The long-term effects of narcissistic abuse run deeper than you can consciously fathom. It impacts your body, your mind, your perceptions, your beliefs, and runs all the way into the core of your True Self.
The Self is governed by four main emotions; shame, pride, love and hate. Through visual and vocal cues, the narcissist targets these forces to throw you off centre by flooding you with overwhelming emotions. In time, these experiences coalesce into patterns of thought, belief and behaviour which cripple your growth and make you susceptible to even more manipulation. Therefore, it is crucial to understand the long-term effects of narcissistic abuse and to know how to spot them in yourself. In doing so, you can grow your awareness and instigate change through a practice of mindfulness.
Some of the long-term effects of narcissistic abuse are:
Shame is a limiting force that keeps our ego ambitions in check. It reminds us to cooperate with those around us so we can maintain our place in our group. Shame developed in tribes to ensure members did not overstep the boundaries of those around them, especially senior figures in the tribe. When we act in a way that threatens the people we hold important, their negative reactions spur shame in us to dampen that energy and put us ‘back in our place.’ This reaction arises to ensure we do not get ostracised from our group, which until a couple of hundred years ago meant the difference between life and death.
Narcissists need to feel that they are the dominant figure in the relationship. As a result, they purposely shame you to aggravate your self-esteem. In doing so, they keep your confidence at a low level, which makes you easier to control. Furthermore, they can increase their sense of grandiosity by decreasing yours. In short, they feel superior and you become flooded with shame, making you more susceptible to their whims.
In time, these shame experiences fuse into an overflowing cesspool and result in toxic shame. A person with toxic shame feels and believes that they are inherently worthless and incapable. Even the smallest sign of displeasure from others triggers torrential shame. Their shoulders slump, their face droops, their mind becomes slow, their skin burns, and their mind begins turning over and over with negative thoughts. They compare themselves to others unfavourably, judge themselves harshly, and with that, the cycle of toxic shame runs even deeper.
Guilt is a subset of shame that is based on what you do, rather than on who you are. It is that incessant, gnawing feeling, hacking away at you 24/7. It’s like a kick in the guts every time you do something, or say something, or even think something. It is a byproduct of ongoing narcissistic abuse. When you don’t act as they expect, the narcissist will continually remind you of the ‘sacrifices’ they made for you, many of which you never asked for. They will question you, judge you and leave you out in the cold.
When you can’t make it for dinner, but ask who’s coming, you are met with a “Well, you’re not coming, we know that much”. This then makes you question your loyalty to the narcissist. Their strict expectations of you create numerous collision points for guilt to breed. You feel as though you’re always letting them down. Countless instances of these situations lead to habitual guilt being the default emotion accompanying many of the choices you make.
With chronic guilt, even the mere thought of doing something that could remotely displease the narcissist feels forbidden. The narcissist invades your mind and has you controlling your own behaviour on their behalf, without them needing to say a word.
Do you feel silly trying new things? Does the opinion of others keep you from rocking the boat? Do you feel extreme fear and anxiety when you are made responsible for something? Does the unknown frighten the hell out of you? This can be the psychological cage in action.
The psychological cage is a long-term effect of narcissistic abuse which a person lives in without being aware. The bars of this cage are woven together through countless guilt-and-shame-inducing experiences. You berate yourself for being ‘worthless.’ You think twice before doing anything. While others are living an empowered life, you feel stuck. Shame, fear and guilt shock your system whenever you feel a desire to step out of your comfort zone. These limitations are not there by accident; they came about due to narcissistic abuse.
The target of narcissism understands that many things feel forbidden. Just like being in prison, there are sanctioned activities, i.e., what the narcissist wants. You go to the places they want, meet the people they deem important, and spend time how they wish. Everything else is met with a wall of indifference, contempt and judgement. Your friends are out of bounds. What you enjoy is out of bounds, or at the very least, something you need to do alone. Their worldview shapes yours. It is psychological imprisonment which can lead to years, if not decades, of wasted opportunities and deep regret.
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Trauma is the unprocessed emotional echo of the past coming back to haunt you in the present. It is the work you have yet to do. The pain which you were unable to feel and welcome into consciousness when it was inflicted on you. You did not have the capacity, and therefore repressed it. Trauma is typically associated with fear and panic. In the case of Complex Trauma induced by narcissistic abuse, it can also take the form of guilt, shame, despair, general negativity or a depressed state.
Toxic shame, chronic guilt and the critical voice in your head are all components of trauma caused by narcissistic abuse. They manifest in the form of a flashback, which is a state that takes on a life of its own. When you are in a flashback, you feel like you are drowning in a certain emotion or state. You also notice patterns of automatic thought arising. You might be comparing yourself to others, or catastrophising about the future, criticising and attacking yourself for being worthless, and so on. It seems to happen without your consent.
You know you are in a flashback when you ‘lose yourself.’ You feel emotions with an intensity that does not fit the current situation, and you become unable to fully control your behaviour. It is as though you have been possessed. Such ‘episodes’ can last for hours, if not days, and are usually triggered by something in the present which resonates with abuse from the past. Keep in mind that these triggers can be slight, even harmless, but impact you in a way that rocks your very foundation. While the triggers can be small and difficult to spot, the impact is enormous. A flashback can be so immense that it can take a few days before you realise you were in one. It sucks you in, tosses you around, then spits you out, leaving you disoriented and confused as to what happened.
Loss of Self
Most tragic of all the long-term effects of narcissistic abuse is the loss of your wonderful, divine, spontaneous Self. Your inner world becomes so wrought with negative emotions, it becomes too painful to access it. You remain lost in your mind, trying to think your way through life as a way to keep above the treacherous waters of your unconscious. In time, you become easy to trigger while unable to access and regulate your True Self.
Your independent reality is lost; the narcissist merges themselves with your every thought and experience. You forget what it is to have you to yourself. To make decisions based on your own instincts and body wisdom. The narcissist has a permanent place in your mind and in your consciousness, able to access and trigger your inner beauty while leaving you without access to it.
To learn more about how to overcome the long-term effects of narcissistic abuse and begin healing from a narcissistic relationship, check out How To Kill A Narcissist.