Narcissistic Abuse and Childhood Stress Trauma - Narcissistic Behavior (2023)

Excerpt from book: “WHEN SHAME BEGETS SHAME”:

Childhood stress trauma affects an individual’s health across their lifetime. In high doses, stress trauma releases stress hormones (i.e. the three major stress hormones are adrenaline, cortisol, and norepinephrine). These stress hormones can affect the child’s brain development, their immune system, hormonal system, physical development, and even how the persons DNA is read and transcribed.

Furthermore, Prenatal Stress Trauma in the mother can affect the unborn child’s development while in the womb. For a pregnant woman and her fetus, high stress levels pose special risks. For example, I personally knew a pregnant woman who was living with a very violent psychopathic partner. His violence continued throughout her pregnancies.

Even during her pregnancy, he had no mercy for either her or her unborn child. When her baby boy was delivered, he was born with hypospadias, which is a congenital malformation of the baby’s genital organs. This condition, which results from an incomplete fusion of the urethral folds between the eighth and 14th weeks of gestation, can be caused by the stress hormones being released in the mother as a response to the stress levels she is under.

(Video) The 5 Signs Someone Has Suffered Narcissistic Abuse

Another woman, also living with a psychopathic partner, experienced at least two early miscarriages before giving birth to a son. When this child was born, he suffered some form of intellectual disability. Research shows that elevated cortisol in a pregnant woman (due to stress) is associated with early miscarriages. The intellectual disability of her baby may have been due to a beating she suffered from her partner when she was eight months pregnant (when her partner kicked her in the stomach).

Also, many children today are diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). When these children’s history is gathered, many are known to have been exposed to adverse childhood experiences (ACE’s), yet nobody is asking the question, “what has happened to you?”

In our therapy room, when working with co-narcissistic victims, we should be asking these clients to tell their stories about their childhood adverse experiences (i.e. physical, emotional, psychological, sexual abuse, neglect, parental mental illness, substance abuse, incarceration, domestic violence etc.). Some experiences are so stressful that they can alter brain development as well as the person’s immune system.

The more ACE’s someone has experienced, the greater their risk for a poor outcome. Naturally, this increases their risk of lifelong health and social problems in adulthood. For example, one study carried out in 1990 on 17,000 people by Dr. Kaiser Permanente, of the Centre of Disease Control, San Diego showed how common ACEs are. For example, 21% of those interviewed had experienced sexual abuse as children, 19% grew up with someone suffering from mental illness, 28% had been physically abused.

The more ACEs, the greater the risk of poor outcomes. Someone with an ACE’s score of four had twice the risk of heart diseases and cancer. Someone with an ACE score of five had aneight times greater chance of being an alcoholic, and those with an ACE score of six on average died 20 years younger.

Validating the clients narcissistic abuse: –

Regarding the co-narcissist (victim) client, the telling of their story and the building of the narrative is an important part of the healing process. It is through the story that the therapist can validate what has really happened to them. Confirm that, having been in a relationship with someone with a narcissistic personality disorder that they were indeed a victim of narcissistic abuse.

They can now process their story and shed their victim identity by externalising their experience, and this is so powerful that it can actually change the client’s brain. We now know that there is a correlation between ACE scores and health-related outcomes. According to Doctor Nadine Burke Harris, an American paediatrician who has linked adverse childhood experiences and toxic stress with harmful effects to health later in life. In her TED Talks, “How childhood trauma affects health across a lifetime”, she says: –

(Video) Narcissistic Abuse: How to Stop Suffering in Silence

Early adversity affects the developing brains and bodies of children. It affects areas like the nucleus accumbens, the pleasure and reward centre of the brain that is implicated in substance dependence. It inhibits the prefrontal cortex, which is necessary for impulse control and executive function, a critical area for learning. And on MRI scans, we see measurable differences in the amygdala, the brain’s fear response centre.

