Narcissistic Abuse Takes You Away…From You (Here’s How)

Written by Angela Atkinson

There was a time in my life when, if you asked me a question about myself, I might not even know WHAT to say, or even if I did, I’d feel awkward saying it and wanted to get the attention off me as soon as possible.
And while I feel much more confident about myself these days, I still find myself struggling to say much of anything about myself in conversations – and I feel weird when people try to offer too much praise.
Still, when people ask me what I do for a living or anything else about myself, I tend to be brief and quickly change the subject. Can you relate?

What does narcissistic abuse feel like?

If you’ve ever been involved with a narcissist, there’s a point at which you go so deep into your own head that you see the world a little differently than everyone else.
It’s that feeling you get when you’re so oppressed in your relationship that most of your dialogue is now internal, so much so that you start to see through it all, and everyone around you seems artificial.
When you look at people who aren’t being actively manipulated and controlled by a narcissist, their life problems seem unreal. You almost feel like you’re the narcissist because you’re so deep in your head that you almost can’t find your empathy anymore.
This is the point at which you might find that you’ve forgotten how to even talk about yourself or your interests.
And it might be so significant that you actually don’t even know what your interests ARE.
This is when you know that the narcissist’s manipulation and control have shut you down – silenced you completely. You only speak as much as absolutely necessary and rarely, if ever, does your conversation involve yourself.
You sit there, still looking perfect on the outside, and you act like nothing is wrong.
You keep smiling and pretending that your life is as good as you make it look on social media.
You feel like a bit of a fraud as you try to project the image of the life you wish you had, rather than the private hell you’re actually living in.
Meanwhile, you live with constant threats of abandonment, either physically or emotionally.
The narcissist says they’ll leave you, or they threaten to stop loving you, or they say if you keep doing (or not doing) whatever they’re complaining about, they’ll stop caring about you entirely.
Or they say you can move out and go live a separate life.
“See how you like that,” they say.
At this point, you might be emotionally drained, exhausted, and pretty much numb Who could blame you?
But you’re asking yourself: how did I get here?

How do narcissists change your personality?

You might have previously been warm, friendly – even extroverted. But after being in this toxic relationship, you’re nowhere near the person you used to be.
Is it possible that the narcissist has changed you so much? What led to you losing yourself and becoming a shell of who you once were?

Narcissists Make Effective Communication Impossible

Communication is incredibly important in any relationship, but when we’ve been involved with narcissists, even the most skilled communicators can feel helpless and handicapped when it comes to being understood – narcissists will inevitably refuse to understand us, especially when what we’re saying is not something like “OMG, you’re so amazing.”

For example, try telling a narcissist exactly how you feel about how they belittle and invalidate you – and watch how they twist the conversation around.

In some extreme cases, you will end up apologizing for not thinking they’re perfect and for having the nerve even to suggest otherwise. I like to call that the “narcissistic flip,” but you might know it as “deflection.”

Either way, when we go through years of this, not to mention that narcissists often isolate their victims from others who might offer some support, we forget HOW to communicate – in a way.

We stop feeling like we can (or should) talk about OURSELVES, and we stop trying to make valuable contributions to conversations, partly because we’ve been conditioned to believe that we have nothing of value to say and nothing to offer.

Narcissists Condition You to Believe You Have Nothing of Value to Contribute

You know how I mentioned that I don’t really feel comfortable telling people about myself, and how during my toxic relationship, it was nearly impossible for me?

That was the case because the narcissists in my life, starting in childhood, had made it very clear to me that no one wanted to hear about me.

In other words, I had been conditioned to think nothing about me was interesting or worth hearing about.

This situation is very common for survivors of narcissistic abuse. We believe we’re not good enough and that no one wants to hear what we have to say anyway.

When we do speak up, we tend to keep it short and to the point when it relates to ourselves or our own opinions or beliefs – if we say anything at all.

Narcissistic Abuse Leads to Mental Health Issues

When we go through narcissistic abuse, we might deal with depression.

We might also develop other issues – various compulsive behaviors, an eating disorder, or a substance abuse problem – because sometimes, we try to ” self-medicate” to deal with our issues.

We could have flashbacks or panic attacks, and we will most definitely deal with a certain amount of self-doubt. Some of us experience suicidal thoughts – and in the worst cases, some people find themselves seeking or even carrying out the abuse they experienced as a child.

On the flip side, you may go so far in the other direction that you are a different kind of unhealthy – for example, an abused child who grows up to be a doormat parent (as in, allowing your kids to become spoiled and run the show).

It’s a fine line, isn’t it?

Narcissists Actively Trigger Your Trauma Response

The narcissist’s goal is to be in control, and they have no limits to which they will not stoop to get what they want.

