Your Brain on Narcissistic Abuse

Severe emotional trauma is often a double-edged sword, not only slashing the psyche but physically damaging the brain.

Candace Ranee


Image by, Gettyimages

One of the most painful things survivors of narcissistic abuse deal with is the complete destruction of their self-esteem and their ability to trust themselves, due to the control, gaslighting, and manipulation that narcissists inflict on them.

Perhaps most distressing is the fact that narcissistic abuse can be physical, neurological, and psychological — and these issues can, without intentional healing, last a lifetime.

Most understand that repeated emotional trauma leads to PTSD and C-PTSD, but many don't realize the serious damage the brain undergoes from long-term abuse. These repeated emotional injuries shrink the hippocampus, which is responsible for memory and learning while enlarging the amygdala, the primitive brain that houses emotions such as fear, grief, guilt, envy, and shame.


The hippocampus, which is Greek for seahorse, is a paired structure tucked inside each temporal lobe and shaped like a pair of seahorses. It helps to store and release memory.

According to Dr. J. Douglas Bremner, Professor of Psychiatry and Radiology and Director of the Emory Clinical Neuroscience Research Unit at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, Georgia

“The hippocampus is crucial for short-term verbal memory.”

The shrinkage in the hippocampus is due to the effects of heightened levels of cortisol, a steroid hormone secreted by the brain in response to extreme stress.

In an abusive relationship, the victim is subjected to daily terror similar to combat veterans. The body is in a perpetual state of fight or flight with heavy loads of cortisol being pumped into the brain.

Dr. Bremner also says,

“Cortisol can be toxic to the hippocampus,”

Dr. Murray Stein, a psychiatrist at the University of California at San Diego, found a 7 percent reduction in hippocampus volume in women who had suffered repeated childhood sexual abuse and who still had post-traumatic symptoms.



Candace Ranee

Candace studied Sociology at Bowling Green State University. She is a writer and a DV Survivor