Until the last decade or so, I rarely felt super happy. My life seemed to alternate between feeling stressed and anxious and feeling depressed. Sure, there were occasional bouts of feeling ALMOST happy, and there were a few high points I could share. But in general, my resting state was always waiting for the other shoe to drop. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t focus.
Dissociation as a Symptom of Narcissistic Abuse
I was so dissociated that I struggled to even feel like a real person. But when I learned about how my toxic relationships with narcissists had affected me on some fairly profound levels, I also learned how to choose my own perception and eventually managed to switch it up. These days, my resting state is usually at the very least calm, if not actually happy.
And while my life wasn’t so great back then, it turns out that I’m not unusual in this way. See, living with constant anxiety, depression and stress is a common problem for people who are or who have been involved in longterm relationships with narcissists – whether they’re your spouse, partner, parent or someone else. And, according to a study I’m going to share with you today, we’ve been right all along: narcissistic behavior in toxic relationships literally causes anxiety and depression – even after the relationship ends.
In this video, I’ll explain all of that and give you tips on how you can manage and resolve it in your own life.
You might already know that the feeling of being anxious is something we’ve inherited from our ancestors, but did you know that anxiety developed early in our evolution in order to help prehistoric humans survive in their unstable and dangerous environment? It’s true!
Defined as an overall feeling or sense of nervousness, worry and general unease, humans of today are still plagued with anxiety, though it isn’t necessary in our current world since, for the most part, we’re not fighting to stay alive every day.
So then why is it that we still struggle with it to the point that there are a number of officially diagnosed anxiety disorders? And how is it that going through a toxic relationship and dealing with common narcissistic behaviors causes these disorders, along with clinical depression and various forms of PTSD? Well, this is where that study I mentioned comes in.
But just to summarize it for you, the study collects a number of academic psychology reports and scientific research papers that point to the issue: the anxiety orders of today all seem to indicate that any sort of psychological or emotional trauma in childhood is the culprit.
How Narcissistic Abuse Leads to Anxiety and Depression
It turns out that going through what the study authors termed “early life stress” can profoundly affect the central nervous system (CNS). In layman’s terms, that means that your nervous system becomes almost disabled, compared to that of someone who didn’t experience such traumas. That’s because these kinds of traumas and the levels of stress you experience during narcissistic abuse will lead to high amounts of inflammatory hormones being dumped into our systems. And even when we’re not actively being traumatized – and this is the worst part – our bodies begin to release these same hormones even at the memory of these traumas. Essentially, we become overloaded with emotional stress.
Study Confirms That Narcissistic Abuse Causes Lifelong Mental Health Issues
The study confirms what I’ve been saying for years: going through narcissistic abuse, whether as a child or as an adult, is now considered a major risk factor that can contribute to anxiety disorders, depression and PTSD. And, going through psychological abuse can be equally and even more profound on its effects on your mental health when compared to experiencing physical abuse and aggression.
Surviving Trauma in Childhood Doesn’t Doom Your Mental Health, BUT…
On the plus side, psychologists say, going through this as a kid doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll absolutely develop anxiety in your lifetime. Still, traumatic events in childhood – especially while your brain is still developing – can definitely contribute to the supersensitivity seen in the neuroendocrine and stress response systems. That means that going through additional emotional and/or psychological traumas as you get older can trigger anxiety, depression and other psychological disorders.
Because of the increased stress and the fact that in time, most sufferers of narcissistic abuse experience adrenal fatigue, this can be the most dangerous kind of abuse.
When the adrenal fatigue hits, you’re going to be dealing with several possible outcomes – again, including an anxiety disorder, clinical depression, or both.
What Makes You More Susceptible to Narcissistic Abuse?
Worse, feeling anxious and depressed means you’re more susceptible to narcissistic abuse and therefore less likely to be able to extricate yourself from a toxic relationship, which explains why so many of us struggle to leave or go no contact with the narcissists in our lives.
Narcissists tend to target sensitive, empathic and compassionate people. People who are wired to always see the best in other people and who by nature are helpers or fixers. People who make an effort to understand the narcissist, and who often see their glaring flaws and choose to love them anyway. People who will put the narcissist’s needs above their own at nearly any cost.
This of course leads to the narcissist’s initial recognition that this is someone they want to keep around – so they begin to create the web of crazy that we end up stuck in during these toxic relationships. They begin to try to make you emotionally, physically and/or financially dependent on them. And they do it by whatever means necessary.
But how do they accomplish it?
How do narcissists take control of you?
