The link between Complex PTSD and Narcissistic Abuse

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As a result of chronic abuse, it has been revealed that victims may struggle with symptoms of PTSD or Complex PTSD if they had additional traumas from the past.
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.
Victims are commonly misdiagnosed with mental health conditions such as Bipolar Disorder or Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) in the wake of a narcissistic relationship.

But most likely they are suffering from complex PTSD, which is a reaction of the brain to an intense stressor, trauma or threat. It is a serious condition and extends much beyond an anxiety disorder. It can either make a person hypersensitive or emotionally numb. It involves a diminishing of emotions in general and is a real and complex mental disorder.
Here are some of the common signs that you may be suffering from complex PTSD as a result of a narcissistic relationship.

1. You are struggling with health issues and somatic symptoms that represent your psychological turmoil

While you were once a confident, happy and upbeat individual, you are now a shell of yourself. You may have gained or lost a significant amount of weight and developed serious mental health issues that did not exist prior to meeting the narcissist. This is because the stress of chronic abuse has sent your cortisol levels into overdrive and your immune system has taken a severe hit, leaving you vulnerable to physical ailments and disease.

You find yourself unable to sleep or experiencing terrifying nightmares when you do, reliving the trauma through emotional or visual flashbacks that bring you back to the site of the original wounds. Many people with Complex PTSD may be given the wrong diagnosis of another health issue due to issues with emotional regulation. The slightest failing can cause you to react in ways that you’d never dream of before, such as threatening suicide, becoming overly-dependant, acting erratically or exhibiting impulsive behaviour.


2. You develop a pervasive sense of mistrust

Every person now represents a threat and you find yourself becoming anxious about the intentions of others, especially having experienced the malicious actions of someone you once trusted. Your usual caution becomes hypervigilance. Since the narcissist or sociopath has worked hard to gaslight you into believing that your experiences are invalid, you have a hard time trusting anyone, including yourself. You might develop paranoid thoughts that other people are out to harm or betray you, causing you to create arguments with loved ones and to isolate yourself.


3. You experience suicidal ideation or self-harming tendencies.

Along with depression and anxiety may come an increased sense of hopelessness. Your circumstances feel unbearable, as if you cannot escape, even if you wanted to. You develop a sense of learned helplessness that makes you feel as if you don’t wish to survive another day. You may even engage in self-harm as a way to cope.

As Dr. McKeon (2014), chief of the suicide prevention branch at SAMHSA notes, victims of intimate partner abuse are twice as likely to attempt suicide multiple times. This is the way abusers essentially commit murder without a trace. According to the ICD-11, in addition to experiencing all of the core symptoms of PTSD, people with C-PTSD may also experience difficulty controlling emotions, which can lead you to attempt suicide.


4. You experience extreme anger and feel overly defensive

Anger and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) often occur together. Common in this condition, anger is one of the hyperarousal symptoms of PTSD and it may affect relationships with people around you. People who have experienced narcissistic abuse can become irritable, snappy and sometimes lash out in anger. This is because they are in constant ‘fight or flight’ mode as a result of feeling on constant alert for abuse.

Combine these emotions with a lack of rest, an inability to consume proper food, anxiety and feeling of despair – and the feelings of anger will increase.


5. You find yourself comparing yourself to others, often to the extent of blaming yourself for the abuse.

A narcissistic abuser is highly skilled at manufacturing love triangles or bringing another person into the dynamic of the relationship to further terrorise the victim. This could be their sibling, best friend, a friend’s wife, or even their victim’s own family members. As a result, victims of narcissistic abuse internalise the fear that they are not enough and may constantly strive to ‘compete’ for the abuser’s attention and approval.

Victims may also compare themselves to others in happier, healthier relationships or find themselves wondering why their abuser appears to treat complete strangers with more respect. This can send them down the trapdoor of wondering, “why me?” and stuck in an abyss of self-blame. The truth is, the abuser is the person who should be blamed – you are in no way responsible for being their sadistic mind games.


6. You think everyone hates you

After enduring a relationship which is mentally abusive, victims will often start to self sabotage and find themselves questioning their worth. They may start to believe that the people around them dislike or even hate them, and this can manifest in the breakdown of relationships with close friends and relatives.


7. Your reality becomes skewed

Particularly shown in people who have been ‘gaslighted’ throughout the relationship, victims may begin to find their reality becomes somewhat skewed. Gaslighting is essentially psychological warfare, causing a victim to habitually question himself or herself. It is employed as a power play to regain control over the victim’s psyche, sense of stability and sense of self.

Narcissists use tactics such as silent treatment, continually telling you that you need to go to hospital for being ‘mentally unwell,’ causing you to blame yourself, denying blatant lies to make you doubt yourself and dismissing the other person’s feelings.


8. You become exhausted

Victims develop a sense of learned helplessness as they are met with the intense consistency of denial, rage, projection or accusations from the gaslighter. Exhaustion from abuse and retaliation for asserting oneself creates a mental fog of epic proportions, one in which a survivor can easily drown in even the most ridiculous excuses as long as they carry a grain of truth.

The survivor of a conniving gaslighter becomes submerged in confusion about what actually occurred and whether anything truly occurred at all. So instead of questioning the gaslighter, they attempt to prevent further psychological assault by feeding their own self-doubt and uncertainty surrounding the abuse that is occurring. They may lack the energy to get up in the morning and to participate in activities they normally enjoy. They may lose their appetite and forget to eat, leaving them even more exhausted.

Styletto Mag is a Scottish online magazine that publishes the latest articles on fashion, beauty, travel, food and relationships. The site was founded in August 2011. Styletto Mag is a sleek, easy to access online magazine which features shopping trends, beauty reviews, funny features, and women's lifestyle articles. To contribute or submit articles, send them to

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