How to Tell if You Are Experiencing Narcissistic Abuse


In this mini-course, Registered Psychotherapist & Trauma Recovery Specialist Heather Kent will explain how narcissistic abuse affects a person.

We hope you can use this information to better understand whether or not you are experiencing narcissistic abuse.

How Does Narcissistic Abuse Affect You?

Helplessness & Powerlessness

A feeling or state of being unable to help oneself or to control or influence a situation.

Common thoughts:

  • “I just don’t know what to do anymore.”
  • “Everything I try seems to go wrong.”
  • “I feel like I’m stuck in a loop, I can’t seem to get out.”
  • “Why does it feel like nothing is ever going to change?”
  • “I’m tired of trying, it doesn’t seem to make a difference.”

A feeling or state of being unable to exercise power or influence over a situation or circumstance.

Common thoughts:

  • “I just don’t know what to do anymore.”
  • “Nothing I do seems to make a difference.”
  • “I feel like I’m stuck and can’t move forward.”
  • “I don’t have control over anything.”
  • “Why does it feel like my efforts are pointless?”

In this video Registered Psychotherapist & Trauma Recovery Specialist Heather Kent explains how narcissistic abuse causes helplessness and powerlessness.

Self-Doubt, Self-Devaluation/Invalidation, Self-Blame, Low Self-Esteem, Guilt, Shame

In this video Registered Psychotherapist & Trauma Recovery Specialist Heather Kent explains how narcissistic abuse causes self-doubt, self-devaluation/invalidation, self-blame, low self-esteem, guilt, and shame.

A lack of confidence in oneself or one’s abilities, often characterized by uncertainty, indecisiveness, or hesitation.

Common thoughts:

  • “I’m not sure I can do this.”
  • “What if I’m just not good enough?”
  • “I keep second-guessing myself.”
  • “I’m always worried about making mistakes.”
  • “Maybe they’re right; maybe I’m not capable.”

A belief or attitude in which one undervalues oneself or dismisses one’s own feelings, thoughts, or experiences as unimportant or invalid.

Common thoughts:

  • “I’m not worth anyone’s time or effort.”
  • “I don’t deserve to be happy.”
  • “I’m probably just overreacting.”
  • “I shouldn’t feel this way.”
  • “I have no reason to be upset.”

The act of holding oneself responsible for a negative outcome or situation, often accompanied by feelings of guilt or shame.

Common thoughts:

  • “I messed up again, it’s always my fault.”
  • “If only I hadn’t said that, things would be different.”
  • “I’m the reason things went wrong.”
  • “I should’ve known better, I’m to blame.”
  • “I always seem to ruin things.”

A negative self-evaluation or belief about one’s worth or value, often characterized by feelings of inadequacy, inferiority, or self-criticism.

Common thoughts:

  • “I’m not as good as other people.”
  • “I don’t feel like I’m worth much.”
  • “Why would anyone care about what I think or feel?”
  • “I always feel like I’m not enough.”
  • “I just can’t see anything good about myself.”

A feeling of responsibility or remorse for having done something wrong or having failed to do something that one should have done.

Common thoughts:

  • “I should have done things differently.”
  • “It’s my fault, I shouldn’t have let that happen.”
  • “I feel so bad about what I did.”
  • “I can’t shake off this feeling of having done something wrong.”
  • “I wish I could go back and change my actions.”

A feeling of guilt, embarrassment, or humiliation that arises from a belief that one has failed to live up to a particular standard or expectation.

Common thoughts:

  • “I feel so embarrassed, I can’t believe I let this happen.”
  • “Why can’t I just get it right?”
  • “I feel so guilty, like it’s all my fault.”
  • “I messed up and I can’t face it.”
  • “I’m ashamed of where I am right now.”

Confusion, Irritability, Fatigue, Depression, Anxiety

A state of being unsure or uncertain, often characterized by disorientation, lack of clarity, or a sense of being overwhelmed.

Common thoughts:

  • ​​”I just can’t seem to make sense of anything.”
  • “Everything feels jumbled and unclear.”
  • “I’m not sure what’s happening or why.”
  • “I can’t figure out what to do next.”
  • “I feel overwhelmed, like I’m lost in a fog.”

