Narcissism & Your Health: Can Narcissist Abuse Cause Physical Health Issues? by Dr. Bethany Cook Clinical Psychologist
Q. I've read that victims of narcissist abuse are in constant fight-or-flight mode, and it can affect your health. Is that true?
A. Long answer: It is true that being in a relationship with a narcissist is damaging to not only your mental health, but also to your physical health.
When the body perceives danger, it releases the stress hormone cortisol. This activates the flight/flight/freeze/fawn response in us, as we look to avoid and escape the danger (i.e. the relationship with the narcissist). The problem is, not only is this happening in the body, but the narcissist’s relational style (love bombing, ignoring, abusing, gaslighting, repeat) also creates a trauma bond in the brain. This happens as oxytocin is released during the love bombing, then the stress hormones kick in shortly thereafter, creating a neuro-chemical “cycle,” which the survivor may become “used to,” which then becomes hard to break out of when trying to leave this person.
Also, after enduring the emotional and verbal abuse from a narcissist, a person may develop potential brain damage. Those who suffer from emotional and verbal trauma have been shown to have a smaller hippocampus, and their amygdala swells. The hippocampus is crucial when it comes to learning and memories. The amygdala, associated with our reptilian brain, controls our primary emotions and functions (like heart rate and breathing) as well as lust, fear and hate. It also triggers the flight/fight/freeze/fawn response.
As a result, a survivor lives in a constant state of anxiety or fear. Even when the narcissist is being kind and loving, the survivor knows this will end, so they never get a moment of peace from this heightened state.
Short answer: YES!!!
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