Neuroscience: The shocking impact narcissistic abuse has on the brain

Why Narcissistic Abuse is so Damaging – Kim Saeed: Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Program

Neuroscience: The shocking impact narcissistic abuse has on the brain

Why does narcissistic abuse often affect us so differently than other traumatic events?

It goes without saying that all traumatic events are deeply impactful and life-altering.  They knock us into an emotional tailspin, threatening our sense of security about life, and they often force us to make serious changes in the way we live. 

Consider muggings, car accidents, and earthquakes.  A mugging happens because someone needs money and they think you have it.

   Car accidents (where you are not at fault), natural disasters, are random, outwardly meaningless events that can be just as devastating as muggings, if not more so, because they may result in permanent physical injuries or the destruction of your most cherished property. 

Any of these three events, obviously, can cause permanent emotional scarring, but they are all in a different category than narcissistic abuse.  Narcissistic abuse FEELS different.  It has its damaging effects on a different psychological level.  It is not just an emotional injury, it is a spiritual injury.

The main reasons for this are that narcissistic abuse is deliberately inflicted by someone you love and it targets you for who you are, the very ESSENCE of you.  It is a long-term, calculated campaign to make you feel unworthy and despise yourself, and to have you believe other people view you in the same light.

A mugging is any person who walks by who has a purse or wallet. Car crashes happen because someone wasn’t paying attention, a tire blows out, or because of inclement weather.  And earthquakes are just random natural events.  Muggings, car crashes, and earthquakes can happen to anyone, anywhere, anytime…but they have nothing to do with the sort of person you are.

Narcissistic abuse, on the other hand, is calculated to focus a laser beam on just this dimension of your psyche.  The narcissistic abuser wants you to believe that no one cares about you, and that no one should care about you, because you, as a person, are not loveable, have no redeeming qualities, and are a waste of space and time. 

The abuser learns your hopes, dreams, fears, painful memories…and turns them all against you in order to weaken your spirit and make it more compliant with the abuser’s wishes.

 The narcissistic abuser takes advantage of your forgiving personality and repeatedly exploits your fear of abandonment in order to make you more dependent on them and more ly to stay attached to them—despite (or rather, paradoxically, because of) the misery you find yourself in.

Traumatic events and natural disasters may change our physical capacities, our way of life, and our outlook for the foreseeable future, but in many cases, they can also instill a renewed motivation for life, love, and healthy relationships.  They can create challenges and hardships for us, but, because they do not devastate our feelings of self-worth, they do not crush our spirit. 

Narcissistic abuse, in contrast, is soul-crushing.  That is why the trauma feels so different and also why it is so much more difficult to overcome.  We are left feeling so utterly helpless and hopeless in our spirit.  We feel we lack the spiritual strength to stand up for ourselves and escape our misery, so we instead keep digging ourselves into a deeper spiritual hole.

Why Narcissistic Abuse is So Damaging

That is how narcissistic abuse works, why it is so debilitating, and why it feels different than other forms of emotional trauma.

  And these are the reasons why I don’t believe people should try to make things work with a narcissist, regardless of whether they’re a lover, spouse, sibling, parent, co-worker, or friend.

  The only hope for a victim of narcissistic abuse is to make a clean split from the source of the spiritual injury.

And this why I become outraged every time I see a licensed counselor or psychology PhD touting the possibility of a repaired relationship with a narcissist.

  Such empty promises serve only to exacerbate the narcissism epidemic we’re experiencing right now, as well as the emotional suffering experienced by targets of this kind of abuse—to say nothing of the tragic indirect effects narcissistic abuse has on the victims’ families and the wider community.

And these are also the reasons why I do not encourage sympathizing with narcissists, or viewing them more helpless, wounded individuals rather than the cruel and sadistic tormentors they really are.  They may have been wounded as children and that’s unfortunate, for sure.

  But those children are long gone, leaving only an adult with an underdeveloped level of emotional maturity, non-existent emotional intelligence, and deficient attachment capabilities.

   What’s left in that child’s place is merely a scheming manipulator who doesn’t give a care about anyone except themselves. 

Instead of feeling sorry for a lost child who has grown into an adult who’s hell-bent on destruction and chaos at all costs, we should instead focus on the children we have in our families, our schools, and our societies.

  We should focus on removing our own children from toxic environments, when possible, so they have a chance at healing and developing a healthy sense of self.

