What It Means To Love A Narcissist — 3 Ways They Hurt You & 5 Ways To Get Your Self-Esteem Back

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Narcissists draw you in with their charm and compliments. Maybe you're dating one. If so, you can get over a narcissist. 

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?

RELATED: 6 Signs You're In Love With A Serious Narcissist

It seems like they feel no guilt at all, ever. 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.

In order to get over a narcissist, you need to understand them, how they hurt you, and how you can recover.

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 like they're 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 they don't feel small.

Do narcissists know they’re hurting you?

No, they don't. 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. 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, 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.

RELATED: How To Spot A Narcissist With These 9 Behaviors

Don’t fall into that trap. It only hurts you more. Don’t get me wrong, though. You’ve been hurt. It’s important to grieve what you thought you had. It's a loss.

Yet, it’s just as important to see what you didn’t have. And, you need to know that it isn’t your fault.

It's not your fault but you feel like it is. That’s the number one thing to wrap your mind around if you love (or have loved) a narcissist.

The problem is that 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. Loving a narcissist isn’t good for 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 now.

Here are 3 ways a narcissist hurts your self-esteem so you can learn how to get over a narcissist.

1. You don’t feel lovable.

Being with a narcissist stirs up old doubt 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?

2. 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 and 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.

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What is reality? Was the whole relationship a complete lie? Who can you trust?

3. 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.

Now, you can get over a narcissist and get your self-esteem back and here are 5 ways to do it:

1. See their faults. Don’t always focus on yours.

2. Find reminders of what you like about yourself.

3. If you can’t, ask your close friends. Build on it.

4. Remember ways you are lovable and can love.

5. Ask this: Is the narcissist like one of your parents, early in life?

Everyone unconsciously repeats and chooses the relationships they grew up with, especially the ones they most needed to love them. 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 narcissist.

Protect yourself. Get out fast.

RELATED: How To Deal With A Narcissist — 8 Smart & Simple Steps

Dr. Sandra Cohen is a Los Angeles-based psychologist and psychoanalyst. She specializes in treating childhood trauma, persistent depressive states, and all types of anxiety. For more information, visit her website.

This article was originally published at Sandra E. Cohen, Ph.D's Moving Forward Blog. Reprinted with permission from the author.