Acute Stress Response to Narcissistic Abuse Damages Mind and Body
Written by Randi Fine, Narcissistic Abuse Expert
Narcissistic Abuse Awareness and Guidance with Randi Fine
It is common knowledge that narcissistic emotional abuse causes stress. We have all experienced, while in the presence of our abusers, the acute stress response that drastically alters our mental functioning. But many do not realize how detrimental it is to our entire well-being.
According to Sissela Bok, author of Lying in Private and Public Life, when the brain functions normally, the central nervous system predicts ahead and mobilizes appropriate action. Our sensations, physical actions, and emotions are guided by rationality. When it is stressed or traumatized, the physiological and emotional shock ambushes our executive functionality. As a result:
- Our expressive speech fails
- Our concentration diminishes
- Our memory is impaired
- We become hyper-vigilant
- We experience feelings of helplessness, depression and anxiety.
“When a lie enters a process, rationality is eradicated. A Neural link to rationality is blocked, preventing the central nervous system from predicting and reacting according to rational.“
Prolonged stress exposure physically damages our bodies as well. Continuous activation of the nervous system is problematic for all bodily systems:
- Cardiovascular System – excessive burden put on the heart by stress hormones can cause high blood pressure that may lead to a heart attack or stroke
- Respiratory System – can exacerbate pre-existing respiratory diseases such as asthma, COPD, emphysema, and can cause hyperventilation leading to panic attacks
- Immune System – excessive flooding ofstress hormones can weaken the immune system rendering the body unable to fight off foreign invaders. Impaired communication between immune system and hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis can cause chronic fatigue, obesity, diabetes and immune disorders.
- Muscular System – muscle tightening from prolonged stress can cause chronic aches and pain that may lead to reliance on pain medication
- Digestive System – more likely to have stomach aches, heartburn, acid reflux, stomach ulcers, constipation, diarrhea, and nausea. Can cause chronic inflammatory bowel disorders.
- Reproductive System –biochemical functioning is impaired causing infections and disease, loss of libido, impotence and fertility(in men), fertility or pregnancy complications (in women), mood swings
For the reasons cited above and many more, it’s important to understand the impact that acutely stressful narcissistic abuse causes on the mind and body, even when we are unaware it exists.
It is crucial for survivors to understand that any exposure to their narcissistic abuser, whether in close proximity or not, whether through intrusive thought or anticipation of possible contact, will trigger their traumatic stress response.
After prolonged exposure to their trigger, most survivors adjust to the feeling caused by the stress response, get used to living with it, and don’t realize how pervasive it is in their daily life. They may experience chronic depression, anxiety, somatic issues, digestive issues, sleep issues and more disturbing maladies but are unlikely to attribute these symptoms to exposure (or threaten of exposure) to their primary trigger, especially if they have no physical contact with him or her.
Many survivors stay with or in contact with their abuser, believing that with a clear understanding of who and what they are dealing with they can manage or cope with the relationship.
This mindset is detrimental to their present and long-term well-being. The likelihood of suffering permanent mental and/or physical damage as a result of the constant stress their bodies are being put through is great. Our bodies are not designed to endure such a persistent strain on the nervous system.
For those who don’t accept this information as fact, try this experiment. Take a one month hiatus from your abuser. Free yourself from the anticipation of any contacts by proactively blocking all possible texts, emails, phone calls. Put away all photos and artifacts that remind you of the person. Do not look at pictures on your phone or visit any social networking sites that could possibly bring your abuser to mind. Don’t discuss your abuser with anyone.
Focus on your emotional and physical needs. Pamper yourself. Make decisions that don’t require compromise. Do what you want when you want.
If you follow these instructions your stress level will begin to ease; you may even feel peaceful. You should experience a contrast between how you felt and how you feel.
The effects of narcissistic abuse do not lessen with time. They may go dormant but will reappear at a later time. They will impact every area of your life and wreak havoc in your adult relationships.
While it is worthwhile to educate yourself on all things NPD, understand that the education only works on your intellectual, rational brain. But narcissistic abuse does not impact the rational mind. We cannot think or rationalize our way out of how we feel. What we know intellectually is not how we feel emotionally. The damage occurs on a deep subconscious level that is inaccessible to sufferers of it.
Narcissistic abuse is a severe form of emotional/mental/ psychological abuse. It does not exist on a spectrum. It does not pale in regards to physical or sexual abuse. If you suspect that you are suffering it please seek the help of an experienced professional who specializes in it.
Randi Fine is the author of the groundbreaking book Close Encounters of the Worst Kind: The Narcissistic Abuse Survivor’s Guide to Healing, the most comprehensive, most well researched, and most up-to-date book on this subject. In addition to helping survivors recognize their abuse and heal from it, this book teaches mental health professionals how to recognize and properly treat the associated abuse syndrome. She is also the author of Cliffedge Road: A Memoir, the first and only book to characterize the life-long progression of complications caused by narcissistic child abuse.