You’ve been in survival mode for the longest time. Not really living. Not thriving. Just existing as if in a vacuum. Nothing they do or say surprises you anymore – if anything, it just propels you further into numbness. You know when you react, they will loop you into an endless cycle of conflict and blame you for everything wrong.
You’re mentally tired but now you’re also getting physically sick. No, it’s not in your head. The narcissistic abuse is causing you trauma and chronic stress which are physically manifesting as pain and dysfunction. Your body is keeping track of excessive worry and stress. It’s mapping out defense mechanisms to shield itself to survive – in the event of another narcissistic attack. This is your sympathetic nervous system overworking. To understand this better, let's look at the science.
Understanding the Nervous System
The nervous system controls every function in our bodies and consists of the brain, spinal cord, and nerves which carry information within the body for the brain to make sense of it and take action. A part of the nervous system called the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is responsible for preparing the body to combat stress and emergencies. When you’re anxious, scared, threatened, or in danger, the SNS releases stress hormones to alert your body which results in faster breathing, blood pressure, increased heart rate, sweat, expansion of your pupils, and changes in blood flow – all in effort to direct blood towards the brain and heart.
With normal day to day stress, these responses work in our favor because we know what to do when we’re in danger. As it relates to continuous narcissistic abuse that leads to chronic stress and anxiety, our defense system begins to work against us. Constant exposure to stress and trauma makes your body to be in a persistent state of emergency even in the absence of a real threat, which means an over-activation of the sympathetic nervous system. Since the nervous system is now overworked, in an attempt to protect you, your body can suffer and you may become physically ill. Your immunity is suppressed, and your ability to fight illness and disease decreases.
Other physical symptoms of chronic stress from narcissistic abuse are:
Intensified insomnia. The excess stress may make it hard for you to sleep or practice healthy sleeping habits.
You risk suffering a stroke or heart attack because your heart is overworking trying to pump blood from the reoccurring stress.
Since your heart is pumping blood as fast as it can so that it can get to vital organs, you may experience rapid heartbeats.
Stress triggers the overproduction of gastrointestinal acid which can lead to heartburn and worse, stomach ulcers.
Your blood sugar levels may rise because your liver is releasing extra glucose into the bloodstream as a result of chronic stress – which can develop into type 2 diabetes.
Since your body is in survival mode in a narcissistic environment, you may always be on high alert, angry, or easily agitated/irritable.
The fluctuation of hormones in the body because of stress can make the menstrual cycle irregular or stop it altogether.
Stress makes muscles tense which can make you fatigued and constantly battle tension-related headaches and backaches.
The muscles that help you to breathe are tensed up when you’re under chronic stress which may leave you short of breath or experiencing a panic attack which is characterized by palpitations, pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate, sweating, trembling, and, shaking.
Both men and women can experience fertility problems due to chronic stress since it affects the reproductive systems. Women may find it difficult to conceive and men may have erectile dysfunction.
Your brain and gut are connected through an axis and what happens in the brain affects what happens in the gut – and vice versa. When your brain is going through stress, it suppresses the gut immunity which makes you vulnerable to chronic gastrointestinal diseases that bring abdominal discomfort or pain such as bloating, constipation, and diarrhea, inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis, and systemic metabolic diseases like obesity.
Thyroid or adrenal problems. These glands excrete hormones needed for metabolism. Too much or not enough of these hormones can lead to lethargy or too much energy.
Some survivors have reported feeling emotionally numb which is shutting off emotions to avoid feeling or allowing more pain into their systems.
Cortisol, the stress hormone, is stored in body fat, particularly around the belly region which can lead to weight gain around the belly.
Stress intensifies inflammation in the body which is the cause of many chronic illnesses and pain in the body.
Your quality of life dramatically goes down when you have both emotional and physical symptoms of illnesses caused by stress from narcissistic abuse. Your healing should always include a physical component. Chelli is a Certified Integrative Medicine Mental Health Provider and can assist you in exploring health issues as part of your healing and recovery process.