Effects of narcissistic abuse on future relationships

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The types of relationships we get into have an enormous impact on our well-being – emotional, mental, and sometimes even physical.

A good and healthy relationship has intimacy. It helps both of you grow as an individual, helps you learn more about yourself and the other person, and opens your mind up to different views. You also feel respected and honored.

Toxic relationships, however, are the exact opposite. But the problem is, we don’t always see it right from the start.

One type of toxic relationship is the one you have with a narcissistic partner. 

If you suspect you’re entering into a relationship with a narcissist, if you fear for your mental health due to that same relationship, or if you want to find out what narcissist abuse could do to you, read on.

In this article, we’ll be talking briefly about narcissism, how to spot a narcissist and the effects of narcissistic abuse on future relationships.

What is a narcissist?

To understand its effects, we must first know more about what we’re dealing with.

Understandably, sometimes we use the word ‘narcissist’ or ‘narcissistic’ to describe someone who is self-centered.

But what some of you might not know is that narcissism is a real, diagnosable condition, called narcissistic personality disorder. 

Some people may have some of the characteristics of a narcissist, but not all of them, or not all the time. 

If you are fortunate enough to not have encountered a narcissist, it’s important to know what to observe so you can avoid the effects of narcissistic abuse on future relationships.

Here are the main characteristics to watch out for, according to the fifth and latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Illnesses (DSM-5):

Grandiose sense of self

An example would be when someone boasts about their gifts and accomplishments too much, even if they aren’t really that impressive.

Fantasies of success and power

Narcissists idealize love and indulge themselves in visions of unlimited success, power, and beauty. They honestly believe they are unique and can only be understood by people like them.

Praise-seeking

They are always looking for admiration and fish for compliments. They also feel entitled to favors and special treatment.

Lack of empathy 

Narcissists exploit others for their own ends and often cannot acknowledge the feelings and needs of other people.

Jealousy

A narcissistic person gets jealous of others and believes that others are jealous of them. They may also have a haughty or arrogant attitude.

To avoid the effects of narcissistic abuse in future relationships, it might also be a good idea to know the early signs of narcissism in a partner.

What are some effects of narcissistic abuse on future relationships?

The effects you may experience can differ depending on how long you stay in these types of relationships.

Some people might experience ‘mild’ effects, while others regrettably are left with long-lasting damage. 

1) Anxiety and depression

Stress from narcissistic abuse can elicit feelings of worry, nervousness, or fear because it’s often hard to predict how a narcissist will act.

You may also lose interest in things that you used to enjoy doing, which is a mark of depression.

You might also experience one of the effects of narcissistic abuse in future relationships – asking yourself why your partner changed so suddenly. 

You might also ask yourself: Is it your fault? Another sign of this anxiety is blaming yourself for their behavior because you believe in their manipulation and their lies.

Remember: in narcissism, your partner might say and do things to control the way you act and affect how you feel.

2) Post-traumatic stress

Another possible effect is complex post-traumatic stress disorder or C-PTSD.  

It’s important to keep in mind that C-PTSD is not an official diagnosis but a combination of symptoms that presents as a type of PTSD.

These are the effects of narcissistic abuse in future relationships that fall under C-PTSD:

  • repeated flashbacks to traumatic events
  • avoiding triggers of traumatic incidents
  • being hypervigilance and sensing threats in normal interactions
  • having difficulty regulating emotions
  • poor self-image
  • struggling in interpersonal relationships

3) Cognitive issues

Another effect of narcissistic abuse is having a hard time focusing on ordinary, day-to-day tasks. These range from something as simple as watching television or doing your work.

This is because your mind may be drifting back to memories of traumatic events, which could disrupt your focus.

The brains of people who suffer abuse from narcissists may become altered, specifically, the hippocampus and amygdala, which are responsible for memory and processing of emotions, respectively. 

In children with narcissistic parents, these structures are overstimulated and shrunken. Smaller than normal structures will leave the child to grow into an adult that can’t deal with their own emotions, particularly that of shame and guilt.

4) Sudden, extreme changes in emotion

Another one of the effects of narcissistic abuse on future relationships includes developing emotional issues.

This includes mood swings, where one minute you’re feeling good, and you’re irritable or depressed the next.

Mood swings can be caused by a number of different things, among them depression, which we had discussed earlier.

