Do you find yourself full of doubt when you try to make a decision?
Do you feel more like an impostor than like you belong in your own life?
Do you question whether you matter?
If you answered yes to any of these questions then you may have had to sacrifice your own self-confidence to survive narcissistic abuse. Although I don’t think it’s possible to offer a prescription for how to recover self-confidence in one fell swoop after narcissistic abuse. It is possible to identify and practice the conditions in one’s life that can allow for the experience of self-confidence to come forth. In today’s post I’m going to explain these 3 conditions that are necessary for your self-confidence to return.
By practicing these conditions in your life you might be able to:
- Feel more confident in your ability to make and sustain new safe relationships
- Take on personal and professional goals that are important to you
- Believe in yourself even when others disagree with you
Well, my name is Jay Reid and I specialize in helping individuals recover from narcissistic abuse in individual therapy and through my online course & accompanying facebook group. I like to think of therapy and my online course as ways to afford each survivor a map of this journey so that they can know the best path to take for themselves. Of course, each survivor must travel this path themselves but a map can be tremendously important to do this with.
And there are 3 features on this map that I call the 3 Pillars to Recovery: Pillar # 1: Making sense of what happened, Pillar # 2 Gaining distance from the narcissistic abuser, and Pillar # 3: living in defiance of the narcissist’s rules. Lastly, one can’t do this in a vacuum. It is essential to find and participate in communities of people who can get, validate, and support you on this path. Today’s post falls under Pillar #3: living in defiance of the narcissist’s rules.
If you were a scapegoat survivor of a narcissistic parent or partner then I encourage you to check out my free e-book on this topic. It’s called Surviving Narcissistic Abuse as the Scapegoat and goes into other important aspects of what it’s like to be in the shoes of the scapegoat child or partner of the narcissistic abuser. From self-limiting beliefs about yourself that you must adopt to survive to why the narcissistic personality is so geared to put those closest to them down. This e-book can help you realize how none of this abuse was your fault but the product of the narcissist’s psychological and emotional problems. You can find the link to the book by clicking here.
The problem of self-confidence for children of narcissists
If someone has good-enough parents who are not threatened by a child’s abilities and successes then that child will likely develop a reasonable amount of self-confidence. The playing field is not even for children of narcissists however. In these cases, the child in the scapegoat role must be careful not to outdo the parent lest they step out of the ‘less-than’ status that the narcissistic parent needs to see them as.
As I’ve said in other posts, the narcissistic parent needs to see the scapegoat child in this light because they can’t tolerate their own core feelings of worthlessness and shame. Instead the narcissistic parent relocates these feelings – unconsciously – into the scapegoat child and acts in ways that coerce that child to identify with those feelings. So the scapegoat child often grows up feeling very bad about who they are and it’s often only in recovery that they become convinced that these feelings were not really theirs.
They were feeling these ways about themselves to breathe the only air the narcissistic parent allowed them to breathe. That is, the child had to have some sort of relationship with the parent but the only shared reality the narcissistic parent afforded that child was one where the child was always to blame. For these reasons, it may seem impossible for the scapegoat child develop a feeling of self-confidence while under the authority of the narcissistic parent. This is particularly the case if no other adult intervenes on the child’s behalf or offers the child a healthier form of relationship.
People who are in the process of recovering from a relationship where they had to feel ‘less-than’ in order to make things work understandably yearn for a sense of confidence in who they are and what they can contribute. I think that regaining such confidence is integral to knowing that one is ‘equal-to’ others.
What gets in the way of self-confidence for survivors of narcissistic abuse?
I think the main obstacle is being forced to adopt beliefs about oneself that are incompatible with self-confidence. For example, if a survivor believes that if they demonstrate their abilities then others will find them to be a fraud, then that person will be unlikely to feel confident or express their abilities. And these beliefs are not necessarily fictional when living with a narcissistic abuser. You may have experienced your narcissistic parent or partner to react with utter disbelief and a hurtful alternative explanation of your display of confidence that it was an “act” but that they know the “real you”.
If you think of your natural self-confidence as a hot spring. I like this analogy because a hot spring happens in nature when water is deep below the earth’s surface but then heats up by virtue of deep geothermal activity. As that water heats up it rises through the cracks of the rocks between it and the surface and can form a hot spring where the warm water comes spurting out of the earth. These self-confidence thwarting beliefs are like big slabs of rock laid across the rising hot water so that it never sees the surface. It gets turned back to where it came from.
So what conditions can be put in place to help bring forth your self-confidence?
The good news is that since you may have had to learn to actively suppress your own self-confidence there be an opportunity to understand how that suppression happens, learn that it’s now safe to do otherwise, and experiment with allowing yourself to feel more self-confidence.
Involve yourself in relationships with people who are not narcissistic
First, it is important to involve yourself in relationships with people who are not narcissistic. Of course, if you’re template for relationship is to accommodate someone who’s narcissistic then this may be easier said than done. That’s OK. It may take some trial and error to determine who is a safe person and who is not. But the important point is to keep one’s eyes focused on finding and maintaining relationships who do not require you to suppress your self-confidence in order for them to feel intact.
Put distance between yourself and the narcissistic abuser
Second, is to get out of harm’s way. That is put distance between yourself and the narcissistic abuser. I know I sound like a broken record on this point but I don’t think its importance can be overstated. When you are in close contact with a narcissistic parent or partner our survival-based mechanisms can’t help but kick in. And the mechanism of forbidding yourself to feel confident can certainly be included. By distance I mean emotional and psychological distance which may or may not also require physical distance.
Experiment with ways of living that you would do if or when you feel confident
Third is to experiment with ways of living that you would do if or when you feel confident. By practicing or not holding back from activities that you would do if you felt confident you are letting yourself know that you are now permitted to do confidence-inspiring things in the world. This is where acts of self-care come in. Prescribing daily acts designed to take care of your wellbeing is a great example.
If you feel anxious or depressed these acts can feel very difficulty. Yet if there’s a way to get them done repeatedly then over time a person tends to feel better. A great resource for how to exercise self-care after narcissistic abuse is my free webinar that gives you 7 specific tools you can apply in your life. If you haven’t already done so, I highly encourage you to check it out. You can find the link here.
The common thread across these 3 conditions is that none of them promise to get you to feel confident. Rather they either remove an obstacle to feeling confident thereby paving the way for you to eventually feel safe to entertain your own confidence or they get you in the habit of doing things for yourself that could inspire confidence. Although there’s no magic bullet to feel confident right away there also does not need to be any delay in creating these conditions in your life.
There’s a form of therapy called Acceptance & Commitment Therapy. One of the tenets of this therapy that I really like is that emotions, thoughts, and feelings are inner private events and we have very little control over our inner private events. It may seem a bit despairing to consider this but it can eventually be incredibly liberating because then we get to point ourselves in whatever direction we want in life so long as we are willing to have whatever private events come up as we proceed in that direction.
Today’s 3 conditions very much fall within this ACT philosophy. I would just add that it might also setup a binary of whether you succeed or fail at moving in the direction. In the aftermath of traumatic levels of narcissistic abuse, it may feel like too much at times to maintain these 3 conditions in your life. I would say that exercising compassion and patience towards yourself in these moments is its own victory in the process of recovery and you can always come back tomorrow to resume your efforts.
Jay Reid is a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC). If you are considering therapy for overcoming a childhood with one or more narcissistic parents please contact me for a free 15-minute phone consultation.