It seems some people think narcissists are smarter than other people, because their mental and emotional abuse and manipulations appear so calculated and complex, and they seem to always be able to anticipate your actions and reactions. People also think you can’t outsmart a narcissist for the same reason.
While it’s true that outsmarting a narcissist means you always have to anticipate their actions ahead of time (which is difficult for a victim to do), it can be done, especially if the narcissist isn’t very smart. In fact, some of them are pretty stupid. The stupid ones are probably less dangerous, but even the highly manipulative and cunning ones who are experts at gaslighting and other mind games aren’t necessarily all that smart.
They’re more like highly trained monkeys. Some monkeys can perform very complex tasks that make it appear as if they’re incredibly smart. But this is an illusion. The monkey was trained over a long period of time by being taught one simple task at a time, and when one task was mastered, they were taught the next task. String all those simple tasks together, and the monkey looks like they’re performing a complex operation. Another analogy is a child of average intelligence who is multilingual. If the child grew up hearing several languages spoken, they will pick up all the languages and become fluent in them. Of course, language is harder to learn as an adult, so knowing several languages makes you appear highly intelligent, but if the languages were learned in childhood, this isn’t a given.
An even more dramatic example is the bower bird. A male bower bird builds a rather complex structure (the bower) resembling a thatched hut and a surrounding decorative display to attract a female, choosing objects that are all the same color, and arranging them in attractive patterns to impress the opposite sex. It would appear these birds must be creative and intelligent to be able to build a complex bower and a beautiful, color coordinated display, but in actuality they aren’t any more intelligent than other birds. Their behavior is mostly instinctual, although some elements may have been learned. They are probably not really thinking when they build their mating habitat, at least not the same way an architect does when he draws up a blueprint for a new house. Still, most of us probably wouldn’t know how to build a hut as structurally sound as the bower bird’s.
A narcissist can be of quite average intelligence but still seem to be able to anticipate your every move and every word and know exactly what moment to manipulate or gaslight you. This makes them appear cunning and calculating. Most of us associate those traits with high intelligence. But in actuality, all of it’s an elaborate defense mechanism learned when they were very young. Like the highly trained monkey performing a complex task, the narcissist learned all these behaviors over a long period of time, without even being aware of what they were learning. They just did whatever worked (or whatever was rewarded). They don’t think about what they’re doing; they just do it. Like the bower bird’s impressive display, their machinations are instinctual.