The Complete Guide to Narcissistic Abuse Recovery

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Narcissistic abuse is a type of emotional abuse that involves manipulation to alter or damage the way a person thinks, behaves, or feels. Those who conduct this type of abuse in their relationships often have narcissistic personality disorder or sociopathic tendencies.

Narcissism and Sociopathy

Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is characterized by patterns or behaviors in which a person feels an exaggerated level of importance or fantasizes about having importance or power. People with NPD often need constant admiration. People with sociopathic tendencies don’t understand others' feelings, or they simply don’t care about them. They also lack feelings of guilt when they do something wrong. 

There are several signs that indicate you may be suffering from narcissistic abuse. For example, in the early stages of a romantic relationship, a narcissistic partner may act perfect, but then patterns begin to change and manipulation tactics begin.

Other signs include feeling confused, upset, or guilty about incidents that were not your fault but for which you are made to feel responsible. Narcissistic abuse may also involve public humiliation that is disguised as a joke.

While narcissistic abuse is damaging, recovery from it is possible. Read on to find out more about narcissistic abuse and how you can recover from it.

Long-Term Effects

Being the victim of narcissistic abuse can lead to long-term effects that are difficult to cope with. While some of those effects are mild, others can be so severe that they are fatal. Some of the long-term effects of narcissistic abuse are:  

  • Anxiety and depression
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Low self-worth and feeling as though you have lost yourself
  • An inability to forgive yourself because of feelings of unworthiness
  • Physical symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches, or body aches
  • Trouble sleeping because of high levels of stress and racing thoughts
  • Nightmares
  • Short-term memory loss
  • Mood swings and irritability
  • A lack of emotions and feeling as though the world around you is off somehow
  • Feeling vengeful or hateful towards your abuser
  • Having an increased risk of developing mental disorders such as depression, anxiety, or PTSD, especially if abused as a child
  • Trust issues because of the long-standing manipulation you endured
  • An increased sensitivity to criticism or judgment
  • People-pleasing tendencies in an attempt to win approval from others
  • Feeling as though you need to punish yourself with self-destructive behaviors, such as substance use, overspending, or overeating 

How Can Narcissistic Abuse Be Fatal?

While the abuse itself isn’t directly causing death, the long-term effects can lead to various potential life-threatening behaviors such as substance use disorder. People who have endured narcissistic abuse also have an increased risk for suicide due to depression and anxiety.

Steps to Recovery

Dealing with narcissistic abuse for any amount of time can negatively impact a person’s entire life. Many people lose friends, family members, or even jobs during their time with their abuser.

While recovering from narcissistic abuse can be a lengthy and complex process, it is not impossible. The following steps outline efforts you can take to help overcome the effects of narcissistic abuse while you embark on your recovery journey.  

Acknowledge the Abuse

Before you begin healing from the abuse, you have to acknowledge that it occurred. Since narcissistic abuse can be subtle by nature, you may question for a long time whether you were abused at all.

During the relationship, you may have had to rationalize the behavior for so long that accepting that it wasn’t rational or excusable can be difficult.

It is also often easier to take the blame for a situation than it is to accept that someone you deeply cared for ended up hurting you in such a horrible way. However, denying that it happened takes away your opportunity to address it.

Children and Narcissistic Abuse

Children who are subject to narcissistic abuse may have a more difficult time acknowledging the abuse because they are confused about what is happening. They also may feel as though the abuse is their fault. Acknowledging abuse must be preceded by the understanding that they hadn't done anything wrong to deserve it.

Set Boundaries From Your Abuser

Narcissistic abusers often try to reconcile with you by promising to change, however, they are just trying to manipulate you further. This is why setting boundaries is important.

Cutting ties and having no contact with your abuser by blocking their phone number and preventing other ways of contacting you can help.

When No-Contact Isn't Possible

If going without any contact from your abuser is impossible because they are a member of your family or you share children, you have to set boundaries with that person. While seeing your abuser can be extremely difficult, you still have to be strong and keep your boundaries. This can be done by stating clearly you will not be subject to their abusive behavior and will remove yourself from any interaction when abuse is present.

