Do you know how it feels to be in a toxic relationship with a narcissist? Have you experienced narcissistic abuse? And can you recall the first time you really started to realize that something wasn’t right? It’s this ache in your gut, that one stray tear you can’t control and as it rolls down your face, it almost burns. It’s like your body gets it before you do, somehow.
It’s this feeling that something is missing or isn’t right. So, you try to figure it out. So, you start thinking and you go through all of the obvious possibilities.
Am I hormonal?
Am I being unreasonable?
Are my expectations just too high?
Could I be overthinking this whole thing?
As much as you rack your brain, you aren’t clear. You just know that it is something else. Something you can’t quite put your finger on….like a piece of you feels like it’s missing or gone somehow.
But how do you lose a whole part of yourself? You might kind of laugh at yourself, but the thought makes you feel almost nostalgic … but in an unidentifiable, achy way that can’t be logically explained. Maybe you have this sense that it might be some kind of other life calling to you. You think maybe it’s on the soul level.
You start to feel like you’re living inside your own head. You’re so internal that you might even start to hate everyone and everything. You start to see through it all, and everyone seems artificial. Their lives seem small and petty. Their problems seem unreal somehow – they are so far away. They are blind to your struggles and you can’t even begin to verbalize them, because they sound so petty when you say them out loud.
But you do your best to keep looking perfect on the outside and you pretend like nothing is wrong. You keep smiling and pretending that all is well.
Perfect on the Outside, Broken on the Inside
You maintain a perfect social media presence, photos of your beautiful home and successful kids. You feel like a huge fraud as you try to project the image you want to see in your life, rather than what it really looks like behind closed doors.
It’s like social media gives you a certain amount of validation that you can’t get elsewhere. It makes you feel better somehow, like it’s okay that you’re dealing with all of this internal conflict, because you project that perfect life image.
Meanwhile, the narcissist in your life is always threatening to leave you. Threatening to stop loving you if you don’t conform to their will. They threaten to stop caring about anything if you don’t shape up.
We will just live our separate lives, they tell you. See how you like that, they say.
Apathy, Brain Fog and Cognitive Dissonance in Narcissistic Abuse
It’s like you’re living in some kind of bubble and nothing feels real. You’re not even sure YOU are real. You’re exhausted and pretty much numb at this point. But every now and then, something reminds you of who you used to be, the fun and silly and passionately driven person that the narcissist seems to have beaten of you (emotionally anyway).
And when that happens, that person who you used to be…that person gets sad. Then you feel angry and like you’re finally ready to go. But inevitably the scary thought that is change takes you down this stupid road that imagines that things can be better.
The one part of you that is afraid to jump without a net shows up again and tells me that you’re overreacting and that it’s not really as bad as you think. That’s the problem with the narcissist’s intermittent-reinforcement-style of love because right about the time you think maybe it really is going to be different …bam! Smacked in the face with more manipulation and mind games again.
You remember that the definition of insanity is to continually repeat the same cycles and behaviors while expecting different results. And yet, here you are. You’re tired of being in this relationship and tired of feeling consumed with trying to make it okay when you are clearly less important than literally anyone or anything else in the narcissist’s life.
Your cognitive dissonance is strong now. You always thought this relationship was supposed to be us against the world. Me and you, you and me. Ride or die. Unconditional acceptance of one another. You keep offering it up, but you inevitably get the opposite in return.
What is Cognitive Dissonance?
Cognitive dissonance is a form of psychological stress or discomfort that happens when you simultaneously hold two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values.
Narcissistic Love is One-Sided and Conditional
Your relationship with an abusive narcissist will always be conditional and one-sided. You’re tired of never being enough. You’ve had enough of not being enough by now. You always say you’d rather be alone than unhappy … but the idea of losing everything you’ve worked so hard to build scares you more than the idea of shutting your mouth and pretending so that your kids can have a good life.
But you keep asking yourself this crazy question: am I really willing to give up the next umpteen years of my life being miserable? Isn’t it possible that I can have it both ways?
And yet, as you sit in the cold, numb aftermath of yet another attack on your personal character, your thoughts are dulled and foggy. You can’t seem to form a complete thought as the narcissist’s sharp, cutting insults replay over and over again in your head.
This torturous soundtrack is accompanied by a small voice in the back of your head, the part of you that remains indignant about the abuse, the slowly-dying part of that still knows it’s not normal and remembers that you deserve better. That part of you quietly counters the insults, reminds you that they’re all a part of the manipulation tactics the narcissist uses to gain control.
That’s the same part of you that truly knows that you’re not in a “healthy” relationship and that there’s little chance you’ll successfully change this person. That part of your mind races, struggling to form a plan to fix things, to make your escape, or to at least find “normal” again.
And it’s that part that will ultimately help you to not just exist and survive, but also to really thrive and become the fully realized person you deserve to be. The longer you remain in a toxic relationship, the more you deny your truths in order to avoid the wrath of this narcissist, the quieter this voice becomes.
