One abusive tactic narcissists or Other-blamers use in their relationships is to sow self-doubt in the victim, so that the victim is emotionally weakened and has less confidence. This has several benefits to the narcissist.
First, it helps the narc ensure that the victim will not challenge or question the narc, because this is a key goal. Narcs always seek to avoid criticism or accountability. A person who is feeling doubt about their opinions will be less likely to question the behaviors of the narcissist, so the narc can go on with their lying, cheating, etc. without repercussions.
Second, the narcissist also gets to feel superior to the victim, which helps boost their fragile ego. Narcissists want to feel they are better than others, whether that is smarter, more athletic, better dressed, or richer.
Third, the narcissist gets to vindicated that they are “right” about an issue and the victim is “wrong.”
Fourth, when the narcissist creates doubt in the victim, it can lead the victim to become anxious and perhaps even self-sabotage their own self-confidence — essentially doing the narcissist’s job for them!
One patient of mine “Monica” (not her real name) was a successful business executive, but when she considered applying for a new position, her husband questioned her ability to do the job. So she did not apply for the job and stayed where she was, which limited her income and career potential, and even eventually sapped her confidence to do that job.
I had experience with an Other-blamer destroying my self-confidence when I was younger. I was recruited to play golf at a college in California by a coach I’ll call “Linda.” Little did I know that I triggered in her some jealousy that led her to destroy my golf swing that season. I arrived on campus shooting in the high 70s on difficult competition golf courses, which is a very good score. I was striking the ball very well and feeling as confident in my game as I ever had. Linda immediately decided to re-build my golf swing — which is a terrible coaching decision two weeks before a college competition season begins. She had me start doing repetitive drills that took all the rhythm and athleticism out of my swing. I started over thinking each element of my swing and within a week I could barely hit the golf ball. Suddenly I was scoring over 100 in tournaments — a tremendously embarrassing experience that destroyed my confidence and sense of self. On one driving range before a tournament I was shanking the ball so bad I almost didn’t play. It was only much later that I realized that her narcissistic personality could not stand the fact that someone was a better golfer than she was. Rather than coach me up she broke me down.
When people have authority over others this is a perfect scenario to permit an abuser to target a person’s self-doubt and self-confidence. Linda acted as if she was merely coaching me and trying to improve my golf swing. Little did I know at the time, this was not her agenda at all. In fact, her agenda was the opposite — to destroy my golf swing and confidence.
Spouses also have power to break down their partner’s confidence. Some strategies narcissists use are:
1) Micromanaging: This subtle tactic involves doing every thing or handling details for another person that the victim is competent to handle. This makes the victim feel stupid or incompetent.
2) Constant Questioning: The abuser asks subtle questions that plant seeds of doubt: “Are you sure you want to do X?” “Is that really the fastest way to get there?”
3) Withholding compliments or praise when they are deserved: When the victim is not accurately recognized for their talents, skills or traits, it can slowly break down a sense of self, leading to lowered self-confidence.
4) Withholding affection, attention or sex: In a marriage or sexual relationship, narcissists can stop having sex or withhold affection as a way to make the victim feel unwanted. This is often done without explanation, so the victim is left even more confused and rejected.
5) Overt gaslighting: Narcs can use blatant lies to make the victim feel “crazy”, such as “I never said that,” or “You’re imagining that situation.”
6) Overt criticism and verbal abuse: Obviously, any time a partner excessively shame and judges to the point where it becomes emotional or verbal abuse, this is unacceptable and can severely damage the victim’s feelings of self-worth
Fight Back and Reclaim Your Confidence:
- Recognize the tactics when they are occurring and label them to yourself. Do NOT tell the narc you are on to their games or they will just shift to new tactics.
- Stop listening to the narcissist’s opinions, because they re just that — opinions and likely have no facts to back them up. Look for the reality of your skills, character traits or competence.
- Use affirmations to validate your traits and accomplishments. Be your own best cheerleader. Tell yourself: “I am smart/hard working/creative. I am confident. I know what is right.” These can feel “fake,” but sometimes we have to practice saying things. Say these affirmations like you really mean them.
- If you struggle giving yourself validations, channel a person who really supported you. Hear their voice and words in your head to repeat affirmations that build your confidence.
- Feel strong in your body: Be your strongest in mind and body through exercise and meditation.
- Channel your inner superhero: Notice your posture. Stand up straight, walk with confidence and “take up space”, rather than shrinking physically.
- Use strong, direct eye contact, especially with narcissists.
- Speak concisely and confidently, even if you are shaking inside.
Tell yourself that you are not going to let the narcissist have control of you through these covert means. Especially don’t betray yourself by aiding them at their game of sapping your self-confidence.