This trauma can have devastating psychological affects
Narcissistic trauma isn't really talked about and it's rarely even recognized by regular people and/or the psychological sciences. To be fair, trauma carves a wide swath in people and through our society. Over the decades, trauma has not only become more difficult to define but it's become more and more obvious that it comes in many forms and that virtually every single one of us endures it in some way or another. I've become convinced that it's quite impossible to get through childhood without absorbing some kind of destructive trauma. Trauma informed care has gained more momentum in mental health treatment fields which I believe is a good direction. Many life issues and many other disorders can be attributed to early trauma. ADHD, for example, can be a strong indicator of a childhood trauma profile than whatever it is that supposedly causes it. Many problems and disorders, it would seem, exist as a secondary response to trauma and our attempts to adapt to it. Many issues, disorders and types of dysfunction can often fit more closely to a trauma profile with other diagnosis being a secondary symptom to that trauma. OCD, ADHD, anxiety and eating disorders are just some example where a disorder has developed a secondary maladaptive response to the trauma that hasn't been recognized, addressed or treated.
Narcissistic trauma is a type of trauma that doesn't get much attention, it's a big can of worms and a huge rabbit hole. Honestly, books could be written about it and probably have been. I think it goes largely ignored and unrecognized for a myriad of reasons, one of them might that there's enough narcissism running through psychology professions and healthcare in general. Take it from me, if you talk openly about narcissism, narcissistic traits and narcissistic behavior, it won't take long before you ruffle some feathers and step on some toes. It really strikes a nerve with a lot of people but the folks who have endured narcissistic trauma are acutely aware of how real it is. I'm certain that one reason that it continually goes unaddressed is because it puts a mirror to close to the face of many medical and mental health providers.
I don't want to talk in vague terms here, let's break it down a bit here put some concrete parameters on what narcissistic trauma is, what it looks like, how it happens and what the results of it are.
Narcissistic trauma or NT is different from many other forms of trauma because it's almost purely psychological in nature. It's the type of trauma that has had a particularly catastrophic effect on one's psyche. The primary affects are seen in the identity of an individual as well as their ability to emotionally function in a positive way. It often lacks a violent component but nonetheless, it has often caused catastrophic levels of breakdown to the recipient. I'm going to break this down in two different categories. The first category will be how this trauma occurs and the nature of it and the second will be how it affects the individual. I consider NT to be trauma, without a doubt because it has many common traits with other well known and common types of trauma, specifically the affects on the individual.
How NT occurs - People acquire NT trauma when they've been in some kind of relationship with a narcissistic type which can include Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) or Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD) but it's not limited to these. The same thing can happen by being in a relationship with someone who has psychopathic traits or is a full blown psychopath. Many people, especially these days, seem to be expressing and emulating a pattern of narcissistic traits even though they don't seem to be a psychopath or have grounds to be diagnosed with a personality disorder. Narcissistic traits are just in the water these days, people are widely suffering from a severe late stage case of "me disease." There's something really strange happening among us in which it would seem that fairly average and arguably "good" people have lapsed into these destructive patterns that primarily affect our interpersonal human relationships. Our relationships and the quality of those relationships has deteriorated badly. We're struggling to be good to each other in ways that we used to. Relationships have adopted cultures of control, mistrust and competition which are foundationally where narcissistic relationships start. Let me break it down in a lot more detail.
The relationship is all about control - The narcissistic partner must always maintain an upper hand to the point of paranoia. If they feel their control slipping at all they can easily fall into a highly neurotic state and in which they become psychologically abusive. Most of their other behaviors are motivated by this frantic and irrational need for control. The more irrational and frantic they become, the more abusive they become. As time goes by, the cruelty of their words and their verbal abuse knows no limits. They're sick, they truly are. There's no other way for me to explain their total lack of empathy and endless cruelty.
.They weaponize fear as a method of control - The relationship takes on an intense cycle and pattern of fear. The recipient walks on eggshells, constantly anticipating when the next episode will occur. Over time they're afraid of their own shadow. Afraid to do anything, afraid not to do anything and mostly afraid to do the wrong thing and always trying to anticipate what that might be since the narcissist is never consistent but always unpredictable. Fear is their number one weapon and tactic. Honestly, if their fear tactics don't work on people, there's not a whole lot left in their arsenal but unfortunately, it's exceptionally effective and I believe that it takes a lot of individual strength and courage to endure it from them because they know how to come at you from virtually any and every angle.
