After I broke up with my ex during my pregnancy, I had no idea what I was dealing with. All I knew was that I was scared, hurting, and depressed.
Once I figured out that I was dealing with a narcissist, I came to the realization that what I experienced was abuse. As hard as that was to come to terms with, it was really the starting point of my healing journey.
I could give my experience a name and start to take steps to work with it and beyond it.
When it comes to dealing with a narcissist, there is a specific name for the suffering that results from it: Narcissistic Abuse Syndrome.
While you don’t need a diagnosis to know you are dealing with narcissistic abuse syndrome, it’s helpful to understand what it is so that you can also start to heal from it:
What is Narcissistic Abuse Syndrome?
Narcissistic abuse is a form of emotional abuse that happens to someone in a relationship with a narcissist. Narcissists tend to belittle, invalidate, and manipulate their partners in order to feel superior – they also try to control their partner’s life.
The symptoms of narcissistic abuse syndrome are similar to those of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and include emotional triggers, detachment, isolation, flashbacks, and avoidance. They result from constant or significant exposure to someone who is narcissistic.
Overall, victims feel like they are suffocating in the relationship because the relationship revolves around the narcissist at the expense of their own emotional well-being.
So, what does narcissistic abuse do to a person?
If you are a victim of narcissistic abuse syndrome, you will likely feel worthless and confused. You’ll often find yourself tip-toeing around the narcissist to avoid their rage and even agreeing with them to avoid confrontations.
During this time, as you try to win the narcissist’s approval, you will start to lose a sense of self and suffer from low self-confidence and low self-esteem. You may find it hard to trust others and have difficulty making decisions on your own.
If you’re not sure whether or not you are suffering from narcissistic abuse syndrome, here are some symptoms you should look out for:
- You regularly question yourself and your perception of reality.
- You lose trust in your family and friends.
- You believe the narcissist is the only person that sees your worth.
- You experience self-doubt and feel ashamed of things you were proud of in the past.
- You hold the narcissist in high esteem and make excuses for their behaviors.
Narcissistic abuse syndrome can have a seriously negative impact on your mental health over time and can lead to other conditions such as depression, anxiety disorder, and even PTSD.
What Are Examples of Narcissistic Abuse?
Narcissists will begin their relationship with you by giving you positive attention and making you feel special. However, their desire to feel superior will soon lead them to be verbally abusive.
They will shame, bully, belittle, threaten and criticize – both to intimidate you and force you to become dependent on them so they can gain control of you.
They will also verbally abuse in order to shift blame and responsibility to avoid guilt and prove that they are right. This leaves victims of narcissistic abuse feeling wrong, embarrassed, and fearful.
Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse where the narcissist intentionally makes you question your memories, reality, and sanity.
They do this by lying and denying what has been said as well as accusing you of doing things you didn’t do.
Afterward, they flatter you and say how much they love you in order to create a sense of confusion and guilt.
This is all a slow and deliberate tactic to hold power over the victim and oppress them.
It’s unclear as to whether or not narcissists are actually capable of empathy but it’s abundantly clear that, if they are, they choose not to care about the emotions of others.
Narcissists will belittle or demean your emotions in order to trivialize and invalidate them. They may accuse you of overreacting or being too sensitive when you bring up how they have hurt your feelings.
They’ll brush off your emotions so that they don’t have to take responsibility for how they treat you.
A narcissist’s behaviors are geared toward creating confusion so that they can control you and you won’t leave. One way in which they do this is through a tactic known as “Love Bombing”.
Typically, this happens early on during the relationship when the narcissist makes you feel like the luckiest person in the world.
However, they will also shower you with affection after arguments in order to reel you back in, displace their guilt and responsibility, and maintain their control over you.
It’s actually a really sick and twisted way to get you addicted to those good feelings. They flip between idealizing you and devaluing/abusing you so that you get hooked on the sudden increase of the happy hormones in your brain.
What Are the Long-Term Effects of Narcissistic Abuse?
If you are a victim of narcissistic abuse syndrome, you will likely feel shame long after the relationship is over. It’s an emotion that stems from the need to cooperate with those around us so that we can “keep our place” in their lives.
