9 Minutes

By THE BALANCE
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Living with a narcissist can be quite exhausting and draining for someone’s own mental and emotional wellbeing. Narcissists can be very toxic due to the selfishness and grandiosity that they exhibit since they are always putting themselves first even if it comes at the cost of hurting someone. Imagine living with a person who just caters to his own needs, demands ample praise, abuses you mentally and emotionally such that you are on the verge of losing your sanity, and above all, tries to control your life by isolating you from people who are your support group. How would you feel? Dealing with narcissistic abuse is quite similar to this and it leaves a profound effect on the mental health of the survivor. 

Post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD is an inevitable consequence of narcissistic abuse, one from which it is quite hard to escape considering the damage it causes to the survivor’s mental health. When an individual experiences a traumatic event in life that is very intense in magnitude such as facing war first hand, or going through sexual violence or abuse such as narcissistic abuse then the memories of these unfortunate events get laid in the brain, which leads to the development of Post-traumatic disorder.

Survivors who have dealt with narcissistic abuse find it extremely hard to move on since they are so brutally manipulated into thinking that they are worthless and do not deserve any good, making it difficult for them to heal from the shock and trauma of the abuse inflicted by their narcissistic partners or parents. 

When an individual is having PTSD from narcissistic abuse then he or she may experience flashbacks of the painful memories. These people feel like they are living those events associated with abuse again and it can be so real that they might even hear the criticizing comments that the abuser used to hurl at them. These bitter memories can also show up as nightmares. Since the traumatic events are so deeply engraved in the memory, individuals find it hard to leave the experience behind and move on. 

When individuals are coping through retrieval of painful memories they tend to experience certain symptoms of PTSD such as withdrawing themselves from their social circle and becoming anxious, restless, and agitated. Another symptom of PTSD due to narcissistic abuse is that these individuals experience bouts of anger, have trouble sleeping, and face difficulties doing routine tasks. 

Fear and panic is another feature of PTSD seen in individuals who have struggled with narcissistic abuse. The panic and fear come out of nowhere but its actual cause is the trauma of emotional and verbal abuse at the hand of their abuser which could go to extreme lengths compromising the mental health of the sufferer. These individuals get startled at the mention or sight of anything that reminds them of their period of narcissistic abuse. This makes it challenging for them to stay focused and greatly affects their ability to work in their professional and personal life. 

Individuals with PTSD due to narcissistic abuse are often seen to be hyper-vigilant and hyper-aware of their surroundings. This is because of the deep-rooted fear associated with the narcissist individual who used to blame them for every shortcoming hence they constantly remain alert about not doing anything that might cause trouble.

In addition, self-doubt and a loss of self-worth is a common sign of PTSD, seen in individuals who have experienced abuse at the hand of a narcissist who never let any opportunity go by to undermine and demean their victim. 

Complex post-traumatic stress disorder or C-PTSD for short is a relatively newer term in the list of mental health disorders. Complex PTSD refers to trauma symptoms that stem from prolonged psychological and emotional abuse that is being endured since a relatively early age by the survivor. 

Contrary to PTSD, Complex PTSD has a chronic abuse history as seen in narcissistic abuse faced during childhood under narcissist parent(s) and/or childhood sexual or physical abuse. Often these survivors of childhood trauma endure abuse during adulthood too mostly at the hand of their partner. The past of these individuals is layered with the history of extreme verbal and emotional abuse that disrupts their emotional and psychological wellbeing and promotes a sense of shame and guilt that remain deep-seated and perpetuate into their adulthood. 

Individuals with Complex PTSD carry with them a sense of helplessness and loss of self-worth that is a result of dealing with continuous trauma as a child where circumstances made them believe that there is no escape from the emotional and verbal abuse that used to wreak havoc with their mental health and life at large.

One of the symptoms of complex PTSD is that individuals may feel conscious about their past trauma which means that they might not only experience emotional flashbacks of their period of abuse rather they may feel like they are drawn back to the past since they will feel the same helplessness and agony that was there when the trauma was first inflicted. This completely shatters the survivor because they have to deal with the emotional turmoil all over again which is why it is said that narcissistic abuse is a lifelong trauma. 

It comes as no surprise that these complex trauma survivors become socially withdrawn and isolate themselves as they lose the sense of trust due to constant abuse. However, this is also true that these individuals are in search of someone who will rescue them and will help them break free from the narcissistic abuse that they have endured. These individuals are also in need of unconditional support but unfortunately, they come across people who often manipulate them and use them for their means, this further exacerbates the psychological deterioration and these individuals go into a downward spiral of shame, guilt, and self-hate. 

The human brain is shaped by life experiences and when someone goes through prolong episodes of trauma as seen with narcissistic abuse then their brain feeds in memory of the trauma and processes differently on the emotional front. 

