4 Ways Narcissistic Relationships Hurt Your Self-Esteem

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Heartbreak

Narcissists draw you in with their charm and compliments. You needed love. But your partner didn’t give it.

Now, you’re suffering, whether you’re in or you’re out. And, you’re reeling from the confusion and hurt of being engaged in a narcissistic relationship.

They seemed so into you, all those promises and adoration. Then things changed, maybe subtly at first. They got more distant and critical.

What happened? They're a narcissist who used you for your love.

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Just one narcissistic relationship can tear down your self-esteem.

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 love themselves more than you. They only want a mirror of how wonderful, beautiful, and lovable they are. Deviate from that, and they turn on you or leave.

Losing them 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 that you needed too much — that you aren’t lovable. You may even be desperate to get their love back.

What you really need to get back is your self-esteem.

Narcissists tear your self-esteem down, leaving you swimming in self-doubt. It’s how they feel superior — they're the one always in the right — to elevate their own shaky self-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.

Here are 4 surprising ways being in a narcissistic relationship hurts your self-esteem.

1. You can't need or want anything.

A narcissist cannot make room for your needs or your feelings. Especially if you try to talk to them about ways that they have hurt you, or if you point out a promise they didn’t keep.

They defend himself, or they get mad. They either make you feel — or flat-out tells you — that you’re too needy. If this was your experience in childhood, they make you believe they're always in the right.

They're not. A relationship goes both ways.

With a narcissist, love is a one-way street, going only their 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 they left you, you’re probably imagining them out there dating. And, how they'll give some other person what they 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 and never feeling good enough, even before they came along. They made you feel good enough, at least for a little while.

Now, they've 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 them 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 own 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 their actions don’t match their words. Are they lying? Were you wrong about what they said? You don’t know anything for sure, not anymore.

You think one thing, then it changes — in their behavior and in your own mind. It’s worse if they actually tell 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 them. What is reality? You want to trust them, but can you? You aren’t sure. Was the whole relationship a lie?

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4. You're scared to trust in love.

Being scared to trust love again is the worst effect on your self-esteem, particularly if you blame yourself.

Maybe you’re certain they would have stayed if you weren’t so needy; if you hadn’t done this or that. If you’d given them more of what they wanted.

You’re certain you’ll never love this much again. Or that every person you're with will be just like him.

You’re stuck. They hurt you deeply. You thought this was love. You hoped (or they promised) it was forever. Now, you’re alone, longing for them. Will it ever stop?

The first step is to get angry — at your narcissistic ex, not the way your anger is directed towards you.

What does your anger do? It helps you see their faults and not to romanticize the love.

It's important to remember this is not your fault.

Whether it’s over, or their love has waned and you keep trying to get back to how it was, what happened has nothing to do with you. That may be hard to believe, but it’s important. This is the number-one thing you need to know if you fell in love with a narcissist. 

The problem is narcissists most often play into the ways you’ve never felt secure about love, or about how lovable you feel 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 of that belief. 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 their seductiveness) is their own need for adoration. And that’s what takes up all the space.

Plus, if they don’t get what they want, they can go into a rage, turn cold, blame you, demean you, and never apologize. It’s never their fault. Your feelings don’t matter.

You blame and criticize yourself, for your own reasons. This isn’t good for you. Think about four ways a narcissist hurts your self-esteem — it’s time to get it back.

So, how do you get your self-esteem back after being in a narcissistic relationship?

  • See your narcissistic ex's faults, and do not constantly 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.
  • Ask this: Is your ex like one of your parents was early in your life?

We all repeat and unconsciously choose relationships we had early on. This includes relationships with narcissists.

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 they aren't who you thought they were and wanted them to be.

If you had a parent whose love you couldn’t reach or keep, your self-esteem was already shaky before this narcissistic person came along. This can change.

But it’s hard to heal such deep hurt from a traumatic relationship alone. Psychotherapy is the best option. With help, you can heal, build your self-esteem, and find the love you need and deserve.

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RELATED: 8 Smart, Simple Steps For How To Deal With A Narcissist

This article was originally published at Sandra E. Cohen, Ph.D.. Reprinted with permission from the author.