So, there are real neurological reasons why folks exposed to high doses of adversity are more likely to engage in high-risk behaviour, and that’s important to know… The reason for this has to do with the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis, the brain’s and body’s stress response system that governs our fight-or-flight response.

How does it work? Well, imagine you’re walking in the forest and you see a bear. Immediately, your hypothalamus sends a signal to your pituitary, which sends a signal to your adrenal gland that says, “Release stress hormones! Adrenaline! Cortisol!” And so, your heart starts to pound, your pupils dilate, your airways open up, and you areready to either fight that bear or run from the bear. And that is wonderful if you’re in a forest and there’s a bear. (Laughter)

But the problem is what happens when the bear comes home every night, and this system is activated over and over and over again, and it goes from being adaptive, or life-saving, to maladaptive, or health-damaging. Children are especially sensitive to this repeated stress activation because their brains and bodies are just developing.

Frequently, illness in childhood (or later in adulthood) is a direct result of the victim’s continuous fluctuating emotional state that is inflicted by a narcissist in the toxic environment. The constant stress of living under such harsh conditions with a fledgling psychopath played havoc with my physical body, fortunately, my thought processes and my focus for keeping one step ahead of the posse kept my mind strong and sharp.

Unfortunately, unlike an adult, a child has no means of escape from the ongoing pathological abuse until they are independent enough to leave the family home. Sometimes illness (or dis-ease) may show itself in the following symptoms of PTSD at various levels of the self: On an Emotional Level for example, the victim may present with fear, low self-esteem, self-mutilation (self-harming), bulimia and anorexia (weight loss or gain), anxiety, depression, agoraphobia, suicidal thoughts, chronic pain, guilt, shame, and anger. Although, often I have found that anger is absent, especially where the victim feared retribution for expressing their anger, such as happened to me.

On a Biological Level, the client may present with somatisations. Somatisations are a variety of physical symptoms that the victim may experience throughout their life. For example, these somatic disturbances cause headaches, ulcers, asthma, eczema, gastrointestinal disturbances, menstrual problems, etc.

Usually, the first place the victim goes is to their doctor in the hope of getting relief from their symptoms. Very often doctors are unable to give a true diagnosis of what is really happening, as they cannot classify the symptoms as they don’t have any identifiable physical origins. When there is no detectable organic pathology evident, the person is often diagnosed as having ‘psychosomatic illnesses’ (a physical disease that is thought to be caused or made worse, by mental or emotional stress factors).

(Video) Are they REALLY a Narcissist? NPD vs CPTSD & Childhood Trauma

On a Behavioural Level, there may be suicidal ideation, and in some instances, there could be suicidal behaviour or even personality disorders. On an Interpersonal Level, there may be sexual and relationship problems where the victim finds it hard to trust, or they may fear getting close to someone ever again. Some of these symptoms the victims may be displaying could be mistaken for a “mental disorder”, however, I see them as healthy survival strategies in response to their unhealthy environment, where subordination was crucial.

Living under such tyranny, where the individual is dominated through threats of punishment and violence, their chronic abuse and trauma scripts send their cortisol levels soaring. Cortisol plays havoc on the immune system, leaving the victim vulnerable to disease, physical ailments, and somatisations.

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Christine is a Psychotherapist, Educator, Author and Supervisor of mental health professionals for over 28 years. She was part of a team in the Trauma Unit of St. Brendan’s Psychiatric Hospital, Dublin, and has worked specifically with victims of pathological narcissistic abuse in her private practice for many years.
Her books, “The Three Faces of Evil: Unmasking the Full Spectrum of Narcissistic Abuse” and “When Shame Begets Shame: How Narcissists hurt and shame their victims” set out to to help those who have been affected by a narcissist and also to address the shortfalls in a therapist’s education, so that they become better equipped to work with survivors of narcissistic abuse.Much of her knowledge has come from her post-grad studies in Criminology and Forensic Psychology, and it is through these disciplines that she has gained her understanding of “The Dark Triad”, (Narcissism, Machiavellianism and Psychopathy).
These three faces of evil are vital information for understanding the full spectrum of narcissistic abuse and the dire effects on the victims.It is her vision that narcissistic abuse becomes part of the curriculum of all Mental Health clinicians.

