1. Anxiety and Panic Attacks
A major part of suffering from narcissistic abuse is the related anxiety and panic attacks. You just don’t know what is going to happen next. You don’t know what will set the narcissist off and you are constantly living in fear and walking on eggshells. I was anxious all of the time and it didn’t matter where I was or what I was doing. The fear loomed over me, because at any time what I was doing could be judged and I would be attacked.
The cure for anxiety is mindfulness. Try to live in the moment and just deal with things that are happening in the here and now. Even if it’s just for ten seconds. You aim for gaining some control back over your mind, emotions, body and space. Practicing short periods of mindfulness and calm will help you stretch those moments into longer and longer periods of time. I would always chunk my time and try to manage things in segments. The internal dialogue of maintinaing calm is very important.
I avoided a lot of things. Sometimes I avoided people and places because I feared punishment. Other times I just avoided my reality completely, so that I didn’t have to confront the deep sadness and loss. Narcissistic abuse is so damaging because it rips apart so much of your life, self and worth. When you are still in the abusive relationship you will work to avoid anything that might set the narcissist off, and even when this is impossible to predict, you will try. After, you will try to avoid any memory or trigger that will bring it all back. The trauma is so deep that it takes a long time before you are able to come to terms with what has happened and really begin to deal with the fallout.
I have even avoided doing the things that will put the pieces of my life back together. Most recently I have avoided making the effort to get my professional license so that I can go back to work. I’ve avoided this for many reasons. The first is that work is a trigger for me as my abusive situation was work related. Also, in gathering the pieces required for my licence, I need to confront and explain the smear campaign that has trashed my professional reputation. This has been incredibly challenging. It’s hard to relive the trauma and all of the craziness that occurred, but it is even harder to try to explain it to others without sounding crazy. For those that do not have experience with a narcissist, it can be incredibly challenging to explain, that while all these bad things happened to you, you were not guilty of them, and that you did nothing wrong. Now while it is completely possible to overcome the smear campaign that the narcissist has dealt you and explain all of the nasty things that have happened, it is not easy and it is not nice. It is hard work and avoiding it feels good in the short term. Long term you need to reclaim yourself and your life. You need to face it.
I’ve talked about avoidance, but there is also complete inability. Narcissistic abuse is so debilitating and damaging that you become completely unable. I couldn’t work, I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t take care of my young child(ren) – I couldn’t do anything. I was broken, drowning, and a heap on the floor. I was unable to see any light at the end of the tunnel. I felt as though I had lost everything and I couldn’t accept it. I was diagnosed with PTSD and things were bleak. Even on my journey to healing and recovery, I still often have/had moments, days of just not being able. Narcissistic abuse is debilitating.
The utter exhaustion of what this abuse does to your mind and body is unbelievable, but at the same time you can’t sleep. You can’t rest. Your mind is always spinning about what you’ve done, what will happen next, how will this ever change, how to get it to stop, is this really, why is this happening – all of it. Also, because of the anxiety and the constant state of threat which you are under, your nervous system is always in a state of fight or flight. You can’t rest or sleep when this is happening to you.
You play things over and over again in your mind. Whether it be the what did I do type things or just the whole experience, it replays and replays. Things trigger you and then the spinning starts again.
You have to stop. You have to stop questioning yourself and your actions. You have to break the memory ties and the trauma bonds to things in your world that remind you. You need to make new memories and associations and work to get back to enjoying things you once loved as you did before.
Be warned that the self-questioning spills over into other aspects and relationships in your life. I found myself questioning every interaction I had with anyone. I would constantly worry about things I did or said. I became obsessive and terrified all the time about what people thought about me. It takes time to realize that other people do not judge you and are not upset with you or bothered by the things you do or say. This type of thinking and behaviour is a trauma wound.
I felt so guilty about everything. You might feel guilty about things that you’ve done that you perceive has made the narcissist attack you, of course it’s really not about what you do or not do, it’s their issue and their problem. You might feel guilty about all your other symptoms – the anxiety, the avoidance, the inability, the anger, the fear, the hopelessness, etc. You might in time feel guilty about the memory loss. I have chunks of time missing. I don’t remember a lot of things about my daughter’s second year of life and feel terrible about that.
It is one of the most difficult things to come to the realization of what is actually happening to you and why. It’s hard to imagine that someone is actually out to get you. That someone is purposefully and completely set to destroy you, upset you, trick you, manipulate others and their perceptions of you, and they enjoy winding you up and watching you struggle.
The other part of this is when you try to seek help or show others what you are facing and they can’t believe it. There is this common idea that bad things don’t happen to people unless they deserve it, or in some way bring it on or draw it to themselves. How can things be so wrong and go so sideways, if you didn’t do anything to deserve this? No one just attacks you for no reason. Well, they do if they are a narcissist. It’s not about you, it is about them, but that is really hard to make people see when narcissists are the masters of spin. They have already worked for a long time at making themselves look great and making you look bad, that when you are finally broken and crazy from their abuse, it’s hard to make people see that you didn’t start out that way.
I’m so angry that this happened. I’m so angry about what I’ve lost. I’m so angry that I had no power and that I couldn’t find anyone to truly help me. I’m so angry about a lot of things.
The anger is normal. Of course there is anger when you’ve suffered such a traumatic experience. All you can do is work past the anger and take stock of what you do have, that you made it out, and that you know what these people are about and you will never get tangled with a narcissist again.
I had a counsellor once who, in the midst of my abuse, taught me to harness my inner child and the fight response and turn the fear into anger. She allowed me the permission to indulge in the fantasy of physically attacking the person who was attacking me. I used to feel guilty about wanting to hurt that person so badly, but it’s a normal response to want to fight back when you are being hurt. Now, in no way was I ever gong act on these thoughts and feelings, but it was therapeutic to take back that power and control in my own mind.
Many times I felt hopeless. I felt that my life was ruined and that I couldn’t go on. My self worth and identity had been critically damaged and I wasn’t sure if I could survive it.
I did and you can too.
10. Memory loss
Ongoing narcissistic abuse is traumatic. There are chunks of time I just can’t recall. There are also questions about how reliable your memory might be. Living in relationships with a narcissist where the behaviour is normalized, because you don’t know any different, can be the most challenging for memories. You find yourself questioning: Was it really like that? Wasn’t I loved? Was this normal? Isn’t this how everybody lives?
Narcissistic abuse really affects your mind, but you can certainly reclaim it and your sense of reality. The more you understand about how narcissists operate and why, the better you can understand yourself and work to no longer be affected and controlled by their behaviour issue.