A year and a half after leaving my narcissistic husband I felt like I was suffering PTSD from narcissistic abuse more than ever. I guess this was one of the hallmarks of leaving an abusive relationship, versus separating from a healthy partner.
To be honest, I didn’t even know that PTSD from narcissistic abuse existed until I stumbled across the information. I just thought, “There’s something wrong with me. Why is this still affecting me so much?”
Narcissistic abuse is gradual and subtle, making it hard for the victim to even see that it’s happening. The person on the receiving end is likely to blame themselves for allowing it to happen. That self-blame is heavy after the relationship has come to an end as they start to come into full awareness of the abuse.
“How could I have let that happen?”
“Why didn’t I see it?”
“I feel like such an idiot.”
“What’s wrong with me?”
Please know that if you are feeling any of those things, you are not alone and your feelings are 100% normal and valid for someone in your shoes.
Let’s dive into complex post-traumatic stress disorder concerning narcissistic abuse.
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The Difference between PTSD and Complex PTSD
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can occur in people who’ve experienced or witnessed a single traumatic event. PTSD is the failure to recover after experiencing or witnessing a terrifying event.
Examples of PTSD events:
- Natural disaster
- Terrorist attack
- Serious accident
- Violence (including physical or sexual assault)
- Traumatic childbirth experience
Complex Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) is a condition that occurs after prolonged and repeated trauma, such as abuse or domestic violence.
Complex PTSD is more likely to take hold for those who experienced the trauma at an early age, by someone close to you or by someone you had to see regularly.
Examples of C-PTSD events:
- Childhood abuse or neglect
- Domestic abuse or violence
- Being an ongoing witness to abuse or violence
- Torture, kidnapping or being held against your will
Whether it be PTSD or C-PTSD, the disorder can last anywhere from a few months to many years. For some, it may even be present for life.
A variety of triggers can bring back traumatic memories, spurring powerful emotional and physical reactions.
Please know that having PTSD doesn’t have to be a life sentence. Pinpointing and releasing the inner wounds can free your body and soul of the trauma so that you have the chance to go on and live a happy, healthy life.
The Day I Acknowledged My Own Complex PTSD From Narcissistic Abuse
To be honest, the day that I acknowledged my own Complex PTSD was dark.
I’d heard the terms being thrown around but had never looked into them myself. I was one hundred per cent aware that I had deep-seated childhood trauma, but I never fully understood the complexity of it all.
The day I finally decided to research PTSD and C-PTSD I knew that it was time to face the deepest of traumas. After having an absent father, a narcissistically abusive mother and a two-decade-long narcissistically abusive relationship/ marriage, there wasn’t a shadow of a doubt that I was suffering from Complex PTSD.
I ran myself a hot bath and got drunk. Then I ate some leftovers and sat on the toilet, sobbing uncontrollably. I had to remind myself to take big, deep breaths as I begged the universe to dissolve me. Thankfully, the kids were with their Dad for the night, so I could totally allow myself to fall apart.
With no family unit, having only a couple of good friends for support and finding myself as a single Mum of teenagers, I was broken. I knew I had nothing left to give and the thought of ever being in a relationship again was impossible.
|READ: Trusting After Narc Abuse →
Complex PTSD from Narcissistic Abuse Symptoms
When you’re in a relationship with a narcissist, whether that be a parent, coworker or intimate partner, you are existing on permanent eggshells.
You can’t anticipate when the next blow will come or what it will be. Therefore, you spend most of your days in survival mode, trying to counter-intuit the next attack and avoid it from happening at all costs.
We are not meant to be in that Fight or Flight mode for long periods. The purpose of that high adrenaline rush is to aid you in getting out of a detrimental situation so that you can get back to a peaceful state of being.
The long-term effects often result in complex trauma, so let’s explore it further. If you’re not sure whether you’ve got C-PTSD from narcissistic abuse, take the quiz below for a deeper dive.
|TAKE QUIZ: Are You Suffering Narcissistic Abuse Syndrome? →
Common symptoms of PTSD from narcissistic abuse:
- Feeling stuck
- Self Blame
- Low Self-worth & Shame
- Erratic Emotions
- Numbing Out
- Trust Issues
- Suicidal Thoughts
- Irregular Sleeping Patterns
- Physical Ailments
It’s completely normal to feel stuck and confused, not only when you’re in a narcissistic relationship, but also on the flip side, once you finally escape it.
I’ve often had that debilitating feeling of not being able to move forward and not knowing if I will ever be able to – it can feel like mission impossible.
It’s strange how the extreme sensitivities can be off the charts one day or in one moment, but then be fine the next. Sometimes it may be a trigger that sets you off, other times there doesn’t seem to be an obvious reason.
