Effects of Narcissistic Abuse (2023)

Narcissistic abuse is a type of emotional abuse where the abuser only cares about themselves and may use words and actions to manipulate their partner's behavior and emotional state.

Effects of narcissistic abuse can vary depending on how long one can endure these types of relationships. The effects range from mild to severe, with some survivors recovering while others may sustain lifelong damage. Here's how narcissistic abuse can impact your life.


Many narcissistic abuse survivors live with anxiety. After experiencing narcissistic abuse, you may experience extreme fear or anxiety in relationships with new people. Those who leave abusive relationships may experience separation anxiety, leading them to feel panicked and disoriented when they're not with their abusers.

If your symptoms include anxiety attacks, panic attacks, or hypervigilance after being abused by a narcissist, know that these symptoms will ease over time, particularly if you can work through your trauma with a professional.


Many people who have experienced narcissistic abuse also develop depression. Survivors often struggle with feelings of worthlessness after months or years of being told how useless and stupid they are by their abuser. After years of being manipulated and gaslighted, you may also isolate yourself, which can make feelings of depression worse.

Post-Traumatic Stress

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.

After experiencing narcissistic abuse, you may feel the need to be on guard 24/7. Victims of narcissists often mention that they never knew what their abuser was going to do next. You may struggle to relax because of chronic hypervigilance and expecting them (the abuser) to be around every corner.

You may also steer clear of certain situations or things that remind you of the abuse. This can range from avoiding certain places or particular people.

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.

In many cases, those who have experienced narcissistic abuse will struggle to recognize themselves in the mirror because they no longer see their true reflection staring back at them.

You may also have trust issues with other people (especially those closest to you), and constantly find yourself doubting or second-guessing yourself.

You may begin to feel like you are not good enough or that you did something to cause the abuse in the first place. This can lead to shame and embarrassment, which may often stop you from reaching out for help.

You may also have trouble making decisions. You may get confused by simple decisions, or you might feel unable to make any decision at all.

Narcissistic abusers will often try to derail your goals and aspirations. They want to control everything about you, down to the activities that made up who you were as a person.

Inability to Forgive Yourself

After experiencing narcissistic abuse, many victims struggle with feeling unworthy or believing that they deserve how the narcissist treated them. It may feel like there must be something inherently wrong with you if someone who was supposed to love you unconditionally used their power against you in such cruel ways. You might struggle with low self-esteem and believe that the narcissistic abuser would have treated you better if only you had done things differently.

You may also have trouble focusing on your goals and dreams. This could be because you're still preoccupied with thoughts of what happened to you. Or, it could be that your sense of self-worth is so damaged, it's difficult for you to believe that anything good can happen in your life anymore.

Physical Symptoms

After experiencing narcissistic abuse, you may live with physical symptoms, including headaches, stomachaches, or body aches. You may also have difficulty sleeping after experiencing narcissistic abuse. You may be stressed about what happened and find it difficult to shut off your brain at night. Or, you could end up having nightmares that haunt you for days afterward.

Cognitive Problems

After narcissistic abuse, it may become difficult for you to concentrate on everyday tasks, such as completing work or just watching TV. Memories of traumatic events are known to interfere with concentration and focus. You may experience memory loss, especially short-term. This is because the brain releases a surge of stress hormones when traumatized, affecting the hippocampus region in your brain.

Emotional Lability

After going through a traumatic event such as narcissistic abuse, it's common to suffer sudden mood swings accompanied by irritability. Or, you may find yourself feeling emotionless and like a robot. You might experience depersonalization where it feels as if everything around you is not accurate.

You might even feel the need to exact revenge against your abuser. But this hatred towards them only creates more stress and anxiety, which perpetuates mental health problems.

Effects on Children

If you have children who witnessed narcissistic abuse, they could also be at risk of developing mental health problems such as PTSD, anxiety disorders, or depression. They might become fearful in situations that remind them of their traumatic experiences. They might also feel angry at your spouse or the world, feel disconnected from other people, or have low self-esteem or confidence issues.