A state of being easily annoyed, angered, or frustrated.

Common thoughts:

  • “Everything is just getting on my nerves today.”
  • “I can’t stand this noise, it’s too much.”
  • “Why can’t things just go smoothly for once?”
  • “I feel like I’m about to snap.”
  • “I don’t have the patience for this right now.”

A feeling of physical or mental exhaustion or weariness, often accompanied by a lack of energy or motivation.

Common thoughts:

  • “I’m just too tired to do anything.”
  • “No matter how much I sleep, I still feel drained.”
  • “I feel like I’m running on empty.”
  • “Every little task feels like climbing a mountain.”
  • “I just don’t have the energy I used to.”

A mental health disorder characterized by persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and a loss of interest or pleasure in activities that were once enjoyable.

Common thoughts:

  • “I just don’t enjoy things like I used to.”
  • “I’m so tired all the time, but I can’t sleep well.”
  • “I feel sad and I can’t shake it off.”
  • “It’s really hard for me to focus on anything.”
  • “I just feel empty, like I’m going through the motions.”

A feeling of unease or apprehension, often accompanied by physical symptoms such as increased heart rate, sweating, and difficulty breathing.

Common thoughts:

  • “I can’t stop worrying about everything.”
  • “I feel like something bad is going to happen.”
  • “I can’t relax, I’m always on edge.”
  • “I can’t seem to quiet my mind.”
  • “I feel jittery and restless all the time.”

In this video Registered Psychotherapist & Trauma Recovery Specialist Heather Kent explains how narcissistic abuse causes confusion, irritability, fatigue, depression, and anxiety.

Emotional Dysregulation, Maladaptive Coping

In this video Registered Psychotherapist & Trauma Recovery Specialist Heather Kent explains how narcissistic abuse causes emotional dysregulation and maladaptive coping.

A difficulty in managing or controlling emotions, often characterized by intense or volatile emotional reactions, impulsivity, or mood swings.

Common symptoms:

  • Intense Emotional Reactions: Experiencing emotions that are disproportionately intense in relation to the situation or event that triggered them. This can include sudden and extreme mood swings, overwhelming fear, uncontrollable anger, or intense sadness.
  • Frequent Emotional Ups and Downs: Quickly shifting from one emotional state to another. These emotional swings may seem unpredictable and out of sync with the situation or environment.
  • Difficulty Returning to a Baseline Emotional State: After an emotional outburst or intense emotional experience, there may be a prolonged period of distress. It might take longer for someone with emotional dysregulation to calm down and return to a more neutral emotional state.
  • Impulsive Behaviors: Acting without thinking about the consequences, particularly in response to intense emotional states. This can include reckless driving, binge eating, substance abuse, self-harm, or other risky behaviors.
  • Difficulty Identifying and Describing Emotions: This is sometimes referred to as alexithymia, and it means struggling to understand and articulate one’s own emotional experiences.
  • Sensitive to Emotional Triggers: Certain experiences, memories, or sensory inputs can rapidly and dramatically affect mood. The triggers can be minor for others, but have a major impact on those with emotional dysregulation.
  • Relationship Issues: Interpersonal relationships may be strained due to the person’s intense emotional responses, unpredictable mood swings, and possibly impulsive behavior. This can cause conflict and instability in relationships.
  • Self-Destructive Behaviors: This can include self-harm or engaging in dangerous behaviors, particularly in response to negative emotions or stress.
  • Chronic Feelings of Emptiness or Dissatisfaction: Persistent feelings of being empty or unsatisfied can be a sign of emotional dysregulation. These feelings can contribute to a cycle of intense emotions and impulsive behaviors.
  • Suicidal thoughts or behaviors: In severe cases, emotional dysregulation can lead to thoughts of suicide or actual suicidal behaviors. This is an immediate cause for concern and should be addressed by a mental health professional right away.

Coping mechanisms or behaviors that are ineffective or harmful in managing stress, anxiety, or other difficult emotions.

