We all know that narcissistic and sociopathic individuals use specific manipulation tactics to unsettle their victims. But did you know that some of the techniques they use overlap with that of pick-up artists? Not all pick-up artists are narcissists, but many narcissists are natural pick-up artists. For narcissistic manipulators, this type of pick-up artistry comes organically as a result of learning how to con others from an early age: they don’t need to pore over books like The Art of Seduction or The Game for hours in order to master the art of mimicking, love-bombing, and devaluing others.
Many sociopathic predators have been using manipulation their whole lives to get ahead and thus have are far more sophisticated tactics in their arsenal of psychological terrorism. As a result, their “scripts” are more convincing, especially if they are clever wolves in sheep’s clothing. Yet some predators do use similar techniques as pick-up artists as part of their nefarious toolbox. Here are the top five tactics you should look out for, especially if you suspect you may be involved with a player on the narcissistic spectrum:
Negging is very similar to the covert put-down or backhanded compliment used by narcissists. A “neg” is a comment meant to undermine a person’s self-confidence so that they are more vulnerable to advances from the perpetrator.
In the pick-up artist community, negs are used especially when the target is perceived to be more attractive or appealing than the pick-up artist. It allows the pick-up artist to bring down the target a notch or two so that the victim feels compelled to win the predator’s approval or validation. For example, a male pick-up artist may “neg” a highly attractive woman by saying something like, “If you’re lucky, I may even buy you a drink.” In this scenario, they know this woman is used to men fawning over her, so they “neg” her in hopes that she will think he’s different and strive to seek his approval.
While negging certainly doesn’t work on everyone, there has been research that indicates that women who have their self-esteem temporarily lowered tend to find a male stranger who approaches them more attractive; both men and women with lowered self-esteem also tend to be compliant and agreeable to the requests of others (Walster, 1965; Gudjonsson and Sigurdsson, 2003).
Negging can be especially dangerous if you’re not aware you’re being negged. Researchers believe that if you feel flawed or defective yourself or already struggle with your self-esteem, you’re likely to expect less from a potential partner and have a heightened need for acceptance and affection.
Those with trauma histories or prior relationships with narcissists should always be wary if they are met with these types of comments and resist internalizing them. Instead, they must immediately detach as soon as such a comment is made because it’s likely such negging will escalate, especially if the manipulator is particularly sadistic and wants to provoke a reaction.
Remember that these comments are meant to unsettle you for a reason – it’s because the predator in question believes you are “above” them in some way and wants to take you down. Consider it a compliment that they’re willing to stoop so low to bring you low – albeit, a backhanded one.
2. Manufacturing Love Triangles and Harem Management
In his book, The Art of Seduction, Robert Greene suggests that seducers create an aura of desirability by pretending they have many suitors (whether that’s the reality or not). This involves creating a perceived sense of competition so that the target is compelled to “win” this highly desirable person’s attention and affection. As Greene writes:
“Few are drawn to the person whom others avoid and neglect; people gather around those who have already attracted interest. To draw your victims closer and make them hungry to possess you, you must create an aura of desirability—of being wanted and courted by many. It will become a point of vanity for them to be the preferred object of your attention, to win you away from a crowd of admirers. Build a reputation that precedes you: If many have succumbed to your charms there must be a reason.”
Narcissists do this as one of their primary tactics in relationships: it is known as triangulation and harem-building. They will often make themselves look like they are highly sought after or have many options. They manufacture love triangles by constantly bringing up their exes, people they’ve dated or people who were apparently “obsessed” with them. They may indulge in stories about how people throw themselves at them or of being hit on excessively. They may do this all while throwing on an air of loyalty and devotion to you to make you feel special even while putting you on edge and making you feel off-balance and uncertain.
If you find that on a date someone talks at length about their former partners or those they find attractive, or that they flirt with others around them (such as the waitstaff), consider this a major red flag. These are automatic dealbreakers because such tactics are used to dismantle and unsettle you. Break the triangle by removing yourself out of the equation altogether. A healthy partner will strive to make you feel cherished and secure – an unhealthy one will manufacture and feed insecurities. You never have to compete for a worthy partner’s attention.
