I remember the first time I learned about narcissism and narcissistic abuse. I was sitting in my therapist’s office, and we talked about my now ex-husband and how he treated me, my feelings of abuse, and why I was still with him. When the word narcissist crossed her lips, my first response was no way! It was nothing that I thought it was! My whole understanding of narcissism changed that day. 

After that session, I went home and started reading everything I could on narcissism which took me down a rabbit hole to narcissistic abuse. As I learned more and thought about what I had shared with my therapist and some of my feelings over the years, I realized I was a victim of narcissistic abuse.

What is Narcissistic Abuse?

Narcissistic abuse is a form of psychological and emotional abuse inflicted by someone with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). It can take many forms, from verbal insults and belittling to manipulation and control tactics. This abuse can leave victims feeling confused, isolated, and worthless. Victims or even their loved ones need to understand what they are going through so that they can begin the healing process. 

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What narcissists do to their victims?

Narcissistic abuse occurs when someone with narcissistic personality disorder uses many tactics to manipulate and control their victim. Some of the different tactics that may be used include gaslighting (manipulating someone by causing them to doubt their thoughts, feelings, and perceptions), criticism, isolation from family and friends, withholding affection or love, threats of abandonment or physical harm, financial control, and more. Victims of narcissistic abuse often feel confused by their abuser’s behavior. They may want desperately to please their abuser but find themselves unable to do so since nothing seems to be enough for them. The abuser often moves the “goalpost” for a victim to never be able to succeed.  

When I left my ex-husband, I thought things would get better. I felt that some of the struggles and issues I had when I was with him would go away. I never realized how long the trauma and effects would last. Now 10 years since my marriage ended, some things still poke through. As I have discovered, when a narcissist abuses you, there are often long-term effects. Some of the most common effects are low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, difficulty trusting people in relationships, or difficulty forming relationships.

Victims often feel unworthy or scared of being abused again. Victims may also experience physical symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches, insomnia, or other physical ailments caused by stress or trauma. 

As I learned more and more about narcissistic abuse, I discovered many things that I struggled with not only during but especially after I left, all stemmed from the abuse. I had low self-esteem, my anxiety was always through the roof, I never felt like I was a good enough mom or wife, and I was afraid of making new friends. As time has passed, and I have worked with therapists and talked with other survivors, I have overcome many of the effects. I have learned that some are a normal part of everyday life, and I now understand that it was his way of abusing me. There are times when new things pop up, even when I think I have dealt with and overcome everything. Still, I have learned to understand and accept that recovery could be a lifelong process.

How do you overcome trauma from narcissistic abuse?

Survivors of narcissistic abuse need to remember and understand that they are not alone. There is help available if it’s looked for. The most important thing for victims to recognize is that the abuse was not their fault. No one deserves to be treated this way, no matter what the abuser claims. Victims should seek counseling from a qualified professional who can help them process their emotions associated with the trauma. 

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Seeking therapy, in my experience, can be a challenge. Not only do friends and families of victims not understand, but many times professionals don’t. Narcissistic abuse isn’t always taught in school; it is something that someone has to experience or focus their studies on. 

Victims need someone to provide tools for managing ongoing stressors related to the experience. Support groups offer great resources for connecting with others who have been through similar experiences. These support groups can be extremely helpful in providing validation and hope for those struggling with narcissistic abuse.  

Recovering from narcissistic abuse takes time, but it is possible, especially when you find the right support from professionals who understand your situation and help you build healthy coping strategies. Survivors also need to learn how to move forward into healthier relationships in the future. While understanding how narcissist abusers operate won’t undo a person’s experience entirely.

Knowing more about narcissistic abuse can give the survivors some helpful insight into why this happened and provide comfort by knowing that they are not alone in their experience. By learning to set boundaries both within yourself and with others, it is possible to recover.

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