Narcissistic Abuse & Complex Trauma
Complex trauma (C-PTSD) is a type of trauma that involves repeated experiences of emotional neglect, verbal and psychological abuse, shaming, and/or other emotional abuse. Complex trauma might coincide with physical or sexual abuse, but not always.
Complex trauma is relational, specifically stemming from the quality of your interactions with other people starting in childhood. Childhood years are formative to your sense of identity and separateness from your parents. Because this is a time when vulnerability is high and self-knowledge is limited, emotional wounds that are inflicted during childhood can cut very deeply and leave scars. This is why complex trauma typically develops from childhood experiences, although the original childhood wounds can also be exacerbated or reawakened by traumatic relational experiences in your adult life.
Narcissistic abuse typically involves emotional abuse in the form of put-downs, accusations, criticism, threats, or gaslighting—deliberately trying to get you to question your reality because your confusion benefits the narcissist in some way. The narcissist may even gaslight you in front of your friends or family, usually adopting an expression of innocence, confusion, or even concern as they gently correct you—this is when the hook sinks in a little deeper, as you internalize the passivity of friends and family who may not know enough to stand up to the narcissist. This is where internalized gaslighting shows up.
Complex trauma survivors tend to have a difficult time contesting gaslighting, because so frequently they weren’t encouraged to protest or contradict, but to keep quiet and small. Eventually, they learn not to trust their instincts, which means not protesting abusive behavior—particularly when it’s subtle enough to be explained away. This is the grooming stage of narcissistic relationships, when the narcissist conditions their partner to get used to, and accept, slowly increasing levels of manipulation, criticism, control, or other types of abuse.
The kind of betrayal caused by adult narcissistic abuse can reach straight to the core of your childhood emotional wounds. It can bring back all those feelings of helplessness, shame, and reality confusion.
Due to narcissists' dedication and practice in perfecting manipulation tactics, it can be all too easy to be taken in by their honeymoon stage charm, until you know what to look for. It may be months or even years before some partners realize that something is truly wrong. By then, they may have normalized narcissistic abuse and have no clue how to get out—emotionally or physically. They may also be emotionally, psychologically, or financially bound to the narcissistic partner. For these reasons, insight might not be enough for complex trauma survivors to break free from narcissistic relationships.
Healing from Narcissistic Abuse
How we can begin healing from narcissistic abuse together:
Reconnecting with your true self This means rediscovering—or perhaps discovering for the first time—YOUR identity. Not the persona or role given to you by your parents or abuser. Not others’ expectations or demands of you. YOU.
Building a foundation of reality Narcissistic abuse chips away at your sense of reality and replaces it with the narcissist’s vision of what you should think or believe. We need to rebuild your reality so that you have something solid to stand on.
Connecting with your inner child and addressing childhood wounds that left you not knowing how to protect yourself Finding yourself in this place is not your fault. We need to figure out how you arrived here, and what pieces of you need attention and healing.