Do you think you’re in a relationship with a narcissist? Here’s what you need to know about how dating a narcissist changes you and very likely has hurt your self-esteem:
Narcissists draw you in with their charm and compliments. But what do you do now that you’re living with constant hurt, deprivation, confusion, and feeling worse about yourself than ever? How do you get over a narcissist and get your self-esteem back?
There’s so much you don’t understand. Does a narcissist feel empathy? Do they know they’re hurting you? It seems like they feel no guilt at all, ever. Because everything is always “your fault.” Worse, you’ve likely bought all of the blame – hook, line, and sinker.
It’s not you. Every vulnerable person involved with a narcissist feels the same way. Gaslighting sometimes works. You need to see the signs. Yes, dating a narcissist changes you. So, let’s dig into a narcissist’s lack of empathy, their inability to feel guilt – or even to know they’re hurting you.
Why Does a Narcissist Lack Empathy?
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.
Narcissists want a mirror of how wonderful and lovable they are. Deviate from that (you don’t echo only them), they’ll turn on you. Their self-esteem is more fragile than yours.
Hard to believe, right? But, it’s true. A narcissist is so busy controlling any potential injury to their self-esteem, they can’t even see you. So, if you don’t give them their way, agree with them, and especially, if you have any needs of your own, they feel on shaky ground. And, vulnerability, for a narcissist, is not allowed. It makes them feel weak.
So, they can’t put themselves in your shoes (that’s empathy). They can’t let down their guard or open up to real intimacy. They can’t let in your feelings. It takes their power away. And, narcissists get their power by bullying and criticizing; so as not to feel small.
Let me answer some questions about narcissists to help you see how (and why) dating a narcissist changes you.
Do Narcissists Know They’re Hurting You?
NO. Narcissists don’t know they’re hurting you. It doesn’t even enter their minds. And, if you try to tell them how you feel, they get defensive and make you feel you’re wrong again. In fact, they’ll even rather “innocently” tell you: “I’m only trying to help you.”
Narcissists tear down your self-esteem; leave you swimming in self-doubt. It’s how they feel superior. As I said, narcissists do this to build their very unstable confidence.
So, narcissists can never be wrong. That’s why you are the brunt of their criticisms.
Does A Narcissist Feel Any Guilt?
No matter how hard you try, you’re never going to get an “I’m sorry” from a narcissist.
Narcissists can’t feel guilt. They’re too brittle. There’s a certain degree of sociopathy in narcissistic behavior. They disregard and use others to feel good about themselves.
In fact, it’s common for a narcissist to go off the rails, to fly into a rage if they don’t get what they want. They’ll turn cold, blame you, demean you, and never apologize. It’s not their fault, it’s yours. And they’ll do anything to gaslight you into believing this is true.
Don’t fall into that trap. It only hurts you more. This is one way that dating a narcissist changes you. It hurts you. And, 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, you especially need to know that it isn’t your fault.
It’s Not Your Fault, But You Feel It Is
That’s the #1 thing to wrap your mind around if you love (or have loved) a narcissist.
It’s NOT YOUR FAULT.
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 you. Now, this just seems like proof.
But the truth is, a narcissist doesn’t have the emotional capacity for real love. You blame and criticize yourself, for your own reasons. That’s another way dating a narcissist changes you. And here are 4 ways that loving a narcissist isn’t good for you.
4 Ways Dating A Narcissist Changes You
Losing that loving gaze you had, in the beginning, seems like the biggest imaginable loss. But it isn’t. The biggest loss is how terrible you feel about yourself. Here are 4 ways dating a narcissist hurts you.
#1 Your Self-Esteem Suffers
You feel really shaky now. Maybe you’ve never felt entirely confident about yourself.
Maybe you’ve even looked outside yourself for validation of how good, how attractive, how lovable you are. And, this time you thought you had it.
Being on a narcissist’s pedestal and then falling … well, that’s quite a big blow. It hurts a lot.
#2 You Don’t Feel Lovable
Being with a narcissist stirs up old doubts about how lovable you are.
If they left you, you’re probably imagining them giving someone else what was promised to you. These thoughts crush you. It’s the kind of pain that comes out of comparing yourself; never feeling good enough (likely, even before the narcissist came along.)
You look back over every detail of your romance, all the good things that went on between you. Were you wrong about the love you were so sure you had?
#3 You Doubt Your Perceptions
A relationship with a narcissist has a gaslighting element to it: a form of manipulation to make you feel bad and to gain control over you. You doubt what you think and feel.
Were you wrong about what they said? Now, you don’t know anything for sure.
You think one thing; then it changes. You’re in a constant state of doubt. Especially about your own perceptions. You don’t at all trust what you feel or what you see.
What is reality? Was the whole relationship a complete lie? Who can you trust?
#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 for the relationship not working. Maybe you’re certain they would have stayed if you weren’t too needy; if you hadn’t done this or that.
You’re certain you’ll never love this much again. Or that anyone else will be just the same. You’re stuck and deeply hurt. You thought this was love. What do you do now?
The first step is to get angry. At them. Not the way your anger is directed towards yourself. What does this do? It helps you see their faults and not idealize their love.
Get Over a Narcissist & Get Your Self-Esteem Back
- See their faults. Don’t always focus 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 love.
- Ask this: is the narcissist like one of your parents, early in life?
We all (not-consciously) repeat and choose the relationships we grew up with. Especially the ones we most needed to love us. That’s what happens with a narcissist.
A narcissist can make you feel like you’ve finally found the love you didn’t have. So, it’s hard to convince yourself that they weren’t who you thought and wanted them to be.
Yet, don’t give up and remember this as you’re looking for the love you need:
A narcissist never feels guilty, doesn’t have empathy for your feelings, blames you, and can’t say they’re sorry. If you’re dating this person, you’ve found a [another] narcissist.
Protect yourself. Get out fast.
Thanks for this article, I’ve read a number of them lately and most are focused on a male narcissist and from a female perspective. I just change the pronoun as i read to suit my situation so not an issue. I would however like to ask if statistically a larger number of male vs. female narcissists or just female authors writing from they’re own experience
Dr. Sandra E. Cohen
Thank you so much for reading and commenting. I always welcome a dialogue. Yes, from the point of view of statistics, there may be more male narcissists. But, as a clinician, I am more concerned with the effect and the hurt of a narcissistic partner on both men and women than I am with the statistics. My real focus is on understanding and helping to heal that hurt. I only wrote this article from the female point of view because I’ve worked with more women who have been hurt by men. However, I am very glad to hear that you could just change the pronoun and that the article spoke to you. Take care.