They can cause seemingly irreparable damage to your identity and your ego - True malignant narcissists have no ego strength. They aren't able to generate any of their own emotional or psychological strength and they aren't able to generate any of their own light. In a sense, they act more like an emotional and psychological parasite than anything. They only know how to take and so they do. They are draining, to say the least. They don't know how to do or how to be anything different but there's no doubt about it, if you stay with them long enough they will suck you absolutely dry. They will drain you of your identity and your sense of self. If you're enmeshed with them for too long you might find yourself in a position where you just feel like you're an empty shell. Your sense of self is gone, you don't who you are anymore or what drives you.
There's nothing loving or healthy about the relationship - In fact, the opposite is true, it is the very definition and the epitome of a psychologically destructive relationship. Ideas of love are confused and obstructed. The concepts of love are entirely lost and confused in the whirlwind of control. The narcissistic type expect you to alter your life and your behavior so that you are acting, speaking and choosing how they would expect you to do so which is the opposite of love which is based on freedom, trust and acceptance.
Separating you from your tribe - A narcissistic type always isolates their partner from the rest of their friends and family. I don't know, so much, that they do this deliberately, as they feel intensely jealous and threatened. By so doing though, they cut you off from differing perspectives and people that will extend real love to you which is something they are going to feel threatened by.
Affects of NT on individual
Believe me, l could go on and on with these lists but I'm way behind on my goal to publish a new article each week so for now, I'm just going to cover the most important things. Here are some of the affects that I usually see in those who have endured NT.
Anxious and afraid - One of the most profound affects and impacts of NT is anxiety and fear. The individual experiences intense and irrational fear. The nature of the fear has a psychotic component to it which, in clinical jargon, just means that the individual is experiencing a detachment or a dissociation from reality. The intensity of the fear isn't even remotely consist or in proportion to the situation. It's honestly the only kind of fear that can come from intense psychological trauma. The individual, in a sense, seems at least somewhat brainwashed. They are only responding to a certain type of mental conditioning even though there's really no physical evidence to support or uphold that fear. This fear is also the thing that keeps them from healing or improving. They're terrified to step out of the tight mental corridor that they had previously walked through. They were once a slave to the fear within the relationship and unfortunately, they find themselves a slave to the fear once they're out of it.
Loss of worth and identity - NT has this spooky way of leaving people in a state in which they no longer have a sense of worth or identity. They don't know who they are anymore. In many regards, they are still acting and behaving as though the narcissist is still in their life and they can even often act and behave as though that person is looming or hovering around them, waiting to make an appearance where they can attack them again. These individuals find it difficult to make life decisions. They don't know who they are anymore and seems to be because they are afraid to be themselves again since it had previously garnered intense anger from the narcissist.
Lost and stuck - These folks find themselves being lost and stuck in almost every way possible. They struggle to make any decisions for themselves and they're always afraid to do the wrong thing which is what comes with the NT and the mental conditioning that comes with it. It seems nearly impossible for them to find true lasting happiness and they can't experience joy without having some intense guilt attached to it. They barely seem to function day to day.
Inability to free themselves from the conditioning - NT has a way of altering people in an almost permanent way. They're forever changed from it. They find themselves caught in endless thought loops made of doubt and worry.
The path forward:
I do believe people can heal from this and I do believe that they can get their lives back but it's not easy. Here are a few of my road signs if you want to solve this:
Persistence - Persistence is key. It's going to take time and that's okay. If you fall down, that's okay, just be sure to get up when you can and stay with it.
Change your thoughts, change your life - I recommend that pretty much anyone and everyone should adopt a new way of approaching life through new perspectives. I find myself challenging people to adopt regiments geared towards new levels of mental discipline and practice, it can make a huge difference. Especially if you remain persistent.
Celebrate the small victories - You must allow yourself to celebrate even when you've just gained a few small inches and you must do it the face of your fear.
Let the old self go - You're not going to be able to go back to who you were so let it go. You must look ahead and look at building a new identity and a new persona. You must become someone new.
Get angry - You have to allow yourself to feel some anger over what happened. It will give you strength and courage.
Find and build your inner strength - There are many many ways to do this but again, one must remain persistent. You could life weights or start doing martial arts, for example. You have to get outside of your small sense of powerlessness and smallness.
There's so much more to this journey and I know this is a difficult and confusing issue. Most therapists aren't going to talk about it because they just don't know much about it or have had enough experience exploring it. I'm seasoned and experienced enough by now that I find myself being able to take on tough issues such as narcissistic trauma.
If you'd like my help along your journey, reach out and let's talk about it.