Nowadays considered as a disorder, anxiety has got its evolutionary roots back in the earliest beginnings of human evolution. Humans needed it to survive in the harsh and unpredictable environment they lived in.
Anxiety nowadays is considered to be an inexplicable feeling of unease, nervousness, and worry. It’s true that we have come too far to be affected by the same conditions which gave rise to the protective role of anxiety for our ancestors. So why and how does it occur now?
A lot of literature connects today’s anxiety disorders to some kind of psychological and emotional abuse during the person’s childhood. It has been found that early-life stress has a profound effect on the Central Nervous System (CNS) and that the same effect can occur in adults.
This abuse is now discussed as a major factor contributing to anxiety disorders, major depression, and PTSD. In fact, it has been established that psychological abuse is more detrimental than physical aggression and that it leaves a deep scar in the victim’s mental health.
Children who have been victims of psychological abuse don’t necessarily develop anxiety in their lives, but such traumatic events in times where their brains are still developing contribute to supersensitivity in the neuroendocrine stress response systems.
This means that any additional stress from emotional or psychological abuse later in life bears a high possibility of triggering psychological disorders such as anxiety and major depression.
Narcissistic abuse is one of the most harmful types of psychological abuse. It renders the victim unable to think and reason clearly due to the increased stress and the eventual adrenal fatigue.
This, in turn, triggers a number of possible outcomes, among which the most devastating effect could be an anxiety disorder, major depression, or both. This further increases your susceptibility to the narcissistic abuse and your inability to escape it.
That is why some victims tend to remain in the victim-abuser loop until the rest of their lives and are not even aware that their abuser feeds off them with every passing day.
The most common targets for a narcissist are people who are empathetic, compassionate and choose to see the best in others. This sensitive type of people will choose to trust and understand the narcissist.
And this is what they need to start weaving their web around their good-willing victims. In the process of their flawless manipulation, they will use whatever means necessary to make their victim feel smaller and more dependent on them.
They do it by constantly trying to lower their self-confidence and make their victims believe that they are going crazy. If they see themselves caught in the act, they will skillfully get out of the situation by convincing the other person that they are imagining the situation and are psychologically unstable.
While this is not the truth, you know what they say: a lie told a hundred times becomes truth. The more they make their victim question their morality, sanity, and ability to love unconditionally, the more they nail them to their cross and feed off them.
From the victim perspective, this lowered state and constant stress will eventually lead to adrenal fatigue and a constant fear that they may be doing something wrong. In certain cases, the victims start avoiding people, feel unable to function properly, and are generally in a disabled state.
This process is what will eventually lead the victim to a state of a shattered self-confidence and a completely destroyed mental state, where a lot of mental disorders have a space to start festering.
In this state, the victim is prone to develop extreme social anxiety, illnesses related to pervasive stress, a complete sense of disassociation from the self, and symptoms of major depression.
If you find yourself in such situation, it’s best that you talk to a psychologist and ask for help. While there are people who are able to recognize narcissistic abuse and get out of that relationship before it develops, some people are very much trapped in the cycle and find it impossible to get out.
It’s not that they don’t want to, but the psychological damage they have endured has left them unable to fight off the abuser and has made them shut themselves off from the rest of the world.
Psychological abuse is more dangerous than physical abuse. It leaves terrible consequences on the mental health of the victim and it renders them unable to recognize it.
In the case of narcissistic abuse, the victim will be certain that they are the ones who are in the wrong, and they will blame themselves for the dark reality they are in. This, of course, is far from the truth.
If you are or have been a victim of narcissistic abuse, know that it has never been your fault and that you did your best to pull that disturbed soul out of its own darkness. The truth is, most narcissists prefer their darkness, and they want to pull you in it.
Spread the awareness!
Neurobiological effects of childhood abuse: implications for the pathophysiology of depression and anxiety.
Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, U.S.A.