Your nervous system is fried!
Those hypersensitivities are a result of being in an abusive relationship where you never knew what was coming from moment to moment. Was it going to be a calm day or were you going to be in survival mode as a result of gaslighting, manipulation or rageful outbursts?
Examples of hypersensitivity can include:
- Being jumpy and on edge
- Being overly emotional
- Obsessive thinking
- Not feeling safe
A very common symptom of PTSD from narcissistic abuse is flashbacks. There you are, going about your day when out of nowhere a memory of something from the relationship comes back to you.
Your whole being feels like you’re there, reliving that moment, over and over again. What the narcissist said or did to you and how you reacted. You may run through how you wish you could have responded, given the courage and knowledge, which you didn’t have at the time.
You may analyse the situation, seeing just how manipulative and unjust it was, wishing for some kind of recognition from the narcissist.
You might even find yourself retelling the event to a friend in your mind, working through the details and getting some validation from them that you’re not crazy.
A big difference between PTSD and C-PTSD is in how the flashbacks can occur. With PTSD, you will find yourself reliving the moment and being back in the situation.
While with Complex PTSD, you can find yourself reliving the intense feelings and emotions, without knowing what the exact scenario was where you first felt those things. For example, you may be overcome with debilitating shame and unworthiness without even knowing what triggered you to feel those things.
Having nightmares featuring the narcissist can go on for a crazy long time after you’ve extricated yourself from their grip in the waking world.
Nightmares about the narcissist or the relationship can show up in many forms.
I’ve heard of nightmares where the abuse victim was stuck inside a house while the narcissist was prowling around the outside, waiting for them to come out.
My own personal narcissist nightmares are still ongoing, three years after leaving him. In the dreams, he and I are still together and life is playing out as ‘normal.’ In the dreams, I know it’s all wrong and that I need to leave him, but just don’t know how to do it. It feels like a complete invasion, where I’m bound to him and he won’t let me go or allow me to move on.
I always wake up feeling so frustrated and angry. How dare he infiltrate my dream state, without invitation, and play the false game that everything is ‘normal!’
Those dreams may not even sound like nightmares to anyone else, but they are to me. While they look innocent enough, they feel incredibly wrong on the inside, which is very indicative of what the actual relationship with the narcissist was like in real life.
The instances of narcissistic abuse victims blaming themselves are so incredibly common, it’s heartbreaking.
Given that narcissists lack the empathy needed to stop them from being intentionally hurtful towards others, they have the best poker faces around.
A narcissist will look you dead in the eye and tell the tallest of tales without batting an eyelid. It’s built within all of us to be more trusting of people who keep direct eye contact as they’re speaking to us.
Plus, of course, we loved and trusted that person. Why would we think anything other than that they must genuinely have our best interests at heart?
“How could the person who was supposed to love me, intentionally set out to hurt me, all while denying it at the same time?”
It’s beyond mind-blowing and an utter betrayal.
Once we realise that we’ve been wilfully hoodwinked against all of our best intentions, the crushing feeling of, “How did I not see it” is devastating.
As victims of narcissistic abuse, we need to regularly remind ourselves that we didn’t know and that it’s not our fault.
It was our kind, trusting nature that drew the narcissist to us in the first place. I know it’s incredibly hard, but we should not give away those beautiful parts of ourselves because of the narc – they do not deserve that.
To fully understand how and why you stayed in a toxic relationship with a narcissist, I recommend reading the article below on Trauma Bonding.
Low Self-worth & Shame
Narcissists are masters at eroding their victim’s sense of self over prolonged periods. Bit by bit, they’ll chip away at the other person’s confidence by projecting their feelings of shame and guilt onto the victim, who ends up taking on that garbage as their own.
Shame and guilt both hold very low vibrations, leaving the sufferer feeling like utter trash.
When someone has been told consistently that they’re useless, they’ll never amount to anything, they’ll never be able to make it on their own, they’re not good enough and so on… the brain starts to believe it.
A massive part of healing from narcissistic abuse is realising that all of the belittling and devaluing from the narc was their way of tapping into your deepest wounds. On a spiritual level, they are shining a light on your darkest trauma points, which need to be healed within yourself.
A very long time ago, the narcissist killed off their True Self, which was their connection to the divine source. That connection is essential for having an abundant source of life force. When the narc cut their source, they inevitably bound themselves to a life of needing to steal the life force from other beings as the only way of sustaining themselves.
With that severed connection, they lost their conscience, empathy and compassion, which is the true reason that they can behave so callously, without a backward glance.
