How long-term narcissistic abuse affects your memory and emotions.
Narcissistic abuse is hideous, and the effects of the abuse have so many devastating effects on us. Not only on our mental health, our physical and financial health also suffers. Even if you were with a narcissist that didn’t physically hurt you, the psychological abuse is slow and unseen. It takes time to heal and recover.
Neuroscientist studies claim that emotional abuse can also have a negative impact on our brains. These are incredibly destructive results to our brains due to the emotional trauma the brain has suffered from the abuse.
Once you’ve come out of a narcissistic relationship, you can be left with some if not all of these, anxiety, health problems, trauma bond, loss of self, PTSD and CPTSD. Yet over prolonged periods of abuse, our brain’s hippocampus can shrink over time from the repeated emotional injuries. The hippocampus is responsible for our memories and learning abilities. The hippocampus is a paired structure tucked inside each temporal lobe and shaped like a pair of seahorses. Hippocampus is Greek for “seahorse” the hippocampus helps with our short-term memories. After we witness anything, the memory is either lost or transferred into our long term memory. The study’s done state that under stress, our body’s release chemicals such as cortisol. The more this is released, the more it decreases the hippocampus volume over time. The longer you stay with an abusive partner, the more your hippocampus will deteriorate. This is why your feelings of confusion and abuse amnesia often get worse the longer you’re around the abuser. Damage to the hippocampus can cause mental health problems, as well as becoming more susceptible to the narcissists gaslighting.
Long-term emotional abuse can also enlarge our amygdala, which is the part of the brain which controls our emotions for fear.
As narcissistic people keep victims in a constant state of instability, insecurity and fear, the larger, the more heightened our emotions become as that fear increases our anxiety. It controls our life functions like heart rate. It’s also responsible for our survival instincts such as Fight, flight, freeze and fawn. As the amygdala grows in size, so does our sense of fear, etc. When you’re living with narcissistic abuse, you live in stress and fear and are in the survival, fight or flight, freeze or fawn mode often on a daily basis.
As the amygdala grows over time, it remembers through our senses things we heard, saw, smelt, felt. So any painful reminder can trigger our fears and emotional reactions. As our hippocampus has shrunk, we don’t always recognise all the triggers, which is why it’s a good idea to write down anxiety attacks and see what the lead up was. So we can regrow our hippocampus and shrink our amygdala by bringing our subconscious into our conscious. Another valid reason why No contact. For those who were severely abusive and minimal contact for those not as severely. Also, why checking their social media isn’t as great as it triggers us and makes a recovery longer.
After a mentally abusive relationship is over, most victims suffer from lack of concentration, clouded thoughts, puzzled, anxiety, CPTSD, phobias, stress, panic attacks, not feeling enough, ruminating due to their overactive amygdalae heightening fears.
Victims brains can then protect themselves with subconscious survival methods.
Denial, to escape dealing with the painful memory’s, painful traumas and emotions connected to those memories, the things they don’t want to admit as it causes psychological pain. They can think they are imagining things, often helped with the narcissist gaslighting, so they slowly get driven out of their minds. Most victims of narcissistic abuse think it isn’t as bad as it truly is or that others suffered far worse.
Compartmentalisation. Where victims focus on the positive aspects of the relationship, again this is helped with the narcissist exaggerating any good they do and downplaying then blame-shifting any of their toxic behaviour, the victim can then ignore as many of the negatives as they can
With the added projection and blame-shifting from the narcissist, with the damage to our minds, often people in any abusive relationship end up blaming themselves for the abuse and believing the narcissist to be kind and caring, with the help of twisted words from the narcissist exaggerating your behaviour and downplaying theirs, making it feel like because of your reactions it is your fault, people find themselves continually excusing the narcissist behaviour and trying to work out what you did to set them off in the first place.
The hippocampus needs to work correctly, so everything we learn, read, do, experience and understand can be retained in our brains memories. The hippocampus is exceptionally vulnerable to ongoing or prolonged emotional stress due to stress releasing cortisol, affecting neurons in our minds functioning. Which can then lead to difficulty in attention and learning, as cortisol attacks our neurons?
As cortisol stimulates the amygdala and impairs our hippocampus, forcing our minds to focus on our emotions and making it extremely difficult to take in new information and reality.
There are activities that, if done repeatedly, can restore and rebuild our hippocampus and shrink the amygdala back to normal.
The first step is to leave the abuser. I understand that’s not always easy. However, it is possible.
Daily meditation can help, aim for as much as possible, and it can help repair and rebuild the brains grey matter. Mindfulness helps to reduce stress and lower our release of cortisol so our minds can heal and function.
EMDR, where trauma victims work on processing traumatic memory’s. While their eyes focus on external stimuli.
Aromatherapy and essential oils can also help. Lavender is great for our emotions and anxiety. Frankincense helps with depression.
EFT emotional freedom techniques to help with anxiety.
Lots of self-care, working on your Inner voice, Less stress and finding more positive things, learning new things.
You can, and you will overcome this. You are enough.
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Elizabeth Shaw is not a Doctor or a therapist. She is a mother of five, a blogger, a survivor of narcissistic abuse, and a life coach, She always recommends you get the support you feel comfortable and happy with. Finding the right support for you. Elizabeth has partnered with BetterHelp (Sponsored.) where you will be matched with a licensed councillor, who specialises in recovery from this kind of abuse.
Click here for Elizabeth Shaw’s Recommended reading list for more information on recovery from narcissistic abuse.
Recovery from narcissistic abuse.
Overcoming the trauma bond.