Loss of Self-Worth

After experiencing narcissistic abuse, you might feel like you don't even know yourself anymore. You could start questioning your self-worth, have trust issues with other people (especially those closest to you), and constantly find yourself doubting or second-guessing yourself.

You may begin to feel like you are not good enough or that you did something to cause the abuse in the first place. This can lead to shame and embarrassment, which may often stop you from reaching out for help.

You may also have trouble making decisions due to a lack of self-worth. You may get confused by simple decisions, or you might feel unable to make any decision at all.

Stuck in a Cycle

After experiencing narcissistic abuse, many people find themselves stuck in a cycle where their abuser continues to contact them after the relationship has ended.

They may act nice (also called hoovering) in an attempt to get you back, issue threats, or attempt to manipulate you by making you feel sorry for them. This can be a tactic used by narcissists to keep their victims trapped in the cycle of abuse.

Trust Issues

After experiencing narcissistic abuse, your trust levels will likely be very low. While this can seem like a good thing (in some ways), it could also hinder your future relationships. This issue may lead to other problems such as social anxiety.

You might find yourself constantly wondering whether people are being truthful with you or if they are just manipulating your emotions to get what they want. You may become hypervigilant and overly sensitive to criticism or judgment from others due to the fear of being betrayed yet again.

You may struggle with trust issues in all aspects of your life, including personal relationships, friendships, work interactions, or even contact with family members. You may also experience insecure attachment, which means that you may constantly feel that people will leave or betray you.

People Pleasing

You may become a people pleaser and try to make people like you. You may become overly accommodating to get approval from others after having had to walk on eggshells for so long. You might struggle with expressing your emotions and thoughts after narcissistic abuse because of the fear of being judged for what you say. To avoid confrontation from a narcissist abuser, you likely bottled up your feelings.

Self-Destructive Habits

Another effect of narcissistic abuse can be self-destructive habits. People who have been in relationships with narcissists often feel the need to punish themselves because they may feel as though they were at fault for their partner's bad behavior toward them.

You may experience problems with addiction such as drinking, smoking, and even food addiction or overspending. These addictions may be a way to numb emotional pain.

How to Heal From Narcissistic Abuse

Narcissistic abuse has the potential to destroy the foundation of most people's lives irreparably. It takes time and energy to heal from betrayal, heartbreak, gaslighting, and financial losses caused by an abusive partner. What's more, you may have lost friends and family members along the way due to self-isolation. If you are struggling, it's important to find ways to heal. Below are some suggestions

  • Recognize and accept your feelings. You may experience a range of emotions such as grief, depression, anger, and anxiety. Whatever you are feeling is valid, and it's important not to suppress those feelings or judge yourself for having them.
  • Educate yourself. Learn the traits of a narcissist and what constitutes narcissistic abuse to more easily recognize when you are being manipulated.
  • Join a support group. There are many communities on the internet and in real life for people who have had similar experiences. You may find it therapeutic to interact with others who understand exactly what you're going through and can offer tips and advice to help you cope.
  • Reach out to a therapist or counselor. A therapist can help equip you with tools to cope with and heal from narcissistic abuse in a safe and non-judgmental space.
  • Practice self-care. When your self-esteem has taken a hit, it's easy to feel like you don't deserve anything good for yourself. However, that couldn't be further from the truth. It's essential to take care of yourself. Make sure you're getting enough sleep, eating healthy food, and engaging in activities that you find enjoyable.

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A Word From Verywell

After being involved with someone narcissistic, you may find yourself developing one or more of these effects. You've likely developed some negative coping mechanisms, including people-pleasing behaviors and/or self-destructive habits after experiencing such an ordeal. These are common responses among those who go through situations like this, so know that there is nothing unusual about feeling the way you do.

If you or a loved one are a victim of domestic violence, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 for confidential assistance from trained advocates.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

How to Find a Narcissistic Abuse Support Group


What are the devastating effects of narcissistic abuse? ›

Chronic abuse can lead to symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), especially in victims who experienced other traumas. The result of narcissistic abuse can also include a pervasive sense of shame, overwhelming feelings of helplessness, and emotional flashbacks.