3. The 7-Hour Rule, Disclosure and Premature Intimacy
Narcissistic individuals know that getting a victim to trust them and feel comfortable around them is crucial to getting them invested and vulnerable. Narcissists know how to do this in spades at the beginning of relationships. They assess their victim’s vulnerabilities and morph into what they may be missing from their lives. In the honeymoon stage of the relationship, they spend a lot of time grooming their victims.
Pick-up artists and narcissists alike use the excessive amount of time paired with early disclosure of personal details to manufacture a false sense of intimacy which does not exist yet. Such a method has actually been scientifically proven to be effective. Arthur Aron and his fellow researchers (1997) discovered that intimacy between two strangers could be enhanced by having them ask each other a series of personal questions. As the authors of the study note, “One key pattern associated with the development of a close relationship among peers is sustained, escalating, reciprocal, personal self-disclosure.”
Narcissists use this technique to learn more about their victim’s weak spots to use against them in the future; pick-up artists use it to escalate sexually. Pick-up artists advocate for what is known as the “seven-hour rule” regarding the time that should be spent engaging with the target. Coined by pickup artist Mystery, this rule is used to describe the amount of time usually spent with a woman before going for the “close” – in other words, sex.
If you are on a first date with a narcissistic player or pick-up artist, for example, you may find them prolonging the date and telling you seemingly “romantic” things like, “I don’t want this night to end – do you?” or pushing you to make a second date before you’ve even finished your first.
This is a strategic move to heighten the level of investment and increase trust in the victim. It is advised in the PUA community that such time be spent getting to know the target, disclosing things about yourself, and getting the target to disclose about themselves, with topics becoming more and more intimate. That way, the target comes to perceive you as a potential sexual or romantic partner early on.
To counteract this method, resist disclosing personal details when a date reveals intimate information so prematurely. Remember that anything and everything you tell a narcissistic individual or pick-up artist can and will be used against you – whether it’s used to get you in their bed or to mess with your head.
4. Emotional Anchoring and Seduction-Withdrawal
Both pickup artists and psychopaths love to engage in what is known as “emotional anchoring” to better influence and control you. Anchoring is a neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) term used to describe the process in which an internal response becomes associated with an external or internal trigger. This method allows for that response to be accessed automatically whenever that trigger is present. Similar to conditioning, anchoring is a way for the predator to become associated with certain memories and emotional states in your psyche to evoke a certain response from you.
The anchors can be anything such as specific gestures, a certain tone of voice, a scent, a physical movement or touch on a specific part of your body, a certain location, a song, a word – anything you can think of is fair game. The most effective anchors are ones that are unique (so that they aren’t indiscriminately triggered), repeated to be associated with a specific emotional state, and are conditioned during times of peak emotional intensity.
Narcissists use general emotional anchoring and conditioning throughout the abuse cycle to associate pain and pleasure. Pick-up artists primarily use emotional anchors to “retrieve” and make you associate pleasurable states with them. However, both types can engage in seduction-withdrawal and hot-cold behavior to create compulsive “chasing” and behaviors in their victims. Simply put, anchoring is part of the overall conditioning that makes you addicted to a predator.
Seduction-Withdrawal and Hot/Cold Behavior
Both pick-up artists and narcissists alike use “seduction-withdrawal” methods to anchor themselves as important in their victim’s minds. A pick-up artist may pair a blissful date with a moment of coldness to create a sense of pain, pleasure, fear, and excitement simultaneously in his (or her) target – knowing that all these emotions are associated with the biochemical addiction involved in love. If his target fears losing his attention, she might work harder to regain it.
Narcissists engage in hot-and-cold behavior to provoke their victims into chasing them and to reinforce their sense of power and control over their victims. They may put you on a pedestal one moment, only to distance themselves abruptly or compare you unfavorably to someone else the next.