Common maladaptive coping strategies:

  • Substance Use: This can include alcohol, drugs, or other substances that are used to numb or escape from difficult feelings. Substance use can lead to addiction and serious health problems.
  • Overeating or Undereating: Changes in eating habits, such as binge eating or not eating enough, can be a form of maladaptive coping. These behaviors can lead to significant health problems, including obesity, malnutrition, and eating disorders.
  • Procrastination: Putting off tasks, decisions, or confronting emotions because they cause anxiety or discomfort. This can create a cycle where the stress continues to grow as tasks or decisions remain unaddressed.
  • Avoidance: This can involve avoiding people, places, thoughts, or situations that are associated with stress or discomfort. While avoidance might provide short-term relief, it often exacerbates the problem in the long term.
  • Self-Harm: Some people resort to self-harming behaviors such as cutting, burning, or scratching themselves as a way to cope with emotional pain. This is a very dangerous form of coping that requires immediate intervention from a mental health professional.
  • Rumination: This involves obsessively thinking about past events, mistakes, or perceived failures. Excessive rumination can lead to increased levels of anxiety and depression.
  • Social Isolation or Withdrawal: Some people respond to stress or emotional discomfort by withdrawing from social interactions. This can lead to feelings of loneliness and can exacerbate mental health issues.
  • Aggression: Some individuals may cope with stress or frustration by acting out aggressively, either physically or verbally. This can harm interpersonal relationships and may have legal consequences.
  • Denial: Refusing to acknowledge a problem or pretending it doesn’t exist is another form of maladaptive coping. This prevents individuals from dealing with their problems and finding constructive solutions.
  • Excessive Work or Activity: Also known as “workaholism”, this involves immersing oneself in work or other activities to avoid dealing with emotional discomfort or stressors.

Fear of Being Alone

A persistent or intense fear of being alone or isolated from others, often accompanied by feelings of anxiety or distress.

Common thoughts:

  • “What if I never find someone who understands me like they did?”
  • “I’m scared that I won’t be able to cope without them.”
  • “Who will I be if they’re not around?”
  • “I fear being alone more than staying in this toxic situation.”
  • “If they leave, I might be alone forever.”

In this video Registered Psychotherapist & Trauma Recovery Specialist Heather Kent explains how narcissistic abuse causes fear of being alone.


In this video Registered Psychotherapist & Trauma Recovery Specialist Heather Kent explains how narcissistic abuse causes grief.

A natural response to loss or significant change, typically characterized by feelings of sadness, emptiness, and longing.

Common thoughts:

  • “I miss the way things used to be.”
  • “It hurts so much and I can’t make it stop.”
  • “I feel a void that just won’t fill.”
  • “I can’t believe this is my reality now.”
  • “I just wish I could go back in time.”


A state of being separated or disconnected from others, often characterized by feelings of loneliness, social withdrawal, or a lack of social support.

Common signs:

  • “I hardly ever go out or see other people.”
  • “I spend most of my time on my own.”
  • “I don’t talk about my feelings or what’s on my mind, even with close friends or family.”
  • “I feel distant and find it hard to engage in conversations or activities.”
  • “I’ve stopped doing the things I used to enjoy.”

In this video Registered Psychotherapist & Trauma Recovery Specialist Heather Kent explains how narcissistic abuse causes isolation.

Complex Betrayal Trauma

In this video Registered Psychotherapist & Trauma Recovery Specialist Heather Kent explains how narcissistic abuse causes complex betrayal trauma.

A type of trauma that occurs as a result of a series of betrayals or violations of trust, often by someone who is supposed to be a caregiver or trusted authority figure.


Complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD, C-PTSD or cPTSD) is a mental health condition that can develop if you experience chronic (long-term) trauma. It involves stress responses, such as:

  • Anxiety.
  • Having flashbacks or nightmares.
  • Avoiding situations, places and other things related to the traumatic event.
  • Heightened emotional responses, such as impulsivity or aggressiveness.
  • Persistent difficulties in sustaining relationships.

Examples of chronic trauma include:

  • Long-term child physical or sexual abuse.
  • Long-term domestic violence.
  • Being a victim of human or sex trafficking.
  • War.
  • Frequent community violence.

While C-PTSD is often associated with chronic trauma in childhood, adults who experience chronic trauma can also develop the condition.

In this video Registered Psychotherapist & Trauma Recovery Specialist Heather Kent explains how narcissistic abuse causes CPTSD.