The American Psychological Association defines trauma as an emotional response to a terrible, shocking, and painful event. Trauma usually follows after narcissistic abuse and there is no way anyone dealing with it can escape this unwanted outcome. Narcissistic abuse causes significant emotional turmoil to the victim. The signs of trauma are variable and present differently in every individual since the way the body responds to a stressful condition is different in everyone. 

With the onset of narcissistic abuse, the body prepares a flight or fright response, whereas, sometimes survivors simply prefer freezing up to cope with the trauma. The physical signs of narcissist trauma are spread across a spectrum and may range widely from person to person. Headache is a frequent complaint while dealing with narcissist trauma. It can range from a mild headache to severe migraines with excruciating pain. 

In addition, certain individuals also experience sleep disorder such as insomnia, while other may oversleep to numb the pain associated with narcissistic trauma. Moreover, survivors of narcissistic abuse can become a victim of substance abuse as a mechanism to cope with the harshness of life at the hand of their abuser who makes their life a riot by continuously bashing them with hurtful and degrading comments. 

Some individuals may become aggressive, irritable with verbal outbursts and can even develop eating disorders because they simply cannot function normally due to their traumatic episodes.

Certain emotional findings are also associated with narcissistic trauma such as hopelessness, a sense of mistrust, and loss of self-esteem. Depression, anxiety, and loss of interest in life are common manifestations in individuals who have dealt with narcissistic abuse. Hopelessness is a key feature of narcissistic trauma and one that is difficult to break free from since the chronic history of abuse has left the survivor devoid of hope and good intentions for the future. 

In everyday life, several factors are anxiety-provoking but nothing is as severe and as troubling as anxiety occurring as a result of narcissistic abuse. Narcissists are very clever while choosing their victims. They tend to choose people who are empathetic and understandable; since these people will never question the extreme verbal abuse that a narcissist often inflicts upon them, and will take the blame on themselves just as the abuser desires. 

This attitude favors the narcissist abuser but robs the survivor of their self-confidence, shatters their personality, and gives them a crippling anxiety disorder since they are constantly subjected to abusive comments and are always manipulated into believing that they are worthless. 

Narcissistic individuals are experts at what they do and they seamlessly craft a web of lies and deceit using gaslighting and other tactics of victim-blaming that make the victim doubt their sanity. They make the victim think that they are mentally unstable and this leads to bouts of anxiety, feeling of helplessness, and confusion. This anxious state of the victim makes the narcissistic individual feel powerful as it fuels their ego to see someone suffering and humiliated, that too at their hands- to them; this is power!

Individuals dealing with anxiety due to narcissistic abuse are in a constant state of unhappiness and distress. The narcissist abuser instills fear in the victim such that the survivor is always worried about what could happen next that might make their partner furious. They are under constant threat of facing abusive treatment and hence they try all means to mitigate the risk of abuse and for these reasons an individual dealing with narcissistic abuse develops anxiety in no time.

Narcissistic abuse presents in many forms but the outcome to all is the same- deteriorating mental health that can lead to anxiety, depression, and PTSD among other physical and psychological manifestations. Depression is one of the earliest signs that is often missed while dealing with a toxic relationship as seen in narcissistic abuse. Survivors of such trauma are often socially withdrawn and feel irritable. 

Certain red flags point out towards clinical depression as is frequent in this setting. These symptoms include:

  • Having thoughts about ending one’s life because it is not worth living- This seems like a good reason to victims of narcissistic abuse to take their life when they are so brutally abused at the hands of their narcissistic partner or parent who makes them feel unloved, unworthy and humiliated. 
  • Often consumed with guilt and sadness- Due to constant self-loathing and devaluing themselves, these individuals are always found in the sea of shame and guilt, blaming themselves for all that they have to endure. This is how a narcissist abuser plays with their brain; they manipulate their victim into believing that they are the ones at fault while they stay guilt-free.
  • Inability to perform menial tasks- Staying in a puddle of constant fear and worry snatches focus and the ability to concentrate from the individuals who have faced the trauma of narcissistic abuse. This affects the professional sphere of their life and they tend to lose their job due to inadequate performance. 
  • Altered eating habits- Individuals dealing with depression might go on for periods without eating anything or may binge eat for months. This leads them to either lose or gain weight. 
  • Experiencing physical problems such as chronic pain, headaches, and stomach aches is common. 

Breaking free from this cycle of narcissistic abuse can be quite challenging but it comes with freedom and healing. Everyone deserves the chance of self-discovery to unveil their true potential by giving life another try because you are not what your narcissist abuser defined you as, rather you are quite resilient and brave and this is your superpower. 

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