The following traits characterize a narcissistic personality:
- A grandiose sense of self-importance and superiority
- Believing they’re special and should only associate with special others
- Craving attention and admiration
- Having fantasies of unlimited success, brilliance, power, and beauty
- Having a sense of entitlement
- Taking advantage of others
- Lacking empathy and being unwilling to recognize other people’s feelings or needs
- Envious of others and think others are envious of them
- Showing arrogant behaviors and attitudes
Not everyone with these traits has a full-blown Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). Most people have a mix of narcissistic and empathic traits.
In some people, their narcissism overshadows their empathy. They’re the ones likely to hurt others and have NPD.
Narcissists are like children who think that the world revolves around them. They think they’re superior and more important than everyone around them. Others should bend over backwards to cater to their needs.
A hallmark trait of narcissism is devaluation. Narcissists devalue or put people down any chance they get. They even put people close to them down. They’re always finding fault with other people.
If you’re on the receiving end of devaluation, your self-esteem suffers. Narcissists devalue others because they genuinely believe they’re better and want other ‘inferiors’ to comply.
“Since I’m better than you, you should do as I say.”
Other forms of narcissistic abuse include:
- Yelling at you
- Embarrassing you
- Physically abusing you
- Calling you names
Another key trait of narcissists is that they rarely admit their mistakes. Admitting mistakes would touch their deeply-held shame wound and make them go berserk. Narcissism is essentially a coping mechanism and overcompensation for deeply-held shame.
Narcissistic abuse can occur in any relationship, but having a narcissistic parent or partner is especially torturous.
Because they’re close to you, a narcissistic parent and partner can suck the life out of you. A narcissistic parent won’t let you become your own person and ensure you become their version of who they want you to be.
If you somehow break free from a narcissistic parent and manage to build your identity, a narcissistic partner may still swoop in and take away your identity and self-worth.
Deprogramming after narcissistic abuse
Many people are stuck in narcissistic relationships, not understanding what’s happening. Their narcissist love-bombs them and then devalues them (Idealisation-devaluation cycle).
As a result, victims of narcissistic abuse are left confused. They keep second-guessing themselves. They keep developing strategies to deal with the narcissist in their life. They waste a lot of time recovering from the narcissist.
As many experts who’ve studied narcissism for life will tell you, they don’t change. So, trying to make them aware of their ways may well be an exercise in futility. You may see some progress, but soon, you’ll find that they take one step forward and two steps back.
To recover from narcissistic abuse, you have to control the controllable. You may not be able to control the narcissist, but you can control yourself.
Here are ways to deprogram after narcissistic abuse:
1. Accept the abuse
Accept you were abused. If you’ve only been in narcissistic relationships, they become your normal. You think that’s how relationships are supposed to be.
To deprogram yourself from this false belief, look at how people in healthy relationships behave. Note the discrepancies between those relationships and your own.
This can be an eye-opening experience for victims of narcissistic abuse. It’s an essential first step to recover from the abuse.
2. Understand how it affected you
While you can talk to other victims of narcissistic abuse to gain insights into how you were affected, only you can truly understand how it affected you.
Devaluations and criticisms from a narcissistic parent may have become part of your inner voice, for example. Only you know what your inner voice sounds like.
Once you realize that your inner voice isn’t really your voice but a leftover from your abusive narcissist, you can start questioning it.
Those leftover voices are not just voices. They’re thought patterns and beliefs that have shaped who you are. They’re limiting beliefs that hold you back. They’re the beliefs you need to deprogram.
Note what situations awaken your inner critic. Note how it prevents you from trying new things or doing things you’d like to do. These voices can haunt you and hold you back long after the narcissist has left your life.
3. Challenge the negative beliefs
When a narcissist keeps devaluing you, their criticism becomes your inner critic. Your subconscious mind gets programmed by repetition and emotion. Your narcissist devalued you. You felt afraid and sad. This happened over and over.
These programs became your identity.
To deprogram yourself, you have to challenge and question these borrowed beliefs.
For example, victims of narcissistic abuse are likely to become perfectionists because of their fear of criticism.
“Why did you spill the milk, you stupid boy?”
“Why didn’t you get perfect grades? You’ll never amount to anything.”
“Why can’t you do anything right?”
“I can’t do anything perfectly.”
“I should do things perfectly.” (“…to gain my parent’s approval.”)
Ways to challenge this belief:
“Do I really have to be perfect to accomplish things?”
“Is perfection even possible?”
4. Do the things you want to do (but are afraid to do)
Narcissists control their victims via guilt, shame, and fear. If you’re just coming out of a narcissistic relationship, they likely modified your behavior according to their needs via emotional manipulation.
This creates a subconscious comfort zone for you that you find difficult to break out of.
To rebuild your identity, you must start exploring your needs, interests, and hobbies. Once you identify them, you have to pursue them.
You’ll find great resistance in pursuing them because you’ll be stretching the limits of your subconscious comfort zone. Your subconscious whispers to you, likely in your narcissist’s voice:
“Hey! We don’t do that here.”
“That’s not who we are.”
Yeah, that’s not who you are because a narcissist programmed you to be who they wanted you to be. That’s who you want to be. So you can silence your subconscious by whispering back:
“It’s okay. It’s not going to be as bad as it looks.”
“Who’re you? You’re not even my voice. Go away! Shoo!”
Over time, all that fear your narcissist programmed you with will weaken. You’ll build yourself an identity which is perhaps the best thing you can do for your mental health.
Many victims end up doing amazing things in life once they break free from their narcissists, physically and mentally.
5. No contact
If you can break free from your narcissist completely, you should. If you can’t remove them from your life for whatever reason, you’ll have to minimize their impact on you.
You can do this by minimizing contact with them. Don’t give them things to use against you. Don’t share personal information with them. Don’t share your hopes, dreams, interests, and insecurities with them.
Distance yourself from them emotionally as much as possible. Do the bare minimum required to maintain the relationship.
The fact is, what you focus on in your life grows. You’ll get sucked into their drama and manipulations if you give attention to your narcissist.
6. No supply
Narcissists have people around them who become their narcissistic supply. These are people who give admiration and validation to the narcissist. They allow themselves to be dominated and controlled by the narcissist.
Refuse to be their supply.
Stop agreeing with them when they devalue others. Stop listening to their sob stories that paint them as victims to gain your empathy and sympathy. If you can’t avoid that, at least don’t give them your emotional reactions.
Narcissists feed off the emotional reactions you give them. If they manage to get a rise out of you, they feel powerful. They’ll ask you an innocent question or bait you into a ‘discussion’ that’ll soon become heated. Don’t take the bait.
7. Set boundaries
Once you build yourself an identity, you’ll likely do things that the narcissist in your life won’t approve of. Set clear boundaries with the narcissist. Try stating your needs and boundaries assertively. If that doesn’t work, you may have to resort to aggressiveness.
Anything to drive the idea into your narcissist’s head that if they want to be in your life, they’ll have to respect your boundaries.