(Video) 6 Hidden Signs of Complex PTSD (cPTSD) | MedCircle

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(Video) These Are the Signs Someone Was Raised By a Narcissist

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What are typical behaviors of narcissistic abuse survivors? ›

The aftermath of narcissistic abuse can include depression, anxiety, hypervigilance, a pervasive sense of toxic shame, emotional flashbacks that regress the victim back to the abusive incidents, and overwhelming feelings of helplessness and worthlessness.

What are the signs that someone has suffered from narcissistic abuse? ›

Victims of narcissistic abuse have been reported to experience symptoms similar to PTSD, known informally as narcissistic abuse syndrome. Symptoms include intrusive, invasive, or unwanted thoughts, flashbacks, avoidance, feelings of loneliness, isolation, and feeling extremely alert.

What childhood trauma creates a narcissist? ›

Narcissism tends to emerge as a psychological defence in response to excessive levels of parental criticism, abuse or neglect in early life. Narcissistic personalities tend to be formed by emotional injury as a result of overwhelming shame, loss or deprivation during childhood.

What is a trauma response to narcissistic abuse? ›

Nightmares, flashbacks, and intrusive thoughts. Hyper-awareness, vigilance, anger, and irritability. Misplaced sense of blame, low self-worth. Avoidance of certain situations or people or a sense of detachment.

What happens to a person after narcissistic abuse? ›

Narcissistic abuse is insidious and can cause lasting effects like low self-esteem, trust issues, self-doubt, grief, depression, and anxiety. With time and treatment, it's possible to heal and overcome these issues, recovering parts of yourself and your life that were lost to the abuser.

What is narcissism Victim syndrome? ›

Also known as narcissistic victim syndrome, de Canonville classifies the experience as adverse mental health outcomes that result from being on the receiving end of a narcissistic personality.

What does narcissistic rage look like? ›

This rage may take the form of screaming and yelling. Selective silence and passive-aggressive avoidance can also happen with narcissistic rage. Most episodes of narcissistic rage exist on a behavior continuum. On one end, a person may be aloof and withdrawn.

What narcissistic abuse does to a woman? ›

Loss of Sense of Self and Self-Worth

You may feel as if you have completely lost yourself. Narcissistic abuse is a form of brainwashing, and as such, it can destroy your sense of self-worth. You may no longer feel like the person you were before all this began.

What are signs that you are being devalued by a narcissist? ›

Narcissists will make you question everything about yourself, including the people around you and your sanity. It includes statements like, “There's something wrong with you,” “Everybody's worried about your state of mind,” “That's not what happened,” and “You're crazy”.

What is the root cause of narcissism? ›

Narcissistic personality disorder may be linked to: Environment — parent-child relationships with either too much adoration or too much criticism that don't match the child's actual experiences and achievements. Genetics — inherited characteristics, such as certain personality traits.

What kind of parenting causes narcissism? ›

To summarize, overparenting, lack of warmth, leniency, overvaluation and childhood maltreatment have all been associated with higher levels of narcissism. However, these parenting behaviours have often been examined in isolation or in different combinations, with mixed findings.

How do narcissists treat their kids? ›

A narcissistic parent will often abuse the normal parental role of guiding their children and being the primary decision maker in the child's life, becoming overly possessive and controlling. This possessiveness and excessive control disempowers the child; the parent sees the child simply as an extension of themselves.

What it's like to be a complex trauma survivor of narcissistic abuse? ›

Complex trauma survivors can become socially withdrawn and self-isolate due to the abuse. Since they never develop a sense of safety, they distrust others while simultaneously searching for a “rescuer” who can finally give them the unconditional positive regard they were robbed of in childhood.

