As you go through the winding road of narcissistic abuse recovery, you may find yourself dealing with a number of complications, including debilitating depression. In fact, anytime you’re dealing with a narcissistic abuser in a toxic relationship, you’ll experience all kinds of PTSD-related symptoms, including dissociation, anxiety, various physical symptoms, among other issues.
Sadly, while it’s one of the most life-stopping, one of the easiest symptoms to miss is depression – and while everybody gets depressed from time to time, there are certain warning signs you should watch for when it comes to healing after your toxic relationship or even trying to find the strength to leave one.
Depression is tough because it can debilitate you, and because it’s easy for people to miss – you might just be a little quieter than usual or a bit withdrawn, and after having survived the abuse you have, a lot of people might assume it’s normal. That can absolutely be the case – but sometimes, you’ve got a case of clinical depression, and that can be devastating to your life and to your narcissistic abuse recovery.
Narcissists and How They Affect Your Depression
Most of the time, a narcissist will do everything in his or her power to maintain some level of control over you, so your depression gives them a chance to twist in the screws a little tighter. Rather than helping you through it, they’ll put their proverbial foot on top of your proverbial head and spit on you as you try to climb out of the depths of hell. That’s why, if you’re still currently dealing with the narc in your life, you might want to consider working toward going no contact (or low contact). Your life may depend on it.
How Is Clinical Depression Different from Sadness?
It’s normal to feel sad when faced with stressful or emotional situations, but how can you distinguish feelings of sadness from clinical depression symptoms? The answer is complex.
- Sadness or “the blues” might disappear soon after the onset, perhaps a few days later. Clinical depression will usually last for two weeks or longer and cause noticeable changes in your lifestyle.
- During periods of sadness or stressful situations, you might be able to pull yourself out of the mood by talking to a trusted friend, getting away for awhile or simply taking better care of yourself. Clinical depression is signified by feeling like you’re in an unfathomable abyss that you can’t climb out of no matter what you do.
- You may become upset when friends or family attempt to cheer you up or reach out to you in some other way and have feelings of irritability, stomach problems, changes in sleep patterns or an inability to cope with even the most menial tasks or dilemmas. Clinical depression might mean that you have thoughts of death or suicide, that life just isn’t worth living anymore or that you’re worthless and don’t deserve anything good.
- Women experiencing these symptoms usually don’t have as difficult of a time reaching out for help, but men might consider it a sign of weakness to admit that they’re depressed. They may lose perspective and attempt to live with the debilitating symptoms rather than asking for assistance. Clinical depression isn’t something that can be worked through without help.
- The most solid clarification of the differences in sadness and clinical depression is that sadness is fleeting and the feelings usually disappear after you cope with whatever problems are causing the distress. You go on living with sadness, working every day and dealing with the lingering thoughts that are causing the “blues.”
- Clinical depression simply persists until your life becomes a living hell. Well-meaning friends and family might tell you to “snap out of it,” or “get over it,” but you just can’t make that transition. Turning to drugs and alcohol or other medications to feel better, even for a limited amount of time, is a choice that could harm you or affect the rest of your life in a negative way.
- Prescription drugs for a medical condition might also be causing clinical depression as it chemically changes your body’s makeup. If you suspect that prescription medications might be the cause of your depression, speak to your physician about changing the dosage or the type of prescription you’re taking.
If you’ve tried everything to make your depression go away, but feel locked into the emotional roller coaster of sadness and despair, you may have clinical depression. Clinical depression can be treated with a number of options that you can discuss with your doctor.
Recognizing the Signs of Depression
If you find yourself experiencing one or more of the following depression signs, consider reaching out to your doctor to get a medical and mental evaluation. This will help determine the type of depression you’re dealing with and the best way to treat it. Some depression signs are:
- Sadness or anger that just won’t go away. If you, a friend or family member seems to carry a cloud of sadness wherever they go or no matter what they’re doing, consider it a sign of depression. Expressing anger for no reason over a prolonged period of time is also a sign that the person may be experiencing some form of depression.
- Missing work or classes on a regular basis. A person who just can’t seem to pull themselves out of bed or get it together enough to show up at a job or attend classes at school may be depressed. Everyone feels lethargic sometimes, especially during stressful situations or burning the candle at both ends, but if it becomes a problem in how the person functions, there could be a problem.