What is the trauma response from narcissistic abuse? ›

Psychological trauma from their abuse will not just go away. In fact, this type of abuse can cause long lasting post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. The abuse from a narcissist is overwhelming. It is hard to identify and sufferers tend to blame themselves and continue to suffer long after the relationship is over.

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.

What are the 4 stages of narcissistic abuse? ›

The four stages of the narcissistic abuse cycle are: Idealization, Devaluation, Repetition, and Discard. In this cycle, a narcissistic partner may love-bomb you, devalue your sense of self over time, repeat the pattern, and eventually, discard you and/or the relationship.

What brain damage is caused by narcissistic abuse? ›

The damage to the amygdala of the victims of narcissistic abuse become trapped in a permanent state of fear and anxiety and react badly to environmental triggers that remind them of the violation by the narcissist. This means that victims of narcissistic abuse are constantly alert to the danger that does not exist now.

Why is narcissistic abuse so traumatizing? ›

The abuse from a narcissist will essentially cause the victim (first- or second-degree) to feel emotionally out of control and unstable. The negative memories and painful flashbacks will overpower any semblance of goodness. Depression, languishing, and general disinterest in life will become the norm.

What happens to your body after narcissistic abuse? ›

Some examples of long-term effects include mood and anxiety disorders, physical ailments such as headaches, stomachaches, or body aches, the inability to get a good night's sleep or having nightmares, and a lowered sense of self-worth.

What does PTSD from narcissistic abuse look like? ›

Persistent negative thoughts—about yourself, your worth, the world—believing any problems are your fault. Persistent negative feelings (e.g., fear, sadness, anger, shame, guilt). Inability to feel positive emotions such as joy, hope, peace, etc. Memory loss about particular instances of the abuse.

What does PTSD look like after narcissistic abuse? ›

Re-experiencing the trauma: This can include flashbacks, nightmares, and intrusive thoughts about the abuse. Avoiding reminders of the trauma: This may involve avoidance behaviours such as staying away from people or places that remind you of the narcissist.

What are common feelings after narcissistic abuse? ›

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.

How to heal your brain after narcissistic abuse? ›

Exercise Self-Care
  1. Paying attention to your stress level.
  2. Getting enough sleep.
  3. Eating healthy.
  4. Taking the time to do things you enjoy.
  5. Connecting or reconnecting with people in your life who are positive.
  6. Getting physical activity in your day.
  7. Using the coping skills you learn in therapy to help you manage your relationships.
Feb 3, 2022

Do you ever recover from 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 are the three E's of narcissism? ›

Malkin says the key to spotting narcissistic personality disorder is observing the “three Es” — exploitation, entitlement, and empathy impairment.

What are the 5 main habits of a narcissist? ›

Let's take a look at five of the most common characteristics of a narcissist in order to create awareness.
  • Inflated Ego. Those who suffer from narcissism usually seem themselves as superior to others. ...
  • Lack of Empathy. ...
  • Need for Attention. ...
  • Repressed Insecurities. ...
  • Few Boundaries.

What are the 3 D's of narcissism? ›

The relationship cycle typical of extreme narcissistic abuse generally follows a pattern. Individuals in emotionally abusive relationships experience a dizzying whirlwind that includes three stages: idealization, devaluing, and discarding.

How long does it take your brain 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 is narcissist victim syndrome? ›

Narcissistic victim syndrome occurs when someone has lived with or spent a significant amount of time with a person classified as a narcissist. People struggling with this syndrome often have doubts about their sanity and self-worth and have concerns about their failures, flaws, and perceived shortcomings.

What happens to narcissists in the long run? ›

According to Julie L. Hall, author of “The Narcissist in Your Life: Recognizing the Patterns and Learning to Break Free,” narcissists become more extreme versions of their worst selves as they age, which includes becoming more desperate, deluded, paranoid, angry, abusive, and isolated.

Why do victims of narcissistic abuse feel guilty? ›

Guilt is a common emotion for people leaving an addict or a narcissist. Those leaving addicts often feel guilty as they fear the removal of stability and support may lead the addict into a downward spiral in the addiction.