Mood and anxiety disorders are highly prevalent psychiatric disorders, especially in women, and they are associated with significant morbidity and mortality. A considerable literature indicates that vulnerability to depression and anxiety disorders is markedly increased by childhood abuse, e.g., physical, sexual, and psychological abuse, as well as adulthood stressors, e.g., death of a spouse. Little is known about the developmental neurobiological mechanisms by which childhood abuse increases the susceptibility of women to the development of depression and anxiety disorders in adulthood. Recent research on the effects of adverse early life experiences on central nervous system (CNS) stress systems has provided a greater understanding of the link between childhood abuse and susceptibility to mood and anxiety disorders. Specifically, early life traumatic events, occurring during a period of neuronal plasticity, appear to permanently render neuroendocrine stress response systems supersensitive. These physiological maladaptations likely represent long-term risk factors for the development of psychopathology after exposure to additional stress.
New Zealand Mental Health Foundation
Narcissistic personality disorder, or narcissism is a pattern of feeling very self-important, needing admiration from others, and having little feeling for others.
If you experience narcissistic personality disorder, you may come across to others as conceited, boastful or “up-yourself”.
Ten different types of personality disorder have been identified. A diagnosis of personality disorder is only made where the person’s problems result in significant difficulty in their day-to-day activities and relationships, or cause significant distress.
Just as we have physical features that make us who we are, we also have our own distinct personality features. Personality refers to the lifelong patterns in the way we see, think about, and relate to ourselves, other people, and the wider world – whether we see ourselves as good or bad, trust or mistrust others, or see the world as a good or bad place.
The term “personality disorder” implies there is something not-quite-right about someone’s personality, but that is actually not what is meant by the term. The term “personality disorder” just helps doctors group a set of typical features for people with aspects of their personality that they, and others, may find difficult to deal with.
People experiencing a personality disorder are often out of step with others and with their community, so much so that their personal and wider social lives may be considerably disrupted. Narcissism is one type of personality disorder.
Who is likely to have a narcissistic personality disorder?
A personality disorder such as narcissism will show up by late adolescence or early adulthood. It remains relatively stable throughout adult life, and can gradually improve with increasing age. This is in contrast to other mental health conditions, which come and go over time, with periods of illness interspersed with periods of wellness.
People who experience a personality disorder have a tendency to develop other mental health conditions, particularly if stressed. These include psychotic illnesses, depression and drug and alcohol abuse. It is important for people with personality disorders to learn ways of coping with stress, and to seek help early should any of these other conditions arise.
The risk of suicide in people who experience a personality disorder is significant. It is important that if you are having any suicidal thoughts you seek help immediately.
It is most important to get diagnosis and treatment as early as possible. With the best possible treatment over a period of time there is evidence to show that people with narcissism can enjoy a rewarding and satisfying life.
If you think you have a personality disorder, or you are worried about a loved one, it’s important to talk to your doctor or counsellor, or someone else you can trust, as a first step to getting the important help you or they need.
What causes a personality disorder such as narcissism?
There has been considerable debate in the past regarding whether personality is determined by nature (genes) or nurture (upbringing). There is now good evidence that personality development occurs as a result of both genetic and upbringing influences.
People with a personality disorder often believe they developed it because things have gone wrong in their live − it could be abandonment, sexual or physical abuse, traumatic experiences, being in an unhappy family/whānau, feeling alienated from people and society or not living up to people’s expectations.
Other people with personality disorders cannot so easily find things that have gone wrong in their lives.They may agree with the view that their disorder is genetic in origin. A lot of people with mental health problems believe it is a combination of these things. Sometimes people think their mental health problem is a punishment for their moral,spiritual or cultural failure.
It’s important to remember that it is not your fault you experience a mental health problem.
Signs to look for (symptoms)
People with narcissism exhibit characteristics such as these:
- they have a huge sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior no matter what they have done)
- they are arrogant, and dismissive of others
- they constantly talk about how they will get unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or perfect love.