- Dropping out of life. If you or someone you care about doesn’t want to do the things you once loved to do, it could be a depression sign. A teenager or child might be going through depression if he or she shows a lack of friends or disinterest in doing things she once enjoyed.
- Alcohol or drug use. Some prescription drugs can cause depression, especially in older adults. Excessive use of alcohol or illicit drugs can also be considered a symptom and cause of depression and should be taken seriously if you notice this type of behavior in yourself or a loved one.
- Mentioning death or suicide. Suddenly getting rid of belongings and constantly bringing up cryptic conversations that deal with death and/or suicide should be a red alert as a serious depression sign. The person expressing these thoughts or deeds should seek help immediately.
When you begin to suspect that you or someone you love is troubled with depression, take some time to evaluate the depression signs and seek help from a family member or friend close to the situation. It may just be a passing phase, but each sign should be taken seriously. Doctors are usually able to quickly diagnose depression and help is readily available either in the form of medications or mental help.
Complications of Chronic Depression
Chronic depression, medically referred to as Dysthymia, is a mild form of depression, but it can affect your quality of life for a long period of time and cause physical and mental complications, such as the following.
- Chronic depression may cause you to lose interest in almost everything, develop low self-esteem and basically, become incapable of living your life to the fullest. Old friends and even family members may begin to avoid you, or you them.
- Fatigue, hopelessness, anger, self-criticizing, trouble concentrating and making decisions are present in both types of depression and may or may not keep you from functioning and completing tasks in daily life. You may not always feel the full effect of these symptoms all the time or even most of the time, but chronic depression can take its toll in a number of ways. It can overwhelm you at times in your life when you’re supposed to be happy, such as during pregnancy or marrying your soul mate.
- Normal stresses that people face periodically or every day may affect you differently if you suffer from chronic depression. For example, most people might be able to shrug off a bad day at work, but you might view it as life-changing and it might cause you to withdraw into a dark hole for a number of days or even weeks.
Complications of chronic depression symptoms can virtually ruin your life. The complications may include family or work-related conflicts, substance or alcohol abuse, withdrawal from social activities, suicidal thoughts and relationship problems. All these side effects of chronic depression can greatly reduce your quality of life and could turn into major depression.
Seeking help from your primary care doctor is the first step toward beating chronic depression and when you combine that with help from a counselor or mental health care provider, you can help yourself to resume a normal lifestyle. Antidepressants, prescribed by your doctor, have few side effects and may help to greatly relieve the symptoms that keep you from functioning. Counseling can help you understand why you have a propensity for chronic depression.
Normal feelings of sadness, anger or mild depression are a part of our reactions to stressful situations, but if it lasts for a longer period of time than usual or begins to interfere with work, attending class, relationships or keeps you from performing daily tasks, you could be suffering from chronic depression.
Could You Be Living With Severe Depression?
If you’re feeling emotions that seem to be beyond sadness or that you’re stuck in a world that seems like a dark hole of despair, you could be dealing with symptoms of severe depression. Severe depression can permeate your entire life and those around you. You may become unable to function in normal activities and severe depression could eventually affect your health.
Many people who are suffering from severe depression find themselves unwilling victims of today’s tumultuous events such as the downturned economy, job loss, house foreclosures and health care issues. It’s a domino effect that could also threaten relationships, work, school, diet and sleeping habits.
Symptoms of severe depression can worsen if not properly addressed. Some may experience signs of a condition called psychosis and suffer hallucinations or delusions. Thoughts of worthlessness, self-hatred, guilt and feelings that life isn’t worth living become a 24/7 occurrence, and the hole becomes deeper and more difficult to wrench yourself from.
Side effects of severe depression include inability to concentrate, sleeping too much (or too little), reduced libido and withdrawal from normal activities such as socializing with friends and family. Extreme fatigue is a debilitating effect of severe depression and this can sometimes be accompanied by headaches and stomach problems like indigestion.
Many people suffering from severe depression find they have no appetite for the foods they once really enjoyed and end up losing an alarming amount of weight that could affect their health and well-being. Others eat too much, often bingeing and suffer from rapid weight gain.
Severe depression can affect people of all age groups, including children and the elderly. Children suffering from severe depression often exhibit lethargy and a decline in the quality of schoolwork. They may also become insecure, cling to parents or develop whiney and moody habits. Most children display these symptoms at times, but if they begin to indicate a real decline in quality of life, a health care provider should be consulted.