They start by devaluing you – at first, maybe with little jabs and undercutting comments. Later, it becomes more direct and aggressive, and before you know it, they’re deep into gaslighting. That’s where they intentionally and willfully psychologically “game” you by making you doubt your reality and question your own perception.
They start to make you feel crazy, and while some part of you KNOWS that you’re perfectly sane, deep down, the constant repetition eventually wears you down and you find yourself wondering if you really ARE crazy.
Adrenal fatigue and its effects in narcissistic abuse
This part is exactly where you begin to experience adrenal fatigue. You start to feel foggy and confused, and you question your very sanity. You doubt your morals and your ethics and honestly; you don’t even know who you are anymore.
You are living in a constant state of stress and a complete lack of self=confidence. This, of course, leaves you feeling lost, confused and alone in your relationship and in your life. You avoid your friends and extended family members. You start to feel uncomfortable in any social situation. You forget how to talk about yourself. You start to dissociate.
You might even get physically sick. It’s like you’re not even there sometimes.
This makes it feel impossible to free yourself sometimes, and many unfortunate people find themselves feeling completely stuck with literally no options.
Narcissistic abuse isn’t your fault
You might blame yourself for being in this situation. But you shouldn’t – instead, you should recognize that while the narcissist dragged you down, and while a coach, therapist or support group can help, only YOU can ultimately pull yourself out of it.
The question of the day is: are you as unshocked by this study as me? Have you experienced this kind of relationship? Share your thoughts, share your ideas, share your experiences in the comments below this video, and let’s talk about it.
“We all come from dysfunctional families. The issue is not whether our family was dysfunctional but whether we can put meaning to the experience of our lives.” ~ Stephen Porges, author of the Polyvagal Theory
I had a narcissistic abuse recovery counseling client who was really struggling with deep childhood trauma combined with a psychopathic ex who had horribly abused her since she was a teen. Now that she was free, she was feeling anything BUT. In fact, she felt frozen in fear, nearly all the time.
Are you living in a constant state of fear?
Can you relate to living in a constant state of fight or flight, or worse, freeze? That was this woman’s reality. She had tried traditional therapy and spent thousands of dollars on various doctors, practitioners, and even alternative medicine. Yet, she was still at a complete standstill in her recovery and she still felt fearful and miserable every day. I deeply felt for her, and I really wanted to help. So, I started digging to help her find a solution to overcome her C-PTSD (complex post-traumatic stress disorder) symptoms so she could heal.
That is what led me to Dr. Stephen Porges and his Polyvagal Theory. My client found significant relief, and I learned new ways to help people in narcissistic abuse recovery.
What is Polyvagal Theory?
According to Porges, “The polyvagal theory describes an autonomic nervous system that is influenced by the central nervous system, sensitive to afferent influences, characterized by an adaptive reactivity dependent on the phylogeny of the neural circuits, and interactive with source nuclei in the brainstem regulating the striated muscles of the face and head.” Read more about Polyvagal Theory in Porges’ 2009 paper, here.
In this brief video, Dr. Stephen Porges explains offers an explanation of his Polyvagal Theory and how it works.
How can we use Polyvagal Theory and vagus nerve stimulation to help us heal from narcissistic abuse and trauma?
Going through a toxic relationship often leaves victims feeling fearful to a debilitating level. For most of us, it affects our nervous system in profound ways. In some cases, survivors find themselves living in a constant state of anxiety based on the feeling that they need to be constantly on guard – hypervigilance. This makes it almost impossible for them to relax or even to feel “normal.” They feel FROZEN or STUCK.
Through the use of vagus nerve stimulation as described by Dr. Porges in Polyvagal Theory, many survivors find relief of their C-PTSD symptoms. Even better, these exercises can be done by almost anyone from the comfort of their own home – or anywhere they happen to be.
Self-Help Exercises for CPTSD Symptoms Based on Polyvagal Theory
In THIS VIDEO, I talk about a theory developed by Dr. Stephen Porges that could change the way we heal trauma, and once I’ve given you a brief overview of the theory, I’m going to share some self-help exercises that you can do at home to help you get through the hard times.
As I mentioned, one of my clients found herself stuck, afraid and feeling frozen, and she had tried everything but struggled to find relief. After discovering what I’m going to show you today, she began to find some relief. As I learned more about the theory, I shared some of its ideas with other clients in similar situations.
In the majority of these cases, they were able to find some relief all on their own by doing surprisingly simple at-home exercises. Several reported that they felt these simple exercises made a significant difference in their ability to feel safe enough to recover.
