How to rebuild self-esteem after narcissistic abuse
People with narcissistic traits are often manipulative, critical, and need to be the center of attention. Abusers rarely acknowledge their shortcomings and will convince you that you’re the problem. They can be volatile and unwilling to compromise. You may begin to second guess yourself, lose trust in your own judgement, and walk on eggshells around them. After abuse you might feel inferior and defective, like something is wrong with you. You might feel like you can’t do anything right and be afraid to assert yourself. Trauma and abuse affect self-esteem, or how you feel about yourself. Our goal is to have high self-esteem, meaning you feel good about yourself most of the time. It means knowing you are worthwhile and have value even when you make mistakes.
Rebuilding self-esteem is a process that you’ll need to consistently work on. Over time you will start to feel better about yourself and as a result will treat yourself better, spend time with people who are healthy and kind, and reawaken your dreams and goals for the future. It is very difficult to build self-esteem while you are still experiencing abuse, it’s like swimming against the tide. If you are in an abusive relationship, please reach out for help by calling a trusted friend or family member, a domestic violence victim advocate, or counselor.
Here are five strategies for rebuilding self-esteem:
1. Practice self-care: When you practice self-care, you are showing yourself that you are worthy and deserve to be happy and healthy. Consistent acts of self-care such as eating when you feel hungry, resting when you are tired, and connecting with others when you feel lonely, build your sense of worthiness.
2. Connect with your authentic self: When so much of your time and energy is focused on someone else, you lose sight of who you are, what matters to you, and what you like to do. It’s hard to have high self-esteem if you don’t know who you are. Take some time every day to reconnect with yourself. You can try journaling or meditation, try something new to see if you like it, or get back into a hobby you used to enjoy.
3. Trust yourself: It’s important that you know you can trust yourself and your judgement. You can build trust with yourself the same way you build trust with others. Start by keeping your word to yourself. If you tell yourself you are going to do something, do it. It’s important to have reasonable and achievable goals so start with small commitments that you know you can accomplish. This isn’t the time to set lofty unrealistic goals. Keep it simple and the more you can follow through, the more you build self-trust. You will sense that you can count on yourself and your own judgement about the decisions you make for your life.
4. Listen to your feelings: Our feelings provide valuable information. It’s important to pay attention to your feelings so you can act accordingly to take care of yourself. For example, feeling scared alerts you to danger so you can seek safety. Pay attention to the bodily sensations that accompany your feelings. How does your body feel when you’re tired? What sensations let you know you’re hungry? What are the signs that you feel anxious or worried?
5. Be assertive: Setting boundaries and being assertive protects you from being mistreated and is necessary for your health and wellbeing. Assertiveness reinforces that your opinions and needs matter. For many abuse survivors being assertive can feel very uncomfortable, even scary. You can practice being assertive with “safe people.” Safe people are those who respect you and your boundaries, care about your opinions and wellbeing, and can tolerate disagreements. Start by speaking up about small things and work your way up to setting more important boundaries. This will help you build confidence in your boundary setting.
If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence, Crisis Services of North Alabama can help. Advocates provide free, confidential support to survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. Victim advocates can help victims create a safety plan, navigate the criminal justice system, know and understand their rights as crime victims, and obtain other services and support they may need. Please contact us locally at 256.574.5826, on our 24/7 HELPline at 256.716.1000, or on our website csna.org.