National PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) Awareness Month occurs every June. Various organizations hold campaigns to raise awareness throughout the month, provide resources, and support individuals experiencing PTSD. While more generality has been ascribed to the term, we often think about trauma due only to car accidents, military combat, and sexual assault. However, there’s much more to it than that.
A variety of causes can result in PTSD, including the emotional and psychological damage caused by narcissistic abuse. If you’re unfamiliar, perpetrators of this abuse utilize words and actions to control and manipulate their partner, spouse, or child. While this is often an unseen struggle, its victims need our understanding and willingness to learn the details of their experiences that make navigating life after narcissistic abuse so challenging.
The Intersection of PTSD, complex and Narcissistic Abuse
The diagnosis of PTSD encompasses a wide range of experiences that can arise after an individual is directly or indirectly exposed to a singular or long-term traumatic event. Surviving a car accident or hurricane, for example, can be considered a singular traumatic event. On the other hand, long-term or complex trauma (C-PTSD) is when an individual endures repeated exposure to traumatizing situations or events, such as being abducted or surviving a terminal illness, over weeks, months, years, or decades.
Those who qualify for this diagnosis of C-PTSD tend to experience a broader set of difficulties than those typically seen in PTSD alone, leading to significant impairments. Affects on relationships and life satisfaction stem from:
- Difficulty regulating intense emotions (ex. anger)
- A negative sense of self, (ex. unwarranted feelings of guilt and worthlessness)
- A sense of disconnection from others
Trauma from narcissistic abuse falls in this latter category alongside repeated domestic violence and neglectful caregiver relationships. Long-term mental and emotional abuse often inflicted by a narcissistic partner or parent takes an incredible toll on our psyche, especially when these dynamics are present in caregiver relationships. Without the opportunity to develop a secure sense of self or learn skills to regulate emotions and maintain meaningful relationships, these formative experiences color our worldview. Even years later, underlying trauma continues to pull the strings in our lives, creating emotional turmoil, depressive and anxious symptoms, relational distress, and more.
PTSD: Signs, Symptoms, and Feelings for Survivors of Narcissistic Abuse
It is not unusual for survivors of narcissistic abuse to suffer long-term PTSD symptoms similar to those associated with other traumatic experiences. However, narcissistic abuse often involves gaslighting, which causes victims to doubt the validity of their experiences, either through memory or due to doubt of their sanity. This is why awareness is crucial!
So, regardless of whether you’ve been in or are currently in a narcissistic relationship, the first step is to acknowledge that everything you’ve felt, and continue to feel, is valid. Then, familiarize yourself with PTSD and narcissistic abuse symptoms, be kind to yourself, and remind yourself that the symptoms will eventually lessen.
In no way are the following examples exhaustive, but they give a sense of how narcissistic abuse can affect physical and mental health. We recommend speaking with a therapist trained in trauma and narcissistic abuse recovery if you or a loved one display any of these symptoms.
- Reoccurring thoughts and intrusive memories about the narcissist, your relationship, or the trauma inflicted. This can show up in nightmares, flashbacks, or even while you’re spaced out.
- Vivid memories of trauma are triggered by new sights, sounds, or smells
- Avoiding specific settings and situations or withdrawing socially from certain people or groups (especially if this was something the narcissist in your life used to encourage).
- Exhaustion, inadequate sleep, fatigue, or insomnia.
- Inability to focus or maintain productivity.
- Excessive and erratic emotional and physical responses.
- Feelings of guilt, shame, confusion, rage, depression, unworthiness, or numbness.
- Having problems relating to or trusting others and feeling disconnected.
- Somatic symptoms, such as headache, nausea, dizziness, chest pain, and tingling sensations.
- Loss of self-esteem and perception of self-worth.
- Being unable to trust your instincts and your judgment.
When recovering from traumatic situations, it is essential to remember that PTSD symptoms may not develop right away and may take months or years before they manifest.
Guiding Steps Toward Therapeutic Healing
If you are contemplating therapy or are about to have your first session, you may be feeling overwhelmed or anxious. That is entirely normal! When you have experienced trauma, you can become even warier in letting your guard down or being vulnerable with a stranger. We want you to be as comfortable as possible before beginning therapy, so we have collected our top tips for starting treatment after traumatic experiences.
- Accept that you are worthy of healing, good health, kindness, and assistance from others.
- Be proud of how far you’ve come. Acknowledging that you are struggling and deciding to improve your mental health is HUGE!
- Remember: You are in charge of the conversations. If a particular subject is too triggering to take on, you can stop a discussion or session at any point.
- Utilize relaxation techniques such as meditation, yoga, or breathing exercises to relax if you become overwhelmed.
- If the current treatment option doesn’t feel right, don’t be afraid to ask to try another one, whether that means switching therapists to someone who is more familiar with narcissistic abuse recovery, or switching up the pace of sessions.
The path to recovery is not one size fits all, and every person who has PTSD will need personalized treatments to meet their individual needs. For this reason, we offer collaborative coaching, therapy, retreats, and experimental workshops in-person and online. In addition, the trauma-centered therapists at West Harford Counseling & Coaching will add invaluable skills, knowledge, and resources to your toolbox, helping you reclaim control over your life.
Families and friends are instrumental in your recovery, and we appreciate all of their support. Nonetheless, if you have been through severe trauma and, as a result, are experiencing emotional turmoil, seeking professional help as soon as you can is essential for your recovery.