People suffering from Post Narcissist Stress Disorder will often find their emotions all over the place. You can be feeling amazing and free one minute, but then fall into the depths of hell the next.
It can feel like a rollercoaster that you’re unable to get off.
You may feel anger or sadness as you relive different events from throughout the relationship.
Feeling teary and intensely sad for no reason can be a normal PTSD response and trying to manage those big emotions can feel utterly insurmountable.
Being quick to anger and not having the ability to regulate emotions during stressful situations is also common, as well as not having the ability to properly feel emotions at all.
A very normal byproduct of abuse is to dissociate, which is where a person disconnects from their thoughts, feelings, memories and sense of self. It’s a mental protective measure designed to minimise the amount of pain that can be felt.
Seeking out ways to help numb the pain and emptiness are often behaviours that PTSD sufferers use for self-medicative purposes. This could be with drugs, alcohol, prescription medicines, shopping, food, gaming and other escapist methods.
Sustaining healthy relationships after narcissistic abuse can be tricky at the best of times, but throw in PTSD and you’re at a whole new level of difficulty.
Many sufferers of PTSD from narcissistic abuse report one of two things:
- They avoid relationships altogether due to having zero trust
- They end up in toxic relationships due to not trusting in themselves enough and continue to repeat the same pattern (same shit, different person)
I can personally attest to both of those points.
After a childhood of narcissistic abuse, I was craving the love and emotional connection I’d never experienced before. So, when a guy appeared who was exhibiting those qualities, I jumped right in. Of course, those qualities quickly disappeared and twenty years later I was left with a covert narcissist, two kids and a legally-binding contract (marriage).
Coming out the other side of a toxic relationship, I’ve flipped the switch to having zero trust and avoiding relationships altogether.
I’m working hard on myself every day to heal my inner trauma so that I can attract truly genuine and loving relationships.
The ongoing pain, anger, sadness, isolation and loneliness of Complex PTSD from narcissistic abuse can often feel too much to bear.
“Sometimes I ask for the universe to take me away so that I can finally escape it all.”– Anonymous
Just know that when those types of thoughts creep in (although it may feel like it), you’re not alone.
Life on Earth is hard. Life with ongoing complex trauma is even harder, especially when you feel like you can’t escape the damage of a nightmare relationship.
If you’re having suicidal thoughts, please call a helpline as soon as you can and talk to someone. You don’t need to go through this alone.
|Click here to find the suicide hotline in your country.
Irregular Sleeping Patterns
Some PTSD sufferers find it hard to sleep at night and as a result, spend their days in a tired fatigued slump.
Insomnia can be an issue, as well as interrupted sleep or not getting into a deep enough sleep for long periods. Nightmares are another contributing factor to irregular sleeping patterns.
When you’re dealing with fatigue, concentrating and being productive throughout the day becomes difficult.
Being avoidant can be another symptom of Complex PTSD from narcissistic abuse. This can range from avoiding the topic of abuse altogether, whether it be talking about it or even thinking about it.
PTSD sufferers may typically avoid people and places that are connected to or remind them of the narcissist, which to be honest, I think is a totally healthy way to go.
Avoidance can also show up as a general sense of detachment.
It’s normal to feel confused as a PTSD sufferer. Even making simple decisions can seem like an overwhelming task at times.
The prime reason that narcissists gaslight is to create confusion, which is psychological abuse at its best. Given that it had likely been used on you for a long period, suffering confusion on the other side is to be expected.
The self-doubt and inability to trust yourself is a direct symptom of those mental games, so please don’t blame yourself.
Healing and rebuilding from that confusion and self-doubt will take time and there’s absolutely no rush.
One of the most debilitating symptoms of PTSD from narcissistic abuse is the feeling of panic.
I’ve experienced panic-attack-type moments where I can hardly breathe and I feel like I’m completely trapped.
For me, the feelings started as sadness and unworthiness, which were sometimes triggered by something else that I’d seen or heard. But then as the sadness increased and I found myself crying uncontrollably, in came the panic.
Panic can also be a central nervous system response after living in such a heightened and constant sense of ‘ready, set, go!’ That’s not a natural place for the human body to be in all the time.
Pure panic brings with it such an intense feeling of being stuck or caged within those massive emotions that it’s easy to feel like there’s no way out. Plus, you wonder if you’ll be dealing with this trauma forever and if you’ll ever be capable of a healthy relationship.
There’s a lot to process.
Not to mention the complete lack of accountability from the narcissist who’s already moved on to their next victim without a backward glance at the destruction in their wake.
The final piece of the complex trauma puzzle, caused by narcissistic abuse, can be when symptoms show up in the physical sense.
