Crafting a self-identity is an ongoing process that most people don’t give much concrete thought to – it just kind of happens.
You slowly build interests and dreams. You take jobs, learn things, and experience different activities. This all shapes who you are, what you believe, and how you express yourself.
Then a narcissist enters your life. Well, they become your life: all your thoughts, feelings, hopes, words, and actions are ultimately subservient to them.
Many survivors of narcissistic abuse don’t even realize they’re suffering from a loss of self-identity until they’ve left the situation and aren’t sure what to do with themselves – their inner child and sense of identity have vanished.
If this all sounds familiar, you aren’t alone.
You probably (and rightfully) feel a lot of resentment and anger right now but you can move on. Healing from identity loss is a slow process but you’ll come out stronger, more dignified, and more assertive than ever before.
The Narcissist’s Misunderstood Sense of Self
Understanding the narcissist’s own self-identity is crucial for healing your self-image.
The narcissist doesn’t really have a sense of self or personality. They shapeshift by changing their thoughts, feelings, and emotions depending on who they’re trying to manipulate at any given moment. If you’ve spent any amount of time around a narcissist, you’ve probably noticed that they say completely different things about themselves to different people.
In reality, the narcissist doesn’t know who they are because they’re focused on short-term gratification: your attention, focus, energy, and resources. It’s very similar to how people with substance abuse chase a high from drugs, alcohol, or gambling. Your attention and energy are the narcissist’s high.
Their sense of self is rooted in manipulating people they perceive as vulnerable and putting on a façade to seem like a victim. Their self-image doesn’t really go any deeper than that.
Killing Your Inner Identity Is a Deconstruction Process – Not a Demolition
A narcissist doesn’t strip your identity overnight. They subtly chip away more and more until every thought you have, word you speak, and action you take is worship and tribute to them.
This is when the denial starts.
You tell yourself they’re just a tortured soul – that they just need someone to support them and show them compassion. They have horror stories about past abuse and toxic family members.
So you invest your time, energy, and self into the narcissist – but it’s not enough. It’s never enough.
You reevaluate everything you thought you knew about yourself. “I was stupid for thinking I could succeed in this career path,” you think. “He’s right. All my male friends just want in my pants,” you tell your other friends (if the narcissist hasn’t forced them away yet).
By the time you’re on the outside looking in, you’ll see every pebble that slowly created a landslide and wonder how on earth you didn’t notice it happening. This gradual process makes healing your self-image such a difficult challenge.
Learned Helplessness and Isolation: Creating an Emotional Blockade
Economic blockades are a tactic of war to strangle a nation’s or entity’s financial standing, demoralize civilians, and gain powerful leverage over an adversary. A blockade often causes prices for basic commodities and medical items to skyrocket, leading to starvation and disease.
The narcissist employs this same tactic (and if there’s physical abuse, you’d be under siege). Just like a blockade isolates a nation from the international community, the narcissist forms a mental and emotional blockade to isolate you from the rest of the world.
With isolation (and employing other tactics akin to torture), the narcissist puts you in a state of learned helplessness where they have complete control.
Resistance doesn’t work anymore. You’ve given up regaining control and have gone into survival mode. At this point, you might start to get depressed and feel incompetent or dabble in substance abuse to escape your reality.
Now the narcissist has you where they want you: complete dependence and a total loss of self-identity. That inner child energy you once had is gone. You exist for them.
Where Do You Draw the Line Between Healthy Bonding and Identity Loss?
By nature, all relationships require some emotional give and take. You give parts of your personality to a friend, coworker, family member, or partner while absorbing some of theirs.
We’ve all seen the jokes about how romantic couples morph into a singular being where individuals regularly use the term “we” out of context. This might make for funny TV shows, but it also means a person is experiencing a loss of self-identity.
But that example only applies to romantic relationships. It’s not exactly socially acceptable to consistently use the term “we” to describe relationships between parents and offspring, coworkers, friends, or other acquaintances. In these cases, a loss of self-identity is often even less obvious to the victim and outsiders than that of romantic relationships.
6 Warning Signs a Narcissist Is Diminishing Your Sense of Self
It’s not easy to notice a loss of self-identity as it’s happening because most of us don’t have a super-strong sense of self to begin with. The narcissist knows this and uses it to their advantage – they prey on it.
Healing from identity loss is a long road, but first, you need to identify the signs that your sense of self is slipping away so you can figure out where to begin.
- You’ve missed out on major opportunities. In healthy relationships, people are supportive of each other. Does someone in your life guilt you out of accepting careers, education, travel, or other exciting opportunities?
- You’ve hit a plateau in life. Narcissists’ arguments, troubles, and problems take a lot of time, resources, and energy. If it feels like you’ve been spinning your wheels for months (or years) trying to please someone, they might be a narcissist. This could also involve symptoms of depression.
- You feel uncomfortable in your own skin. In romantic relationships, narcissists often put down their partner’s body to make the victim think no one else could desire them. Narcissistic parents may constantly criticize an offspring’s appearance or abilities.
- They don’t directly put you down, but they imply you’ll always fail. Some narcissists disguise themselves as realists providing a dose of reality. If a person in your life always has to mention the possible ways you could fail at something, they’re probably a narcissist.
- They’re always on your mind. You find yourself constantly wondering “what would X say” or “how would X react” before choosing how to react for yourself.
- You don’t know what to do when you’re alone. Maybe you end up trying to please the narcissist in your spare time by cleaning, buying gifts, or earning extra money for them. Maybe you spend your time relying on unhealthy coping tools like alcohol because it’s the only activity that seems “safe” (but the narcissist will throw it back at you later).
Healing Identity Loss Is an Ongoing Process
Just like the narcissist slowly chipped away at your identity, healing your self-image and restoring your inner child is a slow and continual process. Incorporate these points into your strategy for healing from identity loss.
- Surround yourself with supportive people. Go back to the people the narcissist forced you to push away – they’ll understand. Most will validate your experience and you can absorb their positive personality traits in a healthy way.
- Do something the narcissist always said you couldn’t. Maybe this is a hobby, career, or something you’ve always wanted to experience. Do something just because your inner child wants out. The narcissist has held you back for so long. It’s time to live on your own terms. Just make sure not to act out of spite.
- Move slowly. At first, you may have a hard time communicating with other people and making decisions for yourself. It’s okay to not know everything about yourself yet. This is all part of healing from identity loss. If you move too fast, you might end up in another toxic situation or turning to unhealthy coping tools.
- Set boundaries and stand your ground. There are plenty of narcissists and other abusive people out there. It’s important to know where your boundaries lie and stick to them. Where will you draw the line between a healthy relationship and loss of self-identity? What about discerning between constructive advice and abusive criticism?
- Ban, block, and cut them out. A narcissist will use any opportunity to keep you in their web. “No contact” isn’t easy – especially since the narcissist forces you into a state of dependence – but it’s the only surefire way out of the abuse for good.
When you finally go “no contact” and rid yourself of the narcissist’s abuse, you’re going to feel uncomfortable. The narcissist has manipulated you into depending upon their approval, feelings, and wellbeing for so long that healing your self-image will feel selfish and unnatural.
It’s not. Healing from identity loss is possible and absolutely necessary to liberate your inner child from the narcissist once and for all.
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