What is the fastest way to recover from narcissistic abuse? ›

How to Heal From Narcissistic Abuse
  1. Acknowledgement. Keep in mind that narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) doesn't only affect romantic relationships. ...
  2. Practice Self-Compassion. ...
  3. Be Patient. ...
  4. Exercise Self-Care. ...
  5. Lean on Support from Loved Ones.
3 Feb 2022

How does narcissistic abuse affect the brain? ›

In a blog published on Psych Central, author and researcher Kim Saeed wrote that narcissistic abuse acts like traumatic stress and can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Studies suggest that long-term traumatic stress affects three major parts of the brain - the hippocampus, prefrontal cortex, and amygdala.

How does a narcissist traumatize you? ›

Through ongoing gaslighting and demeaning of the partner, the narcissist undermines the individual's self-worth and self-confidence, creating extreme emotional abuse that is constant and devastating.

What are the long term effects of living with a narcissist? ›

Living or working with a narcissistic person can be incredibly challenging, often leading to feelings of inadequacy, self doubt, and anxiety. In more extreme cases, exposure to a narcissist can lead to clinical depression from the emotional abuse and torment a person has had to endure.

How does narcissistic abuse change your personality? ›

Anxiety and depression commonly develop as a result of narcissistic abuse. The significant stress you face can trigger persistent feelings of worry, nervousness, and fear, especially when you never know what to expect from their behavior.

Can a narcissist have a mental breakdown? ›

Let's recap. A person with NPD who's challenged in their sense of superiority may experience a narcissistic collapse. This is an emotional reaction of pain and vulnerability that may lead them to withdraw or act vindictively.

What are the traits of a narcissist victim? ›

They Have Low Self-Esteem

Narcissists often look for victims who struggle with insecurity and low self-esteem. People who think less of themselves and struggle with the “I am not enough” mindset tend to attract toxic partners. People with self-esteem issues tend to think of themselves as imperfect or unlovable.

What is a delusional narcissist? ›

They're a formal symptom of psychosis and other mental health conditions. While there are many types of delusions, delusions of grandeur are often associated with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). These refer to believing you are superior and more deserving than other people.

What angers a narcissist the most? ›

8 Triggers of a Narcissist's Rage

They feel that they've been criticized, even if the critique is constructive or said kindly. They're not the center of attention. They're caught breaking rules or not respecting boundaries. They're held accountable for their actions.

What is the most extreme form of narcissism? ›

Malignant narcissists are often regarded as having the most extreme form of NPD, and while they will have the regular qualities of someone with narcissistic personality disorder, their self-absorption and self-obsession is accompanied by some darker behaviors as well.

What does a narcissist tantrum look like? ›

The angry outburst of a narcissist is like a two-year-old temper tantrum. It appears out of nowhere, creates an unnecessary scene, and shocks others into inaction. It is the ultimate in selfish behavior as everything immediately becomes about them and what they want.

Why do narcissists want to abuse you? ›

According to Tanya, “Narcissistic abuse is about power and control,” which “can be verbal, emotional, psychological, financial, sexual, and/or physical.” Often, a Narcissist suffers from feeling a lack of control in their life, so they try to control the people around them.

How long does it take to heal from narcissistic abuse? ›

Recovering from narcissistic abuse takes time, so you will have to remain patient. This process could take months or even years, but it's worth all of the hard work and effort. You can and will move on to find healthier and happier connections with others.

What are the 4 stages of narcissism? ›

There are four distinct phases that these types of relationships typically go through: idealization, devaluation, discard, and hoover. And at times, it may feel like you are on a not-so-merry-go-round going round-and-round through these phases many times over.

How many circles do you see narcissist test? ›

The way in which a person draws three circles on a piece of blank paper can reveal much about his subconscious attitude toward life, says a New Orleans psychologist.

Are you dealing with a narcissist telltale signs? ›

9 Signs of a Narcissist Personality Disorder.

It often feels like you're fishing for compliments. A “chip on your shoulder.” You feel entitled, like other people owe you something. A tendency to manipulate or exploit other people for your own gain. Lack of remorse when you've hurt another person's feelings.