Because narcissists need to feel superior and dominant, they will shame you in order to keep you in place and keep your confidence levels low – all to make you easier to control.
Over time, you may begin to believe that you are worthless and incapable, something known as “toxic shame”.
You find yourself feeling bad when someone shows you the smallest sign of displeasure and you compare yourself unfavorably to others.
Guilt is kind of like shame but is based more on your actions than who you actually are. It’s a gnawing feeling in your gut anytime you do something, say something, or even think something that you think is wrong.
When you don’t act the way the narcissist expects, you were likely reminded of the “sacrifices” they made for you and how grateful you should be to them. They made you feel like you were constantly letting them down.
Putting up with this treatment for a long period of time will lead to habitual and chronic guilt where this is the default emotion you feel every time you make a decision.
Narcissistic abuse syndrome can cause trauma that can haunt your life in the form of flashbacks.
Over time, you likely numbed yourself to the narcissist’s behavior and learned how to repress many of your emotions.
However, after the relationship is over, you may find yourself facing these intense feelings in the form of a flashback.
Trauma can take the form of fear, panic, guilt, shame, despair, and depression. When you are experiencing a flashback, you may feel like you’re drowning in all of these feelings at once.
Sometimes flashbacks are triggered while other times they can come on randomly. Either way, they can be intense and debilitating.
Difficulty Making Decisions
One long-term effect of narcissistic abuse is the difficulty to make decisions for yourself. The narcissist had you trapped in a “psychological prison” by making you feel worthless and unable to exist without their presence.
And, just like prison, you were limited in your life when it came to what you could do: where you could go, who you could hang out with, etc.
Even if the narcissist didn’t overtly stop you from living your life, you felt their judgment and displeasure whenever you did.
Between “imprisoning” you and pushing their world views and beliefs on you, they created a situation where you don’t have the self-confidence to do anything on your own. After the fact, this can cause you to have difficulty making choices for yourself.
Loss of Self
Speaking of you, one of the most tragic long-term effects of narcissistic abuse is losing yourself. In order to control you, the narcissist broke you down and destroyed your sense of independence.
They forced you to merge with their beliefs and way of living to the point where you forgot who you were and what you were passionate about.
Losing your sense of self can be a painful experience in the aftermath of dealing with a narcissist.
How to Recover From Narcissistic Abuse
When you are a victim of narcissistic abuse syndrome, do not blame yourself for what happened! Narcissists are conniving and crafty which means that everything they did was deliberate so that you wouldn’t even notice the crappy relationship they were pulling you into.
In fact, many people don’t even realize they were dealing with a narcissist until the relationship was already over (myself included).
Narcissistic abuse starts slowly, starting with loving and affectionate behavior that turns into manipulation over time. The changes in their behaviors are so subtle that, instead of realizing you are in a bad relationship, you end up feeling confused and dependent on the narcissist.
Narcissistic abuse syndrome recovery begins with forgiving yourself. It’s not your fault that you got involved with a narcissist!
Next, you should educate yourself on what narcissism is if you haven’t already. Knowing exactly what you were dealing with can help you find clarity and begin to understand the abuse you suffered.
Lastly, you need to talk to someone. You can work with a therapist to help you navigate your experience as well as address any long-term effects of narcissistic abuse syndrome that you are struggling with.
However, it is also helpful to find support from friends and family who knew you before the narcissist showed up in your life. They can be a great source of reassurance when it comes to building your self-confidence and finding your true self again.
You can also turn to online support groups to talk to others who have been in a similar situation. Personally, a huge part of my healing journey was connecting with those who deeply understood what I had gone through – it made me feel less alone.
You Will Find Yourself Again!
The narcissist did not destroy you, as much as you may feel like they did. They only pushed you down as far as you could go and you know there’s only one way to go from there:
That’s right, UP!
It’s going to take some work but you will get there! I know that you will make it through your healing journey.
Have you dealt with narcissistic abuse syndrome? What helped you? Leave your tips in the comments below: