An individual wearing a grey hoodie is experiencing narcissistic abuse. He sits alone on the floor with his back to the wall

The Long-Term Effects of Narcissistic Abuse

6 min.

Learn how to recognize the signs and symptoms of narcissistic abuse and how to heal from this kind of emotional abuse.

By: Amanda Lundberg

Clinically Reviewed By: Dr. Don Gasparini

Updated: February 27, 2024

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Narcissistic abuse, a type of emotional abuse inflicted by someone with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) or narcissistic traits, can fundamentally change a victim’s thoughts, feelings, and actions. People with NPD or narcissistic tendencies often lack empathy and use manipulation or emotional blackmail tactics—ranging from gaslighting to love bombing—to boost their self-esteem and meet their needs. 

This manipulative and exploitative behavior can take a long-term toll on a victim’s well-being, resulting in emotional trauma, physical health concerns, and more (a constellation of symptoms referred to as narcissistic victim syndrome or narcissistic abuse syndrome). Keep reading to learn more about the long-term effects of narcissistic abuse and how to heal from this kind of emotional abuse.

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5 long-term effects of narcissistic abuse

Narcissistic abuse can take on many forms, ranging from emotional and psychological abuse to financial and verbal abuse. All of these forms of abuse can have severe and lasting impacts on a victim’s mental, emotional, and physical well-being—symptoms that are part of narcissistic victim syndrome or narcissistic abuse syndrome. Below, five ways that narcissistic abuse takes a long-term toll on a victim’s mind and body. 

Low self-esteem 

Narcissistic abuse can have a profound and insidious impact on a person’s self-esteem. The constant barrage of narcissistic manipulation, criticism, and belittlement from a narcissistic person can gradually wear down the victim’s sense of self-worth. As the abuse continues, the victim may start to believe the hurtful things the narcissist says, feeling worthless and flawed. In the long term, a victim may fear making mistakes and doubt their abilities, which hampers their growth.

Relationship issues

Narcissistic abuse can significantly impact a victim’s ability to form and maintain healthy relationships. They might struggle to trust others, have trouble setting boundaries, and feel unsure of themselves because of the damaging effects of narcissistic abuse. This can cause long-term communication problems and lead to repeating unhealthy relationship patterns.

Mental health issues

Narcissistic abuse often causes emotional trauma, which can deeply affect a victim’s mental health over time. Like other forms of psychological abuse and emotional abuse, it can lead to anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Victims may also struggle with regulating emotions, leading to mood swings, anger outbursts, or emotional numbness as a result of these mental health issues.

Physical health problems

The mental health impacts of narcissistic abuse are also tied to long-term physical health problems for victims stemming from the well-researched mind-body connection. These emotions can lead to sleep disruptions, headaches, muscle tension, and stomach problems. In some instances, victims may also neglect their health, adopting unhealthy habits like poor diet and substance abuse to cope with the narcissistic abuse. 

Difficulty functioning

In more severe instances, the lasting effects of narcissistic abuse can make it hard for someone to manage daily tasks and enjoy life. They might struggle to keep a job because of feelings of inadequacy or anxiety from past abuse. It can also be tough for them to form and maintain healthy relationships and develop their identity, causing isolation and, in some instances, suicidal thoughts. 

If you’re experiencing suicidal thoughts or are in danger of harming yourself, this is a mental health emergency. Contact The Suicide & Crisis Lifeline 24/7 by calling or texting 988.

The long-term effects of childhood narcissistic abuse

While there are similarities in the long-term effects of narcissistic abuse across different types of relationships, narcissistic abuse within the parent-child relationship can have particularly profound and lasting implications for the child’s development and well-being.

A narcissistic parent (or another family member who is a caregiver) holds authority and influence over a child. Since children depend on their caregivers, they are particularly vulnerable to abuse from a narcissistic mother or father. Also, a narcissistic parent’s abusive or manipulative behavior can intensify a child’s feelings of helplessness and dependency.

Abuse by a narcissistic mother or father can also impair a child’s development of essential interpersonal skills, such as empathy and communication, making it challenging for them to form healthy relationships and navigate social interactions. Plus, growing up with a narcissistic caregiver or family member can disrupt a child’s attachment style, resulting in relational difficulties in adulthood and the development of an anxious, avoidant, or disorganized attachment style. 

Signs of narcissistic abuse

The first step in healing from narcissistic abuse is acknowledging that it’s happening. Long-term narcissistic abuse, though, can make it hard for a person to identify or name their experience. Also, people with narcissistic tendencies are often manipulative and may twist reality to suit their needs, leading victims to feel like they deserve the emotional abuse or caused it themselves (which is not true). Below are common signs of narcissistic abuse to help victims identify and address narcissistic behavior.

  • Constant criticism
  • Exploitation (whether it be emotional, financial, or social)
  • Lack of empathy
  • Narcissistic manipulation
  • Isolation from friends, family, and support networks by the abuser
  • Boundary violations
  • Blame-shifting
  • Emotional rollercoaster

If these patterns are familiar to you, you may be the victim of an unhealthy narcissistic relationship. Remember: it’s never your fault if a narcissistic family member, narcissistic partner, or other narcissistic person in your life mistreats you. You deserve to be treated with respect—always. 

5 ways to heal from the long-term effects of narcissistic abuse

Healing from the long-term effects of narcissistic abuse requires time, effort, and support. After acknowledging that you have been a victim of narcissistic abuse and understanding that the effects you’re experiencing are valid trauma responses, there are other steps you can take to heal. Here are some steps that can help in the healing process:

Seek therapy

Consider therapy with a qualified mental health professional who has experience in treating trauma and narcissistic abuse. Therapy can provide a safe space to process your experiences, learn coping strategies, and work through any lingering trauma.

Set boundaries

Practice setting and enforcing healthy boundaries in your relationships (especially in a narcissistic relationship). Learning to say no and prioritizing your own needs is essential for rebuilding self-esteem and protecting yourself from further harm.

Practice self-care

Engage in activities that nurture your physical, emotional, and mental well-being. This can include exercise, meditation, spending time in nature, pursuing hobbies, and connecting with supportive friends and family members.

Build support networks

Surround yourself with understanding and supportive people who validate your experiences and provide encouragement. Basically, think of someone who you have a healthy relationship with and prioritize spending time with them. Joining support groups or online communities for survivors of narcissistic abuse can also be a chance to gain support and learn what developing a healthy relationship looks like.

Forgive yourself

Let go of any self-blame or shame you may be carrying and forgive yourself for any perceived mistakes or shortcomings. Remember that you were not responsible for the abuse inflicted upon you—narcissistic abuse is the responsibility of narcissists or people with narcissistic tendencies. 

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How Charlie Health can help

If you or a loved one are struggling with the long-term effects of narcissistic abuse, Charlie Health is here to help. Charlie Health’s virtual Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) provides more than once-weekly mental health treatment for young people and families dealing with serious mental health conditions, including those dealing with trauma. Our expert clinicians incorporate evidence-based therapies into individual counseling, family therapy, and group sessions. With this kind of holistic treatment, healing from the effects of narcissistic behavior is possible. Fill out the form below or give us a call to start healing today. 

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