For many survivors of narcissistic abuse, recovery is a slow, frustrating, and tedious process. The frequent complaints of pain and emotional distress are often dismissed by loved ones, and even mental health professionals as malingering, and a lack of desire to heal and get better. However, recent trauma research indicates that these complaints are the direct result of the real physiological damage done to survivors, while they were exposed to the prolonged emotional, and psychological trauma of an abusive relationship.
Trauma, which is the Greek word for “wound,” is often the result of an overwhelming amount of stress that exceeds one’s ability to cope, or integrate the emotions invoked with that experience -Wikipedia. Long-term exposure to the chronic emotional and psychological trauma of narcissistic abuse predisposes the brain to be in a constant state of “fight or flight”, or hyper-alert due to the repeated elevation of the stress hormones, adrenaline, and cortisol. The constant surge of cortisol not only causes many serious physical health problems, but is also associated with changes in brain function, impaired memory, and learning accelerated brain aging, and can even alter your DNA. To learn more about the hidden health dangers of toxic relationships, click here.
The Reason Why Survivors of Narcissistic Abuse Need Trauma Informed Medical Care, by Bobbi Parish, MA
Twenty-five years ago, when I first sought treatment for my childhood trauma, I was given some Prozac, offered infrequent therapy, and told to write myself a few affirmations to memorize. When the Prozac, sporadic therapy and affirmations didn’t work, I was labeled as a “malingerer” who didn’t want to get better. I tried to explain that I wanted to get better and I was trying. They proclaimed it was as simple as deciding to be better.
I made my way through recovery by being resourceful, scrappy and finally finding expert trauma-informed care. Now I’m a therapist who helps trauma survivors recover. And I’m thrilled that recent research has shown that trauma survivors cannot get better by a wish and a snap of their fingers. Many of us cannot get better with inconsistent therapy, an antidepressant, and some affirmations either.
Finally, research has shown that long-term exposure to trauma causes not only changes to our brains but damage to our bodies, the immune system in particular. We cannot just “snap” out of it because willpower and a few therapy sessions will not undo the damage the trauma has caused.
When we first experience trauma, whether it’s abuse in a relationship or experience as a serious car accident, our body goes into fight or flight mode by releasing powerful hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. They enable our body to endure, escape or avoid what our mind perceives to be life-threatening situation.
Our body responds well to infrequent exposure to adrenalin and cortisol, but when we’re in a situation where we are constantly berated, abused, manipulated and torn down our body is flooded with those chemicals day after day after day. At that frequency, they are toxic and begin damaging our bodies.
Survivors of Narcissistic Abuse may experience damage to parts of their brain due to their long-term exposure to the fight or flight chemicals. In particular, our executive functioning may be impaired due to pre-frontal cortex brain damage. Our processing of emotions and impulse control may be disrupted through damage to our amygdala and hippocampus. Trauma survivors are often diagnosed with chronic pain and autoimmune disorders because long-term exposure to cortisol and adrenaline cause inflammation in our bodies. Inflammation causes pain, or worse, it causes our immune system to attack itself because it thinks the inflammation is caused by a disease it needs to eradicate.
Survivors of Narcissistic Abuse need and deserve; trauma-informed care that acknowledges their abuse as being damaging both psychologically and biologically. Medical and mental health providers need to take a trauma history and incorporate knowledge about that history into their treatment. Helping professionals need to understand that healing is not a matter of choice and that frequent complaints of pain and emotional distress are not representative of malingering but of serious damage done while enduring an abusive relationship.
Do you want to know more about Narcissistic Abuse and Trauma-Informed Care?
We invite you to attend Trauma Recovery University Live this November in Orlando, Florida. Bree Bonchay, LCSW will be presenting multiple talks about Narcissistic Abuse, while other presenters discuss Trauma Informed Care, Intergenerational Abuse, Art Therapy and Crisis Management Plans. You may use the discount code: Bree to receive 10% off of the conference registration.
Click here for more information and registration details.
Narcissistic abuse Teletherapy now being offered, for more information and to sign up, click here.