healing from identity loss

Healing from Identity Loss After Narcissistic Abuse

Crafting a self-identity is an ongoing process that most people don’t give much concrete thought to – it just kind of happens.

You slowly build interests and dreams. You take jobs, learn things, and experience different activities. This all shapes who you are, what you believe, and how you express yourself.

Then a narcissist enters your life. Well, they become your life: all your thoughts, feelings, hopes, words, and actions are ultimately subservient to them.

Many survivors of narcissistic abuse don’t even realize they’re suffering from a loss of self-identity until they’ve left the situation and aren’t sure what to do with themselves – their inner child and sense of identity have vanished.

How the Narcissist Forces a Loss of Self-Identity by Abusing Your Inner Child

If this all sounds familiar, you aren’t alone.

You probably (and rightfully) feel a lot of resentment and anger right now but you can move on. Healing from identity loss is a slow process but you’ll come out stronger, more dignified, and more assertive than ever before.

The Narcissist’s Misunderstood Sense of Self

Understanding the narcissist’s own self-identity is crucial for healing your self-image.

The narcissist doesn’t really have a sense of self or personality. They shapeshift by changing their thoughts, feelings, and emotions depending on who they’re trying to manipulate at any given moment. If you’ve spent any amount of time around a narcissist, you’ve probably noticed that they say completely different things about themselves to different people.

In reality, the narcissist doesn’t know who they are because they’re focused on short-term gratification: your attention, focus, energy, and resources. It’s very similar to how people with substance abuse chase a high from drugs, alcohol, or gambling. Your attention and energy are the narcissist’s high.

Their sense of self is rooted in manipulating people they perceive as vulnerable and putting on a façade to seem like a victim. Their self-image doesn’t really go any deeper than that.

Killing Your Inner Child Is a Deconstruction Process – Not a Demolition

A narcissist doesn’t strip your identity overnight. They subtly chip away more and more until every thought you have, word you speak, and action you take is worship and tribute to them.

This is when the denial starts.

You tell yourself they’re just a tortured soul – that they just need someone to support them and show them compassion. They have horrible stories about past abuse and toxic family members.

So you invest your time, energy, and self into the narcissist – but it’s not enough. It’s never enough.

You reevaluate everything you thought you knew about yourself. “I was stupid for thinking I could succeed in this career path,” you think. “He’s right. All my male friends just want in my pants,” you tell your other friends (if the narcissist hasn’t forced them away yet).

By the time you’re on the outside looking in, you’ll see every pebble that slowly created a landslide and wonder how on earth you didn’t notice it happening. This gradual process makes healing your self-image such a difficult challenge.

Learned Helplessness and Isolation: Creating an Emotional Blockade

Economic blockades are a tactic of war to strangle a nation’s or entity’s financial standing, demoralize civilians, and gain powerful leverage over an adversary. A blockade often causes prices for basic commodities and medical items to skyrocket, leading to starvation and disease.

The narcissist employs this same tactic (and if there’s physical abuse, you’d be under siege). Just like a blockade isolates a nation from the international community, the narcissist forms a mental and emotional blockade to isolate you from the rest of the world.

With isolation (and employing other tactics akin to torture), the narcissist puts you in a state of learned helplessness where they have complete control.

Resistance doesn’t work anymore. You’ve given up regaining control and have gone into survival mode. At this point, you might start to get depressed and feel incompetent or dabble in substance abuse to escape your reality.

Now the narcissist has you where they want you: complete dependence and a total loss of self-identity. That inner child energy you once had is gone. You exist for them.

Where Do You Draw the Line Between Healthy Bonding and Identity Loss?

By nature, all relationships require some emotional give and take. You give parts of your personality to a friend, coworker, family member, or partner while absorbing some of theirs.

We’ve all seen the jokes about how romantic couples morph into a singular being where individuals regularly use the term “we” out of context. This might make for funny TV shows, but it also means a person is experiencing a loss of self-identity.

But that example only applies to romantic relationships. It’s not exactly socially acceptable to consistently use the term “we” to describe relationships between parents and offspring, coworkers, friends, or other acquaintances. In these cases, a loss of self-identity is often even less obvious to the victim and outsiders than that of romantic relationships.

6 Warning Signs a Narcissist Is Diminishing Your Sense of Self and Inner Child

It’s not easy to notice a loss of self-identity as it’s happening because most of us don’t have a super strong sense of self to begin with. The narcissist knows this and uses it to their advantage – they prey on it.

Healing from identity loss is a long road, but first, you need to identify the signs that your sense of self is slipping away so you can figure out where to begin.

