If someone strikes you – they are being physically abusive. If someone screams obsenities at you while foaming at the mouth – they are verbally abusive. If someone purposely forces you to live in poverty, on a stipend of barely existing – they are financially abusive – among other things.
There are some forms of abuse that are so easy to notice – while others are often like carbon monoxide – odorless, tasteless, flying under the radar yet deadly.
Narcissistic abuse is one of the worst types of psychological abuse that one person can do to another, not only are they creating emotional damage with scars that run deeper than most can imagine, but on top of it – it can be considered physical abuse because of the brain damage that victims of narcissistic abuse undergo.
Has your brain been affected by this brain damage?
Did you at one time in your life have a great memory, and now have difficulty remembering things that happened just yesterday or last week?
Were you extremely intelligent, yet now find learning new things quite difficult?
Have you gone from being a a happy, passionate person to one that feels as if you are existing rather than living, with no enjoyment in life?
Have you gone from a calm demeanor to one stuck in anxiety?
Are you easily triggered and thrown into fight, flight, fear or fawn?
Are you developing out of control fears that are creating anxieties and phobias in your every day life?
If you answered yes to the questions above, there is a good chance that due to narcissistic abuse you have experienced damage to your brain – two specific areas of the brain – the hippocampus and the amygdala.
Yes, the emotional and psychological distress of being in a long term relationship with a person that cares very little about your well being; with a person who enjoys destroying your well being, better yet -is only the surface damage that is being experienced.
However, there is a physical aspect of brain damage involved – when a person is suffering consistent, coercive, emotional abuse – victims experience a shrinking of the hippocampus and a swelling of the amygdala; both cause devastating effects.
The hippocampus is vital to our learning and developijnjg memories. Many victims of narcissistic abuse claim that their abilitiy to remember is not what it used to be. Hippocampus is the greek word for “seahorse” and it’s the part of the brain hidden inside each temporal lobe, shaped distinctly like two seahorses. One of it’s most important functions is that it’s responsible for our short-term memory, which is vital to learning. Information first gets stored in short-term memory before it can be converted to permanent memory – without this part of the brain working – we are unable to learn and store new information.
Not only is our memory affected by the shrinking of the hippocampus, but there is a strict correlation between high levels of cortisol (a hormone caused by stress) and the shrinking of the hippocampus.
As the hippocampus shrinks, another part of the brain is affected by the emotional abuse, the amygdala does the opposite – it grows in size.
The amygdala is where negative emotions like shame, guilt, fear, and envy come to life.
The amygdala controls our primal emotions and functions such as fear, hate as well as regulating our heart rate and breathing. When triggered, the amygdala is where our trauma response get activated – fight, flight, freeze, fawn.
Narcissists never allow their victims to relax, rather they keep them in a heightened state of anxiety where their amygdala is constantly on alert. When this trauma response becomes our everyday mental state of mind, eventually victims are stuck in a permanent state of anxiety or fear, with the amygdala hypervigilant to the slightest signs of abuse.
The sad part is, even after escaping destructive relationships, victims suffer with phobias, panic attacks, C-PTSD all due to the enlarged amygdala
The narcissists create an external cycle of abuse by their push and pull, intermittent love and hate – and the abuse cycle is mirrored within our own bodies.
The body releases cortisol when under stress, the cortisol damages the hippocampus thereby shrinking it by attacking the neurons in the hippocampus. The amygdala is stimulated by the cortisol, with turns our thoughts and nerual activity from increasing mental acuity to worrying and stressing.
When this is done over and over, repeatedly, our brain activity is pushed “beyone its zones of effectiveness.”
For those that reason – “The abuse is not constant or it’s not so bad, others have it worse.” – Remember, extended durations of average stress can be just as damaging if not worse than short-term extreme stress. Even if a narcissistic abuser never takes it “too far”, it could definitely still be causing destruction to your brain.