If you notice that someone you’re dating engages in abrupt hot and cold behavior, withdraw yourself from the relationship. This person will never give you the type of consistency you’re looking for.
How Narcissists Pair Anchoring with Love-Bombing and Punishment
Narcissists engage in what is known as love-bombing to create heightened emotional anchors: they shower their targets with excessive praise, flattery, and attention in order to make their victims dependent on them (Archer, 2017). Since victims are conditioned to associate the natural dopamine high they receive when with the narcissist, withdrawal from that relationship is often painful and debilitating.
Narcissists and sociopaths take anchoring one sadistic step further in the abuse cycle: they can also pair your happy memories and sources of joy (such as news of you receiving a raise or becoming pregnant) with their callous and cruel punishment so that you are even more under their control. They may sabotage holidays or special events to ensure that you never forget them and come to associate these happy moments with the threat of their horrific behavior. They may also “access” existing anchors from the past, tapping into past emotional states by retriggering a blissful experience or by reenacting a trauma they know you’ve already experienced.
Anchoring in Pick-up Artistry
Pick-up artists can use emotional anchors in specific ways to sexually escalate. They may condition you to associate certain environments, situations, or moods with them. This can be done through grand gestures or subtle moments. For example, a narcissistic pick-up artist might have a habit of spontaneously kissing you in the middle of a public place (whether in a fancy restaurant or the middle of the street) so that you associate those specific locations with them, as well as a mood of “romance” with being with them.
These are memories they are purposely implanting so that whenever you pass by that location or watch a romantic film with those same scenarios, you remember them and access the same emotional states of arousal and bliss. Pick-up artists may also add on physical anchoring as a way to make their targets associate their touch, voice, gestures or scent with positive memories and emotional states. For example, a woman might wear a certain delicious smelling perfume that her date comes to associate her with whenever he comes across a similar scent. Or, a man might speak in a deeper voice whenever he’s speaking about something sexual, to get a woman to feel aroused even when he’s speaking about innocuous things in the same type of voice.
Become aware of anchors, as they can add to the addictive nature of being with a narcissist. You can “unanchor” yourself by observing any impulsive behavior you’re engaging in around the narcissist. What is the impulsive behavior tied to? What triggers it? For example, you might find that you’re drawn to a certain song which makes you remember the narcissist vividly because you slow-danced to it. You might feel compelled to reach out to the narcissist whenever you hear that song. You can start to “unanchor” the trigger by taking note of it whenever it occurs. You may then decide to establish a new association to this song (doing a new memorable activity preferably when you’re in a positive emotional state which involves the song). Or, you can rework that anchor by repeatedly and actively remembering the narcissist’s true nature rather than the romantic memory whenever you hear it.
This is a way of anchoring yourself in a way that allows you to move forward. You can then create newer, healthier associations with those same environments, situations, triggers, or moods which have nothing to do with the narcissist.
5. Kino Escalation, Eye Contact, Nice Guys and the “Sexually Liberated Guy” Act
Manipulators only looking for sex are usually not going to be direct about their agenda unless it’s part of a specific script or tactic they’re using to appear dominant. They will instead dress up their intentions: they will pretend they’re interested in getting to know you, even to the point of acting as if they want a relationship or can’t wait to go on more dates with you. Some will even go as far as to degrade other manipulators and players as a form of grandstanding to make you believe they’re one of the “good guys.”
This covert “nice guy” ploy is nothing new: covert narcissists have been using it for decades underhandedly to misrepresent their intentions and character, and to get what they want. Some will even go as far as to talk about how they’re not interested in rushing things physically at all – just to convince you that they are of enough sound character to sleep with.
Escalation and Testing of Boundaries
Pick-up artists also use progressive touching or what is known as “kino escalation” to get physical from the very beginning and gradually escalate sexually with their targets. They use selective touch in order to get their victims more progressively comfortable with them. For example, they may first touch your arm within minutes of meeting you, assess your reaction and comfort level with that, then move onto grazing your knee.
