Abuse can come in many forms and from different people. It can come from abusive parents, co-workers, colleagues, friends, or romantic partners. It can be emotional or physical.
One of the most dangerous kinds of abuse I think is the abuse that comes from a narcissistic person because the victim can get stuck into the relationship with the narcissist for a long time before they realize they are being abused.
And according to neuroscientists, the abuse from a narcissist can go far beyond an emotional damage. It can cause an actual physical damage to the brain of the abused person.
If the narcissistic abuse lasted for a long period, it can result in developing PTSD and C-PTSD in the victim.
That is the reason why people who are in a relationship with a narcissist or have a narcissist in their life should walk away immediately from them and put an end to the destructive relationship. Unluckily, many people are not able to do that because of their emotional involvement with the abuser.
Moreover, many people don’t know the fact that narcissistic abuse does not only cause psychological and emotional turmoil, but it can also severely damage the brain of the abused person.
Namely, long-term narcissistic abuse causes a swelling of the amygdala and a shrinking of the hippocampus of the brain which has many disastrous effects on the well-being of the victim.
The hippocampus is the part of the brain that is shaped like a seahorse and is located below each temporal lobe. Its primary function is to be responsible for the short-term memory which is connected to learning because without short-term memory learning cannot happen. The information we perceive is first stored in the short-term memory and then it is converted to long-term memory. That’s how learning occurs.
So, any damage to the hippocampus is a damage that can cause severe consequences on the mental health of the person. One study from Stanford University found that a smaller volume of the hippocampus causes higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol. This means that the smaller the hippocampus, the more stress people have in their lives.
The amygdala is responsible for controlling the primal functions and emotions of a person – passion, hate, fear, breathing, and heart rate.
The amygdala is also controlling the person’s fight-or-flight response whenever it is triggered. When a person is suffering from a narcissistic abuse, the amygdala is always triggered. This makes the victims of a narcissistic abuse be constantly in a state of deep fear and anxiety.
Sadly, even after the victim ends the relationship with the narcissist, they will continue to have the symptoms and the panic attacks because of the swelled amygdala which leads to a constant state of fear and anxiety.
A damage in the amygdala can have many destructive consequences on the abused person. The abused person can be vulnerable to develop toxic coping mechanisms to protect themselves, such as:
Denial – the victim believes that they are only imagining things, that their situation is not as bad as they think it is because it is easier for them to live in denial than to face the ugly truth.
Projection – the victim is convinced that the narcissist is a good person with good intentions, that they are compassionate and loving, which may not be the case. The victim projects their own traits (or the traits that they wish the narcissist has) on the narcissist.
Compartmentalization – the victim focuses only on the good and the positive aspects of the relationship, consciously forgetting and ignoring the abusive ones.
Can we rebuild our hippocampus and calm our amygdala?
Luckily, there is a way. A method called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy (EMDR) can help victims to enlarge their hippocampus for 6% in a few sessions. This method has also calming effects on the amygdala. Other effective methods include guided meditation, essentials oils, and aromatherapy.
However, the most important step is to first leave the abuser. You must come to terms with your situation and then start the healing process.