8 sneaky ways narcissists chip away at your self-esteem

No one needs a narcissist in their life.

Spotting a narcissist is hard because of how “nice” they are when you first meet.

In the first few months of your relationship, it’ll feel like you’re living on cloud 9!

Everything will be amazing. They will be amazing. Until one day, they won’t be. And your confidence will be on the floor before you even realize it.

Unless, of course, you’re able to spot their tricks early doors and get them out of your life!

Think you might have a narcissist in your life?

Learn these 8 sneaky ways they chip away at your self-esteem, so you don’t become their next victim!

1) They give backhanded compliments

Insults disguised as compliments are a narcissist’s favorite thing to do!

They might say something like:

“You look great! It’s nice when you actually make an effort”.

“I didn’t think you’d get the job, but well done!”.

It sounds like a compliment, especially when they say it so positively. But they’re actually insulting you.

In the first example, they’re subtly telling you that you don’t make an effort often. And that you don’t look nice when you’re not dressed to the nines.

In the second, they’re basically saying they didn’t believe in you at all!

In both instances, you might feel a little unsettled. Because on the one hand, they’re being nice. But on the other, they’re putting down your natural state and telling you they didn’t think you were good enough.

Over time, these small, slight comments can chip away at your confidence.

2) They put you down in front of others

Another sneaky way narcissists dwindle your inner confidence is by putting you down in front of your friends.

It’ll be subtle and disguised as a joke most of the time. But it won’t be a joke to them.

And it won’t be a joke to you, either.

They might bring up an issue in a relationship. Or they might joke about your insecurities.

“She does that to me all the time, always moaning at me about how I treat her. It drives me mad!” – they might say in front of you and all their friends.

“I’m not surprised you think that, you have the biggest nose going!” – they might say when you say that the flowers smell nice.

At first, you might laugh along. At first, everyone else might laugh along, too. But over time, it won’t be very funny.

Especially when you start fearing speaking up in a group with them in case you’re insulted.

Or feeling like you can’t open up to them in private for fear of what they’ll say about it in public.

3) They’re dismissive of your feelings

Narcissists don’t like feelings. They don’t like discussing them and they don’t like hearing about yours. In fact, they don’t even like that feelings exist!

Narcissists lack empathy, so they truly struggle to understand other people’s emotions. But instead of trying to understand, they opt to criticize you about yours.

When you try to talk to them about something important to you, they’ll be dismissive.

“That’s just your insecurity speaking” – they’ll say when you ask them to stop liking model pictures on Instagram.

“You just have trust issues” – they’ll retort when you ask them why they met up with other girls for drinks on Saturday.

“There’s something wrong with you if you feel like that” – when you say you feel disconnected from them and you want to go on more dates together.

4) They give you the silent treatment

I hate the silent treatment. In my honest opinion, I think it’s the worst thing you can ever do to someone!

Ignoring someone when they’re upset, hurt, or trying to talk about something important is cold, careless, and callous.

But it’s something a narcissist will consistently do to chip away at your self-esteem and in an attempt to control you.

No matter how much you cry, shout, or plead with them to talk to you – they won’t.

And it’ll be one of the most awful things they can do to you.

5) They question why you do things

pic1479 2 8 sneaky ways narcissists chip away at your self-esteem

Another sneaky way narcissists put you down is by questioning why you do everything.

This may seem normal (and it is generally). But a narcissist’s questioning won’t feel normal or make you feel good about yourself.

Here are some examples.

You might say that you’ve been thinking about signing up for a new gym.

“Why?”, they’ll ask, pulling a disgusted face about it.

Or you might say that you’re going out to dinner with a friend.

“What are you going there for?”, they’ll say, with the same nauseated look.

You might even say you’re going for the promotion at work.

“Why would you want to do that?”, they’ll say with a look of pure confusion.

These questions won’t be asked out of curiosity or to understand you further.

They’ll be asked for one purpose alone: to make you feel bad about your decisions. And to make you question yourself on going to these places or doing these things.

Which, naturally, can chip away at your self-esteem – without you even realizing it!

6) They minimize your accomplishments

Narcissists lack self-esteem themselves. It’s why they try to ruin yours – to make themselves feel better.

Because of their poor sense of self, they’ll enjoy minimizing your accomplishments to make themselves feel better. Or just to take you down a peg or two!

You might hear them say things like:

  • “You lost 3 pounds? It’s a shame you didn’t do it sooner”
  • “You got a B grade? I heard [person’s name] got an A”
  • “That’s not as good as my best time”
  • “It’s not really that big of a deal”
  • “I’ve heard it’s really easy anyway”

Sometimes, it’ll even be as basic as them saying, “That’s nice” when you tell them you got the promotion or did something you’re proud of.

Rather than them congratulating you and saying you should go out to celebrate…

These comments will slowly make you feel like your accomplishments aren’t good enough. And eventually, that you aren’t good enough.

(Which, of course, isn’t true).

7) They hyperfocus on your mistakes

Narcissists don’t like being in the wrong. They hate it even more when you confront them about being wrong!

Instead of addressing what they did, they hyperfocus on one thing you say while confronting them.

They do this to distract you from the issue and maybe even get you to apologize for it – even though they were the ones who did something wrong.

Say you’re arguing about how they keep staying out late every night. You mention that they did it on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.

But they’ll say:

“I didn’t do it on Tuesday. I was home all day on Tuesday. You keep saying I did it on Tuesday, but I didn’t do it on Tuesday. Why do you keep going on about Tuesday for?”

The point isn’t that they did it on Tuesday (or not).

The point is that they keep staying out until 3am without messaging you and then waking you up to give them a lift home – and it’s not fair on you.

But they’ll ignore the main issue and hyperfocus on your mistake to deflect from their own.

8) They play the victim when you confront them

Just like they’ll hyper-fixate on your “mistakes” to get themselves out of trouble, a narcissist will also focus on one hurtful (but true) thing you say when confronting them.

They’ll make you feel bad about saying that one thing to detract from the real issue – and make you feel bad about yourself instead!

Like if you raise an issue with their behavior and say you feel like they don’t care about you, they might hyper-fixate on that fact and that fact alone.

“You think I don’t care about you? That’s a horrible thing to say. I can’t believe you think I don’t care about you. It really hurts that you think I don’t care about you. What’s the point in talking about this if you think I don’t care about you?”.

See what I mean…?

Over time, this can damage your self-esteem to the point you don’t even want to bring up issues with them…

Final thoughts

Dating or being friends with a narcissist can be one of the worst things you ever do in life.

It’s not your fault obviously. Narcissists are known for being charming in the early days, so you won’t even notice their shift in behavior at first.

But you’ll start to notice when your self-esteem isn’t as good as it used to be.

When you start lacking the confidence to do or say the most basic things in life – especially around them – you’ll know something is up.

And as hard as it is (trust me, I know how hard it can be!), it’s best to get them out of your life sooner rather than later.

Picture of Amy Reed

Amy Reed

Amy Reed is a content writer from London working with international brands. As an empath, she loves sharing her life insights to help others. When she’s not writing, she enjoys a simple life of reading, gardening, and making a fuss over her two cats.

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