How Long-term Narcissistic Abuse Changes Your Brain (According to Science)

Emotional abuse and trauma in any form can have severe and long-lasting consequences on an individual’s mental and physical health. Psychological and narcissistic abuse, in particular, can cause significant alterations to an individual’s behavior, personality, and even their brain structure.

Psychological and narcissistic abuse often involves a pattern of manipulation, control, and intimidation with the abuser using emotional and verbal tactics to gain power over their victims. This abuse can result in psychological trauma that can persist for years if left unaddressed.

While PTSD and C-PTSD are two of the most commonly known outcomes of emotional trauma, there are two other outcomes that are usually less well-known but can be equally damaging in the long term. The first is the shrinkage of the hippocampus which is responsible for memory and learning. Whenever an individual is repeatedly exposed to emotional trauma over a long period, their hippocampus may shrink, leading to difficulty retaining new information and recalling past events.

What is Hippocampus?

The hippocampus is a small area located in the center of the brain, within the temporal lobe. It is primarily responsible for forming, organizing, and storing new memories, as well as retrieving memories from long-term storage.

The hippocampus is also involved in spatial navigation, which is the brain’s ability to navigate and orient oneself in physical space. This function is closely related to memory since spatial information is often stored as part of a memory.

The hippocampus works in conjunction with other regions of the brain, such as the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex, to form and retrieve memories. The amygdala, for instance, is the part of the brain that stores emotional memories, such as fear. The prefrontal cortex, on the other hand, is involved in higher-order cognitive processes, like decision-making and reasoning.

Emotional trauma or abuse can lead to a reduction in the size of the hippocampus. This occurs as a result of the release of stress hormones, such as cortisol, which can cause damage to brain cells in the hippocampus over time. This damage can lead to difficulty retaining new information and recalling past events.

Therefore, it is essential to take care of our mental health and avoid any form of abuse and trauma that can negatively impact our brain health, memory, and learning.

The second outcome is the enlargement of the amygdala, the part of the brain that stores primitive emotions like fear, grief, guilt, envy, and shame. An enlarged amygdala can lead to a hypersensitivity to negative emotions, making individuals more susceptible to anxiety disorders, depression, and other mental health issues.

What is Amygdala?

The amygdala is a roughly almond-shaped structure located in the temporal lobe of the brain. It is primarily responsible for processing emotions, such as fear, aggression, and pleasure. The amygdala carries out its function by assessing the emotional significance of incoming sensory information.

The amygdala is an essential component of the brain’s fear response system. When the amygdala receives signals from the senses indicating that there is a potential threat, it sends out warning signals to other parts of the brain, which initiates the physiological changes that enable an individual to respond to the perceived danger.

The amygdala also plays a crucial role in emotional learning. It is involved in our ability to remember emotional events, such as traumatic experiences, by encoding and consolidating memories related to emotional events.

In individuals who have been exposed to prolonged emotional trauma, the amygdala may become overactive, which can lead to an increased sensitivity to negative emotions. This increased sensitivity often leads to the development of anxiety disorders, depression, and other mental health issues.

Overall, the amygdala plays a vital role in processing and regulating emotions. An imbalance in its function can have far-reaching implications for a person’s mental and physical health, highlighting the importance of taking care of our mental health and avoiding any form of emotional trauma that can negatively impact our brain health.

Both the shrinkage of the hippocampus and the enlargement of the amygdala are long-term physical alterations that occur over an extended period. This makes it more difficult to diagnose and treat. Cortisol, a stress hormone is usually released in response to emotional trauma, and this can cause a chemical imbalance in the brain leading to these physical changes.

This is why it is crucial to leave abusive relationships immediately. The effects of emotional trauma can be long-lasting, and the longer the exposure, the greater the chance of permanent damage to the brain. Children exposed to narcissistic abuse in a relationship can also suffer long-term psychological and emotional damage, leading to a host of mental and physical health issues.

Final thought

In conclusion, the consequences of psychological and narcissistic abuse can have far-reaching and long-lasting effects on an individual’s mental and physical health. Seeking professional help and ending the abusive relationship is critical to help victims recover. Whether you are a victim or a parent of a victim, understanding the potential outcomes of emotional trauma is essential to regain and take control of your life.

Scroll to Top