Older people may experience signs of severe depression that include cognitive problems and memory loss. Health problems may exacerbate severe depression, especially if the problems affect a person’s lifestyle. Changes are especially difficult for the elderly. Losing a spouse, moving from loved ones and friends and other transformations of lifestyle may bring on severe depression in the elderly.
Psychologically, severe depression can be persistent and negative thoughts may be difficult to banish from your mind. Coping skills might become non-existent, plunging a person with severe depression even deeper into despair. If you think you or a loved one may be living with severe depression, seek help before the symptoms begin to devastate your health and your life.
Can you self-treat depression? (Self-Help Tips for Depression)
There are some things you can do as a survivor of narcissistic abuse to get through depression on your own. Here are a few basic self-help tips you can try for depression after narcissistic abuse.
- Lifestyle Changes – Simple changes to your lifestyle such as adopting a better and healthier diet, exercising (especially aerobic), not giving in to urges such as staying in bed rather than going to work or making negative food choices such as eating a hamburger and fries rather than a healthy meal will help build your willpower quotient so that it becomes easier next time.
- Self- Care – You know that you should be taking care of yourself, but sometimes life gets in the way and you may be putting yourself last on your own priority list. If you don’t start taking care of yourself, you’ll eventually be unable to take care of others who need you. Not putting yourself first in line for rest, relaxation or anything else that can boost your mood is inviting depression into your body and mind.
- Talk to Trusted Friends & Family Members – When you participate in healthy friendships and family relationships, you’re developing a self-help technique that can help you cope with feelings of depression on a regular basis. Depression self-help includes talking to friends and/or family members who support you, but you have to work on these relationships, and when you’re depressed it might be difficult just thinking about whom you should call or visit.
- Manage Overwhelm – When you feel overwhelmed by “things” you have to do, separate them out into two categories – difficult and unattainable. It may be difficult to get out of bed, shower and get yourself to work, but it’s not impossible. Tasks put into the unattainable category might be saying “yes” to one more volunteer job this week. Picking and choosing what you’ll do will give you a sense of empowerment.
- Take It Slow – The proverbial, “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” is especially true when it comes to dealing with depression. Take baby steps on the road to recovery. If you don’t have a lot of energy on one day, don’t try and accomplish a lot. Choose one thing that you know you can do and do that. Forget about the rest of the stuff on your list.
- Reward Yourself – Don’t forget to reward yourself for what you’ve accomplished. Write down those accomplishments and then look back periodically. You’ll find that you’ve accomplished much more than you thought you had.
Depression self-help can be a wonderful way for you to feel good about yourself and help overcome depression symptoms, but if you feel yourself descending deeper into the throes of depression and you just can’t seem to pull out of it, don’t hesitate to seek professional help.
More Self-Help Hacks for Depression
When you’re feeling distraught enough that you can recognize you need help for depression, there are many options for you to choose from. This can be a blessing for those who like choice, or it can be overwhelming at a time when you have no energy or motivation.
Sometimes it can be embarrassing to admit that you’ve fallen into a funk, so thankfully, there are some discreet products and services that can help you cut through the fog of depression and see the light again.
Depression doesn’t discriminate. You can be a child or a senior citizen, man or woman and suffer from depression. Because of the wide range of people who suffer from this, there have emerged many forms of treatment.
It’s up to you to decide which ones you want to try based on your personal medical history, beliefs, and preferences. Some are rooted in the medical field while others come from a certain ideology.
If you need help for depression that’s so severe you’re having suicidal thoughts, go to the emergency room if you’re in immediate danger, or contact your trusted physician immediately to seek treatment. He or she can provide a prescription solution or other form of help quickly.
If it’s not to that point yet, then you may want to consider some of the other forms of treatment for depression, which include:
- Natural Remedies – These are generally herbal, over the counter solutions that help alleviate stress factors that lead to depression. They may include St. John’s Wort, Gingko Biloba, or Ginseng to name a few.
- Neuro-Linguistic Programming – This is a cognitive therapy that helps change the way you look at life, and at stressful situations that result in a depressive state.
- Hypnosis – This can be done by another person, such as a therapist, or you can learn self-hypnosis to discover a new way of handling your sadness and anxiety.
