How Narcissists use Sandbagging

How Narcissists use Sandbagging

How Narcissists use Sandbagging



Sandbagging is a way to self-discount such that the narcissist always appears grand. If we remember that grandiosity is central to a narcissist’s self-image, we can see how self-discounting and performing better than “expected” might be useful.

What is Sandbagging, and how do narcissists use it?


What is Sandbagging?

Sandbagging is defined as: “a self-presentational strategy involving the false claim or feigned demonstration of inability used to create artificially low expectations for the sandbagger’s performance.”

The term’s origin is unclear, but it is mostly used in pool, cards, and team sports. In pool, you miss a few shots initially to con someone into betting money. In cards, it can be used in either direction (to bluff that you have better or worse cards than you actually have). Finally, in team sports, you might have the coach predict they will lose a game to get the other side underprepared. Professional athletes also sandbag (are they injured or not, is their head in the game or are they distracted, etc.).

Perhaps sandbagging had something to do with water originally, maybe something like throwing down some sandbags before a flood to change the direction of the stream? Or horse racing? Who knows.

There is also a legal definition of the word, which is slightly different. Sandbagging in the legal sense means that you know that there is something wrong in either a contract or with an administrative procedure of the opposing counsel and saving that knowledge for later use (either suing for that error or saving it for later use when you can spring it on the opposing counsel). So in the legal sense, it is knowledge of something you save for later use.

Sandbagging is discounting your chance of success to appear even more grandiose if you do succeed. And if you don’t, well, you never said you would.

Why would a narcissist sandbag? And how do they do it?


How do Narcissists use Sandbagging?

Have you ever had someone intentionally underreport their chance of success doing something, like putting on a show about how ill-prepared or incompetent they are? Yet normally, they seek the limelight and enjoy talking about their successes. So why do they project weakness when they always have to win everything?

For instance, say your narcissists cheat at boardgames to win, but not only deny that they cheat (and later gaslight you about it), but they also say winning is not important to them (when it truly is all she cares about).

Narcissists use sandbagging to maintain their grandiosity regardless of the outcome. As simple as that.


How Common is Sandbagging?

A 2018 study of college kids found “people high in narcissism engage in this self-handicapping presentation strategy as a twisted way of getting you to think that they truly are terrific.” In this study, self-handicapping is a more internal endeavor, whereas sandbagging is how it appears to others.

This is a great way to win/win for the narcissist. If they don’t win, they say they never thought they would. But if they do win, all can witness how glorious they are in their unexpected success.


Beyond Self-Esteem

Both grandiose and covert narcissist use sandbagging and may use it above and beyond the protection, it provides to self-esteem. Narcissists cannot stand to be vulnerable or wrong and must preserve their grandiosity at all costs.

If you pretend nothing is at stake should you succeed or fail, you can maintain the mask of superiority but potentially have a negative outcome or evaluation.

Thus, if you see a narcissist underplay their hand, you can bet they are sandbagging. Their false modesty protects their fragile self-image. After all, narcissists hate to lose and can infrequently go into a rage when it happens (most learned not to do this as children). This reversal in their attitude may be a self-preservation strategy that has been used since childhood to protect the fragile sense of self-importance.

Beyond self-esteem, narcissists sandbag to pretend to be not as good as they are to protect their ego.


Some Examples of Sandbagging


  • Briar Rabbit not wanting to be thrown into the briar patch
  • Saying work will take you extra long, so you get assigned less work
  • Malingering (pretending to be ill or injured)
  • If you ask a rancher how many cattle they have, or how big their place is, they respond with “just enough to eat what little grass I have,” or, “just big enough for what few cows I got.”
  • Sandbagging can also be used by the media. “her ability to deal effectively with members of the press who ask asinine questions and sandbag you during an interview.” CHRISTIE BRINKLEY ON DIVORCING A NARCISSIST: “I JUST WANT PEACE”
  • Groucho Marx: “Sincerity is everything. If you can fake that, you’ve got it made.”


Conclusion-How Narcissists use Sandbagging.

Healthy, self-compassionate people don’t sandbag. They attempt to change circumstances but accept those they cannot change. With a narcissist, their sense of competency is enhanced because they perform well even despite their handicap.

Sandbagging controls (manipulate) others’ expectations, whereas self-handicapping controls your own expectations.

Thus you have card sharks, pool hustlers, or other cons on one hand and expectation management on the other.

Sandbagging is popular with covert narcissists because it allows them to hide their grandiosity but still have great results after the false modesty.

On the flip side is a grandiose narcissist who bullies you into believing they are the best. You see this bravado in professional athletics (or politics).


Narcissists may engage in sandbagging before a performance in order to resolve the dissonance that stems from viewing themselves as superior yet potentially being negatively evaluated. By sandbagging, they are attempting to manage their fragile self-esteem by trying to convince themselves and others that their self-esteem is not at stake in the performance. Thus, sandbagging may stem not from self-esteem or the lack thereof but rather from the fragility of self-esteem. ~Sandbagging and the Self


When you see sandbagging at play, expectation management, or performance discounting, you know you are close to the truth. The last thing a narcissist wants is exposure. To remove her mask is to reveal how she truly feels about herself.

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