Denying Your Feelings as a Result of Narcissistic Abuse
When you deny your feelings when you allow yourself to be told that you’re not a real person and that you don’t matter – you begin to act as if that is true. You start to breathe and believe it – you emanate a vibrational sense of “I’m not good enough.” And you become inferior because you believe that you’re inferior.
It’s hard to be happy when someone is always criticizing everything you say and do. It feels like you’re always walking on eggshells. And when you start to actually enjoy a conversation, whether it’s with them or with someone else, they cut you off because they aren’t interested in anything you have to say or they interrupt because whoever you’re talking to is not paying attention to them…well…it’s emotionally crippling, to say the least.
Only a person with extremely high self-esteem could even survive it, you think, let alone remain capable of thinking they have value in the world. You need someone to talk to, but you don’t know who will get it. You’re living in a constant state of invalidation. But why?
Because, at some point, during our toxic relationships and often beginning in childhood, people like you and me? We learn that love must be earned. We learn that our value and worth are conditional at best – and that’s if we think we have any at all. People hurt us and our souls are crushed. Our selves are lost.
Narcissistic Abuse Makes You Feel Unlovable and Worthless
We forget who we are, or maybe we never knew. We learn that people don’t love unconditionally, or that if they do, no one has found us worthy of such love. So what do we do? How do we deal?
We tiptoe around and we accept the crumbs – that intermittent reinforcement thing again- the crumbs of kindness and affection that have been our sustenance for our whole lives. We take those crumbs and we are grateful for them because we don’t even think we deserve this much, and we can’t imagine what it must feel like to be one of those people who has people who actually love them.
We pretend to be happy, Our faces smile, but not our eyes.
Most people don’t notice, and those who do make us feel attacked. They say they’re concerned about us, they note that we’re different than we were before. And often, their concern is genuine. But whether we aren’t ready to hear it yet or we’re concerned that they’ll upset the abuser in our lives, we push them away and we hope they will just leave us alone. Because one more conflict with the narcissist will kill us, we think. And this person, as much as we love them, just doesn’t really get what we’re dealing with when it comes to our relationship with the narcissist.
Why Narcissistic Abuse Makes You Walk on Eggshells and What That Means for You
We learn to walk on eggshells, and we may or may not cognitively realize that underneath it all, we’re such nice people because we are secretly afraid that the narcissist will leave us, like everyone else does and has, in one way or another.
We get scared that everyone will leave us or otherwise abandon us. So we start being too nice to everyone around us. We stop talking about ourselves because people don’t seem interested and because our emotions seem to be a burden for anyone with whom we’ve shared them. We allow people to abuse us and we beg them to stay.
We accept it because we secretly fear that they have been right all along and that we truly are in fact unlovable.
Why You Have to Keep Starting Over in Narcissistic Abuse Recovery
Every now and then, we think we’re going to change ourselves. And we want to change our lives. We promise to ourselves that we’re finally going to start taking care of ourselves for once. We swear that we’re going to finally come into our own power and we’re going to start enforcing our boundaries – maybe for the first time ever in our lives.
We think it’s time to follow our passion and to actually start truly LIVING our lives. And sometimes, we succeed – we actually make things happen. Sometimes, we even manage to leave! Changes begin to become more and more apparent, and we think, “This is it! I’ve figured it all out!”
We are finally happy. We’re on top of the world! Other times, we fail. We forget to try, or we feel too exhausted at the end of the day. Or, we just…can’t.
But let me tell you something. Sometimes, it takes more than one shot. Sometimes, you have to keep starting again, and again. Sometimes, we have to learn new ways to think – and we have to do it again and again. We have to relearn all of it each time we forget. We have to remember who we are and what we’re doing here. The narcissist always does their best to make us forget, to shape and mold us into the extension of themselves they both want and simultaneously hate and resent. And yet, that little voice inside of ourselves keeps telling us that something isn’t right. That we need and in fact deserve better.
And you know what? That little voice, your intuition, is right. And it reminds you that the truth is that we only really fail when we stop starting. No matter where you are n your journey, and no matter how good it really gets, you still might, on occasion, have to start again. And that’s okay. You’re totally normal. Just keep starting. Don’t give up on yourself, and keep tuning in to that little voice, your gut – whatever you call it, tune into it and listen carefully. It is the part of you that knows the truth, and it’s the part of you that’s going to get you out of this whole thing and help you to take your life where you need it to go. You with me?
Narcissists have a way of communicating that can be very deceptive. If you’re looking for advice on how to decode the language of narcissists, sociopaths, psychopaths, and other toxic people, you’re not alone. Despite what many people believe, there are far more people who might qualify as malignant narcissists than you might expect.
One of the most common manipulation tactics narcissists use is called gaslighting, a pervasive and highly-effective tactic meant to manipulate you into questioning your own sanity and even your perception of the world around you. Today, we’re covering common phrases used by narcissistic abusers in gaslighting (and what they actually mean when used).
Why are narcissists all so similar?