And since most people who get involved with narcissists report that they’ve had some form of trauma in childhood, whether that’s related to abusive parents or some other kind of trauma, it’s your history of trauma in relationships that opens you up to being triggered when they start playing their typical mind games.

You might notice heightened reactions to various common relationship issues when you’re actively dealing with the abuse. That means you might be triggered over something small, such as an innocently used phrase that used to mean something awful.

For example, as one of my clients explained: her narcissistic mother would always say, “Who are you trying to impress?”

So when she was later in a relatively healthy relationship, her partner uttered this phrase, triggered her, and caused her to revert for a moment to that little girl who never felt good enough.

We may also withdraw and become unresponsive when triggered by our old issues, which affects our ability to communicate, and we almost always feel a serious aversion to conflict.

This can lead to an inability to talk through our issues, especially if we feel judged or like the person we’re communicating with is somehow not on our side.

Narcissists Foster Your Self-Doubt

Narcissists have a way of digging deep to find the most painful issues you have, and then they poke at them. This is only part of the reason that most of us end up living with lingering doubt about how people in our lives feel about us.

It’s also part of why many of us end up doubting people’s authenticity, especially when the narcissists in our lives include romantic partners in the past.

And thanks to the fact that many of us have never felt loved unconditionally, we often find ourselves having difficulty accepting any love at all – we are suspicious of people who try to offer it to us.

We often need repeated reassurance of the fact that someone cares about us.

This can push people away from us and isolate us further, making it even harder to talk about yourself with any confidence.

The narcissist leaves you feeling constantly scattered and confused. This sort of fog you’re living in means that you are easier to control and manipulate.

See, due to the stress and the sort of primal mode you are in during the depths of the abuse, you start to feel crazy and begin to doubt your perception once the full effect of the gaslighting kicks in.

You might even feel dependent on the narcissist to tell you what you see and think in some cases, and now not only are they controlling your actions and your thoughts and feelings.

Narcissists Use Your Fears Against You

The narcissist knows what you’re afraid of, and they use your fears to maintain full control.

They established that you can and will be moved by your fear of losing them or being alone. Not only is that the most common human fear, but narcissists actively exploit this in most of their romantic relationships.

This works especially well on people who also experienced childhood trauma, as we tend to hold on to anyone who claims to love us for dear life.

And, if you’re anything like I was, one of your biggest fears might be that you’ll be the last one to know your relationship is over.

You are afraid of being humiliated in a situation where you’re the only one who doesn’t know what’s happening in your own relationship.

What if the narcissist is right about you?

Many of us also worry that some toxic person in our life was right about us and that we’re the complete piece of trash we’ve done our best to avoid being for our whole lives.

We wonder if we are doomed to being not good enough (or otherwise deficient) forever.

This leads to something that, if you don’t recognize it, could pretty much keep you stuck forever:

You get deeper and deeper into the trauma bond. You become fully enmeshed with the narcissist.

They control you through the active infliction of their perception.

They teach you (and make sure you don’t forget) that their needs are always more important than yours.

They make you feel like you’re not a real person and that your feelings, thoughts, and ideas aren’t relevant or worth expressing – not to mention worth actually hearing or implementing.

That prevents you from reaching your true potential as you lose yourself a little more each day. It changes you and could limit you forever if you allow it.

So, how do you find yourself again? How do you remember who you are? 

Question of the Day

Can you relate to losing yourself and your voice during a toxic relationship with a narcissist? Did you forget how to talk about yourself, too? Share your thoughts, ideas, and experience in the comments section.

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  • Angela Atkinson

    Angela Atkinson is a certified trauma counselor and the author of more than 20 books on narcissism, narcissistic abuse recovery, and related topics. A recognized expert on narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder who has studied and written extensively on narcissistic personality disorder and narcissistic abuse in toxic relationships since 2006, she has a popular narcissistic abuse recovery YouTube channel. Atkinson was inspired to begin her work as a result of having survived toxic relationships of her own. Atkinson offers trauma-informed narcissistic abuse recovery coaching and has certifications in trauma counseling, life coaching, level 2 therapeutic model, CBT coaching, integrative wellness coaching, and NLP. She is a certified trauma support coach and certified family trauma professional. She also has a professional PTSD counseling certification. Her mission is to help those who have experienced the emotional and mental devastation that comes with narcissistic abuse in these incredibly toxic relationships to (re)discover their true selves, stop the gaslighting and manipulation, and move forward into their genuine desires – into a life that is exactly what they choose for themselves. Along with her solution-focused life coaching experience, Atkinson’s previous career in journalism and research helps her to offer both accurate and understandable information for survivors of abuse in a simple-to-understand way that helps to increase awareness in the narcissistic abuse recovery community. Atkinson founded Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support, the SPANily Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support Groups and the Life Makeover Academy. She offers individual and group coaching for victims and survivors of narcissistic abuse here at and at NarcissisticAbuseRecovery.Online.

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