If you’ve ever been in a relationship with a narcissist or a toxic person of any sort, you might have some experience with seeing the narcissist’s false self – and with being aware that there is a difference between the person the narcissist shows to the world at large and the one that lives at home behind closed doors.
Narcissists can be really tough to spot – and there are a number of reasons for it – one of which is the fact that they’re not really showing you their true selves – at least not at the beginning of the relationship during love-bombing (also known as the idealization phase).
But if you stick around long enough for them to become comfortable with you, a shocking and upsetting thing happens: their mask comes off and you see the true face of the narcissist. And believe me – it’s not pretty!
Today, let’s discuss the narcissist’s false self, how it develops and exactly what you are supposed to do with this information.
The Narcissist’s False Self Begins in Childhood
When you are born, you express yourself through instinct. On so many levels, that is your true self. Your instinct is to live which means you need to be fed, changed, and cuddled every few hours. There is no such thing as a perfect parent, but if your parents did the best they could and cared for you properly, then you would be showing your true self or authentic self.
But narcissists never show their true selves. In fact, they are living through what I’d call their false self.
Now don’t get me wrong here – just like you, the narcissist was born expressing themselves through instinct as well. But if they were not nurtured properly and were denied the things they needed, then they’d develop their false self and that is how they show themselves.
That happens because when an infant is not given what they need and are not nurtured the way they need to be nurtured, they are on their way to not being authentic in any way at all.
It is possible that one of their parents was a narcissist and in that case, their needs would not be met. They would be given responses of disapproval over and over again. If the child attempted to show their authenticity, it would be shot down.
On the flip side, maybe they were too indulged and never had proper discipline and balance. That can be damaging as well. Either way, along the way, their authentic self was replaced by an artificial persona. As they grow up, they begin to build a false set of relationships that are all based on a facade they show.
What Purpose Does The False Self Serve?
The false self is a protective mechanism that protects narcissists as children from feeling their dependency needs that were unmet. So, the false self blocks feelings of shame that the narcissist had from only having conditional love from their parents. It is also a way to prevent them from remembering any trauma or shock that is associated with being abandoned, neglected, or abused.
What Are The False Self Characteristics?
Those who are living through their false self can appear charming, well-mannered, and polite. Some part of you may see through this as their facade does not reveal who they really are – but it is easy to fall for this facade, even for the most intelligent people. Their false self had stopped them from feeling any type of empathy at all as all they cared about was having their own needs met, which never happened during childhood. And you can see how narcissists show their false self. That is because their authentic self is dead, empty, and there is nothing to offer.
Now you have an understanding of why narcissists have an inflated ego and can be abusive if they don’t get what they want and need – as in if they don’t get narcissistic supply. Now you also can see how the narcissist goes into fits of narcissistic rage when they are threatened with having their supply taken away or are rubbed the wrong way. And now you understand why they are insecure and how they would never allow their true selves to come out because it puts them to shame otherwise.
Why There’s So Much Confusion in Toxic Relationships
Because the narcissist nearly always hides behind this sort of “armor” that is the “false self,” they manage to fool you from very early on.
Your first impression of the narcissist was likely a very good one; that’s because he or she showed you only the best parts of themselves when you met – they constructed a series of qualities and traits that are those they present to the outside world.
This, along with their grandiosity and need for attention, can make it very difficult to see who they truly are – you’re stuck deciding whether you’ve really got the sweet and charming love you signed up for, or whether the wool was pulled over your eyes and the real him or her is actually the toxic, abusive, insulting and manipulative narcissist you’re dealing with in real life.
Of course, this leads you to a serious kind of mental torture that causes you to literally be at odds with yourself – we call that cognitive dissonance.
Cognitive Dissonance in Narcissistic Abuse
Cognitive dissonance is form of psychological stress or discomfort that happens when you simultaneously hold two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values. Often affects narcissists as well as their victims at different times and for very different reasons. So basically, when you’re dealing with cognitive dissonance, you are, for all intents and purposes, actively trying to reconcile the illusion you were initially presented with the person you have now got to deal with.
Here is a free cognitive dissonance toolkit I put together that will help you work through this if it is happening to you.
How Cognitive Dissonance Works Against You in a Toxic Relationship
In a lot of cases, in order to cope with this mess, you start trying to improve your SELF. Instead of recognizing that you’re dealing with a toxic person, you find yourself desperately trying to change yourself into something the narcissist seems to want and need. You blame yourself for their bad behavior – and that’s partly because they tell you it’s your fault. On the other side of the coin is the simple fact that some part of you KNOWS you can’t change the narcissist, but you care about them and you want to make it work. You DO know that you can change yourself, and so you go about the business of doing that.
Here’s the thing. In reality, some part of you must also recognize that you’re not the problem here. In fact, you’ve done nothing wrong and if you did, it was probably simply a reaction to the narcissist’s abuse. All you’re doing is trying to keep your relationship together, and on some level, you’re just subconsciously trying to uphold that initial impression you had of the narcissist – the image of his or her false self that is challenged during the inevitable devaluation phase.
Narcissistic Abuse and the Discard Phase
By the time you get to the discard phase (which, sadly is also inevitable with a narcissistic person – the cycle, like the beat, goes on), you’ll be treated to glimpses of the truly ugly face of the narcissist – the one that spews out the cruel and painful poison that causes you to lose all faith in yourself faster than you can say boo.
You become painfully aware of the coldness, the callous indifference that leads to what feels like absolute torture to you.
While your first reaction is that everyone has a bad moment and this can’t be who they really are, the truth is that this is probably the closest you’ll come to actually seeing the narcissist’s REAL self.
This is about the time you recognize that the amazingly charming or engaging or otherwise awesome person you got involved with in the first place is gone – and suddenly you see this horrible contempt that they seem to have developed for you. And when you realize they felt that way all along, your heart breaks a little more, if that’s possible.
But what you have to realize here is that none of this is your fault. In reality, narcissists are not capable of feeling genuine love or empathy for anyone else – they just use people to meet their own selfish needs. Once they exhaust one source of supply, it’s on to the next.
Don’t let yourself believe in the magical connection you once thought you had – it was just a part of the whole narcissistic abuse cycle – an illusion, just like the narcissist’s identity.
How to Deal with the Narcissist’s False Self
So now that you know all of this, what do you do with it? Well, you start picking up the pieces of yourself, and you begin the healing process.
In this video, you’ll also find a portion of a previous video attached to help you do exactly that. Remember this: You aren’t to blame – you were simply used as a pawn in the narcissist’s game. You are going to go forward, and when or if you can, you might want to go no contact (or low contact, if you’re forced to deal with them – say at work or as a co-parent).
Additional Resources for Understanding the Narcissist and the False Self
If you are looking for a deeper understanding of the narcissists’ false self and how it develops, watch: 4 Attachment Styles (How Attachment Theory Explains Narcissists and Codependents in Relationships)
And a few more videos that you might also find helpful!
- Narcissists in Old Age (What No One Tells You!)
- Narcissists and Jealousy
- Disarm the Narcissist (17 Ways – Your Ultimate Strategic Guide)
- How to Make a Narcissist Miss You After Discard in 4 Simple Steps
- Words That Destroy A Narcissist
Question of the Day: What have your experiences been when it comes to the narcissist in your life and his or her identity? Share your thoughts and experiences with me in the comments section below this video. Let’s discuss it.
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 QueenBeeing.com 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 at NarcissisticAbuseRecovery.Online.