  We should focus on the children we have now so we can heal generational dysfunction instead of perpetuating it.

We shouldn’t forget about the past, because it’s often the past that keeps us from repeating mistakes and helps us stay motivated to keep moving forward…but we should stop counting on the “maybes” the “what ifs”, and the vain hope that narcissists might change.

  Instead, we must try to work on healing the damage they’ve done to our spirits and ending the chaos that they’ve brought into our lives so that future generations won’t have to learn, as we have had to learn, why narcissistic abuse is so damaging and feels so different than other forms of trauma. 

“Listen to the mustn’ts, child. Listen to the don’ts. Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts. Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me…  Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.” — Shel Silverstein

What has happened is uncontrollable; what you do now changes everything! All it takes is one tiny step forward.

Life is a choice. It is YOUR life. Choose consciously, choose wisely, choose honestly. Choose happiness.

Get help with getting back to happy here. We are waiting to walk beside you on your journey.


Narcissistic Abuse Causes Brain Damage? • Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Expert

Neuroscience: The shocking impact narcissistic abuse has on the brain

If someone strikes you – they are being physically abusive. If someone screams obsenities at you while foaming at the mouth – they are verbally abusive.  If someone purposely forces you to live in poverty, on a stipend of barely existing – they are financially abusive – among other things.

There are some forms of abuse that are so easy to notice – while others are often carbon monoxide – odorless, tasteless, flying under the radar yet deadly.

Narcissistic abuse is one of the worst types of psychological abuse that one person can do to another, not only are they creating emotional damage with scars that run deeper than most can imagine, but on top of it – it can be considered physical abuse because of the brain damage that victims of narcissistic abuse undergo.

Has your brain been affected by this brain damage?Did you at one time in your life have a great memory, and now have difficulty remembering things that happened just yesterday or last week?Were you extremely intelligent, yet now find learning new things quite difficult?Have you gone from being a a happy, passionate person to one that feels as if you are existing rather than living, with no enjoyment in life?Have you gone from a calm demeanor to one stuck in anxiety?Are you easily triggered and thrown into fight, flight, fear or fawn?Are you developing control fears that are creating anxieties and phobias in your every day life?If you answered yes to the questions above, there is a good chance that due to narcissistic abuse you have experienced damage to your brain – two specific areas of the brain – the hippocampus and the amygdala.Yes, the emotional and psychological distress of being in a long term relationship with a person that cares very little about your well being; with a person who enjoys destroying your well being, better yet -is only the surface damage that is being experienced.However, there is a physical aspect of brain damage involved – when a person is suffering consistent, coercive, emotional abuse – victims experience a shrinking of the hippocampus and a swelling of the amygdala; both cause devastating effects. The hippocampus is vital to our learning and developijnjg memories. Many victims of narcissistic abuse claim that their abilitiy to remember is not what it used to be. Hippocampus is the greek word for “seahorse” and it’s the part of the brain hidden inside each temporal lobe, shaped distinctly two seahorses. One of it’s most important functions is that it’s responsible for our short-term memory, which is vital to learning. Information first gets stored in short-term memory before it can be converted to permanent memory – without this part of the brain working – we are unable to learn and store new information. Not only is our memory affected by the shrinking of the hippocampus, but there is a strict correlation between high levels of cortisol (a hormone caused by stress) and the shrinking of the hippocampus.As the hippocampus shrinks, another part of the brain is affected by the emotional abuse, the amygdala does the opposite – it grows in size.The amygdala is where negative emotions shame, guilt, fear, and envy come to life.The amygdala controls our primal emotions and functions such as fear, hate as well as regulating our heart rate and breathing. When triggered, the amygdala is where our trauma response get activated – fight, flight, freeze, fawn. Narcissists never allow their victims to relax, rather they keep them in a heightened state of anxiety where their amygdala is constantly on alert. When this trauma response becomes our everyday mental state of mind, eventually victims are stuck in a permanent state of anxiety or fear, with the amygdala hypervigilant to the slightest signs of abuse.

The sad part is, even after escaping destructive relationships, victims suffer with phobias, panic attacks, C-PTSD all due to the enlarged amygdala

The narcissists create an external cycle of abuse by their push and pull, intermittent love and hate – and the abuse cycle is mirrored within our own bodies. 

The body releases cortisol when under stress, the cortisol damages the hippocampus thereby shrinking it by attacking the neurons in the hippocampus.