Process Your Emotions

Any type of breakup or ending of a relationship will come with difficult emotions such as sadness, anger, and grief. In the case of a relationship ending with a narcissistic abuser, you may also feel shame, suspicion, fear, anxiety, or symptoms of PTSD.

Because you will be dealing with a lot of complex feelings, you will have to work through them in a healthy way. Seeing a therapist can help you work through your emotions in a safe and neutral environment.

Painful Emotions Have a Purpose

While feeling pain or hurt due to abuse is unpleasant, experiencing those emotions is necessary. The purpose is to allow yourself to feel what you’re feeling without judgment so that you can process each emotion and let it pass.

Focus on Yourself

Because people often lose themselves in relationships with narcissistic abusers, when you do break free, focusing on yourself can aid in your recovery. You can do this by rediscovering yourself, your relationships with friends and family, and practicing self-care techniques.

According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, self-care can significantly improve your views of yourself and help you recover from the abuse. Self-care practices can include:

  • Use positive affirmations to improve your self-esteem.
  • Exercise to help release pent up feelings of anger, rage, or grief.
  • Adopt breathing exercises to manage emotions and address any responses that may keep you locked in the mind state of being abused.
  • Practice a new creative hobby as a way of self-expression.

Shifting Your Focus

After having focused for so long on someone else, shifting gears to put your feelings and needs first can be difficult. If you find it hard to keep your attention on your healing, remember to take it easy on yourself. These things take time. Change doesn’t happen overnight. 

Getting Professional Help

Professional help is an optimal step to take when recovering from narcissistic abuse because the trauma and long-term effects are hard to shake on your own. A trained mental health professional will be able to validate your emotions, help you process complex and negative feelings, and guide you toward appropriate forms of therapy.

Some types of therapy that may help you recover from the abuse include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): A form of talk therapy that changes automatic negative thought patterns
  • Trauma-focused CBT: A type of CBT geared toward children, adolescents, and their parents
  • Motivational interviewing: A form of psychotherapy that helps patients recover by enhancing their motivation to heal
  • Eye movement desensitization reprocessing (EDMR): Therapy that focuses on changing the way memories are stored in the brain to help reduce negative feelings associated with trauma
  • Art therapy: Therapy that involves using creativity and self-expression to heal from trauma

Summary

Narcissistic abuse can be highly damaging, and someone who constantly is subjected to it may experience long-term effects. The abuse itself is a strategy that involves manipulation tactics that help the abuser gain control over the person being abused.

While recovery is difficult, it is possible. Taking the necessary steps toward recovery, such as by seeking professional help, recognizing the abuse that occurred, and focusing on yourself, can all help you move past the abuse.

A Word From Verywell

Narcissistic abuse can be so subtle that it is difficult to notice when it’s happening to you. That is why many people stay connected to their abusers for so long. Once you do realize what is happening, the damage often is already done.

When you remove yourself from the situation, you may have developed some negative behaviors such as people-pleasing but it’s important that you go easy on yourself. You are not to blame for any abuse that was done to you and you can heal from the pain that was caused.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are long-term effects of narcissistic abuse?

    There are many long-term effects of narcissistic abuse, both physical and psychological. 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.

  • Is it possible to fully recover from narcissistic abuse?

    It can take years to fully recover from the damage that was done because of the psychological manipulation that you have endured. That being said, moving past the abuse and achieving full recovery is entirely possible with professional help.

  • Is PTSD common after narcissistic abuse?

    Symptoms of post-traumatic stress can be common after narcissistic abuse, especially in children who experience this type of abuse from their parents.

    Traumatic events, like the psychological effects a person deals with in an abusive relationship, lead to an overactive fight-or-flight response. This response, which is designed to act as an alert system, gets activated anytime a memory of the relationship or aspects of the relationship arise. Because of this, people feel on edge and as if there is something to be scared of around every corner.