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Healing From Narcissistic Abuse With EMDR Therapy

Narcissistic abuse can leave deep emotional scars. After ending a relationship with someone with narcissistic traits or distancing yourself from them, you might feel like you are reeling. You might feel numb, confused, drained, angry, distressed or depressed. You might feel damaged in a way you cannot easily find words for.

Narcissistic abuse can be defined as a type of emotional or psychological abuse coming from someone with narcissistic traits. It can be perpetrated by anyone close to us: a partner, our parents, another family member, a friend, an employer, or a colleague.

People with narcissistic traits typically:

  • prioritise their own needs and wants only, to the extent of using, exploiting or hurting others

  • lack empathy 

  • have a strong need to be admired, heard and seen

  • have a strong need to feel superior (and for that reason belittle others systematically)

  • consciously or unconsciously use manipulation tactics such as gaslighting (where you are made to doubt your own perceptions and your own memories; where you are made to feel you have a psychological problem and are causing the issues in the relationship: for example, by being overly sensitive or emotionally unstable)

Narcissistic abuse is difficult to identify

Narcissistic abuse can be hard to spot. It can take years for a person caught up in a relationship where this kind of abuse is present to realise what is going on. But what makes it so hard to detect?

The main reason is that narcissistic abuse is psychological. Alongside direct verbal criticism, narcissistic abusers employ strategies that aim to shift the responsibility for their actions onto the person being abused. As a consequence, narcissistic abuse gets inside your head. It chips away at your self-confidence and ultimately, at your perception of reality. This makes identifying the abuse so incredibly hard.

A second reason why the abuse is so difficult to detect is that often people with narcissistic traits have learned that self-serving behaviours are not socially acceptable and generally frowned upon. As a consequence, they have learned to act in more subtle ways and hide their narcissism. This is called covert narcissism (as opposed to more blatant, overt narcissism).

What narcissistic abusers all have in common though is that another person’s needs and feelings matter less or not at all to them (lack of empathy) and that there is no willingness to take accountability or truly change their behaviours.

How narcissistic abuse affects us

Narcissistic abuse can have a huge impact on a survivor’s mental health. It can cause issues such as anxiety, relationship difficulties, loneliness, depression, low self-esteem, anger, dissociation and trauma. Let’s look at some of these issues more closely.

Low self-esteem:

Narcissistic abuse gradually chips away at your self-worth. This happens through constant little digs, sustained criticism and comparisons (narcissists love to compare you with others in order to put you down – this is called triangulation).

It is not uncommon for this to touch every area of your life: your personality, intelligence, work performance, parenting, looks, weight, dress sense, taste in music, cooking, driving, exercising, the way you have sex, and the way you relate to others. What is most insidious about the abuse is that over time, you end up internalising the comments: you start to believe them. Friends and family might start to comment that they do not recognise you anymore. Over time, you may feel like you have become a husk of yourself.

Creation of a trauma bond and a difficulty to detach from the abusive person:

As we now know thanks to the science of addiction, it is the very inconsistency and unpredictability of the abuser’s display of love that get us hooked. The cycle of abuse, which continuously pedals through the love-bombing and abuse stages, eventually creates what is called a “trauma bond” with the abuser. It is because there is trauma that the intermittent crumbs of love and affection become so important to your brain. If you are experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you have no contact or are finding it hard to leave the abuser, please know that this is very common and that it is caused by the psychological and biological impact of the cycle of abuse.

Complex trauma or C-PTSD (complex post-traumatic stress disorder):

As trauma expert Bessel van der Kolk explains, the trauma from abuse (especially if the abuse occurred in childhood) is complex because it is relational in its nature and often goes on for a prolonged period of time, as opposed to a one-off traumatic event such as a car accident. Neuroscientists have shown that complex trauma leaves an imprint on the brain, causing symptoms such as memory loss and brain fog.

Relationship problems:

Such as not identifying red flags, entering new unhealthy relationships, and people-pleasing habits. Psychologist Nicole LePera explains why we might fall into patterns of people-pleasing when we have been abused: when faced with danger – and abuse is interpreted by our brain and body as emotional danger – our nervous system has several responses it can activate to help us survive. The body will do this automatically, releasing the necessary hormones and setting in motion the necessary physiological responses.

The most well-known reactions our nervous system can resort to are fight, flight and freeze, but in recent years, “fawn” has been added to this list. “Fawn” is when we have unconsciously learned that it is safest for us to go along with the other person, constantly scan their body language for possible cues of how they are feeling, and where we do what we can to keep them happy and appease them.

Survivors of narcissistic abuse tend to blame themselves for having stayed in unhealthy relationships for too long. They can feel shame about having resorted to “fawn.” Their family and friends might struggle to understand why they stayed in a toxic relationship. But it is important to understand that “fawn” is a natural, physiological reaction our nervous system activates when we experience severe stress and danger.

Narcissistic abuse can also have an impact on physical health:

Issues such as sleep disruption, stomach problems, headaches and chronic pain conditions are now well-documented. In Why Love Matters, Sue Gerhardt explains why abuse can lead to physical health issues: in the long run, adapting to the stress of abuse changes the cortisol levels in the brain. This in turn translates into changes in our body, for example, a lowering of the efficiency of our immune system.

Narcissistic abuse psychological abuse can affect your sense of self and leave emotional scars that may take a long time to recover. Once you are able to leave an abusive situation and secure your safety, it’s important to practice self-care and compassion to help you heal, seek therapy if you need it, and remember you’re not to blame in any way.

Hypnotherapy for trauma is gentle, sensitive and caring. We understand that the events and experiences that have led you to us are likely to be very raw. Trauma Hypnotherapy works with you to release and clear the toxic and frightening messages. Treatment will depend on the symptoms you are experiencing as a result of the trauma. It may involve psychotherapy, self-care, or a combination on these approaches. Treatments often focus on helping people integrate their emotional response to the trauma as well as addressing any resulting mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, or PTSD.

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is another approach that utilizes elements of CBT combined with eye or body movements.


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