The amygdala is stimulated by the cortisol, with turns our thoughts and nerual activity from increasing mental acuity to worrying and stressing.

When this is done over and over, repeatedly, our brain activity is pushed “beyone its zones of effectiveness.”

For those that reason – “The abuse is not constant or it’s not so bad, others have it worse.” – Remember, extended durations of average stress can be just as damaging if not worse than short-term extreme stress. Even if a narcissistic abuser never takes it “too far”, it could definitely still be causing destruction to your brain.

Nobody understands what you're going through more than someone who has been there. I grew up with narcissistic family member and had intimate relationships with malignant narcissists. For the majority of my healing journey, I felt as if I was all alone. I now dedicate my life to being the person for others, that I needed on my own healing journey, so that YOU never feel alone.

Copyright 2020 by Michele Lee Nieves. All rights reserved.


Long-Term Narcissistic Abuse Can Cause Brain Damage

Neuroscience: The shocking impact narcissistic abuse has on the brain

The effects of psychological and narcissistic abuse come with many devastating consequences, but there are two that almost no one knows about–unless they’re a doctor or neuroscientist.

In fact, these two outcomes may be the most destructive result of emotional trauma over the long-term and is an added reason why–if you have children with a narcissistic partner–you should try to leave as soon as reasonably possible.

By now, most of us know that repeated emotional trauma leads to both PTSD and C-PTSD, which should be reason enough to leave an abusive partner.

  But, what many people don’t realize is that over time, these repeated emotional injuries shrink the hippocampus, which is responsible for memory and learning, while enlarging the amygdala, which houses primitive emotions such as fear, grief, guilt, envy, and shame.

Hippocampus basics

The hippocampus, which is Greek for “seahorse,” is a paired structure tucked inside each temporal lobe and shaped, in fact, a pair of seahorses. It helps to store and release memory.

The hippocampus is especially vital to short-term memory, the retaining in mind of a piece of data for a few moments, after which it either gets transferred to permanent memory or is immediately forgotten.

Learning depends on short-term memory. [1]

Further, among the many analyses that have been conducted, one in particular shows very disturbing results.  In a study conducted by a team of the University of New Orleans and Stanford University researchers, patients with the highest baseline cortisol (a stress hormone) and greater number of PTSD symptoms had the greatest decreases in hippocampal volume over time. [2]

In other words, the longer you stay with an emotionally abusive partner, the more deterioration you can expect of your hippocampus. It can be easily understood how this neurological process may enhance feelings of confusion, cognitive dissonance, and abuse amnesia in victims of narcissistic and psychopathic abuse.

Amygdala basics

Narcissists keep their victims in a constant state of anxiety and fear, which in turn causes their victims to react from his or her amygdala (or “reptilian” brain).  The amygdala controls life functions such as breathing and heart rate and the basic emotions of love, hate, fear, and lust (all of which are considered “primal emotions”).

It’s also responsible for the fight or flight reaction.  Victims of narcissistic abuse live in this state almost daily.  Over time, the amygdalae remember the things we felt, saw, and heard each time we had a painful experience.

  Subliminal hints of such stressful events (even photos) will set off the organ’s attack or escape routines–triggering avoiding behaviors or internal turmoil [3](another good reason to refrain from stalking your ex on social media).

Even after the toxic relationship has ended, victims suffer PTSD, C-PTSD, panic attacks, phobias, and more… due to the triggering of their primal fears by their overactive amygdalae.  these fears, targets of narcissistic abuse often engage in primitive defense mechanisms including (but not limited to):

  • Denial – Victims use denial to escape dealing with painful feelings or areas of their life they don’t want to admit.
  • Compartmentalization – Victims pigeonhole the abusive aspects of the relationship in order to focus on the positive aspects.
  • Projection – Victims project their traits of compassion, empathy, caring, and understanding onto their abuser, when in fact, narcissists and other emotional abusers possess none of those traits.

Narcissistic abuse changes your brain

According to Goleman (2006), everything we learn, everything we read, everything we do, everything we understand, and everything we experience counts on the hippocampus to function correctly. “The continual retention of memories demands a large amount of neuronal activity.

In fact, the brain’s production of new neurons and laying down connections to others takes place in the hippocampus” (Goleman, 2006, p. 273). Goleman also stated, “The hippocampus is especially vulnerable to ongoing emotional distress, because of the damaging effects of cortisol” (p.