How do narcissists treat their children? ›

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. They tend to lack self-awareness and empathy for other people, including their own children.

Why do victims of narcissistic abuse stay? ›

Victims of emotional abuse frequently say they stayed for fear of breaking up the family unit or they put up with the abuse for the sake of the children. They may be religious or strongly feel that divorce is not an option. Financial and economical control often comes hand in hand with emotional abuse.

What is dissociation after narcissistic abuse? ›

Narcissists and psychopaths dissociate (erase memories) a lot (are amnesiac) because their contact with the world and with others is via a fictitious construct: The false self. Narcissists never experience reality directly but through a distorting lens darkly.

What are some surviving quotes about narcissistic abuse? ›

The moment that you start to wonder if you deserve better, you do.” “Just because someone desires you, does not mean that they value you.” “A healthy relationship will never require you to sacrifice your friends, your dream, or your dignity.” “When it hurts to move on, just remember the pain you felt hanging on.”

How do I get my power back from a narcissist? ›

Here are three ways to reclaim your power when you are experiencing the devastating withholding behaviors of a narcissist:
  1. Plan a safe exit. ...
  2. Use any withholding periods as times for radical self-care and productivity. ...
  3. Resolve to integrate the painful lesson of withholding into your future experiences.
Jul 17, 2019

What are typical behaviors of narcissistic abuse survivors? ›

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 does the trauma bond feel like for the narcissist? ›

Signs of a Trauma Bond. You might be suffering from a trauma bond if you exhibit the following behaviors: You know they are abusive and manipulative, but you can't seem to let go. You ruminate over the incidents of abuse, engage in self-blame, and the abuser becomes the sole arbiter of your self-esteem and self-worth.

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.

Is there an anger stage after narcissistic abuse? ›

The emotional hangover when we're undergoing recovery from a narcissistic relationship is typically profound sadness and secondary to this feeling is rage. Rage that someone who professed to love you could suddenly turn around and treat you so entirely without empathy. The rage quite often is disguised as depression.

What is projection after narcissistic abuse? ›

Narcissistic projection is a defense mechanism through which individuals “project” or see their own negative behaviors, emotions, and traits in someone else. Projection can be performed without the narcissist's awareness as they struggle to hide uncomfortable inner conflicts, imperfections, and shortcomings.

What kind of trauma do narcissists have? ›

Narcissistic personalities tend to be formed by emotional injury as a result of overwhelming shame, loss or deprivation during childhood. The irony is that despite showing an outwardly strong personality, deep down these individuals suffer from profound alienation, emptiness and lack of meaning.

How do I stop feeling like a victim after narcissistic abuse? ›

Seek support communities and therapy, if needed

Consider reaching out to a healthcare or mental health professional. They may recommend trauma therapy to help manage your symptoms. This could include specialized therapies to help you process your trauma experiences and build coping tools.

How do I get back to normal after narcissistic abuse? ›

You can start healing from narcissistic abuse by first acknowledging that it happened to you. Then, heal your mind through your body by partaking in self-care through enjoyable physical activity. Lastly, you can reach out to your support system or a support group for guidance and care.

Is the brain damage from narcissistic abuse reversible? ›

The functions of the amygdala, hippocampus, and the prefrontal cortex that are affected by emotional trauma can also be reversed. The brain is ever-changing and recovery is possible.

How do you regain your sense of self after narcissistic abuse? ›

Healing Identity Loss Is an Ongoing Process
  1. Surround yourself with supportive people. ...
  2. Do something the narcissist always said you couldnt. ...
  3. Move slowly.At first, you may have a hard time communicating with other people and making decisions for yourself. ...
  4. Set boundaries and stand your ground. ...
  5. Ban, block, and cut them out.
Aug 22, 2018

Do narcissists get heartbroken? ›

While people with narcissism aren't devoid of emotions, their motivations may be self-focused. They can know they're hurting your feelings, but as long as it elevates their status, they may not care. Someone living with narcissism does cry. They can feel regret, remorse, and sadness.

