Narcissistic Abuse & PTSD
February 1, 2023
Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) affects around 6% of the US population, and it is generally more common in men than women, according to the Merck Manual. However, some people may exhibit narcissistic traits without meeting the criteria for a diagnosis. When you’ve been in a relationship with a narcissist — whether that person was your parent, a family member, a friend, or a romantic partner — you may develop post-traumatic stress symptoms from abuse you’ve experienced. Narcissistic abuse PTSD is real, and it can be life-disrupting; however, with treatment and support, you can heal and feel like yourself again.
Narcissistic Abuse PTSD
A person with narcissistic personality disorder has a grandiose or fantastical view of their own self-worth. They are also hypersensitive to criticism, and they have a need to obsess about themselves, put others down, and exercise control. They lack empathy and will manipulate and abuse others to maintain their sense of self-esteem and power.
Narcissistic personality disorder is defined in the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition) and should be diagnosed by a clinician who can observe long-term behavioral patterns. Merck explains that it often co-occurs with other behavioral or psychiatric conditions, such as major depressive disorder, substance use disorders, and other personality disorders, like borderline or paranoid personality disorder. Because of this, a true narcissist is a highly volatile person who may also appear to be very charismatic.
The behavior of narcissists and those who exhibit narcissistic traits can be extremely confusing and damaging to those who are in relationships with them. Victims of narcissistic abuse have often experienced the following:
- An outpouring of love (also known as “love bombing”) that soon turns into teasing, criticism, manipulation, and verbal abuse, says VeryWellHealth.com
- Physical abuse during the narcissist’s explosive outbursts
- Gaslighting, where you are made to doubt your memory, insight, or experiences
- Social isolation, because you have been convinced that you are worthless (and/or the narcissist takes up all your time and reduces your social circle)
- Threats about what will happen to you if you leave or exhibit any signs of what they would consider to be disloyalty
- Your things are taken and used without permission and your boundaries are repeatedly ignored
These experiences can crush your self-esteem and diminish your tendency to ask for help. You may not even realize that the abuse is happening simply because things are wonderful and then horrible, and they continue in that cycle.
Every time there’s a crisis, the narcissist quickly explains it away, minimizes your feelings, and makes you feel sorry for them. Then the abuse continues. You may think this is normal, but it is extremely unhealthy and can even be a dangerous situation for your long-term physical and emotional health.
Narcissistic Abuse PTSD Symptoms
Do you need help recovering from narcissistic abuse? According to Healthline.com, here are some narcissistic abuse PTSD symptoms:
- You live in fear of the next outburst or what might happen to you.
- You feel anxious when you’re not with your abuser (separation anxiety).
- You experience bouts of anxiety, depression, or even panic attacks when you come across triggers that remind you of your abuse.
- You have trouble sleeping and experience body aches and pains.
- You can’t forgive yourself and feel a deep sense of worthlessness and shame.
- You have trust issues but tend to be overly compliant.
- You find it hard to concentrate and remember certain things.
All of these symptoms are hallmarks of PTSD after narcissistic abuse. A qualified therapist (especially those educated in trauma-informed therapies) can help you work through your trauma so you can recover and regain your sense of self. The first step is to reach out for support, even if you feel isolated. If you have also developed some unhealthy coping habits (like excessive drinking, drug use, or disordered eating), those can be addressed alongside your trauma in a treatment setting.
How to Heal from PTSD from Narcissistic Abuse
It’s not uncommon to develop PTSD after narcissistic abuse. With support and treatment, you can take steps each day that will help you rebuild your self-esteem, acquire positive coping habits, and get into healthier relationships.
Again, reaching out to a friend, counselor, or treatment professional for help is a good first step. You do not need to suffer in silence, and you may find it difficult to try to overcome your symptoms on your own. If you feel that you’re in danger from your abuser, you can call the National Domestic Abuse Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.
Recover from Trauma at Willow House
Trauma causes survival energy to get stuck within our physical bodies. That’s why it doesn’t get better on its own or over time. Instead, it tends to worsen or cause debilitating physical and mental health symptoms. It’s important to address the trauma you’ve experienced with a licensed counselor or a treatment team. Though it may take time, you can learn how to heal from PTSD from narcissistic abuse.
At Willow House at The Meadows, we provide a safe haven for women to heal from trauma, love addiction, sexual compulsivity, unhealthy relationship patterns, sexual trauma, toxic relationships, and co-occurring mental health and substance abuse issues. We would love to answer your questions and tell you more about our research-backed programs and compassionate treatment approach. Contact us today!