So often, people wonder if there’s some kind of narcissist playbook. Why? Because narcissists are all so similar, across the board. This makes it easy to predict what they’ll do next, if you educate yourself on their specific traits and disorder. In fact, whether the narcissist in your life is a spouse, partner, parent or another relative, friend, or even a coworker, there are certain kinds of phrasing they’ll use, and in many cases, they will use nearly identical word-for-word statements. Surprisingly, this is true regardless of a person’s race, culture, religion, nationality, and financial status. Malignant narcissism does not discriminate – it can affect anyone in any circumstance, from the jobless drug addict to the wealthiest person on the planet and everyone in between.
“You’re angry? I don’t need to deal with this nonsense right now. I will leave you alone until YOU get back to your senses and come back to me later.”
Translation: I know I’m the reason you’re angry about MY antics. I don’t care, I will never care, and don’t expect me to apologize for MY behavior because I am blameless and perfect, and you need me anyway….”
“I’m sick of you accusing me of cheating. It’s getting old!”
Translation: I don’t get why you won’t just get over it. Clearly, I’m cheating. We both know this. But I am over actually hearing about it, and I’m tired of having to pretend I’m not doing it. Additionally, I will never take responsibility for it and I’ll go ahead and expect you to tolerate whatever I throw your way. And if you don’t, I’m totally going to act like the victim in this whole deal.”
“I WANT TO BE ALONE!”
Translation: “I want to spend time with someone else and you’re in my way!”
“I’ve done nothing wrong.”
Translation: “I’ve done ALL the things you pointed out, and probably a whole bunch more you don’t know about. But I think anything I do is okay because I’m the one who did it, and I don’t do things that are wrong. Also? Why do you keep calling me out on things I actually did? I don’t like that!”
“You have an anger problem!”
Translation: “I’m going to provoke and poke at you until you can’t take it anymore, when you finally blow up at me for continuously disregarding your boundaries, I’ll just say you’re an angry crazy person so I can play the victim instead of accepting any actual responsibility for my behavior.”
“I thought you were the last person I was going to be with.”
Translation: “I totally underestimated you and thought I could be with you while also doing whatever I want with whomever I want while you patiently wait for me (and on me) and keep my house in order.”
“You are too sensitive! You need to have thicker skin.” Or “Can’t you take a joke?”
Translation: “I don’t understand why you don’t just accept my cruel and unfair criticism as fact. What is wrong with you?”
“You’re going to have to work so hard to get my attention again.”
Translation: “You’ve caused narcissistic injury by somehow exposing one of my many flaws, and you’re going to pay for it by begging for my oh-so-precious attention while I blatantly ignore you and treat you like dirt on the bottom of my shoe. And while you’re at it, I’m going to make you feel like you’re the one who needs to apologize even though I’m the one who did something wrong.”
“You’re crazy.” or “It’s all in your head.” or “You need help.” or “You’re delusional”
Translation: “What you said is absolutely right. You totally hit the nail right on the head…but I don’t know how you figured me out and I dont want to admit that you’re right, so I’m going to make sure you feel crazy and look crazy. This way you’ll be more focused on what’s not really wrong with you instead of what’s actually wrong with ME.”
“You are always saying the same thing.”
Translation: “Why do you keep telling the truth over and over again? I hate when you call me out like that.”
“Everything is all about you!” or “You’re so selfish.”
Translation: “How DARE you try to make ANYTHING about you? Don’t you know it’s all about…ME?”
“I can’t have just a little time alone, so I have to be telling you every 5 minutes I love you?”
Translation: “You’ve somehow interrupted something I was doing or hiding from you, and now you’re asking me for validation? What am I, an actual human? You’d think you would know by now that I’m the only one who matters in this relationship!”
“Everyone says…” or “Everyone agrees that you’re…”
Translation: “I’m pretending that some imaginary group of people are silently agreeing with me about everything I say about you, because not only do I hope you’ll feel humiliated to think all of these so-called people are talking about you, but it’ll help me prove my point. Plus, as an added bonus, telling you that everyone thinks bad things about you will further isolate you and that means I’ll be in more control.”
“You’re a nice guy.” or “You’re such a sweetheart.”
Translation: “Because of your sweet, empathic nature, I can get you to do anything I want you to do by manipulating your emotions.”
“OMG! You’re so boring! Can we please talk about something interesting?”
Translation: “How dare you talk about anything YOU care about that isn’t me? You’re not saying enough things about me. I don’t like talking about things that aren’t all about me, or at least me-focused. Did I mention that I’d like to talk about things related to me?”
“I don’t think your glasses are working properly.”
Translation: “You saw what I was doing, and you understood it correctly, but since I will not be accepting any responsibility for it at all, I’ll just gaslight you real quick so you’ll doubt yourself and your own perception of the world by claiming that something is wrong with your glasses.”
“You treat me like a child!”
Translation: “Even though I require you to take care of me, do everything for me and otherwise act like you’re my parent, I need to pretend you’re trying to control me when you ask me where I’m going or where I’ve been or anything else I don’t want to tell you. But you better not stop doing all these other things for me, or I’ll further abuse and manipulate you.”