How narcissists treat their exes? ›

By remaining friends with their exes, narcissists get to keep all of their former partners on a carousel of convenience: they can create a harem of people to use for sex, money, praise, attention or whatever else they desire, at any time.

Does narcissism get worse with age? ›

Summary: For most people, narcissism wanes as they age. A new study reports the magnitude of the decline of narcissistic traits is tied to specific career and personal relationship choices. However, this is not true for everyone.

What happens when a narcissist takes antidepressants? ›

They sometimes lead to the Serotonin syndrome, which includes agitation and exacerbates the rage attacks typical of a narcissist. SSRIs do lead at times to delirium and a manic phase and even to psychotic microepisodes.

What is the most extreme form of narcissism? ›

Malignant narcissism is considered by many to be the most severe type. 2 That's why it helps to recognize when you have someone with this condition in your life and what to expect from interactions with them.

What is the number 1 narcissist trait? ›

Grandiose sense of self-importance

Grandiosity is the defining characteristic of narcissism. More than just arrogance or vanity, grandiosity is an unrealistic sense of superiority. Narcissists believe they are unique or “special” and can only be understood by other special people.

How are narcissists with money? ›

Generally, narcissists are very frugal with their money and defensive with it. When it comes to their possessions, they don't give them freely. There is, however, more to this greed than self-preservation. Due to their lack of empathy, narcissists may not understand the benefits of sharing their resources.

What is the one question to identify a narcissist? ›

“To what extent do you agree with this statement: 'I am a narcissist.'” Scientists believe that this question could be all researchers need to make a quick and easy diagnosis of narcissism.

What are the 4 cycles of narcissism? ›

The four stages of the narcissistic abuse cycle are: Idealization, Devaluation, Repetition, and Discard. In this cycle, a narcissistic partner may love-bomb you, devalue your sense of self over time, repeat the pattern, and eventually, discard you and/or the relationship.

What are the 4 S's of narcissism? ›

The narcissist requires 4 Ss from his intimate partners: sex, supply (sadistic or narcissistic), services, and safety.

What are the worst narcissist type? ›

Malignant narcissism is a psychological syndrome comprising an extreme mix of narcissism, antisocial behavior, aggression, and sadism.

Is narcissistic abuse the worst trauma? ›

Narcissistic abuse is one of the worse types of psychological abuse that one person can do to another, but unfortunately, many people are stuck in these types of relationships.

Can narcissistic abuse make you ill? ›

Life with a narcissist can be extremely stressful, leading to depression or anxiety. It can also make you physically sick. You may feel it in the pit of your stomach. This isn't surprising, as stress and dismay are often coupled with a gut disturbance.

How to heal the brain after narcissistic abuse? ›

Exercise Self-Care
  1. Paying attention to your stress level.
  2. Getting enough sleep.
  3. Eating healthy.
  4. Taking the time to do things you enjoy.
  5. Connecting or reconnecting with people in your life who are positive.
  6. Getting physical activity in your day.
  7. Using the coping skills you learn in therapy to help you manage your relationships.
Feb 3, 2022

What is the hero syndrome of a narcissist? ›

Narcissists often oscillate from hero to victim mode. As the hero, the narcissist attempts to dominate the situation. Saving the day fuels his or her ego and provides control. As the victim, the narcissist evades accountability by relying on a past hardship to excuse current wrongdoing.

Will a narcissist physically harm you? ›

Recent research shows a consistent link between narcissistic traits, aggression, and violence. Many types of aggression (like physical, verbal, or bullying) and violence were linked to narcissism across the board. Therapy and parenting can all help reduce the risk of narcissistic traits and behaviors.

Why do you get physically sick after being with a narcissistic person? ›

Life with a narcissist can be extremely stressful, leading to depression or anxiety. It can also make you physically sick. You may feel it in the pit of your stomach. This isn't surprising, as stress and dismay are often coupled with a gut disturbance.

Do narcissists know they are abusive? ›

MD. While being the target of narcissistic abuse is stressful and hurtful, many narcissists are unaware of how their actions impact others. If they are aware that others feel negatively about them or about their choices, they often lack the ability to take responsibility for their actions or see them as wrong.


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