When you’re in or have recently left a relationship with a narcissist, there are many negative side effects you’ve got to deal with as a result of the gaslighting and manipulation that goes along with it – and one of the most common issues for survivors and victims of narcissistic abuse in relationships is PTSD and C-PTSD.
What is PTSD and Who Can Get It?
Millions of people are affected by PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome/Disorder) and C-PTSD (Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) each year and it can affect anyone in any age group.
PTSD has been talked about in the media as a serious problem that affects soldiers returning from traumatic experiences involving combat, but what we don’t talk about as often are people who have been emotionally and mentally abused by narcissists, psychopaths and other negative people.
That’s why soldiers are what most people think about when they hear that term.
The fact about PTSD is that soldiers aren’t the only ones who can be drastically affected by the debilitating reality of traumatic experiences – and it doesn’t have to result from physical combat.
A person who has been in a car accident, storm, plane crash, been raped or suffered some other type of external trauma can develop emotional illnesses that may morph into depression – or PTSD.
This, of course, includes people who are suffering from narcissistic abuse.
Identifying PTSD in Yourself or Someone You Love
Those who are experiencing PTSD have likely had a “fight or flight” response to a traumatic experience. This normal reaction to impending danger is ingrained in our psyche to prevent us from harm, but in PTSD, that natural response may deeply change a person.
Even though the person is out of danger and no longer needs to be afraid, he or she often reacts to non-threatening experiences and events with a “fight or flight” response.
What does PTSD look like?
The three characteristics of those suffering from PTSD experience are:
1. Exaggerated emotional and physical responses
A person with PTSD might become frightened from loud noises or being surprised. He or she may begin to shake uncontrollably, shrink from the situation or leave the premises. Anxiety is always present in the PTSD patient.
2. Troubling Memories
PTSD may cause a person to frequently recollect the traumatic event. He may become very irrational and emotions may run wild because he’s mentally ‘rewinding’ the event and playing it in his mind over and over.
3. Problems Relating to Others
The person with PTSD may have difficulty trusting anyone and become suspicious and jealous of those who love and want the best for them. The patient is often angry and depressed and extremely detached from loved ones.
PTSD patients think that no one understands them, so relationships are difficult to maintain. Other areas that become problematic for the PTSD patient are his job, performing the most basic of daily tasks and the fact that he can’t comprehend that what he’s afraid of isn’t a real threat at that moment.
This is further exacerbated when a narcissist’s abuse is involved, because in this case, the messages are initially coming from OUTSIDE your head – they’re the narcissist’s attempts to slowly and methodically break you down – and they work way too well.
The mental stress of PTSD is devastating and can take a toll on the patient’s relationships with others and the ability to function if not identified and treated properly. There are certain types of trauma that can easily cause PTSD.
Who Can Be Affected by PTSD?
Besides traumatic combat experiences (such as narcissistic abuse), there are other events that might precipitate PTSD. People of all ages and who have experienced all types of trauma may fall victim to this devastating disorder.
Other than combat veterans (mostly men) here are some trauma victims who are more likely to be affected by PTSD during and after toxic relationships than others:
Children are some of the most likely victims to be affected by PTSD and react to it in various ways that could cause mental and physical illnesses.
- Events such as car accidents, being bullied at school, violence at home, a loved one’s death or illness, child abuse or a serious accident can precipitate PTSD in children.
- Symptoms of PTSD in children include re-living the experience, nightmares, avoiding situations, blocking out his feelings and memory of the event and being easily frightened of events that pose no threat of harm.
- If you notice some or all of these symptoms of PTSD in a child who has been through a traumatic event, make sure you seek help immediately from a health care professional.
Women are much more likely than men to develop PTSD and the reasons could stem from domestic violence, being neglected or abused as a child, being raped, physically attacked, being in accidents, having a crushing medical diagnosis or experiencing the loss of a child or other loved one.
