• Lisa S. Larsen, PsyD

How You Can Recover After PTSD From Narcissistic Abuse

Updated: Jan 10


Woman upset on couch, looking away –- PTSD from narcissistic abuse
Dealing with narcissistic abuse can lead to posttraumatic stress

Interacting with people who have mental illnesses like Narcissistic or Borderline Personality Disorder can be unpleasant because people who suffer from these mental disorders have difficulty taking responsibility for their own actions. They make you feel like any interpersonal problems with them are your fault, never theirs. They also often have difficulty managing their emotions, so if you’re around them when they’re stressed, you become swept up in their emotional storms. They’re not necessarily bad people, but their illness makes them challenging to be around. If you are in a close relationship with someone who verbally or emotionally abuses you, you can develop PTSD from narcissistic abuse.


Being romantically linked with someone who narcissistically abuses you can be dangerous, especially if you’ve invested a lot of time and energy into trying to please someone who cannot be pleased. It is also very painful if your parent, sibling, or other family member emotionally abuses you. When you spend a lot of time with a narcissist, you can develop PTSD from narcissistic abuse. However, you don’t have to suffer forever. In this article I explain what narcissistic abuse is and discuss how you can heal from it.


What is narcissistic abuse?

Does this sound familiar: you meet someone who is charming and charismatic. They sweep you off your feet, either as a friend or lover. You feel as though they are too good to be true, and so are you. However, once they succeed in making you their friend or lover, they belittle, ridicule, and criticize you. They also insidiously and gradually control your behavior. If you are fortunate to detect that you are being abused, you can extract yourself from the relationship in time to preserve your self-esteem. However, you may make excuses for their mistreatment and start to question your own sanity, internalizing their constant criticism.


Tactics of shame and control

Narcissistic people control you by wearing down your self-esteem, manipulate you so that you do what they want, and destabilize you so that you don’t leave. They often give you the silent treatment if they are unhappy with something you’ve done. Sometimes you have to guess what that is, because they expect you to read their minds and know how you’ve offended them. Chances are, someone did this to them when they were younger; they are just acting out behavior they learned from others. If you fall for the silent treatment, you become constantly anxious and malleable to the narcissist’s influence. When they “forgive” you and reunite with you, you feel relief again. This can lead to developing PTSD from narcissistic abuse.


Signs that you have PTSD from narcissistic abuse.

If you have PTSD from narcissistic abuse, you feel hypervigilant about offending the narcissist. To avoid upsetting them, you walk on eggshells. You feel lonely and emotionally abandoned when they stonewall you. Your world shrinks as it revolves around pleasing your narcissist, or at least avoiding their rage. Over time, your self-esteem dwindles to nothing because you feel like you can’t do anything right, no matter how hard you try. You don’t feel cared for by that person, merely tolerated.

White man covering his face with white flowers coming out of his hands
Anxiety, preoccupation with the abuser, and walking on eggshells are all signs of PTSD from narcissistic abuse

Your efforts to improve yourself or achieve something are met with scorn and belittling comments, because you dare not outshine the narcissist, whose ego is fragile. You are not allowed to have an identity that does not comply with the implicit rules of the narcissist. In trying to please that person, you might compromise your own values and integrity in order to prove your love. You tolerate name-calling, shaming, gas lighting, and rage attacks from the narcissist. All the while, you are told that you brought it upon yourself and that if you just had a better sense of humor or did the right thing, you would regain their approval.


Leaving the person might prove difficult, as they often play the victim or might threaten suicide. After a while, it is easy to lose your personality strengths and adopt some of their traits to survive. You might become superficial, communicate poorly and expect others to read your mind. Your boundaries may worsen and your mood may be unstable. You may become disoriented when the person gives you the silent treatment or gas lights you. In your insecurity, you might obsess about what the narcissist is doing off, to try controlling the situation so you’re no longer harmed.


Recovering from PTSD from narcissistic abuse.

The road to recovery from PTSD from narcissistic abuse is a difficult one, because you may have internalized the influence of the narcissist. Therefore, you need to start by detoxifying from their abuse. If you are dependent on them economically, this can be quite difficult.


Many of my clients have narcissistic loved ones. One mistake they make is trying to reason with the narcissist. Unfortunately, this often leads to arguments that go nowhere and massive frustration. The chances of communicating with a narcissist and confronting them successfully are poor. Everything in their personality is designed to ward off accountability. Unfortunately, they cannot take responsibility without feeling intense shame, so everything will necessarily be your fault.


Silhouette of people arguing against a pretty sunset
You can't win an argument with someone who won't take responsibility; photo by Eric Ward

If you live with someone who has been abusing you narcissistically, it is best to interact in a calm way, but with firm boundaries. By their behavior, you can see they really don’t care how you feel. Therefore, you need to state what you will and will not tolerate. Then you need to back it up by having a clear consequence.


Usually that consequence is having no contact with them anymore. Having an exit strategy, with money set aside for a place to live and a way of making a living, is the ultimate goal. It is usually best to get out of the situation first, so that you can have an experience of not being abused daily. Even if you have to move in to a room in a house with a stranger, that is better than being mistreated daily.


PTSD from narcissistic abuse can be treated successfully with a variety of therapies, especially EMDR therapy. Hypnosis can bypass the part of your critical, shaming mind, and help your subconscious mind remember your strengths and values. CBT is useful for combating automatic negative thoughts that are left over from the narcissistic abuse.


It takes time, but you can value and love yourself more by rebuilding your boundaries, knowing your worth, and having people in your life who also value you and treat you with respect and dignity. Having this appointed network can help you break the cycle of abuse. Understanding and learning about how narcissists work is also useful, so you can see through the game and not played anymore. If you need help from a therapist who understands this dynamic, please call today: 661-233-6771.

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