What are 5 of the main symptoms of narcissism? ›

Signs and symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder
  • Grandiose sense of self-importance. ...
  • Lives in a fantasy world that supports their delusions of grandeur. ...
  • Needs constant praise and admiration. ...
  • Sense of entitlement. ...
  • Exploits others without guilt or shame. ...
  • Frequently demeans, intimidates, bullies, or belittles others.

Is narcissism born or developed? ›

“People are not just born narcissists and there is nothing you can do about it,” Bushman said. “Our research shows that the way parents treat their children can predict how narcissistic their kids are.” To be clear, narcissism is not a disorder that people do or do not have.

What attachment style do narcissists have? ›

Narcissists have insecure attachment styles that are either avoidant or anxious, or some combination. People with insecure attachment styles feel a basic insecurity stemming from relationships with early caregivers.

How does a narcissistic mother behave? ›

A narcissistic mother may feel entitled or self-important, seek admiration from others, believe she is above others, lack empathy, exploit her children, put others down, experience hypersensitivity to criticism, believe she deserves special treatment, and worst of all, maybe naïve to the damage she is causing.

What kind of children do narcissists raise? ›

The children of a narcissist are often children who grow up to be codependent, people-pleasers, and have low self-esteem. They are children who never feel good enough for their parents or themselves. This blog post will explore the effects of growing up with a narcissistic parent on children into adulthood.

What kind of mother raises a narcissist? ›

The results are quite clear: Parents who "overvalue" children during this developmental stage, telling them they are superior to others and entitled to special treatment, are more likely to produce narcissistic children -- who can grow up to become narcissistic adults, unless something is done about it.

Are narcissist obsessed with their children? ›

The obsession or focus a narcissistic parent has on a child often has to do with the parent's own emotional needs. Narcissistic parents support children's “greatness” and encourage their talents, with the excuse that they love their child and are sacrificing themselves for the child's future.

How does a narcissist act towards their kids? ›

Narcissistic parents are often emotionally abusive to their children, holding them to impossible and constantly changing expectations. Those with narcissistic personality disorder are highly sensitive and defensive, and tend to lack self-awareness and empathy for other people, including their children.

How do children of narcissists behave? ›

Belittle others. Exaggerate their successes and achievements and diminish the value of achievements of those around them. Have a more difficult time empathizing with others. Be prone to temper tantrums and quick to anger when they do not get their way.

How do narcissists get out of trauma bonds? ›

Although the survivor might disclose the abuse, the trauma bond means she may also seek to receive comfort from the very person who abused her.
  1. Physically separate from the abuser. ...
  2. Cut off all lines of communication as far as possible. ...
  3. Acknowledge you have a choice and can choose to leave the relationship.

Will I ever be the same after narcissistic abuse? ›

Even if you manage to escape narcissistic abuse, its effects are long-lasting and can follow you for years and years to come. It shifts our world perspective and can even result in major changes to our personality — changes which can have a major impact on our lives.

How do I start a new life after narcissistic abuse? ›

5 Ways to Begin Taking Your Life Back After Narcissistic Abuse
  1. Go no contact and stay that way. Yes, NO contact. ...
  2. Educate yourself. Find reputable sources and learn everything you can about narcissistic abuse. ...
  3. Set time limits on ruminating. ...
  4. Dig deep and get to the root of the abuse in your life. ...
  5. Start setting boundaries.

Do I have PTSD from narcissistic abuse? ›

Signs and Symptoms of PTSD

If you or a loved one has just gone through a breakup with a narcissist, watch out for these signs of PTSD: Episodes of panic and fear that come out of nowhere. Extreme reactions—physical or emotional—to traumatic reminders. Difficulty sleeping or concentrating.

How do I know if Im trauma bonded? ›

Signs of trauma bonding

agree with the abusive person's reasons for treating them badly. try to cover for the abusive person. argue with or distance themselves from people trying to help, such as friends, family members, or neighbors.

