Narcissists draw you in with their charm and compliments. You needed love. He didn’t give it. Here are 4 ways being with a narcissist hurts your self-esteem.
You need to know them. Because, now, you’re suffering, whether you’re in or you’re out. And, you’re reeling from the confusion and hurt.
He seemed so into you, all those promises and adoration. Then, things changed, maybe subtly at first. He got more distant and critical. What happened?
Remember the myth of Narcissus who fell in love with his reflection in the pond? Even the beautiful nymph, Echo, couldn’t tempt him away. That’s the real rub.
He loves himself more than you. Narcissists only want a mirror of how wonderful, handsome, and lovable they are. Deviate from that (in other words, if you don’t echo only him), he turns on you or leaves.
Losing him (and that loving gaze you originally had) seems like the biggest imaginable loss. But it isn’t. The biggest loss is how terrible you feel about yourself now.
Narcissists leave you feeling you did something wrong. Or, you needed too much. That you aren’t lovable. You may even be desperate (you’ll do anything) to get his love back.
What you really need to get back is your self-esteem.
Narcissists tear your self-esteem down; leave you swimming in self-doubt. It’s how they feel superior – the one always in the right – to elevate their own shaky confidence.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s important to grieve what you thought you had. It is a loss. Yet, it’s just as important to see what you didn’t have and to learn that it isn’t your fault.
It’s Not Your Fault
That may be hard to believe. But it’s important that you do.
It’s the #1 thing you need to know if you fell in love with a narcissist. Whether it’s over or his love has waned, and you keep trying to get back to how it was, what happened has nothing to do with you.
The problem is: Narcissists most often play into the ways you’ve never felt secure about love.
Or about how lovable you are. Especially if you had a difficult childhood. Maybe you’ve always felt that everyone you love will leave. This just seems like proof.
But, the truth is, a narcissist doesn’t have an emotional capacity for real love.
Only its “appearances,” usually at the beginning. The fickleness of a narcissist (along with his seductiveness) is his own need for adoration. And that’s what takes up all the space.
Plus, if he doesn’t get what he wants, he can go into a rage, turn cold, blame you, demean you, and never apologize. It’s never his fault. Your feelings don’t matter.
You blame and criticize yourself, for your own reasons. This isn’t good for you. Think about 4 ways a narcissist hurts your self-esteem. It’s time to get it back.
4 Ways A Narcissist Hurts Your Self-Esteem
#1 You Can’t Need Anything
A narcissist cannot make room for your needs or your feelings. Especially if you try to talk to him about ways that he’s hurt you. Or, if you point out a promise he didn’t keep.
He defends himself. Or, he gets mad. He either makes you feel (or tells you) that you’re too needy. If this was your experience in childhood, he makes you believe he’s right.
He’s not. A relationship goes both ways.
With a narcissist, love (if you can even call it that) is a one-way street, going his way. This can make you feel there’s something wrong with you; that you’re just not lovable.
#2 You Don’t Feel Lovable
Being with a narcissist makes you doubt how lovable you are.
If he left you, you’re probably imagining him dating. And, how he’ll give some other woman what he promised you. These thoughts crush you. It’s the worst kind of pain.
It’s the kind of pain that comes out of comparing yourself; never feeling good enough, even before he came along. He made you feel good enough, at least for a little while.
Now, he’s taken it all away. You’re desperate to get it back, but you can’t, even if you try. You’re haunted with constant questions about “Why?” What happened?
Did you do something to make him go away? You look back over every detail of the romance, all the good things between you. Were you wrong about his love?
#3 You Doubt Your Perceptions
A relationship with a narcissist is like gaslighting (a form of manipulation that can be quite extreme, to gain control over you). It makes you doubt what you think and feel.
Maybe his actions don’t match his words. Is he (was he) lying? Were you wrong about what he said? You don’t know anything for sure, not anymore.
You think one thing; then it changes, with him and in your own mind. It’s worse if he actually tells you you’re wrong. You’re in a constant state of doubt, about your own perceptions.
You never feel on solid ground within yourself, let alone with him. What is reality? You want to trust him, but can you? You aren’t sure. Was the whole relationship a lie?
#4 You’re Scared to Trust Love
Being scared to trust love again is the worst effect on your self-esteem.
Particularly if you blame yourself. Maybe you’re certain he would have stayed if you weren’t too needy; if you hadn’t done this or that. If you’d given him more of what he wanted.
You’re certain you’ll never love this much again. Or that every man will be just like him.
You’re stuck. He hurt you deeply. You thought this was love. You hoped (or he promised) it was forever. Now you’re alone. Longing for him. Will it ever stop?
The first step is to get angry. At him. Not the way your anger is directed towards you. What does your anger do? It helps you see his faults. And, not to romanticize the love.
Getting Your Self-Esteem Back
How do you heal your self-esteem and get back on your feet?
- See his faults not, constantly, focusing on yours.
- Find reminders of what you like about yourself.
- If you can’t, ask your close friends. Build on it.
- Remember ways you are lovable and can
- Ask this: is he like one of your parents, early in life?
We all repeat and, not-consciously, choose relationships we had early on.
Especially the ones we most needed to love us. When a narcissist makes you feel the love you didn’t have, it’s hard to reconcile that he isn’t who you thought he was and wanted him to be.
If you had a parent whose love you couldn’t reach, or keep, your self-esteem was already shaky, before this narcissistic man came along. This can change.
But, it’s hard to heal such deep hurt, and traumatic relationship, alone. Psychotherapy is the best option.
With help, you can heal, build your self-esteem, and find the love you need.
I’m Dr. Sandra Cohen, a Beverly Hills and California-based psychologist and psychoanalyst. I specialize in trauma and in what it takes to heal. Call now.