C-PTSD Following an Abusive Relationship

For many years I was in an extremely destructive relationship with someone who has NPD (Narcissistic Personality Disorder) and during that time I was regularly subjected to a variety of emotional, mental and physical abuse.

Every day I walked on eggshells, living in fear of saying or doing something that might trigger an aggressive response.

Many people might wonder why I, or anyone else, would remain in this kind of environment, but by the time I fully recognized that I was in extreme danger, I was already badly emotionally and mentally weakened and debilitated.

I was living in terror waiting to be attacked at any moment and yet I did not feel as though I had the strength or courage to remove myself from it.

Abuse doesn’t always happen overtly and it isn’t always easy to recognize. Often it is a covert, insidious, invisible drip that slowly poisons the victim’s mind so they don’t trust their own judgment, is unable to make life-changing decisions and feels as though they don’t have the coping skills necessary to get help or leave.

It took me a long time, and everything I had, to pull myself from the bottom of the deep dark hell I existed in and to get myself to a place of safety.

By the time I walked away, I thought that the nightmare was over. But in so many other ways, it had only just begun.

The terrors of the taunts, torture and torment that had become my normality didn’t subside. They remained alive and relived themselves in the form of intrusive, regular flashbacks.

Many months after I had left the relationship I discovered that I was suffering from C-PTSD, (Complex Post-traumatic Stress Disorder.) C-PTSD is a result of persistent psychological trauma in an environment where the victim believes they are powerless and that there is no escape.

C-PTSD is slightly different than PTSD, which is brought on from experiencing one solitary, traumatic incident, or it can develop due to an accumulation of incidents. Although both C-PTSD and PTSD both developed from my experiences, I identify more with C-PTSD, as it was the effects of the prolonged exposure to repetitive and chronic trauma that I felt I couldn’t escape from that affected me the most.

For many months after leaving the relationship I struggled to sleep at night, and when I did I often woke trembling after experiencing terrifying reoccurring dreams. On many occasions when I did eventually sleep I would sleep solid for at least 24 hours, in such deep slumber that I would struggle to wake from it and when I did I would feel fatigued, spaced out and as though I was numbly sleep-walking through the day.

I was easily startled and panicked at the slightest sudden movement or loud noise.

I was ultra-sensitive, on edge and highly alert most of the time, which I believe was my mind’s way of forming some sort of self-protection to keep me aware so that I avoided similar potentially dangerous situations.

At the mention of certain words, names or places I felt nauseous and dizzy and would become extremely distressed. A painful tight knot developed in my stomach every time something occurred to remind me of the trauma.

I still have difficulty remembering large phases of my life, and for a long time I struggled to stay focused, and my concentration abilities were very poor.

I would get upset easily, especially if I was in a tense environment. I had constant anxiety and was regularly in fight-or-flight mode.

I didn’t eat properly. I had no motivation and suicidal thoughts regularly flooded my mind.

I had lost my spark.

One aspect of the aftermath of the relationship that affected me most was the daily gaslighting that I endured. This left me finding it difficult to believe anything people would tell me, and I analyzed, questioned and dissected everything.

Forming new relationships, whether friendships, or romantic, was almost impossible as I struggled to trust people’s intentions and felt scared of possible underlying, hidden motives and agendas for their words or actions.

I dissociated from most of what I had been through and pretended, even to myself, that the abuse wasn’t as serious as it was. Partly because I felt ashamed that I had not left sooner and also because I wanted to defend and protect the person I was involved with, as I still cared for him. Therefore, I rarely mentioned the relationship to anyone and froze and shut down through stress (sometimes resulting in a meltdown) if anyone tried to talk to me about it.

It got to the stage where I withdrew completely as leaving the house became overwhelming and a major ordeal because I wouldn’t/couldn’t open up and connect and I felt terrified of everything and everyone.

One thing that became apparent and harrowing was that although I had gained enough strength to walk away and I felt empowered by the decision knowing that it was the right choice for my emotional, mental and physical health, I was suppressing all my emotions and feelings and I was far from okay on the inside.

There were many rollercoaster emotions trapped inside me and trying to ignore and contain them was doing more harm than good. In many ways the ending of the relationship had signaled closure to one phase of my life and had opened up a new chapter that was going to take a little time to get used to.

It appeared that while I was in the relationship I had become so used to enduring a wide variety of narcissistic behaviors that they had almost become normal and acceptable. Stepping away from all that I had known felt like I had walked from one planet and onto another and I hadn’t got a clue how to navigate it on my own or how to relate to anyone on it.

I soon realized that unless I started to focus on healing myself, I would remain a victim of my previous circumstances as the build up of emotional injuries, wounds and scars needed urgent attention. Otherwise, they would seep out and silently destroy sections of my life without me being aware that the past was still controlling me.

It was up to me to rebuild my strength and confidence, otherwise I would end up alienating myself and causing further damage.

I had a lot of inner healing work and restructuring to do and trying to convince myself that just because I had left the relationship everything would be okay, was not going to be enough.

