One of the reasons that healing from narcissistic abuse is so hard is because of low self-esteem. After months, years, or even decades being abused by a narcissist, you could find yourself lacking confidence about who you are and what you can do.
10 Things That You Can Do to Build Self-Esteem After Experiencing Narcissistic Abuse
- Recognizing what you are good at.
- Building positive relationships.
- Be kind to yourself.
- Learning how to say “no” to others.
- Challenging yourself.
- Focusing on what you can control and letting go of what you can’t.
- Celebrating yourself.
- Improving your mental and physical health.
- Becoming more aware of your thoughts, feelings, and emotions.
This article is going to guide you through each of these steps that you can take to build self-esteem after experiencing narcissistic abuse.
Recognize What You Are Good At
After being a narcissistic environment for months, years, or even decades, it is very common for your self-esteem to be lowered by feelings of incompetency and inadequacy.
This is because narcissists have a tendency to deal with their own painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions by projecting them onto the people that they abuse.
In fact, inadequacy is one of the strongest feelings that narcissists struggle with on a daily basis.
You can overcome this and build self-esteem by working hard to recognize what you are good at. It might not feel like it right now, but there are things that you are good at.
A strategy that you can use to find the things that you are good at is participating in a new activity on a regular basis.
Whether it be every day, every week, or every month, you are bound to find something that you are good at when you participate in new activities on a daily basis.
It doesn’t matter if it is cooking, singing, solving puzzles, lifting weights, hiking, or even being a good friend to someone else, doing things that you are good at will help you build self-esteem.
In our article “Why Do Narcissists Use Projection?“ there’s a lot of helpful information about why narcissist rely on projection so heavily.
Build Positive Relationships
One of the ways that narcissists keep you trapped within the narcissistic abuse cycle is by cutting off your lines of support.
That’s right, narcissists dedicate a significant amount of time to sabotaging your relationships with friends, family, and even coworkers.
Generally speaking, this is done by creating flying monkeys and narcissist enablers.
A flying monkey is someone who a narcissist manipulates into helping them abuse others. A narcissist enabler is a person who gaslights those experiencing narcissistic abuse because they themselves don’t understand narcissistic abuse.
Narcissists use flying monkeys and narcissist enablers to control, silence, gaslight, discredit, and isolate you.
Over time, the invalidation, devaluation, humiliation, dehumanization, and minimization that flying monkeys and narcissist enablers often subject others to can lower your self-esteem.
You can overcome this by focusing on building positive relationships.
You are going to want to surround yourself with people who support you, appreciate you, respect you, listen to you, and care about you.
When you surround yourself with people who you have built positive relationships with, it is going to help you boost your self-esteem.
Be Kind to Yourself
One of the most common reasons that those who have experienced narcissistic abuse struggle with low self-esteem is because they blame themselves for being abused.
This happens because narcissists are really good at manipulating the people that they abuse into blaming themselves for the abuse.
In addition to the narcissist, flying monkeys and narcissist enablers often say and do things that manipulate the person being abused into blaming themself for the abuse.
For example, flying monkeys and narcissist enablers often say things like, “If he/she is that abusive, why don’t you just leave?”
After being abused and manipulated for months, years, or even decades, comments like these can destroy your self-esteem.
One of the ways that you can prevent this from happening is by being kind to yourself. Don’t be so self-critical, be compassionate with yourself.
When you are healing from narcissistic abuse, you will have to take responsibility for your situation and hold yourself accountable (i.e. I need to stop checking his/her social media because it isn’t helping me heal.”)
But that does not mean that the abuse that you experienced was your fault.
If you want to build self-esteem, you can start by being kind to yourself. Our community’s favorite way to do this is with daily affirmations (see below)
Learn How to Say “No” to People
After months, years, or even decades of narcissistic abuse, it is very common for you to feel like you have to say “yes” to people even when you don’t want to.
The reason that this happens is because narcissists expect and demand that you prioritize their thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs over your own.
For example, imagine that you and the narcissist in your life share a car.
One day you happen to have an important doctor’s appointment on the same day that the narcissist has a softball game.
The softball game is less than a mile from your house, so the narcissist could walk there. However, they don’t want to.
They get furious with you for your “poor planning” and refuse to let you have the car for your doctor’s appointment.
This is the narcissist demanding that you prioritize their thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs over your own.
After months, years, or even decades of this, you could develop an unhealthy habit of saying “yes” to things that you don’t want to say “yes” to.
Over time, this habit could cause low self-esteem and make you feel helpless, powerless, and fatigued.
However, learning how to say “no” to others can help you overcome this and build your self-esteem back up.
But to do this, you must acknowledge and accept that you have a right to prioritize your thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs.
This is easier said than done because you may fear that you’ll lose someone that you care about if you say “no” to them.
But as a general rule, people who truly respect you will never cut you out of their life because you said “no” to them. Instead, they will respect the boundary that you have set.
Give Yourself a Challenge
Narcissists have a fragile high self-esteem. This means that their feelings of self-worth are unstable, uncertain, based on unrealistically positive self-views, and entirely dependent on external validation and self-deception.
Because of how fragile a narcissist’s self-esteem is, they are constantly trying to compensate for this by proving their superiority and dominance over others.
In other words, they are constantly trying to prove to themselves and to others that they are special, unique, and important.
Because of this, it is very common for those being abused by a narcissist to have their abilities minimized, invalidated, and overlooked.
Again, this is because of how fragile a narcissist’s self-esteem is. They can’t stand the idea of competition, they have to be the best at all times to maintain emotional stability.
After months, years, or even decades of being minimized, invalidated, and overlooked, it is very common for you to lose sight of your abilities, and as a result, develop low self-esteem.
To overcome this, give yourself challenges.