“I never said that! You made it up!”
Translation: “I totally said that, but I’m not really happy that you’re reminding me of it. So, I’ll just pretend you’re insane so you’ll start doubting yourself again. I always like to watch you squirm and feel confused. Keeps you busy so I can keep doing whatever I want.”
“I prayed to meet you,” or “I manifested you,” or “You’re my soulmate!”
Translation: “I am going to make you believe that our connection is divinely inspired so that you’ll feel like leaving would be doing something against God or the Universe or whatever you happen to believe in.”
“I’m sorry I seem to have done things to make you not trust me!”
Translation: “I’m sorry you’re calling me out on the things I’ve actually done, but I will not be acknowledging the very specific actions I have actually committed against you or our relationship. I mean, yeah, I totally DID those things, but I’m not capable of taking responsibility for them, so my fake apology will have to suffice. And don’t question me on this one. Accept it, or I’ll rage on you like always.”
“Everything that happens going forward is on you,” or “The ball’s in your court now.”
Translation: “I guess we can be together as long as I can be a horrible human being and you can continue to pretend that I’m perfect. Otherwise, you’re on your own, toots. At least until I need another shot of supply from you. Ok?”
“You just don’t listen!”
Translation: “I don’t like when you don’t go along with whatever I want or whatever I say. You’ve got a lot of nerve to say the truth as opposed to my twisted version of it – so I’m going to focus on diverting attention from what’s actually true by focusing on your hearing.”
“Why do you always insist on arguing with me about everything?”
Translation: “Why are you so obsessed with the truth? Despite the fact that I make up facts to back up my lies, we both know I am superior and it’s all my way or no way.”
“Can’t you see that I love you?”
Translation: “Why do you keep making me take responsibility for things I’ve done to you? Isn’t the fact that I use the words I love you enough to make you shut up and pretend everything is okay?”
“Why can’t you love me for who I am?” or “That’s just who I am – I won’t change for anyone!”
Translation: “I want to do whatever I want, say whatever I want, and treat you however I want – but I don’t want you to notice or stop acting like I’m the best thing in your life. And if you do ask me to stop doing something you don’t like or to compromise or bend in any way, shape, or form, I will make you so miserable you’ll be begging me for mercy.”
“Why can’t you be like everyone else?”
Translation: “Why can’t you just shut up and do whatever I want in any given moment? Why can’t you read my mind and accept whatever I say, think or feel as fact?”
“If you cant see that there’s a problem with this relationship, then there really is a problem!”
Translation: “Oh look! We’ve just entered the devalue phase and you’re a little shocked at how mean I’ve suddenly become? Clearly, this is all my fault, but you know I’ll never take responsibility – therefore, I’ve decided I’m going to go ahead and start making you question everything – including, and especially yourself and your own inability to perceive the non-existent issues I’ve just made up to confuse you. Boom!”
“Weird, your tears don’t phase me, even though I’m a total empath.”
Translation: “I don’t care that I hurt you. I’m a liar, not an empath. Got ya!”
“I didn’t mean to cheat on you, it just happened.”
Translation: “I refuse to accept responsibility for cheating on you because I am not interested in your emotions and I don’t care how you feel.”
“I’m the most honest person you’ll ever meet,” or “I never lie.”
Translation: “I’m the biggest effing liar on the planet, but I have an image to uphold to seem innocent, and likable. Plus, I’m really good at lying to MYSELF and I tend to believe my own lies when it’s convenient for me.”
“So, you’re making this about you…?”
Translation: “I really don’t care how you’re feeling, because everything is always about me, even when it’s really about you. And the idea that you would think otherwise really peeves me right off.”
“I just want things to be good between us”.
Translation: “If you don’t behave the way I want and accept all my lies and crappy behavior, then you’re making things not good between us, so it will be your fault that I will have to be mean to you and/or leave again”.
Any of this sound familiar to you? Could you be in a toxic relationship with an abusive, malignant narcissist? If so, the following resources might be helpful for you.
When you go through narcissistic abuse, a strange thing can happen: you can sort of lose yourself. You forget to do things for yourself, or you intentionally neglect them in favor of doing things for others. What’s worse is that even as you go through narcissistic abuse recovery, you might still neglect self-care since your life is changing and things get busier with kids and/or work, for example. And regardless of your personal circumstances, if you’re reading this now, chances are that you’ve neglected yourself or at least forgotten to include yourself on your own priority list.
So let me ask you: when’s the last time you put yourself first in life? Have you ever put your own needs first? There may have been a time when you were a child when you did put yourself first – well, that is if you didn’t grow up in a toxic family.
Growing Up in a Toxic Family: How It Affects You
Growing up in a toxic family usually leads to one of a handful of outcomes, one of which is becoming a toxic person or a narcissist. The other extreme is becoming more of a people-pleaser who becomes prone to abuse in adulthood, thanks to feeling like “toxic” seems “normal” for us.