- Symptoms of PTSD in women might include severe depression, abuse of drugs or alcohol, developing an eating disorder or increasing the risk of heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis and chronic pain. Suicidal thoughts or actions and other maladies may also occur.
- Treatment for PTSD in women might include anti-depressants or anxiety medication prescribed by a health care professional or therapy with a person licensed in counseling trauma victims.
People who are alone can suffer from PTSD. Although some people who are alone in life may enjoy it, most of us need a help and support system that we can call on when depressed or medically impaired. Those who have no one to talk to or interact with are much more likely to develop PTSD.
The elderly are sometimes at risk for PTSD when they’re abruptly pulled away from their home and placed in a nursing facility. Friends may have passed on and family may live in other areas of the world.
- It’s a frightening experience to the elderly to be alone.
- Treatment can range from medication to counseling and helping the victim join in other activities as much as possible.
The truth is that anyone who has been through a traumatic experience is at risk. Men, women, children and the elderly may all experience PTSD if they’re victims of extreme trauma and/or the mental and emotional abuse that comes along with a toxic relationship with a narcissist.
What else can make PTSD happen?
Some events that could produce enough traumas to cause PTSD are sexual molestation, experiencing a threat by someone with a weapon, rape, kidnapping, car accident, devastating illness, natural disaster including hurricanes, tornados and earthquakes and civil happenings such as divorce or being sued.
Emergency response workers such as firefighters, medics, pilots and policemen are likely to develop PTSD if they witness or are part of a traumatic event where loss of life or devastation is involved.
Symptoms & Complications of PTSD
Symptoms of PTSD you should look for are the same as the above, including suicidal thoughts, alcohol or drug abuse and depression.
Complications of PTSD are varied, including the disruption it can cause in jobs, relationships and functioning on a daily basis to complete even the most menial tasks or experiencing enjoyment in anything. PTSD shouldn’t be ignored. It won’t go away without treatment.
The Best Ways to Treat PTSD
If you or someone you know falls victim to PTSD, treatment is imperative – and the sooner, the better. Symptoms may occur immediately after a traumatic experience or even months or years later.
One type of treatment doesn’t fit all for those who suffer from PTSD, but there are various ways to get through the disorder and get rid of the symptoms that plague and disrupt your life. These include:
- Traditional “Talk Therapy” – Talking it through for PTSD patients is sometimes the best way to treat the disorder. Counselors and psychotherapists that are specially trained in PTSD treatment can usually help the person find closure for the traumatic incident that has caused such a lifestyle change.
- Cognitive Therapy – This type of therapy helps a PTSD patient realize that events that took place weren’t his fault and helps alleviate feelings of guilt. A therapist listens to the PTSD patient describe the traumatic event(s) in detail and then helps the person understand the incident and why it happened.
- Coaching – When the person suffering from PTSD is otherwise mentally stable, a good life coach can help them discover the answers they seek and learn new coping techniques for dealing with the issues that come along with it. This can work together with or independently from traditional therapies.
When the patient demonstrates that he or she has a good understanding of the event, he then knows that he was suffering stress because of his thoughts about the situation.
Change Your Mind to Change Your Life: Reprogramming Your Brain
The next step is to learn to replace the frightening and negative thought with less traumatic thoughts and put the incident into perspective. These therapy sessions will help the patient learn how to cope with fear, anger and guilt that often plague people after a traumatic experience.
Exposure Therapy – Eliminating fear is one of the goals of exposure therapy and is based on the theory that after a traumatic event happens, a person learns to be afraid of thoughts, feelings and circumstances that remind him of the traumatic happening.
- A therapist can help the PTSD patient control those thoughts and feelings and learn how not to be frightened of the memories associated with the event. A PTSD patient might spend most of his life focusing on memories of the event and reliving it.
- Exposure therapy can help “desensitize” the patient’s reaction to the memories and replace them with less stressful thoughts. Relaxing is key to successful exposure therapy and the therapist might use breathing exercises to help with this.