The first and most significant step I took was admitting and fully accepting that the carnage I had experienced was real and had a huge impact on my emotional and mental wellbeing.

I had been surviving by a fragile thread in a domestic war zone and for far too long I had been intimidated, manipulated, lied to and threatened, amongst many other toxic and dysfunctional behaviors. The whole relationship had been an illusion and resulted in me having serious trust issues as well as losing the will to live. I not only struggled to trust other people, but I also realized I had no faith at all in my own intuition, perception or judgment.

Finally, I gave myself permission to take as long as I needed to heal, even if it meant I would spend the rest of my life slowly putting the pieces of my life back together. I came to terms with the fact that there is no timescale to healing and there was no hurry.

I allowed myself to grieve the relationship and the loss of the person I had separated from. This was extremely difficult to do as I had so many mixed emotions due to the scale of the abuse. For a long time I denied my grief, as it was complex to come to terms with how I could miss someone who had been responsible for vicious behavior towards me.

One of the hardest parts to dealing with this grief was feeling as though I could not talk openly to anyone, as I believed no one would understand how I could remain in such an abusive relationship and still miss many aspects of that person and the life I had with them.

The reason getting over this type of relationship can be so difficult is that many narcissists display both “Jeckyll and Hyde” type characteristics, one minute appearing extremely loving and affectionate and the next crippling, cruel and cunning.

It is not easy to explain that I deeply loved and badly missed one side of the person I was involved with, and disliked, feared and never wanted to hear his name mentioned at the same time. Even thinking about this can make one feel a little crazy as it does not feel natural to love and hate the same person.

One essential step toward healing from narcissistic abuse, I believe, is finding someone to really confide in and who doesn’t judge or question anything that is said. Being free to talk openly and comfortably without having to over explain is vital to start putting the accumulation of experiences into some sort of context. If there isn’t a friend on hand, it is worth taking time to seek out a good counselor with an understanding of C-PTSD deriving from abusive relationships.

The most important thing that helped me to heal was focusing more on healing and rebuilding myself. Although I took time out to research and gain knowledge and understanding of the type of abuse I had been subjected to, I spent far more of my time indulging myself in whatever felt good for my soul.

Slowly and surely I rebuilt myself, formed new friendships, learned to trust people and forgave all of the past. There are still days that it haunts me, but there is a bright light at the end of the tunnel and although it can be difficult to believe that when you start walking through it, as soon as you take the first steps of acceptance the path ahead begins to become clear.

Healing comes by taking one small step at a time, with speaking gently to myself and a lot of loving care, without hurry.

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Writing: Alex Myles

Main Article Image Flickr/Daniela Brown

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17 Comments

  1. Anonymous says:

    Perfectly written could have come from my brain. I’m 20 years out but still have many trigger’s.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Thank you Alex I just got away from one and now have c PTSD from being in a domestic war zone in jail I am healing and your site helps spooked much with this process

    I don’t check my emails much he took everything I owned

    Kind regards

  3. Anonymous says:

    I also lived this. I accepted Christ and was able to understand and be able to both forgive and to heal.

  4. It has been over 20 years since I found the strength to leave my abusive husband. Until now, I have never read or related to a story as much as I have this one. I could have written 95% of it myself. Thank you for sharing.

  5. I was in a relationship like this for 3 years. I thought I was doing so much better as I have had no contact with him for almost 2 years now. But I am now in a new relationship with a wonderful kind and loving man and there are so many triggers that put me right back in that awful relationship. I feel as if I am fighting a losing battle and I don’t know what to do. I love this new man but how much of me can he put up with?

  6. anonymous says:

    i believe my last reltionship i was gaslighted but i m unsure cause my current tells me i was and after that relationship ended i experienced crippling anxiety i could noy & still very much cannot leave the house when i do i experience massive attacks my current bf actually moved in to help move my ex out s i hd broken up with 6 months prior but he would not leave & 6 months after that i became pregnant with my daughter who is 5 months old now my current bf cn become physical once in while the worst ws he was going through opioid withdrawal & i was pregnant he stomped my head into the ground s i was holding my unborn child s close to me s possible but its weird because its like it doesn’t phase me when hes physical with what phases me is when he treats me s if i don’t matter in front of friends or doesn’t respect my parents ( where we currently live) or when he just wont come home and i yell & sy its unacceptable & her threatens not to come back which gives me n anxiety attack

  7. I have PTSD from an 8 year abusive relationship with a man that I am still dealing with everyday. I dont want to but I love him and really wish I could be with him. Makes a lot of sense doesn’t it?

  8. Celeste says:

    Beautifully said! Twenty years ago this was my life. This person also fathered two of my children and passed away a few years ago. So many people cannot understand how I can still have love for him while having endured so much. It took a good therapist for me to understand it. He was three different people to me, my children’s father, my significant other, and my abuser. I had a difficult time with my emotions after his death, they were so hard to understand. The result is Cptsd and many just don’t understand it at all. The trauma will forever cause me issues with the fight ir flight response and the subconscious fear that rears its ugly head every so often. I think the hardest thing was to understand how he was able to get me into this situation since I wasn’t gullible nor stupid. Trust is a big issue with me as well as the exaggerated startle response. I am happy to have been out of that situation for many years now but the effects are everlasting. 💕 Thank you so much for sharing your story! Together by sharing and finding out we’re not alone helps so much in the ever so slow healing process.

