Developing theories of psychology are positing that anxiety may be the result of narcissistic abuse.
In other words? Your anxiety isn’t your fault.
I grew up with foster brothers and sisters, most of whom grew up in rather unhealthy homes.
That wasn’t a reflection on them – it wasn’t as if they chose their unhealthy home lives – but still, that trauma showed up in their own emotional health, most often as anxiety.
This is something psychologists are continually coming to better terms with: Any sort of emotional or mental abuse can have long-term effects on your own mental and emotional health, and this is especially true when the trauma is observed in childhood, made even more of a problem when you, as a child, are told you are the problem.
That’s the textbook definition of narcissistic treatment, by the way – when no matter what happens, the other person tells you it’s your fault, and when rational and completely normal ways of responding are no longer sufficient to respond to their claims, it’s no wonder that would result in long-term health effects.
Psychologists note that it is normal in the face of such emotional abuse to begin disassociating in ways – and that disassociation frequently shows up later as anxiety disorders.
Consider the following list below, compiled by the Mayo Clinic of some of the most common anxiety disorders:
- Agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder in which you feel trapped.
- Anxiety disorder due to a medical condition such as intense anxiety or physically-induced panic attacks.
- Generalized anxiety disorder usually refers to persistent and overwhelming anxiety about commonplace activities or events. Key here is that the anxiety is out of proportion to the circumstance.
- Panic disorder include cycles of panic disorders – including panic attacks about having a panic attack.
- Selective mutism results when you feel like your voice has been taken from you with such regularly that you stop speaking in certain types of situations. This is common in abused children.
- Separation anxiety disorder is related to separation from parents or others who have parental roles, and can frequently manifest in children in school or similar settings.
- Social anxiety disorder usually includes avoiding social situations because of anxiety, fear, embarrassment, and other negative self-reflected emotions.
- Specific phobias are fears or anxieties related to specific situations or objects.
- Substance-induced anxiety disorder is connected to anxiety or panic that ties directly to specific substances, or even withdrawal from those substances.
- Other specified anxiety disorder and unspecified anxiety disorder are catch-all terms for anxiety or phobias that still distressing and disruptive but don’t fit in any of the other categories.
In my years helping raise my foster brothers and sisters, and in my years as a teacher, I saw every single one of the anxiety disorders listed above.
In the cases where I met their parents, it was easy to understand how those poor children had ended up so anxious – at least one of their parents was narcissistic and emotionally abusive.
I don’t mean to make that statement lightly, and had I not seen so many of the behaviors growing up with foster brothers and sisters, I rather doubt I would’ve recognized them in students’ parents. The truth is, most narcissists are really, really good at presenting themselves as upstanding citizens.
In fact, most narcissists are extremely high-functioning, and when caught in bad behavior are frequently good smooth talkers, who will find a way to talk themselves out of trouble, or even turn things around in such a way that by the end of the interaction you’re convinced you did something wrong, not them.
As a result, people stuck in narcissistic abuse may know something isn’t right – but may not know what, or how to get out of the endless cycle of abuse. This is especially true for children.
People who feel like they have become trapped in the poisonous whirlwind of narcissistic abuse tend to know something is just not right.
The irrational and maddening claims the narcissist makes never fully sit well with them. However, unless they are educated about these toxic personalities and abusers, they will continue to find themselves in the endless cycle.
This is doubly true because of the type of people many narcissists are best at targeting for their abuse: Those who are compassionate, empathetic, and most likely to believe they see good in their abusers.
This has long-term repercussions. According to a study by Muhammad Gadit from Memorial University of Newfoundland, “Verbal abuse can cause significant psychological problems in later years and brain damage, including anxiety, depression, anger-hostility, and dissociation.”
Similarly, Doctor Douglas Fields reports in Psychology Today, “When [an] environment is hostile or socially unhealthy, development of the brain is affected, and often it is impaired.
Early childhood sexual abuse, physical abuse, or even witnessing domestic violence, have been shown to cause abnormal physical changes in the brain of children, with lasting effects that predisposes the child to developing psychological disorders.”
So again: If this was your childhood, or has at any point been part of your history, know this – it isn’t your fault. Being taken advantage of and emotionally abused by a narcissist can result in long-term damage, and can take years to recover from, so be patient and kind with yourself. You can, and will, with practice get better.
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