But whether you met the toxic person in your life by birth or by chance, before you knew it, your attention was off yourself and your own needs. And, if you’re like most narcissistic abuse survivors, your attention most likely turned toward what the people around you wanted, demanded, and otherwise asked of you, and the responsibilities take root so firmly that you begin to neglect your own needs.
What’s a people pleaser?
A people pleaser, for the record, is someone who has a codependent personality that causes them to sort of need everyone to like them. They tend to avoid conflict to the point it becomes detrimental to their own lives or needs. This can make you especially vulnerable to narcissists and narcissistic abuse. But the reason for your “pleasing” ways isn’t as simple as you might think – and it most certainly isn’t as easy to stop as you might hope. But there are things you can do to heal from codependency, including learning how to set and enforce firm boundaries. But one often-overlooked way is less about how you interact with other people and more about how you take care of yourself. So let’s talk about that.
Support Yourself in Narcissistic Abuse Recovery
As a survivor of narcissistic abuse, chances are that you don’t really know how on what YOU want, and more importantly, what you need in your life – mentally, spiritually, and physically. Despite what the narcissist would have you believe, life’s not meant to be lived in a state of fear, stress, and chaos. And despite what you might think, your own mental, emotional and physical health are all connected.
How do you finally put yourself first?
So how do you go about relearning (or maybe learning for the first time) how to take care of your own needs first? Have you ever done this before? As I mentioned, if you grew up with a narcissist or otherwise toxic parent in your life, chances are that you may have never known what it felt like to be on your own priority list. But even if you are one of the small percentage of survivors who did not have either a toxic parent or a serious trauma earlier in life, and even if you did happen to have a serious sense of self-esteem before you met the toxic narcissist you’re dealing with (or have dealt with), you’ve still got a lot to remember.
For example, despite how you might be feeling right now, it’s really important that you remember the possibility of enjoying your life. What would that look like for you?
My Philosophy on Overcoming Narcissistic Abuse (And Life in General)
In general, I am all about shifting perspective based on new information. And, I do my best not to judge others, for the most part. I try to remember that if I live in a happy mindset, I live in a happy world – while if I live in a negative mindset, then I live in a negative world.
While I don’t vibe with the whole “toxic positivity” thing, I do believe that once you’ve got yourself free and safe, you’re going to do better if you make an intentional effort to feel better. BUT, that doesn’t mean you should shove your feelings down. It means you should be aware and awake, and let your feelings happen. Then, work through them and go forward from there. I learned the hard way that shoving your feelings down and trying to stay happy can actually hurt you in the end.
I find that the most important thing I learned in my own narcissistic abuse recovery is to focus only on what I have the power to change – and not what I don’t. This reduces a significant amount of stress across my entire life.
And I like to live by the philosophy that we should enjoy our days as much as possible. I believe that if we can open our minds to the possibility that we might have been mistaken or even plain wrong about any belief or idea we’ve had, even if it’s been in our heads for our entire lives, we are more intelligent and will have better lives than people who stick with rigid thinking and unchanging ideas. Being open to having been wrong about stuff I believe or believed before I learned something new is actually a big part of what led me here to you today – and I’m betting you could say the same about what led you here, to me today.
Self-Care is a Powerful (and Necessary) Part of Narcissistic Abuse Recovery
Putting yourself on your own priority list and paying attention to your own needs is going to be a big part of how you can reclaim your life and conduct a slow, but methodical total life makeover that takes you from stressed and overwhelmed or exhausted to free, happy and motivated.
It won’t happen overnight, but with intention and active self-care, you can heal and be even better than you could have imagined. You’ll regain your energy, have time for things that you are passionate about and crave, and watch as you see your efforts not only contribute to your own life betterment but for your kids and/or anyone else you most care about. There’s just one thing I ask of you: You need to give it your all. That means to pick and choose the ideas and thoughts shared by myself and other narcissistic abuse recovery coaches, not to mention your fellow narcissistic abuse survivors, to implement in your own recovery.
Not everything that works for me will always work for you, so don’t beat yourself up if you find that one thing works but not another. But in any case, follow through on the ideas and healing techniques you do try, and give it time.
Remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day, and you’re not going to go to sleep tonight and wake up with a totally different life. But if you stick to it and stick with your own personal plan for successful narcissistic abuse recovery, you’re going to see true results that nurture your spirit and help you get healthy on all levels.
Self-Care Guide for Narcissistic Abuse Survivors
Don’t worry about being perfect, but get yourself on some kind of self-care schedule – just a way of reprioritizing your day and night so that there’s time for what matters most – you! You may go through some initial emotions that feel like pushback against this idea, but just let them come and go as you work toward healing. One last tip for today: Don’t forget that things like guilt and avoidance are simply your mind’s way of resisting change. Change can be scary and it can feel really difficult. But if you think logically about it, you know that self-care is not an indulgence – it’s a necessity, especially if you’re working on narcissistic abuse recovery.