This is not unlike the ways in which narcissists escalate with their victims by testing both the emotional and physical boundaries of their victims. These types may insert sexual jokes on the first date to assess your reaction or give you a cruel put-down to see whether you’re malleable enough to continue to invest in them. If you notice anything that makes you uncomfortable – whether it’s a condescending or crude behavior, gesture or remark, act accordingly and detach from the person as soon as possible. Do not allow them to continue to “test” you, because they will continue to escalate.
Predatory or Seductive Eye Contact
Pick-up artists are also taught the art of maintaining seductive eye contact to convey so-called “alpha” dominance. Predatory psychopaths and narcissists maintain such eye contact naturally, often without blinking or looking away, and are said to have a “reptilian gaze.”
As Dr. Robert Hare, author of Without Conscience, writes:
“Many people find it difficult to deal with intense, emotionless, or “predatory” stare of the psychopath. Normal people maintain close eye contact with others for a variety of reasons, but the fixated stare of the psychopath is more of a prelude to self-gratification and the exercise of power than simple interest or empathic caring…Some people respond to the emotionless stare of the psychopath, with considerable discomfort, almost as if they feel like potential prey in the presence of a predator.”
Research has indicated that for one to feel increasingly close with someone, all it takes are a few moments of intense eye contact and the disclosure of personal details (Aron, 1997). Prolonged eye contact also releases oxytocin, the same “love” hormone that bonds mother and child. Pair eye contact with a sociopath’s premature disclosure on dates, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for toxic love.
The Sexually Liberated Guy Act
Some pick-up artists (especially more covert predators) also use the “Sexually Liberated Guy” act to make their targets more psychologically comfortable with the idea of sex. While anyone can be a manipulator, male or female, this particular tactic is primarily used by narcissistic males preying on female victims because it works with gender stereotypes and social norms.
In this technique, a male pick-up artist wants to seduce a woman into bed. He uses his awareness of what it’s like to be a woman and the sexual double standards she is likely to have experienced against her to do so.
Let’s say Jerry is trying to woo Natasha into spending the night at his place after a romantic first date. When she appears hesitant, he might say something like, “You know, I can see why it’s hard for a woman to let go sexually. It’s sad how society restricts a woman’s sexuality even these days. In my opinion, a woman should be able to have sex whenever she likes, whether on the first date or the ninth.”
In effect, he’s given her “permission” to tap into her sexual desires by letting her know she won’t be shamed if she says yes. This is, of course, assuming that sexual double standards are the only thing holding her back from sleeping with him.
To counteract this tactic, firmly tell the person that your decision not to sleep with him has nothing to do with sexual double standards and everything to do with your own personal comfort levels. This usually puts the lid on whatever baloney the pick-up artist is attempting to feed you and he will either redirect or leave you alone.
The Big Picture
In order to resist being played, you have to learn the rules of the game. As manipulative as some of these tactics are, it’s wise to brush up on PUA terminology and narcissistic manipulation tactics in order to protect yourself. Unless you know what to look for, you won’t always realize when you’re having the wool pulled over your eyes – and that is exactly what the wolf in sheep’s clothing is hoping for.
Aron, Arthur, et al. “The Experimental Generation of Interpersonal Closeness: A Procedure and Some Preliminary Findings.” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, vol. 23, no. 4, 1997, pp. 363–377., doi:10.1177/0146167297234003.
Archer, D. (2017, March 6). The Danger of Manipulative Love-Bombing in a Relationship. Retrieved December 31, 2018, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/reading-between-the-headlines/201703/the-danger-manipulative-love-bombing-in-relationship.
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Gudjonsson, G. H., & Sigurdsson, J. F. (2003). The Relationship of Compliance with Coping Strategies and Self-Esteem. European Journal of Psychological Assessment,19(2), 117-123. doi:10.1027//1015-57184.108.40.206
Hare, R. (1999). Without Conscience. The Guilford Press.
Strauss, N. (2016). The game: Undercover in the secret society of pickup artists. Edinburgh: Canongate Books.
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