipulative ploys for sympathy.