Support Groups – A supportive group of people can help PTSD patients overcome their fears and emotions. A group can be family members since they are most affected by the person’s PTSD.
- A good therapist will help the patient and family communicate with each other and voice concerns. Honesty is paramount in family group therapy and can help mend and foster relationships.
- A supportive group therapy may also be with those who have experienced the same or similar traumatic experiences. Sharing stories and emotions with others who are in the same boat helps each person build trust and self-confidence and realize that he’s not alone.
EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) – An experienced counselor will help the patient change reactions to remembering a traumatic experience by focusing on the memories while performing certain actions.
- Actions a patient might perform could be eye movements, sounds and tapping. The conclusion about EMDR is out as to how it works to solve problems, but studies suggest that PTSD patients experience fewer symptoms after the therapy.
Light Therapy – One of the problems with PTSD is that sufferers have trouble sleeping. Light therapy has been shown to drastically reduce symptoms of PTSD and is a very inexpensive method of treatment.
- Bright lights affect a person’s internal clock and metabolism and also cause positive reaction to inflammation, immune system and stress such as that caused by traumatic experiences. Depression can also be alleviated with light therapy.
Dog Therapy – It may seem out of the box, but dog therapy has been found to seriously help those who may be suffering from PTSD. A dog is known as a “soldier’s best friend,” and many dogs have had specific training to help soldiers with PTSD as a result of combat stress and experiences. They can benefit victims of narcissistic abuse the same way.
- Dogs can help patients express and feel love again, they are great companions for those who feel alone and they can help reduce stress, frustration and feelings of loneliness by encouraging outdoor walks and socialization with new people.
- Dog therapy for PTSD patients hasn’t definitely been proven to be an effective treatment for PTSD, but you may talk to your doctor or therapist about acquiring an emotional support dog that has been trained to help provide companionship for the patient.
Yoga – Even the military is now using this ancient Eastern practice to treat soldiers with symptoms of PTSD and recognize its ability to help patients gain an awareness of his or her feelings and heal from the experience.
- Yoga brings a sense of calm to both the mind and body and those who suffer from PTSD find that it helps them see things differently and recover enough to go on with their lives rather than reliving the past.
- Anxiety caused by PTSD can also be relieved by practicing Yoga. The poses, stretching and meditative thoughts soothe mangled nerves and allow the person to calm him or herself without using medication, alcohol or other means to seek relief.
Recovering from PTSD
Recovery from PTSD can take a long time, depending on how fast it’s recognized in the patient as a problem and treatment it obtained. There are health professionals who specialize in the treatment of PTSD and can diagnose and prescribe the treatment that’s going to be of most help for a child, woman, man or soldier.
Most treatment lasts from six to twelve weeks, but it could take more time, depending on the severity of the disorder. Even though good and helpful treatments are available, the person with PTSD may not recognize they’re having a problem.
Sometimes PTSD can be treated by an antidepressant medication or SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) that can help with feelings of sadness and worry. Much of what causes PTSD are the chemicals in the brain – and the lack of serotonin – so medications can be used with some success.
If you or a loved one is under treatment for PTSD, make sure you ask the therapist or health care professional how long the treatment may take and what you can expect from it.
It’s very important that loved ones or others close to the patient get him to a therapist as soon as possible, so helping the person recognize the PTSD is vital. Make sure you research and discover all you can about the symptoms of PTSD, treatment and recovery options.
Online help is readily available and your health care professional can also point you in the right direction to get help for PTSD.
You might also like to read my latest book on narcissism in toxic relationships – Gaslighting, Love Bombing and Flying Monkeys: The Ultimate Toxic Relationship Survival Guide for Victims and Survivors of Narcissistic Abuse
Have you or has someone you know been affected by PTSD or C-PTSD during or after a toxic relationship with a narcissist? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.
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.