Have you ever been around a narcissist? If you have, you know being around one can make you feel like your soul is being sucked dry until there’s nothing left – Sanderson Sisters style. Sometimes, we brush off this draining feeling and even change how we act to please the narcissist because we love them and in hopes it placates them. It may seem harmless, making one or two tiny changes, but those little tweaks can take BIG chips out of you and who you are. Let’s take a look at 5 ways narcissistic abuse changes who you are… according to science!
Side Note: This article isn’t meant to diagnose anyone as a narcissist or confirm that you have experienced narcissistic abuse. Please reach out to a mental health professional to discuss potential narcissism or narcissistic abuse.
Literal Brain Damage
Our brains are the most intricate and delicate of puzzles. When one part of our brain is stimulated or changed, other parts need to adjust to compensate. When you experience consistent narcissistic abuse in your life, your brain will change to compensate for this treatment. In her article “Long-Term Narcissistic Abuse Can Cause Brain Damage”, author, educator, and researcher Kim Saeed explains that both the amygdala and the hippocampus are both negatively impacted by being a victim of narcissistic abuse. The amygdala, which controls our life functions and fight or flight response, can get to a point where it’s constantly on, meaning you constantly feel on edge. Your hippocampus, which is crucial for short-term memory, can decrease in function the more you’re exposed to narcissistic abuse. This means they can gaslight you even easier than before. These decreased brain functions are a huge way narcissistic abuse can change you.
(Unknowingly) Becoming Part of the Cycle
If you see a young child screaming in a store, you might think to yourself “Aw, they can’t tell their parents what’s wrong.” But what if you see a teenager doing the same thing? Do you still have the same thought? Chances are your thoughts shift to “What were you taught as a kid?” Emily Labatut of the Southern University Law Review wrote in her article on the effects of narcissistic abuse that a healthy interpersonal relationship is where the individual can see the situation from their perspective, as well as someone else’s perspective. However, if your parent was a narcissist, they only saw things from their own eyes, because only they are important. In 2021, this idea was proven by University of Amsterdam researchers in a study monitoring children of narcissistic parents both on and off social media. Unless the child makes a conscious decision to stay off social media and/or act differently, they are more likely to become a narcissist themselves. Heh, that’s a fun idea. What if Cinderella became just like her step-sisters??
*shudders* Let’s move on.
We’ve all heard of Pavlov and his dog. Humans are the same and can be conditioned. If you are used to being around a narcissist and them getting mad at certain conversations or actions, this can condition you to act and speak in certain ways. In iMed Pub’s Health Science Journal, Rivka Edery Psy.D. explains that a child with parents that are authoritative, rejecting, and traumatic towards the child can grow up with certain learned or conditioned personality traits, such as introversion, kindness, and agreeableness. Now, we’re not saying that introversion, kindness, and agreeableness are bad qualities. However, they can be negative when you act this way to stay out of a narcissist’s crosshairs.
PTSD… but for Narcissistic Abuse
Abuse comes in all shapes and sizes. When you’re experiencing narcissistic abuse consistently, it’s possible that you can develop a sort of post-traumatic stress response. This response is called Narcissistic Abuse Syndrome or Narcissistic Victim Syndrome. Registered Psychologist, Registered Social Worker, and writer Shirley Porter lists the symptoms of Narcissistic Abuse Syndrome as confusion, fear, guilt, shame, low self-esteem, and reduced self-confidence. So, the longer you’re around a narcissist and their abuse, the more at risk you are for developing these thoughts and feelings.
Remember: you are loved and important, even if a narcissist is telling you otherwise. Please reach out to a mental health professional if you’ve experienced narcissistic abuse.
Changes to Your Self-Esteem
Have you ever had a day where you’re feeling amazing, your fit is on point, and literally nothing can knock you off your pedestal? These days may not happen as often in the presence of a narcissist. In 2018, a different group of researchers from the University of Amsterdam did a study on narcissistic leaders and their followers. They found that the lower the follower’s self-esteem, the more abusive they perceived their leader. Due to the follower’s low self-esteem and consistent negativity from the leader, the follower begins to do more seeking the leader’s approval, almost a carrot on a stick that the follower never obtains. This ultimately resulted in reduced performance and higher rates of burnout.
Narcissistic abuse is like erosion. You may not see a change immediately, but over time, you can see the drastic difference. Have you ever experienced narcissistic abuse? Did you see any changes in yourself after a while of being around that garbage? Let us know your story in the comments below. We have a video on the signs of narcissistic abuse here if you want to learn more. As always, keep an eye on Psy for more Psych2Go content. Thanks for watching!
Edery, R. A. (2019). The traumatic effects of narcissistic parenting on A sensitive child: A case analysis. Health Science Journal, 13(1). https://doi.org/10.21767/1791-809x.1000626
Jabeen, F., Gerritsen, C., & Treur, J. (2021, March 2). Healing the next generation: An adaptive agent model for the effects of parental narcissism. Brain informatics. Retrieved September 27, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7925789/
Labatut, E. (2022). Integrating research and law to protect children in Family Court from the effects of parental narcissistic personality disorder. SSRN Electronic Journal. https://doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4195652
Nevicka, B., De Hoogh, A. H. B., Den Hartog, D. N., & Belschak, F. D. (1AD, January 1). Narcissistic leaders and their victims: Followers low on self-esteem and low on core self-evaluations suffer most. Frontiers. Retrieved September 27, 2022, from https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00422/full
Porter, S., & Fuller, K. (2022, July 8). Narcissistic abuse syndrome: Signs, symptoms, & how to get help. Choosing Therapy. Retrieved September 27, 2022, from https://www.choosingtherapy.com/narcissistic-abuse-syndrome/
Saeed, K. (2017, October 20). Long-term narcissistic abuse can cause brain damage. Psych Central. Retrieved September 27, 2022, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/liberation/2017/10/long-term-narcissistic-abuse-can-cause-brain-damage#2