By the time an ailment shows up physically in our body, it’s been hanging out in our energetic field for quite some time. If you want to find out the metaphysical reason behind your ailments, I recommend looking them up individually for more insight.
Here are some examples of PTSD physical manifestations:
- Dizzyness/ vertigo
- Chest pain
- Tingling limbs
- Adrenal fatigue
How to Heal PTSD from Narcissistic Abuse
The catch-22 when dealing with complex PTSD is the huge lack of trust towards others.
Many people who suffer trauma from narcissistic abuse tend to want to go it alone.
I know all about that, because I have been one of those people.
I remember as a kid, not even wanting to ask for help with my homework, but not understanding why. Dad would say, “Why don’t you ever ask for help?” I didn’t know the answer to that.
Now I know that being hyper-independent is merely a trauma response to “people always hurt me, betray me or abandon me.”
However, if you really want to heal and move through narcissistic trauma, you’re going to need help. It’s a hard lesson I’ve had to learn.
STEP 1: Ditch the Narc
This may not always be as easy as it sounds, but the first step towards healing from narcissistic abuse is to remove the source of the trauma.
You cannot heal in the environment you were abused in.
You need to rid your life of the narcissist. This means going ‘No Contact’ if you do not need to stay in contact with them. Block them on social media and your phone.
If they somehow contact you and try to hoover you back in, resist all urges to respond!
|READ: 12 Hoover Tactics Narcs Use →
If you have children, business or property with the narc, I recommend going Low Contact. This is where you only converse in the bare minimum of ways and stick to factual information. Keep communication to emails or texts so that you’re less likely to get caught up in their word salad.
Practice ‘grey rocking’ the narc so that they get bored with you. Basically, you want to be as bland and boring as a grey rock.
STEP 2: Find Your Support Crew
Finding your support crew within your circle of friends and family is essential. Not everyone is going to have the patience, empathy and care to allow you to vent when you need to.
Plus, it’s essential to figure out who’s truly on your team and who’s still loyal to the narcissist. I would recommend cutting out or at least limiting contact with anyone who’s still hanging around with the narc. They are not a safe haven for you and are most likely going to trigger you with info about the narc and/ or report back to the narc.
You’ll soon figure out who’s on your team and who’s not. For those who just can’t be there for you in that way, that’s okay. But keep in mind that they are not the ones to open up to when you’re feeling vulnerable, as you’ll probably just walk away feeling invalidated. When you’re dealing with abuse, the last thing you need is any more invalidation in your life.
Joining a support group either in the community or online, can be beneficial. The beauty of these groups is that the other members fully understand what you’ve been through. They can be a much more valuable resource than well-meaning friends who are there for you… but who don’t really get it.
Bear in mind that rerunning the triggering events over and over can be important initially when you’re trying to gain clarity on what’s happened. But if you sit there too long, you won’t heal.
You’ll be stuck in the cycle of your wounds, rather than healing and releasing them, so that you can go on to live a happy, healthy life.
STEP 3: Self-Care
Daily self-care is incredibly important while on the healing journey from narcissistic abuse. Self-care can look different for many people, but it’s about finding what brings peace to your inner world and supports your soul.
One of my things is soaking in the bath at the end of the day for as long as I like. This practice has become my daily medicine. Sometimes I read a book or listen to a video on YouTube. Other times I cry and fully let go, releasing any pain that I’m feeling.
Another great self-care practice is to write a letter of closure to the narcissist and purge your innermost feelings. By getting all of the things that you wish you could say to the narcissist down onto paper, you’ll stop so much of it from continuing to rattle around in your head.
Self-care is also about saying ‘no’ when you want to say no and saying ‘yes’ when you want to say yes. It’s about learning to put yourself first and feeling good about that. After being programmed by the narcissist that you were not important and that their needs were to always come first, this one may take some practice, but you deserve nothing less!
|READ: Closure Letter to a Narc →
STEP 4: Heal the Inner Wounds
Once you’ve had a chance to take stock for a moment, it’s really important to get started on healing your inner wounds.
I know this sounds like such hard work when you’re feeling so incredibly broken, but trust me, once you get started you will almost immediately start to feel a shift.
While therapy and talking things out with your trusted friends can provide some short-term relief, those things aren’t going to do anything towards shifting the trauma that has been stuck in your body for a long time!
After a lifetime of narcissistic abuse from a narc mother, an enabling father and then a subsequent 20-year relationship with a narcissist, the only thing that truly worked for me was healing my soul on an energetic level with Selena Hill.
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If you’re ready to get out of the cycle and start truly healing yourself, I cannot recommend Selena highly enough.
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