This is very similar to our first piece of advice for building your self-esteem after narcissistic abuse which was to recognize what you are good at.
When you feel like the time is right, you are going to want to put yourself in situations where you are challenged.
This is going to help build your self-esteem because it will remind you of your abilities. It will remind you that you are capable of facing adversity. It will help you see that you are capable of being the best version of yourself.
Our article “Do Narcissists Have Low Self-Esteem” has a ton of helpful information that you can use to learn more about a narcissist’s fragile high self-esteem.
Focus on What You Can Control and Let Go of What You Can’t
Narcissistic abuse creates an overwhelming amount of painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions.
It is common for those escaping a narcissistic environment to struggle with helplessness, powerlessness, self-doubt, confusion, fear, guilt, shame, fatigue, loneliness, etc., all at the same time.
If the painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions aren’t addressed, you could very well find yourself trapped within the narcissistic abuse cycle indefinitely.
Now, a common mistake people make is trying to take on too much at once.
They set these high goals for themselves and their healing journey but never reach them because of how overwhelming everything is.
Over time, setting goals but never achieving them can destroy your self-esteem and lead you right back into the arms of the narcissist.
One of the best things that you can do to build self-esteem after narcissistic abuse is to focus on what you can control and let go of what you can’t.
For example, you could focus on stopping yourself from ruminating about the narcissist and the abuse you experienced and let go of the wish for things to be different.
Or you could focus on participating in a new activity on a regular basis to build self-esteem and let go of the need for an apology from the narcissist.
Focusing on the things that you can control and letting go of the things that you can’t control is one of the healthiest forms of self-love and self-care out there.
If you practice focusing on the things that you can control and letting go of the things that you can’t, over time, it will become a habit and help you build your self-esteem.
Practice Celebrating Yourself
One of the reasons that those being abused by a narcissist often develop such low self-esteem is because the narcissist does not allow them to succeed.
We mentioned this a bit when we recommended that you build self-esteem by giving yourself a challenge but narcissists are threatened by your success.
When you succeed around a narcissist it triggers the painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions that they have.
So, instead of feeling on top of the world, they begin to feel unlovable, unwanted, inadequate, weak, and worthless.
Because of this, narcissists want you to fail so they can protect their grandiose self-perception and maintain emotional stability.
Our article “Why Do Narcissists Want You to Fail?“ has a lot of helpful information about why narcissists want to see you, and everyone else around them, fail.
When you are around someone who is constantly encouraging you to fail, it is common for you to only focus on your failures.
As a result, you develop low self-esteem.
Celebrating yourself is one of the best ways that you can build self-esteem and start feeling better about yourself.
It doesn’t matter how small the success is, you should take time out of your day to celebrate it.
Improve Your Mental and Physical Health
Sadly, it is common for those being abused by a narcissist to have poor mental and physical health.
This is because the manipulation tactics that narcissists use force you to neglect yourself on a daily basis.
Remember, narcissists expect and demand that you prioritize their thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs over your own.
As a result, your mental and physical health takes a nosedive.
Working hard to improve your mental and physical health will help you feel better about yourself and improve your self-esteem.
Where can you start?
You could start improving your mental and physical health today by developing a daily routine that starts with physical exercise and ends with meditation.
There are so many different things that you could do to improve your mental and physical health, all you have to do is take the first step.
Do Things That Make You Happy
Having low self-esteem can turn you into a pretty negative person.
The constant self-criticism that low self-esteem causes can lead to persistent feelings of sadness, depression, anxiety, anger, shame or guilt.
Over time, this level of negativity can cause you to lose sight of your happiness.
What this means is that you could wake up one day and realize that you don’t even know what happiness is anymore.
To build self-esteem, you need to find ways to remind yourself that you deserve to be happy.
You can do this by doing things that make you happy on a regular basis.
If you are sitting there thinking to yourself, “I don’t know what makes me happy anymore” don’t worry, you can think back to our first piece of advice, recognize what you are good at, and do that.
What this means is you can start participating in new activities on a regular basis to find things that make you happy.
Doing things that make you happy will help you build self-esteem.
Become More Aware of Your Thoughts, Feelings, and Emotions
One of the reasons that building self-esteem after experiencing narcissistic abuse can be such a daunting task is because of how overwhelming the thoughts, feelings, and emotions narcissistic abuse creates can be.
You see, many survivors of narcissistic abuse spend months of their healing journey ruminating about the narcissist and the abuse that they experienced.
Rumination is defined as engaging in a repetitive negative thought process that loops continuously in the mind without end or completion.
If allowed to continue for too long, rumination can be incredibly dangerous to your mental health.
Falling into a deep rumination has been known to intensify feelings of helplessness, powerlessness, depression, self-doubt, anxiety, and many other painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions.
Over time, rumination can destroy your self-esteem and keep you trapped in the narcissistic abuse cycle.
To overcome this, you should work on becoming more aware of your thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs.
How can you do this?
We suggest that you try practicing mindfulness.
Mindfulness is defined as a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.
When trying to build self-esteem it is so important to be aware of your thoughts, feelings, and emotions because it will allow you to see how certain situations, thoughts, feelings, emotions, etc., affect your self-esteem and give you a chance to improve it.
Morella Devost, a Counselor and Clinical Hypnotherapist, Speaks About How Mindfulness Can Help Who Have Experienced Abuse
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What Should You Take Away From This Article?
In order to heal from narcissistic abuse, you are going to have to build self-esteem. This article has given you ten really good ways to build self-esteem but if you are looking for more guidance, you can join our community to hear from other survivors or reach out to one of the mental health professionals that we work with.
About the Author
Hey, I’m Elijah.
I experienced narcissistic abuse for three years.
I create these articles to help you understand and validate your experiences.
Thank you for reading, and remember, healing is possible even when it feels impossible.