- Stress Relief – Basics stress relief techniques that alleviate depression can range from something as simple as stress balls that you squeeze in your hand to acupuncture treatments.
- Endorphin Boosters – There are many ways to release endorphins and it can be something as easy as working exercise into your daily routine.
You may have to try more than one form of treatment to find one that works for you, or perhaps do several things together such as exercise, take an herbal supplement, and do self-hypnosis, but the end result will be a happier you.
Whenever you need help for depression, it’s important that you not let it get out of control. Not only is depression emotionally draining, but it can do damage to your body over time.
Other Ways to Treat Depression: Depression Treatment Options*
Treatments for depression are many and as varied as the types of depression that affect people during their lifetimes. Depression will likely affect everyone either personally or through a family member with depression at some time during their lives. Now, depression diagnoses are more prevalent than ever because of complicated lifestyles and feeling like we’ve lost control. Depression treatment options depend upon the type of depression that’s diagnosed.
Anti-depressants and psychological counseling are among the methods of depression treatment most used by health care providers. Medications can alleviate symptoms, but do not cure them, so seeing a specialist that diagnoses and treats mental health conditions can be helpful when used with the medication.
Effective antidepressants most prescribed by doctors today for depression treatment include SSRIs (Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) such as Prozac, Paxil and Celexa, SNRIs (Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors) such as Effexor, Cymbalta and Pristiq, NDRIs (Norepinephrine and dopamine reuptake inhibitors, Atypical antidepressants such as Desyrel and Remeron, tricyclic antidepressants and MAOIs (Monoamine oxidase inhibitors) such as Parnate and Nardil.
The strategy your health care provider takes to treat your depression symptoms depend on whether you need mood-stabilizers, stimulants or help with anxiety. You may end up taking a combination of antidepressants, a strategy known as augmentation. Medication treatment may begin on a hit and miss basis. Everyone is different, and you may have to wait for the exact one or combination to work for you.
Besides medications and counseling, there are other methods of depression treatment that may work if all else has failed. Treatments such as vagus nerve stimulation use electrical impulses that are targeted to a surgically implanted generator. Powerful magnetic fields alter brain activity in a depression treatment called Transcranial magnetic stimulation.
If you have a problem taking certain medications or you simply prefer not to, there are various lifestyle changes and home remedies that are also considered effective depression treatments. Even if you’re taking antidepressants, you may want to follow a program of self-help. Self-help remedies can include abstaining from alcohol and illicit drugs, aerobic exercise and getting enough rest.
Don’t feel hopeless about depression symptoms. There are many treatments available that can make a significant improvement in your moods and how you’re living your life. Depression treatment has improved over the past years and the side effects of medications have decreased, so if you suffer from depression, seek some form of treatment.
*I am not a doctor and I do not claim to offer medical advice. Always speak to your medical professional before taking my advice or that of anyone who isn’t your own doctor. See full disclaimer.
Angela Atkinson is a Certified Life Coach and the author of more than 20 books on narcissism, narcissistic abuse recovery and related topics. A recognized expert on narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder who has studied and written extensively on narcissistic relationships since 2006, Atkinson was inspired to begin her work as a result of having survived toxic relationships of her own.
Atkinson offers trauma-informed coaching and has certifications in life coaching, level 2 therapeutic model, CBT coaching, integrative wellness coaching, and NLP. She is a certified trauma support coach and certified family trauma professional. She also has a professional PTSD counseling certification. Her mission is to help those who have experienced the emotional and mental devastation that comes with narcissistic abuse in these incredibly toxic relationships to (re)discover their true selves, stop the gaslighting and manipulation and move forward into their genuine desires – into a life that is exactly what they choose for themselves.
Along with her solution-focused life coaching experience, Atkinson’s previous career in journalism and research helps her to offer both accurate and understandable information for survivors of abuse in a simple-to-understand way that helps to increase awareness in the narcissistic abuse recovery community. Atkinson founded QueenBeeing.com Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support, the SPANily Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support Groups and the Life Makeover Academy. In her life coaching practice, Atkinson’s clients enjoy her personalized approach that allows and encourages them to become the best possible versions of themselves and to succeed in doing what they love most. She offers individual and group coaching for victims and survivors of narcissistic abuse at NarcissisticAbuseRecovery.Online and NarcissismSupportCoach.com.