Negative Self-Talk: The Toxic Impact of Narcissistic Abuse

A narcissist creates an alternate reality – one where he (or she) is truly as successful, powerful and desirable as they believe is their due. They then attempt to suck anyone who is in their orbit, be it a spouse, partner, child or co-worker, into this fantasy world. Their victims become props in an untethered make-believe version of the narcissist’s life.

The narcissistic perpetrator aggrandizes himself by destroying his prey’s self confidence. In essence he manufactures his superiority by convincing the victim that they are inferior. With time victims come to believe that they are unwanted, unlovable and totally dependent on the narcissist. This is also known as learned helplessness. This devastating damage leads to negative self-talk, where the victims do the job of the narcissist and abuse themselves by proxy.

This means that narcissists take up permanent residence in their victim’s brains. They continue to make their lives hell even after the victim escapes, or in some cases, even after the narcissist dies – from beyond the grave.

Your Mind Replays the Abuse

Last week I had a chat with a lovely lady on Twitter who is still struggling with the aftermath of abuse. She had a turbulent childhood scapegoated by an abusive stepfather, but she has now moved on and is the mother of a precious little girl. She told me that when she gave birth to her daughter she quit her job and set up her own business in order to be able to plan her schedule around her daughter’s needs. Since then her business has boomed and she just bought a new house.

To my shock, however, she was beating herself up and her self confidence was at rock bottom. As we spoke I could hear the echo of her stepfather’s abuse playing like a recording in her mind. She told herself she was not good enough, not lovable enough, not capable of maintaining a relationship.

As she raked herself over the coals with her negative self talk my heart broke for her. I tried to make her see herself through my eyes and not through the eyes of that hateful, abusive man who destroyed her childhood. She is a beautiful, successful woman who has managed to break the cycle of abuse and give her daughter love and stability. However the mental recordings of her stepfather’s verbal abuse keep echoing in her mind in a cacophony of unconscious self torture. She no longer talks to the man, and yet he still manages to harm her every day of her life.

What is negative self-talk?

Negative self-talk is a form of inner speech that is critical, harsh, and harmful. It can take many different forms, but all negative self-talk shares one common characteristic: it keeps you from reaching your full potential.

Negative self-talk can manifest itself as anything from mild doubt or insecurity to all-out self-loathing. It can be directed at any aspect of yourself, from your physical appearance to your intelligence or abilities.

Negative self-talk can be incredibly damaging because it not only affects how you see yourself, but also how you act and perform. When you believe that you’re not good enough, it’s harder to take risks or put yourself out there. As a result, negative self-talk can have a significant impact on your success and happiness.

The Impact of Negative Self-Talk

One could think that this negative self-talk is innocuous. After all, it is just a thought. It’s not like a punch or a slap – it’s ephemeral. However the fact is that thoughts govern the way we live our lives. They influence how we view the world and the interpretation we give to what is happening around us.

The impact is even more destructive when the victim is a child and the perpetrator is a parent. Children need unconditional love and support to develop and thrive. Their parents’ guidance and feedback is the foundation of their conscience, or as Freud would have put it – their SuperEgo. This means that children of narcissists (ACoNs, DoNF, DoNM, SoNF, SoNM) struggle with negative self talk all their lives.

Low self esteem and a negative outlook on life can lead to broken relationships and full potential not achieved. It can stop us from taking the leap to bigger and better things. It destroys our peace of mind, and sometimes even our bodies. So negative self-talk is far from being innocuous. It is devastating, with far-reaching consequences throughout our lives.

Negative Self-Talk Examples:

Chiara gets on very well with a work colleague, and after a while she realizes that she has feelings for him. One day he asks her out on a date and at first she is overjoyed. However in bed that evening she is overtaken with anxiety.

“It is impossible that he actually likes me and even if he does I am sure to do something stupid that will destroy it.”

“Maybe he asked me on a date because he thinks I’m easy. Maybe he just wants a fling.”

“It never ends well. It’s too risky.”

The next morning Chiara is exhausted after a sleepless night. As soon as she gets to work she sends her colleague an email cancelling dinner, without providing an explanation. She is then too embarrassed to talk to him because of how she handled the situation. From that day onwards they hardly speak to each other, except when absolutely essential for work.

Chiara’s negative self-talk sabotaged a fledgling relationship and the possibility of her finding love and happiness.

All is not lost

It is important to remember that just as your thought processes were programmed by an abuser, so can they be reprogrammed.

The good news is that negative self-talk is something you can control. With awareness and practice, you can learn to identify and reframe your negative thoughts. This will help you feel better about yourself and perform at your best.

The first step is to identify the problem and to understand how it is impacting your life. The next step is to catch the thoughts as they occur, and challenge them. It will be hard at first, so reach out to family and friends you trust to ask for their help. You could also go to a therapist, who will teach you strategies to use when negativity floods into your head. Together, these trusted confidantes will enable you to look at the situation from a different perspective, recognising that your negative self-talk is not rooted in reality.

I have to admit that it is not an easy task. It has taken me many years to identify the negative self-talk as the voice of my narcissistic father, and even more years to drown him out. I did not manage to do it alone. Fortunately there were people in my life who held my hand and guided me through. I would not have managed without the help of my support network.

If you believe that negative self-talk is ruining your life, speak up. Get help. You can reach out to your friends, or if you prefer you could connect with survivors of narcissistic abuse online. Stop torturing yourself and get rid of your abuser’s voice in your mind.

For Further Reading:

Check out the following posts if you are interested in understanding the impact of narcissistic abuse on victims –

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2 thoughts on “Negative Self-Talk: The Toxic Impact of Narcissistic Abuse”

  1. It’s a form of PTSD that never gets addressed. The worst part is how these abusers stay exaggerated in our minds even after we recognize that they weren’t simply projecting their insecurities onto us but directly into us. I like how you identify these thoughts and feelings as the abuser’s voice that needs to be challenged and stood up to. This is the same formula for battling OCD and it’s not an easy journey. I’ve read some therapists refer to it as reprogramming the mind (as in “no sweat”) but in my experience it’s more about confronting these thoughts in order to get to a new realization (or truth) about one’s self beyond the situation. The solution must become an integral part of life but the realizations, when they come, are what actually heals. It’s like receiving a small dose of wisdom in exchange for a bad experience. And when you notice that these abusers lack any capacity for self-awareness and this is what is causing them to abuse, there’s a part of you that’s grateful that they gave you the need to look into yourself, to define yourself apart from them, to experience growth. Well, this is one aspect. It’s difficult to stay in this frame of mind, but I do have glimpses of complete healing and it’s complex, just as beauty and wisdom are complex. <3

    • This is a very interesting way of looking at it. It’s good to extract some good from all life experiences, even hard ones, but as you say – it is very, very hard. At the end of the day we need to learn to talk to ourselves like we would talk to our best friend, with kindness, compassion and respect. It’s a process – I am still working at it.


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