When you have a brief encounter with a narcissist, you might not realize that the person has a personality disorder which is typified by being very self-absorbed and lacking in empathy for others. However, when you are a target of narcissistic abuse, and are in a relationship with this person, your every day life becomes confusing and painful.
Before getting into ways you can rebuild your self-esteem, let’s take a moment to describe the behavior of a narcissist for those who might not be clear about what the term means. An individual with narcissistic personality disorder goes through life with an overwhelming need to be validated all the time, and told they are wonderful, smarter than anyone else and are entitled to only the finest treatment by everyone. They take offense easily, and get angry quickly if they interpret a remark as being an insult. In their craving for attention and approval, they are usually adept at being charming when they want something from someone else, and then if they are refused will have an almost instant transformation into being very angry. They are quick to judge other people as inferior, and enjoy using phrases that are racist, demeaning and derogatory of other groups of people.
For example, a narcissist, feeling he is superior to everyone else, will commonly say things like, “The masses are asses!”
While some people like to say that a narcissist is someone with excess self-love or vanity, that really doesn’t do more than give a surface definition. To know more, you have to understand a bit about how this disorder began, and it is typically stated in definitions of the disorder that it began with trauma early in childhood, during the phase when the child should have been developing a healthy sense of self. Instead, the child formed the opinion, usually as a result of abusive treatment including neglect, that he was not good enough the way he was and needed to create a “perfect” persona to show to the world to gain that all-important approval the child craved.
As an adult, the narcissist often has a public persona of being Mr. Nice Guy or Ms. Wonderful, because they enjoy (and need) the adoration they can elicit from others by being so fun and pleasant to be around. Typically, a narcissist does favors for others, but then expects even bigger favors in returns.
If you’ve been involved intimately with a narcissist you soon found that no matter how much attention and love you showered on this person, it was never enough. He or she always demanded more and more, while complaining that you are selfish, cold and unresponsive. It’s a no-win situation for you when you are in this type of relationship. Your self-esteem is pommeled every day as if you are his verbal punching bag!
In order to heal from narcissistic abuse, first you must end or limit the contact you have with this person. If you are married or in an intimate relationship with the narcissist, the best recourse for your own mental and emotional health is to leave. If the narcissist is a relative or someone you work with, learn to limit the time you spend in their company, and also learn how to set boundaries so that you can speak up for yourself assertively.
Now, on to 5 tips to help you start rebuilding your self-esteem and make it even stronger than it was before you got involved with the narcissist.
1. Understand that the narcissist is a sick person. That is not an excuse for their behavior, but it is an explanation that will help you release their comments and treatment of you instead of holding on to the pain. Realize that even though their attacks felt very personal, those comments in a narcissistic rage were the acting out of a sick individual who has no skills for true love. The comments they made are not a true assessment or evaluation of who you really are as a person.
2. Spend some time over the next few days or weeks writing in a journal or computer document about hurtful episodes or specific statements he made that keep coming to mind. Write those down. And then look at them as if it was something a stranger said. Usually, narcissists make wild accusations and irrational comments that are meant to cut you off at the knees, make you feel bad about yourself as if you are worthless. But now what I want you to do, is look at a few of those examples you’ve written, and ask how you would have reacted if a stranger said that to you. Most of the time, what you’ll discover is that the comment was completely ludicrous! The power they held over you was in the body language and in the tone of voice they used, and in the way they mocked things that you held dear to your heart. This exercise will help you release all those old hurts and simply let them drift off on the breeze. Don’t continue to repeat his words in your head again and again, puzzling out what he could possibly have meant, because that keeps the pain fresh as if he is still abusing you. What he meant was to hurt you. The words were simply the weapon he used to control and dominate you. By dominating you, he felt more powerful for at least a few moments while you cowered or reacted, and in that power he had a short experience of feeling that he was “all right” instead of the horribly inferior person he believes he is but will never admit to.
3. Get busy, get active with exercise, sports, reading helpful books, going out with friends, learning a new hobby or how to cook a new dish you always wanted to try. Avoid sitting around feeling sorry for yourself and wondering what is wrong with you. Most likely, the narcissist chose you as his or her target because you have so many wonderful qualities they are missing and actually envy you for having. You are probably a very kind-hearted and compassionate person, and the abuser played off that generous spirit of yours, knowing they could count on you to stay and forgive their behavior again and again.
4. Are you still breathing? A relationship with a narcissistic abuser can feel devastating, but notice that you are still alive, and that means there is more for you to do and enjoy in this life, free from abuse. Part of your birthright is that you deserve to enjoy a life that you truly love wherein you make your dreams come true and feel happier than you ever believed possible. You can achieve this switch from victim to victorious by refusing to let the abuser win. Dismiss all those negative things he or she assaulted you with.
5. Every day, repeat this affirmation to yourself several times, out loud if possible so that you hear a voice telling you this: “I do enough, I am good enough, I am enough.” Use the power of positive affirmations to build high self-esteem so that you will gradually replace those old negative statements that you accepted as true just because an abuser said them so often with great authority.
It is not an overnight process to rebuild your self-esteem when you have been repeatedly abused by a partner or parent with narcissistic personality disorder, but don’t give up. Keep your focus on building a life for yourself where you only attract loving people and loving events to you, and you will soon find yourself smiling and enjoying peace of mind and glowing, healthy self-esteem.