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Being Abused By A Narcissist For A Long Time Can Seriously Harm Your Brain, Studies Warn


Narcissistic abuse, especially when it’s long-term, almost always comes with many catastrophic consequences from low self-esteem to anxiety and depression. But, there are two others even more destructive that almost no one is aware of unless they are a neuroscientist or a doctor.

Namely, it was found that repeated emotional trauma leads to PTSD and C-PTSD which is a valid reason to leave the abusive person.

Also, many people fail to realize that repeated emotional pain shrinks the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for learning and memory, and enlarges the amygdala, which operates primitive and often negative emotions such as shame, guilt, envy, fear, and grief.

The hippocampus is a paired brain structure that is located inside each temporal lobe, shaped like a seahorse. Its main function is to release and store memory. Moreover, learning happens in the hippocampus as it is responsible for short-term memory as well, which further gets transferred to the long-term memory or it is quickly forgotten.

A study conducted by Stanford University and the University of New Orleans shows that patients who had a great number of PTSD symptoms and higher baseline cortisol which is a stress hormone were experiencing a significant decrease in the hippocampus over time.

Or in other words, the longer you stay in an abusive relationship, the more your hippocampus will deteriorate causing feelings of confusion, abuse amnesia, and cognitive dissonance.

The amygdala is responsible for keeping the victims of the narcissistic abuse in a state of constant fear and anxiety and act from that state. It also controls vital life functions such as heart rate and breathing, and it is also a home for many primal emotions like hate, love, fear, lust etc.

The amygdala is also responsible for our fight or flight reactions. The victims of abuse live constantly in this state of fight or flight. That’s why even after the toxic relationship has ended, the victims can still suffer from phobias, panic attacks, PTSD, C-PTSD, and more.

“The hippocampus is especially vulnerable to ongoing emotional distress, because of the damaging effects of cortisol. Cortisol stimulates the amygdala while it impairs the hippocampus, forcing our attention onto the emotions we feel while restricting our ability to take in new information,” says Goleman, the author of the study.

So, what can victims do to help themselves heal?

Luckily, the hippocampus can regrow thanks to neuroplasticity, as brain scans have shown. EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy is an effective method. It is also beneficial for softening the hyperarousal of the amygdala thus allowing the victims to feel more in control of their emotions.

Other methods that can help include guided meditation which improves the brain’s gray matter, performing acts of kindness which dramatically improves our view of the world, and essential oils and aromatherapy which calms the mind and soul.


[1] Goleman, D. (1995, July 31). Severe Trauma May Damage The Brain as Well as the Psyche. Retrieved October 17, 2017, from http://www.nytimes.com/1995/08/01/science/severe-trauma-may-damage-the-brain-as-well-as-the-psyche.html?pagewanted=all

[2] Stressing the Hippocampus: Why It Matters. (n.d.). Retrieved October 12, 2017, from http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/news-blog/stressing-the-hippocampus-why-it-ma/

[3] Thomas, E. (n.d.). The Amygdala & Emotions. Retrieved October 17, 2017, from http://www.effective-mind-control.com/amygdala.html

[4] Dysphoria. (2015, November 29). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 20:36, October 18, 2017, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Dysphoria&oldid=692983709

[5] Effects of Stress on the Hippocampus. (2013, March 19). Retrieved October 17, 2017, from http://drgailgross.com/academia/effects-of-stress-on-the-hippocampus/

[6] Shapiro, F. (2012). Getting past your past: Take control of your life with self-help techniques from EMDR therapy. Emmaus, Pa.: Rodale Books.

Mary Wright