The Role of the Vagus Nerve in Narcissistic Abuse Recovery
Porges proposes in his polyvagal theory that the vagus nerve has more function than previously thought and that the sympathetic/parasympathetic nervous systems are only part of the equation in how people react to the environment and trauma. Because the theory is very complicated, I’m only providing a very high-level overview and focus on the parts that will specifically help us as survivors. The Polyvagal Theory says that the parasympathetic nervous system is not only associated with relaxation but also symptoms of PTSD.
Porges developed the theory to help us understand this dual function of the parasympathetic nervous system. It points to a human survival mechanism in which the parasympathetic nervous system leads us to FREEZE or “faint” in the face of a life-threatening event. Most importantly, the polyvagal theory teaches you to engage your social nervous system to consciously slow down your defensive system.
This allows you to finally find freedom from CPTSD symptoms and to feel safe. In other words, Porges’s theory makes us look beyond the effects of fight or flight and put social relationships in the forefront so we can understand our symptoms better.
Additional Resources for Learning About Polyvagal Theory
The QueenBeeing SPANily, Official – We consider this to be the best narcissistic abuse recovery support group on the web. Offers several subgroups and features a vigilant, compassionate admin team full of trained coaches and survivors, supporting more than 12k members. SPAN is an acronym created by Angie Atkinson that stands for Support for People Affected by Narcissistic abuse in toxic relationships.
Other Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support Groups– We also have separate groups for each stage in your narcissistic abuse recovery, as well as some for those who have moved past recovery and are evolving into the next stage of their own life. Survivors have unique and individual needs, even when they’ve moved on – so we’re still here for you.
One-on-One Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Coaching – If you prefer to get more personalized support in your recovery, you might like to schedule a session with one of our coaches to plan and execute your own narcissistic abuse recovery plan.
Find a Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Therapist – If you’re looking for a therapist for narcissistic abuse recovery, either because you cannot afford coaching and want to use your health insurance or because you have additional issues you need to address that do not fall within the realm of coaching, you will want to find the right therapist for you – and as far as we’re concerned, that therapist must understand what you’ve been through. This page offers assistance to help you do exactly that.
Is your life out of balance after being abused by a narcissist? From time to time, everyone’s life can get a little out of control. You spend too much time focussed on work, and your family life suffers. Or you spend too much money on your social life, and your finances suffer. Maybe you’re running yourself ragged and your health is taking a back seat.
So what can you do to stop this chaos?
Regain balance in your life with these strategies:
1. Identify the different parts of your life. If you were going to divide your life into columns, what would the column headings be? For most of us, they would include family, work, health, finances, and social life. You might have additional categories such as music, spirituality, and volunteering.
2. Start with your health. Is your health negatively impacted by your lifestyle? Are you getting enough sleep? Are you eating properly? How much exercise are you getting each day? Have you been to the doctor lately? How is your bodyweight? What can you do to enhance your health?
3. Evaluate your family life. Does your family only get attention when you have time left over from your other obligations? Are you spending enough time with your partner and children? What do each of them need right now? How can you provide it to them? How can you enrich your relationship with your family?
4. Is your social life getting too much attention or not enough? Have you lost track of your friends? Is your family upset that you’re spending too much time socializing? Or maybe your overactive social life is causing challenges in other areas of your life. Consider what changes would help balance out your social life.
5. Take a look at your values and priorities. What is most important to you? You can’t have it all unless your wants are quite limited. Make a list of your values and priorities. Alter your life to emphasize those things.
6. Where are you wasting time? Perhaps you can bring your life back into balance by freeing up more time for what’s most important to you. First, identify how you’re wasting time and eliminate or minimize those activities.
7. Learn to say “no”. There’s not enough time in the day to say “yes” to everything that crosses your path. This goes back to your priorities. One of the most effective ways to regain balance in your life is to eliminate the unnecessary. What can you live without? What will you be glad to get off your plate?
8. Be grateful for what you have. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, it can be easy to see the dark side of things. Remind yourself of how much you have in your life already. With a positive outlook, you’ll have a better chance of making progress.
9. Make a plan. Once you have a few ideas, make a plan on how you intend to put them into practice. Avoid the mistake of believing that identifying the cure is a cure in itself. It’s necessary to take action.
Everything gets out of balance once in awhile, including your life. The key is recognizing the challenge you face and setting priorities. Eliminate those things that don’t add value to your life so you have more time for the things that do. Take control of your life and create a life that truly fulfills you.
How Do You Develop the Perfect Morning Routine to Reduce Anxiety and Make Your Life Better? Can changing your morning REALLY change your life?
