It’s virtually impossible to have longstanding exposure to narcissistic people (and systems) without being psychologically scarred.  Perhaps you were brought up in a narcissistic family, or maybe you married someone who proved to be irrationally selfish and controlling. Perhaps a new member of the extended family has interfered with your kids or grandchildren.  You may have worked in settings dominated by grossly insensitive individuals.  Or perhaps you have been socially shunned.  

The possibilities are many.  And within each scenario, the potential exists for power games, unruly emotions, invalidations, dehumanization, dominance, abuse, evasiveness, and much more.  Narcissists persistently seek their own rewards with little regard for the impact they leave.  And worse, they are masters at gaslighting since they predictably respond to your frustrations by blaming you.  

As you age, it’s possible to recalibrate, moving beyond the tensions they create, but it can be a tedious process. 

Narcissists are threatened by your desires for independence, yet freedom from the narcissist is precisely what is necessary.  

Your psychological scars come in the form of life patterns or habits that ultimately work against healing.  We’ll examine some ways to soothe your scars, but first, let’s identify twelve of the most common scars that emerge from exposure to narcissistic people.

How many of the following scars are common to you?

  1. Love and goodness have been drained from you.  Due to messages of disapproval and disdain, you can wonder if it’s even possible to maintain clean relationships.  This can result in you feeling detached, or perhaps cynical.
  1. You take responsibility for minimizing others’ agitations.  Due to a history of receiving many gripes and complaints, you wonder what you must do to minimize further complaints, keeping others from being ticked off.
  1. You have learned to distrust calm times.  Experience with narcissists reveal that even when life seems smooth, it is only a matter of time before disruptions recur.  The narcissist’s consistent inconsistency has robbed you of steady contentment.
  1. You have been trained to think in terms of rules, duties, and obligations.  The narcissist inevitably had an agenda, prompting you to look outwardly, not inwardly, for guidance about managing tasks and differences.
  1. Resentment and bitterness have become too powerful.  Because it is virtually impossible to reason with narcissists about frustrations, your stifled emotions can become toxic, prompting ongoing feelings of contempt.
  1. You defend when it is unnecessary.  Narcissists are habitually offensive, throwing accusations and shame at you.  Therefore, your instinct toward self-protection can become so strong that you over-justify your actions and decisions.  Guarded feelings can prevail.
  1. You carry annoyance and intolerance in general.  As defeated feelings toward the narcissist accumulate, your unresolved tensions are increasingly difficult to contain.  Often, the result is displacing your frustrations in a broad array of unrelated situations.
  1. You ask unnecessary questions.  Narcissists like to keep you guessing about the legitimacy of your thoughts or preferences.  This can result in you asking questions like:  Does that make sense?  What do you think?  Are you upset?
  1. You are reluctant to reveal mistakes.  Narcissists can be so predictably critical that you can dread anyone learning about your mistakes, or just simple differences.  With a history of being told how wrong you are, you can be quite hesitant to be vulnerable.
  1. You can indulge self-sabotaging behaviors.  Often, feelings of futility with narcissists can run so deeply that you think: “Who cares if they get mad, I’ll just do my own thing anyway.”  This can lead to problems with addictions, hanging out with the wrong crowd, or being generally irresponsible or defiant.
  1. You hold onto judgments that do not belong to you.  If you hear insults and complaints often enough, it can drown out the positive thoughts you have about yourself, causing you to feel inadequate and uncertain.
  1. You indulge extreme thoughts about future close relationships.  Given your disillusionment with narcissists you can go to one extreme or the other…refusing to be committed to any deep relationships or craving closeness as a matter of compensation.

As you identify these potential psychological scars, it is essential to ask:  Is this who I want to be?

Narcissists can rob you of much joy, causing you to be more reactive than proactive about your life patterns. 

But those scars do not have to predominate.  You may indeed be scarred, but you are not permanently lame. 

With determination (often it is helpful to seek professional therapy or recovery programs), it’s possible to rise above the narcissist’s wounding messages.  You can develop new ways of seeing yourself.  For instance, you can conclude:

  • I’m stronger than the narcissist ever gave me credit for.
  • My past does not mandate who I am today.
  • The pain I experienced can now become my teacher.
  • Dignity is a choice.  Respect is a choice.  Civility is a choice.  And it begins with me claiming those qualities as my own.
  • What the narcissist meant for my detriment fuels my determination to be a different person today.
  • I’m defined by my own values and ideals, not by anyone else’s impositions.
  • I was hurt.  I am now healing.  I will become a better person.

Narcissists may have tried to fill you with vitriol, but even though you carry scars, there is still much good within yourself to discover.  Tap into it.

~Les Carter, Ph.D.

To watch the video on this topic, click here.