Be sure to check out our comprehensive self-care guide for narcissistic abuse survivors. And remember that with self-care, consistency is key, so it is really important that you find a path that helps you develop a routine that works best for you. You don’t need to feel intimidated by the process, because if you’re like me and most other survivors, that might mean you just freeze – or even give up completely.
If you’ve experienced narcissistic abuse in a toxic relationship, you have likely experienced significant and ongoing trauma. And while it might feel like no one in your life gets what you’ve been through, you’re far from alone. In fact, according to the National Council For Behavioral Health, approximately 70% of Americans (over the age of 18) have experienced trauma in their lifetime. That is well over 200 million people – and that’s not even considering the fact that so many lives have been permanently altered thanks to the pandemic.
What is narcissistic abuse?
The term “narcissistic abuse” is thrown around a lot these days. While not all abuse technically involves narcissists, a narcissist is involved more often than you might think. Malignant narcissists have a seriously impaired ability to experience emotional and compassionate empathy, and they are known to act from that perspective.
In layman’s terms, that means that, essentially, they don’t care how you or anyone else feels, and you can tell because of the way they treat the people around them.
A toxic relationship is similar to a dysfunctional relationship, but it is in many ways far less repairable. While therapy and ongoing effort can repair many dysfunctional relationships, toxic relationships are physically and/or psychologically unsafe. They can even be life-threatening for one or both partners involved. A toxic relationship involves more negativity than positivity, and it doesn’t emotionally support one or both of the people involved. When narcissistic abuse is part of a toxic relationship, only the narcissist’s needs are addressed and the victim is actively manipulated and abused in order to facilitate this.
Toxic relationships will involve resentment, contempt, communication problems, and varying forms of physical, emotional, and psychological abuse. In the most extreme cases, you may need medical help and intense therapy to begin recovery. I always suggest seeing your doctor and getting checked out on a regular basis anyway, and I think it is an important first step in narcissistic abuse recovery. This way, you’ll know for sure what you’ve got to deal with, and you can get your doctor’s advice on taking the next steps in your personal journey toward recovery.
But in most cases, you can manage with some support and intentional healing. In nearly all cases, people who are victims of narcissistic abuse in toxic relationships will experience some level of ongoing trauma and will struggle with the after-effects long after the relationship ends. In any case, intentionally working toward narcissistic abuse recovery can make a significant difference in both the length of your recovery as well as the quality of your life during and afterward.
What is trauma?
Trauma is defined by the American Psychological Association (APA) as: “The emotional response someone has to an extremely negative event.” The effects of trauma can vary from person to person. Some people may be minimally affected by trauma. Others may be debilitated by the effects. In narcissistic abuse, ongoing trauma related to gaslighting and other forms of manipulation and psychological abuse can lead to trauma bonding.
In addition to prolonged psychological abuse, physical violence, and other forms of abuse, trauma events include things like a car accident, a natural disaster such as a tornado or hurricane, the death of a loved one, serious illnesses, or divorce. In some cases, minor trauma can even occur as the result of seemingly positive changes, such as moving, getting married, or changing jobs.
Emotional And Psychological Trauma as a Side-Effect of Narcissistic Abuse
What happens when you survive a traumatic event?
During each trauma you experience in your toxic relationship, your body goes into defense mode, creating the stress response which results in a variety of symptoms, both physical and mental. You will experience your emotions more intensely and likely behave differently as a result of the trauma. The body’s stress response includes physical symptoms such as a spike in blood pressure, an increase in sweating and heart rate, as well as a loss of appetite.
How does your body respond to a traumatic event?
During episodes of narcissistic abuse, whether they’re psychological or physical, your body will have a stress response. This will affect your thoughts, your moods, and your emotions, but also your physical health. Your body perceives what you’re dealing with as a physical threat, whether or not you’re in physical danger. This is why so many survivors find themselves living in fight or flight mode (or even experience an ongoing freeze response). The flight or fight response causes your body to produce chemicals that prepare your body for an emergency. As you might imagine, this can profoundly affect you.
The symptoms involved can lead to a variety of complications, including the following.
You get anxious.
You lose your appetite.
You suffer from other stomach and digestive issues.
How does your mind respond to the trauma associated with narcissistic abuse?
Following each traumatic event you go through during narcissistic abuse, you will deal with uncomfortable and potentially devastating emotional and psychological effects. For example, it might mean you deal with experience denial and/or shock. So many survivors of narcissistic abuse tell me that they do not even realize that they are being abused until they feel too stuck to leave – or until they are discarded and trying to figure out what happened.
In any case, you might find yourself living in the stress response for days or weeks before going through a series of emotions that could lead to healing. Note: while some level of relief may occur for those who are still dealing with narcissistic abuse, it is very difficult to fully heal unless you free yourself of the ongoing abuse. In most cases, that means you’ll need to go no contact with your abuser (or low contact, if you have children together).
When you stick around and continue to tolerate narcissistic abuse, you’re doing more than making your life harder. The ongoing abuse makes it nearly impossible to heal, and this can result in a serious impact on your overall health and wellbeing.
