Effects of Narcissistic Abuse

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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.

What Is Narcissism?

Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is an enduring pattern of inner experience and behavior characterized by self-centeredness, lack of empathy, and an exaggerated sense of self-importance.

Anxiety

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.

Depression

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. If you can't afford to see someone one-on-one, there are also communities like 7 Cups of Tea where you can chat anonymously online with people who want to help.
  • 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.

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.

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4 Sources
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