Narcissists seem to be so very confident, to the point of arrogance. They seem as though they love themselves and hate everyone else. It’s reasonable, therefore, to wonder if they have doubts about themselves or can even hate themselves. But looks can be deceiving, and it’s important to understand what’s behind narcissistic behavior.
Narcissists are really hiding a fragile self-esteem and often have a strong sense of self-loathing. They behave like they do because they need other people to validate their grandiose ideas about themselves. To force compliance, they manipulate and bully the people around them.
Read on to discover the specifics of why the narcissist is often full of self-loathing and how that affects their behavior. It’s vital to gaining insight into how they feel inside and how you can better manage interactions with them.
Why Would a Narcissist Hate Themselves?
Narcissism is caused by dysfunctional parenting styles that leave children feeling as though they are inadequate and helpless. Either their abusive parents have told them time and again that they are worthless or their overly protective parents have done everything for them and made them feel entitled to good things without having to work for them.
In either case, the message the child receives is the same: you can’t do anything for yourself either because you are not good enough or because you’ve never learned how. When children are allowed to do things for themselves, they develop a strong, healthy sense of self that allows them to soothe themselves and prop up their ego even when they do fail.
When they are not allowed to learn how to do things they need to know, they never fully develop a sense of self, and they come to view themselves as bad or inadequate. Without a healthy ego, they can’t soothe themselves and tell themselves they are good even if they don’t know how to do something.
These children can come to hate their true selves and bury them deep inside. Because they need something to do the work of a healthy ego, however, they have to create a false self through which they are able to interact with the outside world. The problem with the false self is that it cannot self-soothe the narcissist or internally prop up their ego.
That’s why narcissists need other people. They need external validation of the grandiose ideas they impose on the false self to feel better about themselves. They need the people around them to constantly validate those ideas. If they don’t do that, the narcissist risks having to face what they believe is the ugly truth about their true worthless nature.
If Narcissists Hate Themselves, Why Do They Act the Way They Do?
As a self-protective measure, the developing narcissist created grandiose ideas about how they are omniscient or omnipotent, but they have no way to internally support those beliefs. In fact, buried deep inside is a fragile self-esteem that may be quietly whispering the opposite ideas.
That’s why narcissistic people need others to validate them. They need them to prop up that self-esteem and drown out the doubts they have about their true nature. To effectively quiet those doubts, they need people to almost constantly be feeding them a supply of adoration and admiration.
Moreover, they fear the loss of that constant praise because it will leave them alone with their thoughts. Their fear, therefore, drives them to be constantly trying to manipulate situations and people into saying the things they need to feel good about themselves.
That actually takes a lot of work, and to achieve that goal, they have developed a number of different manipulation techniques to both stimulate others to praise them and avoid the criticism they dread.
What are the Manipulation Techniques Narcissists Use?
In order to ensure themselves of a constant supply of love, praise, and admiration, narcissists have developed numerous techniques to get you to praise them and avoid any criticism. Here are a few of the behaviors they will employ for that purpose:
- Bragging: Grandiose narcissists will brag about all of their good qualities so that you will know how great they are and agree with them. While someone with a healthy ego would view that as arrogant, in the narcissist’s mind, you can’t possibly disagree with them when they point out their best characteristics.
- Fishing for Compliments: This is a tactic used by vulnerable or covert narcissists. They will often devalue themselves to get you to disagree with them. They want the same praise as the grandiose narcissist, but they go about getting it in a more subtle way. They want to hear you say something like, “Oh no! You’re so great. I don’t know why you would say something like that.” Outwardly they may brush off your compliment, but inwardly they’re smiling.
- Lying: Narcissists of all kinds will use deceit to try to hide what they perceive as flaws and get you to praise them and show them your love for them. They often shade the truth or outright lie to avoid any criticism. They are hypersensitive to that because they view it as revealing the truth about them.
- Gaslighting: When you have caught a narcissist outright in a lie, they will often employ gaslighting to misdirect you or make you think you misinterpreted what they said. They will accuse you of being overly sensitive or of misunderstanding what they really meant. At the time, you may have known for sure what they meant, but they are experts at making you question whether that was true later on.
Can a Narcissist be Helped?
Part of the problem with getting help for a narcissist is that they have built a veritable fortress internally to protect their fragile self-esteem. Because of that, they often can’t even admit they need help. They are loath to admit they have made any kind of mistake or that they are flawed in any way.
If you are able to get them to admit they have a problem and seek help, there are therapies that have shown promise in helping them explore the root causes of their condition and reduce their narcissistic behaviors. More specifically, cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the better therapies for helping narcissists as well as people with other types of Cluster B personality disorders.
If a narcissist is suffering from depression, a common co-occurring mental illness, they might also benefit from treatment with certain antidepressants. Whatever the treatment plan, you should know that it takes a strong commitment on the part of the narcissist and their loved ones to long-term therapy.
What Can I Do to Protect Myself from a Narcissist?
Probably the best answer here is to get away from them, but there are many reasons why you might not want to leave behind the narcissist in your life. You might simply love them or they might be a dependent child or an elderly parent. If that’s the case, there are some strategies you can use to protect yourself from narcissistic abuse.
Perhaps the best thing you can do is to identify, set, and maintain strong boundaries. Every violation of your boundaries by the narcissist should prompt consistent consequences each and every time. You also need to get your own emotional needs satisfied in other ways. A strong support network of friends and other loved ones can help you process the emotions you’ll surely feel after interacting with a narcissist.
You should also treat yourself to time away and maintain good self-care habits — like meditation, positive affirmations, and walking in nature — to help you feel loved. The key to staying around a narcissist is the ability to identify what problems are coming from them and which ones you might need to address. Let go of those issues that belong to them and focus on your own personal growth.
Narcissists can and do hate themselves, and that shows up in their behavior. Everything they do is designed to drown out the negative inner critic that is always waiting to point out where they have erred. While they can be helped, more often than not, they won’t even admit they have a problem.
To stay safe from narcissistic abuse, you need to be aware of their manipulative techniques and take action to care for your own physical and emotional needs. Without long-term therapy to correct and reduce their narcissistic behaviors, you’ll need to prioritize your own self-care.
It’s vital to understand the mind of a narcissist to truly understand their behaviors and to learn more, you’ll want to check out this post about what narcissists hate and fear the most. That will give you more valuable insight into why they act the way they do.
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