One of the best ways to learn how to become more accomplished is to look at the people in life who have accomplished the most and to try and emulate them. What are the secrets to their success?
Usually you’ll find that there are many answers to this question and many things you can learn. But one of the most consistent things you’ll find is that the successful individual has a morning routine.
This is what you will do first thing in the day when you wake up. It’s the perfect time to focus on yourself before life gets in the way and it’s the perfect way to ensure your day gets off to the right start. So, what does the ideal morning routine look like? Here are some ideas to start you off…
Working out first thing in the morning will help to get the blood circulating and will release hormones that wakes you up. If you train before breakfast, you’ll burn more calories by training in a ‘fasted state’.
Another thing you’ll find that many very successful people do is to start their day with meditation. Meditation is a fantastic tool for combating stress and helping yourself to cope better with the challenges that life faces you with. What’s more, is that meditation can help to boost your concentration and create more grey matter to improve your reasoning skills and working memory!
Gratitude exercises are very valuable for being happier and more effective. The problem is that many driven people forget to stop and take stock of what they’ve already accomplished or how good their lives are already. Instead, they only ever think about the things they have yet to accomplish and what they want next. Check out my Gratitude Journal – in PDF (so you can print at home) or workbook form.
Spend five minutes in the morning then and write down three things that you love about yourself and 10 things you’re grateful for. These can be big things or small things. But simply by focussing on them, you will feel more content and happier and your work will be more fruitful.
Starting the day with a to-do list is an excellent way to enhance your productivity. It’s also a very good way to avoid feeling overwhelmed by the volume of things you need to do. Make a list of all the things that you absolutely must prioritize and then the things you’ll do if you can. Split your day into segments and then just work through each job one at a time! I put together this Productivity Planner and I absolutely LOVE the way it works – take a look!
When you’ve been through narcissistic abuse, you’ve been through hell. And one of the worst parts of it is that it can literally damage every area of your life – even your physical health. But did you know that you may have the ability to make some positive changes there? It’s true.
In fact, one study in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine has indicated that once anxiety and depression sets in, you’ve unleashed the possibility that you’ll develop heart disease in the future – and we all know that anxiety and depression are standard issues for those of us who have experienced these toxic relationships.
We all know some of the factors that contribute to heart disease – primarily genetics and our poor food consumption (or lack of healthy foods in our diets). But most people never consider sheer stress and anxiety as a source of actual damage to their body’s heart.
The Connection Between Disease and Depression
The study – carried out at the School of Population Health of the University of Queensland in Australia, was focused on women over 40 who had experienced stress but who had no sign of heart disease. Over time, their depression and anxiety seem to be a factor in the development of heart disease.
It was a 15-year look at how heart disease developed in these women. Researchers were looking for both depression and anxiety combined as a contributing factor.
What they found was that in the women who were newly diagnosed with heart disease during the study, they were more likely to have both depression and anxiety.
What scientists concluded is that when you have these types of mental health issues to fight in your life, your nervous system can’t perform accurately. And when you’re depressed, you tend to lack physical activity, engage in unhealthy food, cigarette and alcohol addictions, and neglect your overall well being.
Another 10-year study by the Heart Foundation found that heart attacks can occur from major life traumas, such as the death of someone you love, disasters of nature like hurricanes, tornadoes, etc., and domestic terror attacks.
The study also found that chronic stress – especially in women over the age of 45 – contributed to more heart problems as well. But that doesn’t let men off the hook, though.
No study to date has singled out stress as the sole determining factor for having heart disease, but there’s no mistaking the fact that it can contribute to it. It could be because depression and anxiety cause poor self-care behaviors.
One thing doctors know is that a large number of patients’ visits to the doctor are due to chronic stress. It can take a toll on your body, causing fatigue, panic attacks, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and more.
What happens when you get stressed is that your body experiences a fight or flight reaction. Your adrenaline gets pumping and you tense up. Your heart rate soars. Fat gets released into your blood because it’s used to give you a jolt of energy. Even your blood clots easier.
This wouldn’t be a problem for your heart if it happened once in a while, but for many individuals, depression and anxiety is a never-ending problem. Your heart needs rest and relaxation.
It shouldn’t always be battling increased blood pressure, a barrage of cholesterol, and rapid heartbeat. What will happen is that your heart might start beating abnormally more often than not. Your arteries can thicken, too – setting you up for a heart attack or stroke.
Gauging Your Stress Level for Heart Health
You may or may not have an issue where stress – in the form of depression and anxiety – is affecting your heart health. Some people have minor stress while others are mired in it and don’t even realize how bad it’s become.