- they believes that he or she is “special” and unique and should associate with, other special or high-status people.
- they need constant and excessive admiration
- they have a strong sense of entitlement, e.g., unreasonable expectations of especially favourable treatment
- they take advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends
- they do not care about or identify with the feelings and needs of others
- they are often envious of others or believes that others are envious of them
- they do not handle criticism well.
How the doctor determines if you have narcissism (diagnosis)
People experiencing a personality disorder such as narcissism, in general, do not often seek out treatment.
You may however, decide to see your doctor about depression, often due to feeling upset by what you suspect others think of you.
Once you have spent some time talking to your doctor, they will refer you to a mental health professional qualified to diagnose and treat people with this condition. A diagnosis is made after talking with you about what you have been experiencing, especially around your level of personal functioning and personality traits that may suggest a particular personality disorder.
For this reason, it’s important the mental health professional gets a full picture, from you and your family/whānau or others who know you well.
Usually, for a person to be diagnosed with narcissism they must meet five or more of the symptoms listed above.
Treatment can involve a number of aspects, each of which will be tailored to meet your individual needs. Psychological therapies or counselling are generally seen as the treatment of choice for personality disorders, with medication if required for depression. Therapy could include individual, couple, family/whānau and/or group therapy.
Therapy, such as talking therapies
These therapies involve a trained professional who uses clinically researched techniques to assess and help people to make positive changes in their lives. They may involve the use of specific therapies such as Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) or cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which largely focuses on overcoming unhelpful beliefs and learning helpful strategies.
Counselling may include some techniques referred to above, but is mainly based on supportive listening, practical problem solving and information giving.
DBT and CBT approaches are the most effective, but must be continued over a significant period of time, often for a year or more.
Problem solving/skill training
This is often part of an overall approach, but can also be learnt in skills training groups. They aim to help you learn more effective ways of dealing with problem situations.
All types of therapy/counselling should be provided to you and your family/whānau in a manner that is respectful of you, and with which you feel comfortable and free to ask questions. It should be consistent with and incorporate your cultural beliefs and practices.
Medication is generally used for treating any other mental health condition that you may be experiencing, eg, depression. It may also be useful as a short-term strategy to help with coping in times of extreme stress or distress. If you are prescribed medication you are entitled to know:
- the names of the medicines
- what symptoms they are supposed to treat
- how long it will be before they take effect
- how long you will have to take them for and what their side effects (short and long-term) are.
If you are breast feeding no medication is entirely safe. Before making any decisions about taking medication at this time you should talk with your doctor about the potential benefits and problems.
The term complementary therapy is generally used to indicate therapies and treatments that differ from conventional western medicine and that may be used to complement and support it.
Certain complementary therapies may enhance your life and help you to maintain wellbeing. In general, mindfulness, hypnotherapy, yoga, exercise, relaxation, massage, mirimiri and aromatherapy have all been shown to have some effect in alleviating mental distress.
It’s also really important to look after your physical wellbeing. Make sure you get an annual checkup with your doctor. Being in good physical health will also help your mental health.
Important strategies to support someone in their recovery
Family, whānau and friends of someone with a personality disorder have found the following strategies important and useful:
- Remember that people with these conditions tend to easily take words and actions the wrong way. It’s important to be clear in what you say, and to be willing to clarify your meaning or intention if you get a bad reaction. It’s also important not to take these reactions personally, but see them as a result of the person misinterpreting you.
- Learn what you can about the condition, its treatment, and what you can do to assist the person.
- Take the opportunity, if possible, to contact a family or whānau support, advocacy group or culturally appropriate organisation. For many, this is one of the best ways to learn about how to support the person, deal with difficulties, and access services when needed.
- Encourage the person to continue treatment and to avoid alcohol and drug abuse.
- Find ways of getting time out for yourself and feeling okay about this. It’s important to maintain your own wellbeing.