Long periods of trauma might also cause depersonalization, in which you feel like you’re seeing yourself as outside of your body or you feel like things surrounding you are not real.

Narcissistic abuse might also make you feel like a robot, as though you don’t control what you say or do. You might also be feeling emotionally and physically numb.

If these feelings keep coming back or do not go away, they may affect how you function in daily life. You may have what is called depersonalization-derealization disorder.

5) Loss of sense of self

Among the effects of narcissistic abuse in future relationships may be that you no longer know who you are.

It might cause you to doubt your self-worth and develop trust issues with other people.

You may also start to blame yourself; and if you believe that it was something you did that caused the abuse, you might be less inclined to ask for help.

You might also lose self-confidence in making decisions, no matter how simple they are.

6) Loss of trust in others

Earlier we mentioned the development of trust issues when it comes to relating with other people.

As we established, this could be one of the detrimental effects of narcissistic abuse on future relationships.

That’s because, when you are unable to trust new people, you’re not just protecting yourself from getting hurt again. You might actually be hindering relationships that are good for you.

If you have trust issues, you might constantly wonder if people are telling you the truth or are just deceiving you to serve their own purposes.

You may also develop social anxiety, in which you feel fear that impacts daily activities, chip away at your self-confidence, and affect your relationships.

Some other signs of social anxiety include:

  • Worrying about activities that involve meeting new people, initiating conversations, mingling with groups
  • Being self-conscious about your actions and how you might appear to others
  • Feeling like you’re being watched
  • Fearing criticism
  • Panic attacks

7) Self-destructiveness

Unfortunately, the abuse doesn’t always stop with the abuser.

One of the effects of narcissistic abuse on future relationships could be forming self-destructive habits.

This may occur because it is possible for you to blame yourself for how your partner treats you.

Some self-destructive habits include: self-harm (e.g., cutting), alcohol or substance misuse; smoking; poor eating choices (e.g., binging, purging); and even suicide.

8) People-pleasing

On the other hand, there is a tendency to seek external validation from others – in other words, people-pleasing.

This is one of the possible effects of narcissistic abuse on future relationships, because you had gotten used to bending over backwards to please your partner. 

A people pleaser is one who does everything in his/her power to get others’ approval and prioritize the needs of others ahead of their own.

The difference between being helpful and being a people pleaser is that the latter often renders one feeling drained, stressed and anxious.

A people pleaser believes that keeping others happy is the way to keep the relationship going.

How to recover from narcissistic abuse

Narcissistic abuse can cause irreparable damage to victims’ lives.

In order to move on, you need strategies to heal from the wounds caused by a narcissistic partner.

Of course, prevention is better than a pound of cure, which is why it’s useful to keep in mind the effects of narcissistic abuse on future relationships.

But we know that’s easier said than done. We can’t always see through the fog especially when we think that a relationship might really be the real thing.

So it’s equally important to know what to do if you end up in a relationship with a narcissist:

Acknowledging the fact that you’ve been abused means accepting those feelings that course through you, whether it’s anxiety, anger, depression or grief.

Learning all you can about what narcissistic traits look like and learning about different modes of manipulation can help you better avoid one in the future.

No matter what you’re going through, you’re not alone. There are communities online and in real life for people that might have the same experiences as you, where you can talk your feelings out and get advice in the process.

One-on-one sessions with a therapist could also help you work through your experiences with narcissistic abuse.

Finally, despite what you feel, it’s important now more than ever to care for yourself. That includes sleeping enough, eating healthily, and rediscovering your hobbies or passions.

The bottom line

The effects of narcissistic abuse on future relationships can be highly damaging, with some even being beyond repair.

As such, it is key to learn all about narcissistic personality disorder, manipulation, and the possible effects of engaging with such a person.

But if you are already in one, recently ended a relationship with one, or feel that your mental health is at stake, the most important thing is to seek help from others.

Louise Logarta

Louise Nichole Logarta is a content writer by profession, with experience crafting feature articles, editorials, and news articles. She has been published in noted Philippine broadsheets Philippine Daily Inquirer and The Manila Times. Topics of interest she likes writing about include relationships, current affairs, health, and pop culture. Travel, journal notebooks, fiction books, and iced coffee are some of the things she enjoys.

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