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How They Do It

They Play for Power Takeover

Have you ever wondered how people get drawn into and trapped in abusive relationships? Personal relationships can often turn into dangerous power games where manipulation and control become central elements. For victims of abuse, this can be an especially challenging situation where they feel like they have lost all control over their lives.

Just like in the game of chess, there are different types of players when it comes to violence and control. People with narcissistic, antisocial, and psychopathic traits can all be considered skilled "chess players of partner violence," but they take different approaches to the game. One way to understand this is to look at the different strategies these abusers use when playing "chess" with their victims.

Playing for the Applause Even if They Lose

Narcissists who engage in intimate partner violence often have an insatiable need for attention and admiration. They will do anything to win and are more than happy to cheat in order to do so. For them, it's all about receiving admiration for standing on the winner's podium and bragging about how great they are. They use tactics such as manipulation and gaslighting to achieve their desired outcome.

This behavior stems from their fundamental belief that they are superior and entitled to special treatment, even in the context of an intimate relationship. They pretend to be kind and loving in order to gain a narcissistic supply. However, it's not enough for them to simply win; they also need to be praised and applauded for how great they were as players and how fantastic their victory was. Their need for validation outweighs any sense of justice or equality.

When narcissistic abusers lose, they often play the vulnerable loser and use their victim to gain sympathy and a second chance. They can be sulky and sullen and blame their defeat on external factors rather than taking responsibility for their actions. If they don't get a second chance, they may resort to accusing their victim of cheating or playing unfairly. This tactic is used to divert attention away from their own flaws and weaknesses and to establish their perceived superiority further.

Victims can expect narcissistic abusers to change, but their need for validation and control is so great that they will continue to manipulate and exploit their partner regardless of the harm it may cause. Like chess players who cheat or use unethical tactics to win, narcissistic abusers will do whatever it takes to achieve their goals, even if it means sacrificing the well-being of those around them. They are skilled at manipulating their partner so that they always are put on a pedestal. Ultimately, the victim is left confused and helpless, while the narcissistic abuser revels in their imagined victory and applause.

Playing to Win for Domination and Exploitation 

Sociopathic abusers are like chess players who are willing to cheat and exploit others to achieve their goals. They disregard rules and boundaries, using intimidation, coercion, and other manipulative tactics to get what they want. Victims may feel trapped and helpless, forced to submit to the sociopath's will in the relationship.


This behavior stems from the sociopath's belief that they are entitled to win at all costs, regardless of who gets hurt along the way. They lack empathy and are skilled at manipulating and exploiting their victims to gain an advantage. Like cheating chess players, sociopathic abusers are always looking for an edge, even if it means breaking the rules and causing harm to others.

After being exploited and cheated by a sociopathic abuser, the victim may hold onto the hope of a rematch and continue playing despite the manipulations they've experienced. The sociopath may play the role of the sore loser, accusing their victim of cheating when things don't go their way, or they may act like a victim to gain sympathy and secure a rematch. As a result, the victim is left feeling confused and helpless, while the sociopathic abuser revels in their power and control over the submissive victim.

Playing to Confuse and Conquer 

Psychopathic abusers are akin to chess masters who play the game of partner violence with a diabolical twist. They don't cheat outright to win; instead, they manipulate their victims to doubt their own perception of reality, changing the rules and altering the pieces when they're not looking. With each move, they undermine the victim's confidence, making them question their judgment and leaving them feeling foolish and confused.

After a victory, the psychopath will console the victim, offering reassurance that things will be better the next time around. But when the next game begins, it's entirely different, and the victim loses yet again. With each game, the psychopath employs psychological tactics further to erode the victim's sense of reality and confidence.

In essence, psychopaths play chess with an imaginary opponent, manipulating the pieces to create a reality that suits their needs without regard for fairness or sportsmanship. Winning or losing isn't their ultimate goal; instead, they seek to gain complete control over their victim's mind, loyalty, and submission. The victim is left unaware that they're playing a rigged game, while the psychopath revels in their mastery of manipulation and mind games, exerting their control and dominance with ease.

Their Insidious Tactics

Image by Piotr Makowski

1.    Bait and switch: A tactic that involves luring the victim into a situation with promises of something desirable or positive, only to switch it out for something negative or unpleasant instead.
2.    Circular conversations: Repeating the same argument without resolving the issue, where conversations feel like they are going around in circles in a nagging way. The purpose is to wear down the victim and prevent them from getting their way.
3.    Crazy-making: Making the victim feel like they are losing their mind. The purpose is to sow doubt in the victim's mind so that they will trust the abuser more than themselves.
4.    DARVO: Deny, Attack, and Reverse Victim and Offender. The purpose is to make the victim feel guilty and unsure of themselves, so that they will obey the abuser.
5.    Drama triangles: The abuser alternates between playing the victim, judge, and accuser. This creates a situation where the victim constantly has to explain and defend themselves, while the abuser avoids taking responsibility for their own behavior.


By changing their role in the situation, the abuser can manipulate the victim's feelings and perceptions to achieve their own agenda.

6.    Flying monkeys: This manipulation tool involves the abuser involving a third party to spread rumors, create drama, and manipulate the victim. The purpose is to destroy the victim's reputation and create conflict and division between the victim and other people in their life. By recruiting others to spread false information, the abuser can maintain control over the victim and ensure that they do not get the support and help they need.
7.    Economic violence: Controlling the victim's finances as a means of control. The purpose is to limit the victim's autonomy and force them to be dependent on the abuser.

8.    Gaslighting: Manipulating the victim's perception of reality. The purpose is to make the victim doubt their own perception of the world and to feel dependent on the abuser to understand what is happening.

Image by Hassan Pasha

9.    Infantilization: Treating someone as if they are much less mature or less intelligent than they actually are, often to gain control over them. The purpose is to make the victim feel powerless, insecure, and dependent on the abuser.

10.    Intimidation: Using threats or force to intimidate the victim. The purpose is to make the victim feel afraid and submissive to the abuser.
11.    Isolation: Isolating the victim from friends and family to maintain control. The purpose is to limit the victim's support system and force them to be dependent on the abuser.
12.    Love bombing: A cunning and insidious cycle of violence in which the abuser first idealizes the victim, then devalues and discards them before attempting to lure them back with false promises. In some cases, resorting to stalking. The cycle is designed to create a sense of dependence and control over the victim, also known as the trauma bond.

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