  1. You’ve missed out on major opportunities. In healthy relationships, people are supportive of each other. Does someone in your life guilt you out of accepting careers, education, travel, or other exciting opportunities?
  2. You’ve hit a plateau in life. Narcissists’ arguments, troubles, and problems take a lot of time, resources, and energy. If it feels like you’ve been spinning your wheels for months (or years) trying to please someone, they might be a narcissist. This could also involve symptoms of depression.
  3. You feel uncomfortable in your own skin. In romantic relationships, narcissists often put down their partner’s body to make the victim think no one else could desire them. Narcissistic parents may constantly criticize an offspring’s appearance or abilities.
  4. They don’t directly put you down, but they imply you’ll always fail. Some narcissists disguise themselves as realists providing a dose of reality. If a person in your life always has to mention the possible ways you could fail at something, they’re probably a narcissist.
  5. They’re always on your mind. You find yourself constantly wondering “what would X say” or “how would X react” before choosing how to react for yourself.
  6. You don’t know what to do when you’re alone. Maybe you end up trying to please the narcissist in your spare time by cleaning, buying gifts, or earning extra money for them. Maybe you spend your time relying on unhealthy coping tools like alcohol because it’s the only activity that seems “safe” (but the narcissist will throw it back at you later).

Healing Identity Loss Is an Ongoing Process

Just like the narcissist slowly chipped away at your identity, healing your self-image and restoring your inner child is a slow and continual process. Incorporate these points into your strategy for healing from identity loss.

  • Surround yourself with supportive people. Go back to the people the narcissist forced you to push away – they’ll understand. Most will validate your experience and you can absorb their positive personality traits in a healthy way.
  • Do something the narcissist always said you couldn’t. Maybe this is a hobby, career, or something you’ve always wanted to experience. Do something just because your inner child wants out. The narcissist has held you back for so long. It’s time to live on your own terms. Just make sure not to act out of spite.
  • Move slowly. At first, you may have a hard time communicating with other people and making decisions for yourself. It’s okay to not know everything about yourself yet. This is all part of healing from identity loss. If you move too fast, you might end up in another toxic situation or turning to unhealthy coping tools.
  • Set boundaries and stand your ground. There are plenty of narcissists and other abusive people out there. It’s important to know where your boundaries lie and stick to them. Where will you draw the line between a healthy relationship and loss of self-identity? What about discerning between constructive advice and abusive criticism?
  • Ban, block, and cut them out. A narcissist will use any opportunity to keep you in their web. “No contact” isn’t easy – especially since the narcissist forces you into a state of dependence – but it’s the only surefire way out of the abuse for good.

When you finally go “no contact” and rid yourself of the narcissist’s abuse, you’re going to feel uncomfortable. The narcissist has manipulated you into depending upon their approval, feelings, and wellbeing for so long that healing your self-image will feel selfish and unnatural.

It’s not. Healing from identity loss is possible and absolutely necessary to liberate your inner child from the narcissist once and for all.

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  1. Pingback: 3 Scary but Necessary Steps to Healing From Narcissistic Abuse - Kim Saeed: Narcissistic Abuse Recovery & Personal Growth

  2. Jerry H.

    Thank you again Kim. Everything said in this article applies to me. It took me about 4 years now to gain my individuality back. I still have SOME issues that surface at times, but I now know how to deal with them. I feel better knowing I am not alone.

    1. Kim Saeed

      I’m very happy to know you are healing and moving forward, Jerry. Thank you for stopping by and commenting 🙂


  3. Stella

    Hi Kim,

    I want to personally say a huge THANK YOU ?❤️ for helping people like me into recovery.
    I escaped my narcissist 2 years ago after 21 years with 5 children.
    I find the biggest hurdle to overcome is the reality you lived in was actually an illusion.
    The journey only starts when you dare leave.
    Only through reading your posts has helped me each day to understand what’s happening to me.
    You explain everything in such a way even a single word can scream my inner child out.
    Narcissism is like air you cannot see it, you cannot prove it’s
    To actually be able to go into a shop and choose something of a shelf has took me two years to accomplish.
    My story is tooo long to share but with you everyday helping my recovery I feel blessed it is slowly all explained to me.
    Your a Angel in disguise Kim
    I thank you from bottom of my heart for helping me with my journey.❤️❤️❤️

    1. Kim Saeed

      Hi Stella, thank you for writing in to let me know how I’ve helped you along your healing path. It is so heart-warming to know you’ve gotten encouragement from my blog. I am beyond happy for you and your children and sincerely hope that you continue to heal and find the happiness you deserve.


      Kim XoXo

  4. Thank you Kim for your support. I have come a long way and I still have a long way to go for complete healing of narc abuse.
    I am getting stronger every day though thank The Most High. Halleluyah.

  5. Gwen Stewart

    I enjoy reading your post, however, the depression is so weighty, that I just feel stuck. I’ve left the narc and I’ve gone NC. Sometimes, I feel like I’m loosing my mind. I want to move on, but, I feel helpless.

  6. Monica lane

    Can you explain when you say if you use alcohol to cope the narcissist will throw it back at you later ? My narc would always drink with me but say I have a problem or I drink too much but I only Drank because he forced me too and then he would degrade me about it later .

