The Little Shaman is a spiritual coach & specialist in cluster B personality disorders, with a popular YouTube show and clients worldwide.
The word manipulate means "to manage or utilize skillfully." It can also mean "to control or play upon by artful, unfair, or insidious means especially to one's own advantage." These two meanings are not really different. One has more negative connotations, but they both mean the same thing: using something (or someone) as a tool for your own benefit, or to your advantage. This is exactly what pathologically narcissistic people do to others.
Narcissistic people manipulate others in many ways, using many different types of techniques. There are narcissists that present themselves as victims for sympathy, there are narcissists who present themselves as bullies to intimidate or inspire fear. There are narcissistic people who use punishment or reward to get what they want. There are narcissists who lie, who cheat, who steal and worse, all in the name of control. That is the name of the game here: control. Narcissists manipulate others in order to control them. They may be doing it consciously or subconsciously, but the reason is always the same. Not only does this boost their ego and make them feel powerful, but it alleviates the constant fear they have of being weak and controlled themselves.
Narcissistic people are not able to create or regulate their own self-worth. They rely on other people to supply them with a constant stream of attention, energy, esteem, whatever you want to call it. The desire to control people stems from the fact that narcissists need to make sure other people stay in the position the narcissist needs them in and continue doing what the narcissist needs them to do. As they are often unable to confront their own feelings directly, may be unable to articulate their own needs and may even be unaware of their own basic needs, the only way they can communicate these needs to others is through manipulation. It is the same thing we see with children. They are unable to articulate what they need and so they push emotional buttons to get it instead.
Pathologically narcissistic people have never developed the ability to care for or even understand their own emotional needs and they are totally reliant on others to take care of this for them. They live in fear that they will not get their needs met, and they believe if they don't trick, lie, manipulate and control people, they will not get what they need. This is what they've learned in their lives and it's really the only way they can relate to others. They see other people as objects that they own and use when they need them. This isn't really something they're doing on purpose, exactly. It's not like they could relate to other people differently but they just won't. There is no other way for them to operate. This is how they are. In the same way that you don't understand how anyone could see other humans as objects, they don't understand what you're talking about when you are trying to make them understand that you have your own feelings, needs, wants or anything else. How can that be when they own you?
When people that narcissists feel they own start asserting their own needs and their rights as individuals, narcissists often find this very threatening. It is a betrayal and a rejection. They attempt to bring the person back in line and back under control using manipulation. They may lie, cry, scream, threaten, bully, attack, apologize, promise, beg and more. The other person's needs are not important. The other person's rights are not important. The other person's pain is not important. What's important is that the narcissist not be required to somehow go without anything for any reason. Whatever they have to do in order to assure themselves that this does not happen is what they will do. If it's saying I love you, fine. If it's saying I hate you, fine. If it's threatening to kill you, fine. If it's threatening to kill themselves, fine. Whatever they have to do, they will do.
Manipulation of all kinds is the main way that pathologically narcissistic people relate to others. It's how they have learned to get their needs met and has become automatic for most of them by the time they are adults. Other people are used for very specific purposes and the way these people are being used will be reflected in the way they are manipulated. For example, people who are being utilized in a smear campaign against someone will be fed misinformation about the victim and about the narcissist in an effort to influence the way they think and control the way they feel about the situation. People who are being utilized as suppliers of sympathetic attention will be told sob stories and others will be demonized in these stories in order to present the narcissist as a victim. People who are being utilized as targets of rage will be bullied, threatened and picked on. In this way, the narcissist endeavors to use others to meet their needs in the only way they know how and by now, it is the only way they care to know - because it works.
The way to fight manipulation by narcissistic people is not to buy into it. You have to work on being strong enough to hold on to your boundaries and not let people push past them. People often have trouble with boundaries because of fear. They may be afraid the narcissist will leave them, or that the narcissist will rage. They may fear the narcissist's repeated suicide attempts or that the narcissist will ghost them and disappear for days. They may fear rejection from the narcissist. They may fear the narcissist will leave them with nothing, or force them to leave the home.
There are many different reasons a person might allow others to mistreat them. However, this is never OK. In a healthy relationship, people are not forced to give up their self-respect or compromise their integrity to make the other person happy. The relationship with a narcissist is a fraud. People are presented with a choice that is not really a choice at all. The implication is that if you do what the narcissist wants, you will not be punished. This is not the reality. The reality is that you are going to be mistreated regardless of what you do. Instead of taking responsibility for the narcissist's needs - which is doomed to failure, by the way - try to work on your self-esteem and self-worth so that you can learn to create strong boundaries. People treat us how we allow them to treat us and you can learn to stop allowing them treat you in ways that you don't deserve. If you can learn to improve your self-esteem and practice good self-care, there will come a day where you can't believe you ever thought being abused was better than being alone.