Symptoms of emotional and psychological trauma include the following.
You’ll feel shocked (at least initially) by the abuse.
You’ll deny that it’s even happening, or you’ll doubt that it did.
You’ll find yourself feeling foggy and sometimes confused, and you won’t be able to concentrate.
You’ll be irritable and you might feel angry a lot.
You will deal with mood swings that might feel out of control.
You’ll be anxious and you might feel scared or on edge all the time.
You’ll often feel guilty, and you’ll blame yourself for everything that goes wrong (in your relationship and otherwise).
You’ll suffer from shame, whether it’s related to the fact that you’re tolerating abuse, or it’s related to the self-image the abuser has created for you.
You’ll self-isolate and withdraw from your friends and extended family, and this will leave you feeling more alone than ever.
You’ll find yourself feeling hopeless and you’ll always have an underlying sense of sadness.
Eventually, you’ll go numb, and you’ll feel like you’re not even living, but just “getting through the days.”
You might find yourself just sort of “existing,” and you might neglect your own physical needs, your responsibilities, and even, at least on some levels, your kids or other people you care for.
These responses are the result of evolution – your body has evolved to respond this way to effectively cope with an emergency, whether it’s to stand and fight or to run away as fast as humanly possible. Unfortunately, our bodies and brains weren’t designed to deal with ongoing narcissistic abuse, so these issues can become debilitating for victims.
What are the long-term effects of ongoing trauma related to narcissistic abuse?
PTSD & C-PTSD
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a disorder often diagnosed in soldiers, as well as in survivors of abuse, in which a person has difficulty recovering after experiencing or witnessing a terrifying event. Post-traumatic stress disorder can leave people feeling anxious long after they experience trauma, whether it results in a physical injury or not. Symptoms include flashbacks, nightmares, avoidance of anything to do with the trauma, panic attacks, poor concentration, sleep issues, depression, anger, and substance abuse.
Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) is a serious mental health condition affecting a large percentage of victims and survivors of narcissistic abuse. This disorder can take years to treat and many professionals aren’t familiar with its symptoms or misdiagnose it. They may even victim-blame if they aren’t familiar with the subtle tricks of a narcissist. Unfortunately, it can be a lifelong condition, but it can be managed with mindfulness and behavior modification, among other therapies and modalities.
Depressionis a very common issue for victims and survivors of narcissistic abuse, manifesting in a persistently depressed mood or loss of interest in activities – both daily “chores” or responsibilities as well as things you normally really enjoy doing. Depression significantly affects your daily life in ways that not everyone understands – and it can also affect your physical health in a number of ways. When we’re talking about depression, we don’t mean those moments where you occasionally feel sad or a little down – we’re talking about a lasting experience of intense negative emotions such as hopelessness, anxiety, helplessness, and negativity.
Not only can these issues affect your health as noted, but both the physical and mental effects of trauma may lead you to practice bad habits that negatively contribute to an overall lack of wellbeing.
How do you recover from trauma related to narcissistic abuse?
If you’re ready to start healing from the abuse you’ve experienced, you’ve come to the right place. Now that you’ve recognized that you’ve dealt with narcissistic abuse, you’re ready to start learning how to deal with and heal from the ongoing trauma you experienced during your toxic relationship.
Start With Self Care
Self care is always important, and when you’re trying to heal from significant trauma, it is even more important than ever. Especially during the first days and weeks of recovery, you might find yourself neglecting your self-care. You might also beat yourself up too much, and this is the time when self-compassion must be a big part of your plan. So be kind to yourself – you’ve had enough abuse from the narcissist. Don’t continue it on their behalf.
Instead, be gentle with yourself and take the extra time you need to get a healthy diet, hydrate, rest, and nourish your soul and emotions. Journal, exercise, or do any favorite activity that makes you feel good. All of these things can help you restore your sense of well-being and wholeness in the moment and will help your overall state of mind anytime.
Discover the Right Resources for Your Recovery
Start by finding out what kinds of narcissistic abuse recovery resources are available to you, and which ones will best fit your personal needs and your budget. Understanding your needs and which of the available options is best for you going to be a critical step in moving past emotional or psychological trauma you’ve death with through narcissistic abuse. Talk to family, friends, or trusted people in your life who may understand what you’ve experienced, or reach out to a narcissistic abuse recovery support group.
If you need to report an event to a professional or law enforcement. do so. The same if you may need to see a doctor. Do your best to make informed choices here and do what is best for you and your health and wellbeing.
Understand the Effects of Narcissistic Abuse-Related Trauma
Knowledge is power when it comes to narcissistic abuse recovery. Not only will understanding what happens mentally and physically during and after the abuse give you insight into your experiences, but it can also help you learn how to help yourself heal.
Plus, if you’re anything like me, looking at the situation from the perspective of a “scientist,” as in logically and not emotionally, can help you find the catalyst you need to get out of a toxic relationship and to heal your whole life on a more profound scale. This is especially helpful for diverting your most extreme emotions if you can logically understand that what you have experienced isn’t your fault – and then to go deeper and look at how your own psychology as well as the narcissist’s psychology almost doomed you to end up in a toxic relationship in the first place.