    1. Kim Saeed

      Hi Monica, I wish I had some helpful advice, but the only advice I can offer is to find a way to leave. The reason this is the only solution is that there is nothing you can do to change who he is or to control his actions/words. You can only control your own. Once you leave, then make sure he is blocked so you won’t be subjected to his verbal and emotional abuse.


  7. Sheryl Malin

    Hello, Kim
    I have been reading your posts for a few months now and they have opened my eyes and confirmed my suspicions about my husband’s mental state. Most of the things I read are right on but some are not therefore confusing me at times about my conviction that his is a narcissist. Contradictions include: he does not hover-in the beginning he did, I foolishly asked him to reconcile right after he filed for divorce and he said, “no”. Of course, I realize that this is because I served him with a TRO (3 weeks after his open heart surgery). The TRO was preceded by 17 years of lies, emotional cheating, smear campaigns, isolation, physical abuse, and the list goes on. The main difference is that he NEVER attempts to reconcile. He does not have someone in the cue but he continually casts his net. He is very sick and has been “doing damage control” with not only his family but mine. His family does not speak to me and m daughter does not want to talk to me.
    I feel awful about the TRO but you see, I had had surgery and I was 5 weeks post op. He pushed me on my surgical site. It was calculated and he intended it to hurt. This was my breaking point. I am a healer, a registered nurse and an Oriental Medicine practitioner; the TRO went against every grain in my mind, body, and soul.
    Do narcissist sometimes cut the cord and are not willing to return? I do not want this as I am getting stronger but it makes me wonder if he is a true narcissist. Every other sign is accurate and he has put me through all the things you speak about.
    Thank you so much for your articles, they have soldified my beliefs and keep me strong while moving forward with the divorce.
    Nameste, Sheryl

    1. Kim Saeed

      Hi Sheryl,

      I am sorry for your struggles. You deserve better than that.

      As someone on the outside looking in, you do not need the label of ‘narcissist’ to know that you did the right thing in leaving him. You’ve been abused in every way possible over a period of years. He’s an abuser, and most likely a narcissist, but this has been an ongoing pattern and not likely to change. Ever.

      I cannot predict whether he will try to come back. It would be in your best interest to have a backup plan in the event that he tries. Otherwise, the best thing you can do for yourself is cut the cords on your end and continue with the important work of healing.

      Kim XoXo

    1. Kim Saeed

      Thank you, Jay! Glad to know my article resonated with you 🙂


  8. Melissa

    I knew that I had become a shell of a person. I have started the healing process and been divorced for 1 year now. I still find that it’s difficult to feel free to discover myself again. I often find myself saying: “Melissa you can take your time and drive another route home”! “You can try that”! “You can travel on your own, it’s okay”! Discovering myself again is a process I forget that it’s okay, and it doesn’t need to be approved by anyone. It’s real hard to put into words but when you aren’t used to being a sovereign/ autonomous person and have been ruled over and treated as an object most of your life, it’s real hard to validate finding your true identity again.

    1. Kim Saeed

      Hi Melissa,

      I can relate to what you’re feeling. I remember after I’d moved out during one of my ex’s silent treatments and being somewhere in town…this feeling that I had to rush back home, even though there was no one to rush home to! In the beginning, I had to force myself not to drive back home, which was hard because on the occasions when I did rush back home, even though my apartment was empty, I felt a feeling of relief.

      It’s really difficult to overcome the conditioning, but it can be done. You can do this. Don’t give up on yourself.

      Kim XoXo

      1. Jerry H.

        Yes Mellisa, I believe it is called “Conditioning.” Your brain has been reprogrammed and in my case, I had to reprogram it. It took a few years, but it will come.

  9. An

    This post is very good for me. I got a lot of strength from your site. Thank you Kim. I really think my best friend is not what i thought he was. And i still cannot believe it sometimes but i think he really is a narcist. Constantly changing his mind, if he can be friends anymore. He often says he is better dan my husband. He lies a lot , wants to borrow money all the time. Wants to do things when he wants. Is saying almost everytime im always there for you. In the beginning a lot of things saying he wants to do with me, taking me to Marocco to show me everything, wants to go with me to a festival etc. But he did not .
    He came a couple of times a week because he needed me, now he comes when he has troubles. And he tells his girlfriend he now has for a year nothing about his serious troubles, large debts cause of a gambling addiction. A read a lot, and still sometimes i wonder, is he a narcist? Im very sad and depressed about it.

    1. Kim Saeed

      Hi An,

      I can sense your confusion. Perhaps I can help you. You don’t have to use the label of ‘narcissist’ or figure out if he is one or not. As an objective outsider, I can see this guy is just using you and his being in your life is extremely toxic to you. So, whether he’s a narcissist or not, it’s obvious that he doesn’t truly care about the relationship he has with you and he never will. You deserve better than what he is giving you and the best thing you can do for yourself and your future is to end things so you can begin healing.

      Wishing you the best,

      Kim XoXo

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