Ask yourself if you’ve been going through a lot of traumatic, nerve-wracking or frustrating situations in the past year. That might include:
Changing jobs, having stress in an existing one, or having no job
Adding to your family either with birth or marriage
Think about how you’ve physically felt lately. Stress is evident in our minds, but sometimes we overlook the physical effect until it’s too late. If you’re burdened by an unhealthy amount of stress, you might notice a few common stress signs early on.
Your jaw might hurt in the morning. This is a sign you’re clenching your jaw or grinding your teeth at night. You might also suffer from headaches and feel stiff in your neck area.
As stress really takes a toll on your body, symptoms get more serious. You might have dizzy spells, insomnia, feelings of panic attacks where your heart is racing, you’re sweating and you feel nauseous.
Ways to Cope With High or Chronic Stress
If you make a decision that stress might be an issue for you, then you have to see if you’re capable of getting it under control so that your heart is protected and you’re not setting yourself up for a heart attack or stroke.
First, there are some things you don’t want to do when it comes to managing your stress.
Don’t take the route of asking your doctor to let you pop a pill for your stress unless it’s the last option. Pills just mask a problem – they don’t help you learn to cope.
Don’t use food to help you get in a better mood. The comfort food that many people use to self-medicate during stress only causes more problems for your health.
Never turn to cigarettes and alcohol (or drugs) to help ease your anxiety. None of these things assists you in building a healthier heart. They just do more damage to your body.
Exercise by itself helps your heart – but it also releases endorphins, which help your stress levels plummet back to a manageable level. You can get as little as 20 minutes of exercise a day to reap the benefits of exercise.
Practice good time management. Whether you’re rushing around because you’ve overscheduled yourself or you’ve procrastinated to a point where you’re now panicked, a lack of time is one of the top stressors most people list about their lives.
Implement good sleep hygiene. That means you’re protecting your heart by getting plenty of Zs at night. You can’t function properly and handle stress gracefully when you’re running on empty.
Just as not getting plenty of sleep can be a problem, it can also be a problem if you get too much sleep. That’s a sign of depression, so if you can’t get out of bed and face the day, it might be time to call the doctor and set up an appointment for professional help.
Start replacing bad habits with good habits. Things like nutrition may not sound like it affects stress levels (and in turn heart health), but it does. When you feel like your energy is drained because you’ve crashed from a sugar high, and you’re not tired – it makes you unable to handle stress as well.
Learn how to say no to other peoples’ demands. You might have people from your personal life, from your child’s school, from your church, or from work trying to get you to take on more responsibilities. If you need less stress, don’t be afraid to say no.
If anger is your primary reaction, then you need to focus on anger management so that you can control your reactions to the daily stress that you undergo. And let go of any grudges you’ve been holding against other people because it only wears you down physically and emotionally.
Embracing a Positive Mindset
It’s been proven that optimists live longer than pessimists. That’s because those who look at life with a glass-half-empty are often suffering from heart sabotaging issues like depression and anxiety.
But it’s not as easy as flipping a switch and suddenly thinking everything is all rainbows and unicorns. In fact, you’re not supposed to wear rose-colored glasses and be fake about how great life is, either.
What you need to do is work on a mindset where you’re realistic about what life has given you and then tackle it with a positive attitude that you’re capable of working through any issues that arise.
There’s always going to be stress in your life. It’s unavoidable as a whole. But with the right attitude, you can meet situations head to head and handle them with ease.
Every day you need to reiterate to yourself that you’re capable of handling whatever arises. Stay level-headed about what’s going on. Don’t overreact and make a bigger deal out of something than it really is.
Take a deep breath and look at whatever’s happening and think logically about how you can make it better. Don’t let feelings of doom and gloom overrun your thoughts.
Chances are the worst-case scenario will never happen, and even if it did, it’s not the end of the world. You’ll recover from it. How can you get a better mindset that helps vaccinate you against stress and protect your heart?
Practice positive affirmations. This is when you vocally and mentally reaffirm to yourself that things are going to be okay. Some people start their day off this way and end it this way – or call on positive affirmations during times of crisis.
Smile. Research shows that smiling actually improves your stress handling abilities – but not just any smile will do. It needs to be a full smile where your eyes and the muscles around the mouth actually change shape.
Find ways to laugh a lot. Whether it’s through a funny show on TV or a date night out to a live comedy club, laughter can help people physically and emotionally. When you laugh, the lining of your blood vessels dilates and improves blood flow.
Finding ways to manage your stress won’t just ensure that your heart is protected. It’s going to give you a better quality of life, which will improve your relationships, too.