Can narcissism be detected by a brain scan? ›

We can now see narcissism in the brain. A brain scan of people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) shows less brain matter in areas associated with emotional empathy. Actually, this is the first time anyone has seen the proof of narcissism in brain structures.

How do you know if you are recovering from narcissistic abuse? ›

Signs of Healing
  • You feel “lighter” literally and figuratively. ...
  • You smile, genuinely, sometimes for no reason.
  • You feel a sense of relief.
  • Some chronic physical symptoms may begin to alleviate (joint pain, stomach aches, headaches, autoimmune disease flare-ups may reduce in frequency and severity)
5 Dec 2019

What happens to the brain after emotional abuse? ›

Emotional abuse is linked to thinning of certain areas of the brain that help you manage emotions and be self-aware — especially the prefrontal cortex and temporal lobe. Epigenetic changes and depression. Research from 2018 has connected childhood abuse to epigenetic brain changes that may cause depression.

What happens to your brain after narcissistic abuse? ›

As a narcissistic abuse survivor, you will likely have symptoms of post-traumatic stress. Your brain will be on high alert, looking out for danger. This is because the traumatic events triggered a fight or flight response within you. As a result, anything associated with those memories can trigger an anxiety attack.

How do I reclaim my life after narcissistic abuse? ›

  1. 15 Tips to Help You Heal from Narcissistic Abuse. ...
  2. Label the Abuse. ...
  3. End the Relationship (If You Haven't Already) ...
  4. Set Clear, Defined Boundaries. ...
  5. Avoid Retaliation. ...
  6. Seek Immediate Support. ...
  7. Create a Consistent Schedule. ...
  8. Anticipate Grief.
7 Dec 2021

What is the number one characteristic of a narcissist? ›

Narcissistic personality disorder is a mental health condition in which people have an unreasonably high sense of their own importance. They need and seek too much attention and want people to admire them. People with this disorder may lack the ability to understand or care about the feelings of others.

How do narcissists treat their children? ›

A narcissistic parent will often abuse the normal parental role of guiding their children and being the primary decision maker in the child's life, becoming overly possessive and controlling. This possessiveness and excessive control disempowers the child; the parent sees the child simply as an extension of themselves.

What kind of person attracts a narcissist? ›

In fact, narcissists are often attracted to strong, confident, and self-assured women. While this may seem counterintuitive, it is important to realize that the narcissistic traits of grandiosity and confidence are really a mask for deep insecurity.

Why am I so tired after narcissistic abuse? ›

They often expend all of their energy trying to fulfill the narcissist's needs without getting any of their own needs met or even acknowledged in any way. This can leave you feeling exhausted and fatigued, even once you're out of the relationship.

How does being with a narcissist affect your body mind and soul? ›

Life with a narcissist can be extremely stressful, leading to depression or anxiety. It can also make you physically sick.

What mental illnesses are caused by emotional abuse? ›

Experiencing abuse or other trauma puts people at risk of developing mental health conditions, such as:
  • Anxiety disorders.
  • Depression.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • Misusing alcohol or drugs.
  • Borderline personality disorder.
16 Feb 2021

What are the 5 signs of emotional abuse? ›

5 Signs of Emotional Abuse
  • They are Hyper-Critical or Judgmental Towards You. ...
  • They Ignore Boundaries or Invade Your Privacy. ...
  • They are Possessive and/or Controlling. ...
  • They are Manipulative. ...
  • They Often Dismiss You and Your Feelings.
23 May 2017


1. 10 Signs of Narcissistic Victim Syndrome
2. 12 signs you might be suffering from PTSD
(The School of Life)
3. Complex PTSD affects the brain long-term and can affect your closest relationships
(ABC Action News)
4. Childhood Trauma and the Brain | UK Trauma Council
(Anna Freud NCCF)
5. Narcissistic Trauma & Marginalized Communities: The Link & Coping Strategies
6. You Must WALK AWAY From These People! (Heal From Toxic Breakups & Betrayal) | Dr. Ramani
(Women of Impact)
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