With this kind of self-awareness, you can intentionally redesign yourself. And while you definitely cannot become the same person you once were after you’ve experienced narcissistic abuse, you can absolutely become a better, more enlightened, and intentionally-created version. I like to think this is the one silver lining to narcissistic abuse recovery. Clearly, we’d all rather avoid having the narcissistic abuse experience in our lives – but since it is so soul-crushing and psychologically damaging that it breaks us down to the point that we feel like a shell of a person, we have to rebuild ourselves anyway.
You can look at this as a horrible injustice, and you’d be right. But the hidden bit of light here is that you can literally rebuild yourself to become the person you really, truly want to be – the person maybe you should have been all along. And this leads me to my next point.
Overcoming the Effects of Narcissistic Abuse-Related Trauma
Depending on what level of trauma you experienced during narcissistic abuse, the process for dealing with it varies. In cases of shorter relationships and those that aren’t as significant (such as a co-worker of a few months, versus a 20-year marriage, for example), you might feel better with time. But most of us will need to go through a whole process that will involve an extended period of self-reflection, research, learning, coping, grieving, and ultimately, and personal evolution.
After you’ve worked through the painful parts of the narcissistic abuse recovery process, the silver lining is fully in place, and you’re ready to begin discovering who you are, what you want, and what your life will look like from here on out. (THIS is the good part!)
It’s around this time that you’ll begin to feel a sort of shift in your narcissistic abuse recovery, where things will start to become clearer than ever. It’s as though you’re nearing the end of a lifelong existential crisis – and you can really begin to feel yourself evolving into a whole new level of consciousness – and that can be a beautiful thing.
Get Help With Healing From Narcissistic Abuse Related Trauma
Overcoming emotional and physical trauma associated with narcissistic abuse in toxic relationships can be a long, difficult process. It takes digging deep and doing the work each day to move past the all-encompassing and life-altering level of trauma brought on by the ongoing abuse.
Please remember that you’re are worth it and that you deserve to be happy and healthy. And, whether we like it or not, when we’ve experienced narcissistic abuse and the trauma related to it, our health, happiness, and wellbeing literally depend on doing this work. Take the time to heal, empower yourself, and move forward from psychological and emotional trauma.
Remember that in every stage of trauma recovery, getting support is going to be critical. Whatever path you choose, the level to which you share your experiences with people in your life is a personal decision. Don’t keep things to yourself, but understand who is going to be a “safe” person with whom you can safely discuss the abuse and trauma you’ve experienced.
Remember that not everyone has experienced what you have, so they may not fully understand the depth of it. Trying to explain the psychological abuse narcissists inflict on you can feel impossible when you’re talking to someone who just doesn’t “get it,” if you understand what I mean.
You might even want to hire a narcissistic abuse recovery coach to help you work through your recovery – or even just to have someone who will understand and help you process what you’ve been through.
Resources for Healing After Trauma Caused By Narcissistic Abuse
Professional Help for Managing Trauma and Narcissistic Abuse Recovery
If you are experiencing symptoms that are affecting your day-to-day life, it is important to get professional if needed. There is no shame in working with experts to improve your overall health and wellbeing. Consider talking to experts if you experience the following symptoms.
Ongoing distress, anxiety, sadness, etc for multiple weeks.
Feeling like you’re stuck or you have an inability to function in your life.
Feeling hopeless all the time.
Your work or school is affected.
Your daily life and activities have been affected.
You are using drugs or alcohol to cope.
It never hurts to start by contacting your family doctor or mental health professionals. Also, consider talking to a clergy member about a referral if you go to church. They may know a professional in your community that you can work with. You can also check out the narcissistic abuse recovery support resources here.
Comprehensive Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Glossary: This is a comprehensive guide to words and phrases (related to narcissism, NPD and related conditions, narcissistic abuse, and narcissistic abuse recovery) that are commonly used in articles, videos, and narcissistic abuse recovery support groups. Defined here as specifically how they relate to narcissism, narcissistic abuse, and narcissistic abuse recovery, these terms have been developed by psychologists, coaches, therapists, and survivors of narcissistic abuse who need a way to understand and overcome the abuse.
FAQ Help: Whenever you need help with something related to this site or you want to know how to find something, join a group or otherwise deal with an issue you’re having, visit our new FAQ Help page.
Self-Care for Survivors: This is a page that covers everything you need to know about self-care, from how to build your own self-care kit to how to sign up for self-care support, and more.
New Resources Page: This is a one-stop overview of narcissism, NPD, and narcissistic abuse recovery, offering a long list of resources that will be helpful for you.
Stalking Resources Center: If your narcissist is a stalker, the information and resources on this page will help you get and stay safe.
*Disclaimer: This article is for informational and educational purposes only. It’s very important to always check with your doctor before taking any action that could affect your physical or mental health.