273). When the body endures ongoing stress, cortisol affects the rate at which neurons are either added or subtracted from the hippocampus. This can have grave results on learning. When the neurons are attacked by cortisol, the hippocampus loses neurons and is reduced in size.

In fact, duration of stress is almost as destructive as extreme stress. Goleman explained, “Cortisol stimulates the amygdala while it impairs the hippocampus, forcing our attention onto the emotions we feel, while restricting our ability to take in new information” (pp. 273-274).

 Goleman adds,

The neural highway for dysphoria [4] runs from the amygdala to the right side of the prefrontal cortex. As this circuitry activates, our thoughts fixate on what has triggered the distress.

And as we become preoccupied, say, with worry or resentment, our mental agility sputters. wise, when we are sad activity levels in the prefrontal cortex drop and we generate fewer thoughts.

Extremes of anxiety and anger on the one hand and sadness on the other push brain activity beyond its zones of effectiveness. (p. 268) [5]

But, there is hope.  There are reparative activities you can do to restore and rebuild your hippocampus and stop the hijacking of your psyche by your amygdala.

What to do

Luckily, as brain scans have now shown (thanks to the magic of neuroplasticity), it is possible for the hippocampus to regrow.  An effective method includes the use of EMDR therapy (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing).  One recent study showed that 8 to 12 sessions of EMDR for patients with PTSD showed an average of a 6% increase in the volume of their hippocampi. [6]

EMDR is also beneficial for counteracting the hyperarousal of the amygdala, allowing the brain to more appropriately direct what needs to happen rather than remain stuck and unnecessarily trigger problematic emotions.

Other methods that have been shown to repair both the hippocampus and amygdala include:

  • Guided meditation – Recent studies from Harvard University show that daily meditation can help repair the brain by actually rebuilding the brain’s gray matter. Study participants who spent an average of 27 minutes per day practicing “mindfulness” exercises showed a major increase in the density of the hippocampus and amygdala and associated reductions in stress, compared to a control group.
  • Performing acts of kindness – simple, daily practice of altruism can dramatically alter your outlook on the world.
  • EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) – helps correct the biochemical short-circuiting that occurs with chronic anxiety.

Of course, the first course of action would be to plan and implement an exit strategy.  It takes time to recover from narcissistic abuse and one short encounter can set you back enormously.


[1] Goleman, D. (1995, July 31). Severe Trauma May Damage The Brain as Well as the Psyche. Retrieved October 17, 2017, from

[2] Stressing the Hippocampus: Why It Matters. (n.d.). Retrieved October 12, 2017, from

[3] Thomas, E. (n.d.). The Amygdala & Emotions. Retrieved October 17, 2017, from

[4] Dysphoria. (2015, November 29). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 20:36, October 18, 2017, from

[5] Effects of Stress on the Hippocampus. (2013, March 19). Retrieved October 17, 2017, from

[6] Shapiro, F. (2012). Getting past your past: Take control of your life with self-help techniques from EMDR therapy. Emmaus, Pa.: Rodale Books.

Long-Term Narcissistic Abuse Can Cause Brain Damage


The Brain Can Work Against Abuse Victims

Neuroscience: The shocking impact narcissistic abuse has on the brain

Source: Athanasia Nomikou/Shutterstock

For some men and women, love will be dangerous because of their mate choice. They fell for a partner who seemed a safe match in the beginning. However, over time a darkness infested the relationship. Before they knew it, the rings of control were in place; growing tighter and tighter by the day. Toxic partners can destroy lives. 

What causes someone to violate a person they claimed to love? There are many reasons, for example, substance or alcohol abuse, a neurological condition impacting behavior, or a disorder of character such as antisocial personality/ psychopathy, borderline personality disorder, or narcissistic personality disorder. 

Although the reasons may vary, the painful reality and outcome for many victims are the same. He or she will suffer. And to make matters worse many of those individuals will find it nearly impossible to walk away. The neurochemistry of love and attachment, particularly in the presence of abuse, can seal a victim to a grim future with a malignant partner.

You might think, they should simply walk away — leave immediately. They do not have to stay with someone who frightens, controls, or intimidates them. That solution is the logical and best approach to an abusive situation. However, the natural functioning of our brain can prevent that from happening. Let's look at why.

Several important ingredients that contribute to someone's “addiction” to their abuser are oxytocin (bonding), endogenous opioids (pleasure, pain, withdrawal, dependence), corticotropin-releasing factor (withdrawal, stress), and dopamine (craving, seeking, wanting). With such strong neurochemistry in dysregulated states, it will be extremely difficult to manage emotions or make logical decisions. 

The neurobiological changes that take place for victims of abuse are ly similar to those within the breakup phase of a non-abusive relationship. When any of us fall in love and connect with someone new, the neurochemistry of the reward system responds to establish this bond.

In circumstances of abuse, the brain ly has the same attachment that anyone would have toward someone they love. However, for victims of abuse, the one they love is not safe and the relationship is not stable. 
What happens neurobiologically in a toxic union is not much different from what happens in a normal relationship.

The main difference is that given that our brain is extremely responsive to what is happening in our environment, it releases chemicals in reaction to the toxic partner's behavior. If he/she pulls away or behaves poorly, there is a reaction that someone in a “normal relationship” would not experience.

This is also true of neurochemistry such as endogenous opioids, dopamine, and corticotropin releasing factor.

Normal partners do not create the same emotionally charged climate as an abuser. Context is everything when it comes to the brain.

Trauma Bond and Cognitive Dissonance

This brings us to two psychological states that are vital for victims of emotional and physical abuse to be aware of:

  1. The Trauma Bond
  2. Cognitive Dissonance.

Both override proper reasoning that could help a victim gain freedom from toxicity. These processes happen automatically within the brain and are the result of the neurochemical storm ignited by the abusive partner.

Here are these concepts through an example.

Kaitlin and Marcus

Source: © Dolgachov/Canva

Kaitlin and Marcus were newlyweds. His history included explosive rages, cheating, leaving without contact, lying, and mind games  gaslighting, projection, scapegoating, and blame shifting. But there were also times when he was wonderful. Now that they were married Kaitlin was hopeful that he would try harder and show more of his positive side.

A few months into their marriage, Kaitlin received a text from a number she did not recognize. It included a picture of an ultrasound, with the message, “I assume Marcus hasn't told you about this yet. I’m due soon, and I need him to stay with me until the baby’s born.”

Kaitlin felt nauseous and collapsed to the floor in disbelief. How could he do this? Why would he do this? The betrayal cut so deeply she became physically ill.

After arguments and begging him to stay, Marcus left to spend the last two weeks of his ex-girlfriend's pregnancy at her home.

He was not apologetic, but rather blamed the entire situation on Kaitlin: “You treated me I didn’t matter. She was there for me! Besides, we were on a break when it happened!”

While Marcus was away, Kaitlin’s emotional pain was unbearable. All she wanted was to have her husband home and try to start over. She called and texted him several times throughout the day, everyday.

She was soft with her words because she was well aware of his hypersensitivity to any criticism (even if it was well deserved). She told him that she loved him and would always support him, however, she did not know how she could make it through this. Her expressions of pain enraged him.

Marcus felt attacked. He could not empathize with her; his responses were biting, cold, and filled with hate. 

Kaitlin's mind whirled with confusion for days. Suddenly she came up with rationalizations that would normalize her situation.

She decided that Marcus was correct when he said they were on a break the week he impregnated his ex-girlfriend. Therefore, he did not technically do anything wrong — they were not together.

She told herself that his rage and hateful words were because of shame and guilt. She believed this despite that he never offered a sincere apology.

Kaitlin reasoned her pain away and ultimately told herself that everything would be fine.

Once she settled into this set of beliefs, for the first time in days, she was able to breathe a sigh of relief. Kaitlin was trauma bonded to Marcus. However, more damaging than that, because of her rationalizations, she “sentenced” herself to a future of more pain.

Cognitive dissonance is a reflection of the distress of holding two opposing beliefs. Kaitlin had two conflicting thought sets regarding Marcus:

  • A. He is an awful person who violated my trust and has a pattern of cruelty. He is toxic and damaged.
  • B. Marcus is a good man. He did not intend to hurt me. His aggression was not truly at me; it is a wall to protect himself from the guilt he carries for what he did.

When our brain’s attempt to make sense conflicting information, a process of reasoning and rationalization is common. It can happen in an instant. To end her agony and resolve the cognitive dissonance, Kaitlin had to self-deceive. She chose to believe option B.

Resolving cognitive dissonance is a form of self-regulation and self-calming enacted by the brain (associated with the right prefrontal cortex, insula, ventral striatum, and fronto-parietal regions). The victim's rationalization of their dysfunctional, possibly dangerous situation reflects a form of cognitive reappraisal.

We touched on the four main neurochemicals that are primary drivers underlying the trauma bond (i.e., dopamine, endogenous opioids, corticotropin releasing factor, and oxytocin). Often when a person is traumatized by a romantic partner or someone they love, these chemicals become significantly dysregulated.

In the presence of such an addiction, there will be intense craving, a heightened value attributed to the abuser, and a hyperfocus on the relationship and conflict resolution. The victim’s thoughts will often follow to make sense of these feelings. Her or his brain usually turns to self-deception and rationalizations to resolve the cognitive dissonance. 

A victim might offer excuses to themselves, friends, and family to explain away or minimize the toxic partner’s violating behaviors. “He was really sorry. He won't do it again.”

How the Brain Works Against Abuse Victims

A person involved in a toxic relationship can become anchored to a partner that could cause him or her grave harm. 

In addition to changes that occur with neurochemistry, the neuropeptide oxytocin packs a double punch for women. (Per the findings of Dr.

Taylor, vasopressin, rather than oxytocin signals relationship distress for men.) Oxytocin is very responsive to our social environment – it is contextual.

Therefore, psychological or physical stressors can result in the release of oxytocin. 

High levels of this neuropeptide can have two completely opposing meanings – it can calm anxiety, as well as heighten it. The oxytocin receptors involved seem to depend on the social context.


This dual role of oxytocin receptors was initially described in studies conducted at the University of California by Dr. Shelley E. Taylor and her research team. She explains that oxytocin can rise under negative social conditions causing a person to seek out better social circumstances. 

For those who have the ability to bond deeply, our brain does not let go of relationships very easily. Besides, endogenous opioids are driving feelings of pain and loss causing a desperate desire for relief. It is a battle going on in there! At times, these reactions within the brain can ignite us to pursue the person we lost. 

Oxytocin is one of the chemicals that pushes for this ‘reuniting’ to take place. It tends to facilitate keeping connections. Therefore, when someone takes steps to leave a relationship, they will have two stress systems causing discomfort.

The first is the Hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis stress system (HPA). However, the other is a social stress system that is driven by oxytocin. This is of course accompanied by the pain, withdrawal, dependence, and craving added from the other chemistry.

One of many ways victims can help their brain break a trauma bond is by facilitating the release of calming oxytocin (from the amygdala). Igniting oxytocin receptors of this type can reduce cravings, ease withdrawal, and lessen pain

Source: Archv/Shutterstock

How is this done? With good, quality social contact — connection.

(The connection cannot be with the toxic partner, or else the bond will be deepened — with them. This is one of the reasons that I feel the 'no-contact' approach is often so helpful. The brain does not have the chance to automatically release attachment chemistry in response to the partner — particularly if he is demonstrating good behavior.) 

Sadly, many people who are with toxic, controlling, or personality disordered partners (e.g., narcissists, psychopaths) are isolated. Many abusers chase away one of the most important resources a victim has: people.

Maintaining social connections is not only good from a safety standpoint (because other eyes should be watching when there is an abuser around), but compassionate, genuine, loving people help our brain to function optimally. 

It is important to note that social connection and support will not work for everyone. When it comes to oxytocin, culture matters. In a 2010 study, Drs. Kim, Taylor, and their team explored culture and the expression of the oxytocin receptor gene (OXTR).

Specifically, individuals of Korean culture do not respond to social support (or seek it) in the manner that is common for Americans when distressed. As you may recall, oxytocin is a contextual responder, and this fact appears to apply to culture as well.


Now that you have some information regarding oxytocin (as it specifically relates to romantic relationships and abuse) view the video below. I describe the trauma bond and a theory I have regarding oxytocin’s role in anchoring victims to their abusers.

© 2017 Rhonda Freeman, PhD | All Rights Reserved

This content is informational. It is not intended to serve as any psychological service/advice/diagnosis and is not a substitute for consultation with your health care provider. Not everyone is the same (e.g., abuse survivors, brains, abusers etc). This article highlight common changes that could potentially take place when exposed to intimate partner abuse. A hypothesis was offered regarding the reason for such behaviors


Top 5 Ways To Heal From A Narcissist

Neuroscience: The shocking impact narcissistic abuse has on the brain

Narcissistic abuse is a form of emotional abuse projected by a narcissist on to another individual.

Although narcissistic abuse is predominantly thought of in the context of emotional and psychological abuse, it also impacts individuals physically and neurologically.

 Unfortunately, narcissists are very adept at isolating, confusing, and creating addictive bonds with their victims, making it especially traumatizing and confusing to know where to start getting the right help to heal from this type of trauma. 

To identify the top 5 ways to heal from narcissistic abuse, our author looked at her own personal recovery process from narcissistic abuse, the recommendations by experts in an 8 week recovery program specializing in narcissist abuse recovery, and the experiences the author has seen from people in the recovery groups that she is part of.

What is a narcissist?

Psychologically speaking, narcissists sit on the extreme end of the spectrum of a personality trait that we all have to varying degrees: narcissism. Some levels of narcissism in our personality are important as research shows that it contributes to us being able to build confidence, pursue ambitions and be resilient.

However, with all personality traits, on the extreme end of the spectrum is where it becomes unhealthy, pathological and a diagnosable mental illness. People who have deep rooted patterns displaying highly in traits of narcissism are said to have narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), and are more commonly called ‘narcissists’.

To find out if someone you have had a relationship with may have high levels of narcissistic personality traits, take this quiz:

#5 – Find a therapist specializing in narcissistic abuse

Therapy is a go to for any type of recovery.

What’s especially important for anyone looking to leave a relationship with a narcissist, or to recover from narcissistic abuse, is to find a therapist who specializes in this type of abuse, as they’ll understand how your mind may have become rewired to new beliefs that are keeping you stuck. What’s more, if you have children with a narcissist, it’s highly advisable to seek out  a child therapist with similar familiarity on how to raise children when one of their parents has a high conflict personality disorder.

#4 – Lean on a divorce coach and lawyer who understand narcissistic personalities

If you have to divorce from a narcissist, it’s essential that the experts you seek understand what tactics the other party might invoke to pre-empt their reactions.

  It’s ly that the manipulation techniques that the narcissist used in your relationship will also be applied to your divorce proceedings or plans for co-parenting.

A divorce coach is an incredible resource to support your mental and emotional journey, so you can keep the legal team focused on logistics, which can ultimately save on divorce costs. 

#3 – Join or build a support system that understands narcissism

Narcissistic abuse is often an isolating experience, because the narcissist has ly aimed to remove you from friends, family and other support systems as a key tactic to  multiply the effect of their abuse.

Because of the plethora of emotions you may be experiencing, many victims don’t talk about what’s actually happening, even with the people they’re closest to.

Some of these feelings include shame, fear, confusion, guilt and embarrassment.

For a victim of narcissistic abuse, finding a support system or community that will check in on you regularly and hold your faith when you’re feeling lost, and underscore that what you’re feeling is valid is paramount.If you can find people who have gone through narcissistic abuse themselves and demonstrate that a path of recovery is indeed possible is especially helpful. 

#2 – Heal your mind and body

Narcissistic abuse may or may  not include physical violence, yet the emotional and mental abuse can have significant detrimental impact on the function and health of your mind and body.

It’s common for narcissistic abuse victims to have problems with sleep, digestion, anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, self harm, suicidal thoughts, chronic pain, PTSD, and somatizations, among others.

Traditionally, therapy and medication have been the mainstay for narcissistic abuse recovery. More recently, the benefits of a holistic approach to healing have been demonstrated to also be of benefit. Mindfulness and meditation, breathwork, nutrition, energy and sound healing, and yoga are among the methods most frequently cited as the most impactful to victims healing.

#1 – Rewire your mind

The final piece to the puzzle of healing from a narcissist is to rewire your mind to reduce the possibility of triggers and trauma into a place of peace and success.

  Research has shown that repeated emotional abuse over time shrinks your brain’s hippocampus (responsible for memory and learning), and enlarges the amygdala (home to our ‘flight or fight’ emotions such as fear, grief, guilt, envy, and shame).

There are a range of techniques that have been shown to repair both the hippocampus and amygdala areas of the brain, and to reframe thoughts and behavior of narcissistic abuse victims away from the feelings of shame, grief and abuse, towards success, health and happiness.

Neuro-linguistic programming, hypnosis, neuro-leadership, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), aromatherapy, guided meditation, acts of altruism, and Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) are just a few of the ways that you can rewire your mind to health.