  9. It’s like you have had a camera in my life for the last 24 years . I am recovering from a 22 year relationship with a malignant narcissist that ai was his Carer and advocate , He was an injured retired from the Australian Army which he had a role as a peace keeper who used his PTSD to excuse abuse that he metered out on me .
    I am injured and incapacitated from being able to work . I am building my life . I am evermore moving forward .

  10. Wow. I can’t believe how much this sounded like it came from my hand. Thank you. I’m 30 days out of my relationship, and I’m seeking therapy but cannot help but feel a lot of the same things as you’ve described. I’m calling it the FOG. Fear, obligation and guilt. Thank you again

  11. Olive Lyttle says:

    Alex I AM living in your pass pain, you described it perfectly😪 a mean PERFECTLY pain for pain, it seems like you was a spider that’s living in my bedroom in the corner of my side of my bed 😳You went through the same experience that I AM living now today at this moment ☹️ this morning as I AM READING your pain my eyes got watery because my life flashes in front of me I felt a sharp hit my stomach and it started to hurt real bad I had to rush to the restroom holding my fone and still reading with disbelief like how is this lady telling my life story, this is amazing 😳a mean you went DEEP detail to detail about my life, I just found the word NARCISSIST, I heard a news reporter call Donald Trump and I look up the definition 2 yrs ago and then i realize that I’m living with an narcissist for 10 yrs 😠 for the past 9 years I lost my mother, my brother, my only child was in a coma/ life support for 18 days 4 years ago and I just lost my sister to breast cancer on my birthday and this guy is a monster he have not supported me through those trails and he’s cheating on me so yes your testimony as open me up this morning Thanksgiving 2019 at 6:30 am

  12. Kirsty says:

    This has just summed everything I am going through right now, I was with my ex partner for 10 years and 8 months later I still have no idea of i am coming or going, I have met someone else and I explained to him my situation and how mentally I am all over the place because I feel like i have entered an alien world and I don’t know who I am, he does his best but I can see its hard sometimes for him, never knowing what mood I am going to be in and what I am going to do, but i do struggle,more so now than when we broke up, and i feel very vulnerable alot of the time, I literally have no one to talk to about it and mo one who will understand what it feels like to hate and love someone at the same time and to feel lost without that constant abuse, thank you for making me see I’m not the only one

  13. Janet Dean says:

    Thank you. This could have been written by me and so many others who were hopelessly lost in this type of situation. Thank you for explaining in detail what most of us can’t.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Nearly 20 years ago I was with such a man very much a jekyl and Hyde character. At first charming and charismatic then later controlling, emotionally abusive and finally physical abuse. I lived on tender hooks if he came home and appeared in a bad mood. He used to drop me off and pick me up at the station so he knew where I was even when I was out with family he would call to find put when I’d be home even when I’d told him the time to expect me home. He slowly isolated me from family and friends. When he was angry he’d always be sorry after and tell me he’d change that was until the next time. I finally found the courage to leave after he pushed me over and then I found out he was cheating on me I suddenly got the strength I need to get out. But by then my self esteem was out an all time low. It didn’t end there though for the next 12 months he stalked me bombarding me with phone calls and letters. At one point he was phoning my work 4 time’s a day and my colleages had to answer my phone he even rang my Mum. He threatened to show up at my place of work. He followed twice in the car but I managed to lose him. In the end I told him if he didn’t leave me alone I’d have to sort something out meaning the police and told him in no uncertain terms that I didn’t love him anymore. That was the end of it. I still to this day find it hard trusting people and like others state I’m very jumpy around loud sound and unexpected movement. So yes my system is on high alert. I have come a long way though since.

  15. anonymous says:

    Wonderfully written. Seems many of the comments harken back to 20 years ago. Well mine do also! I wonder if there was some major cosmic shift going on at that time.

    I was an abused husband. Not so much physical abuse, but psychological abuse. Did I feel isolated? You bet! Popular belief back then was that MEN were the abusers, not women! I am here to tell you that at least if you have physical scars you can make the argument! Try convincing anyone when there is no physical evidence. Abusers know no gender – all are capable of inflicting abuse in their own way.

    I was married to her for almost 13 years. The first thing I did after separation – I knew there was NO WAY I was going back – was to get psychological counseling. It took a while to get my head on straight, but it was the best time and money I ever spent! Having a professional’s perspective, support, and advice was so necessary!

    In my journey, I came upon something very similar to Narcissistic Personality Disorder – it is called Borderline Personality Disorder. As I read the pages of the website, I may as well have been reading the pages of what my life with her had become! She was never “diagnosed”, but I KNOW this is what she had. What a blessing to get away!

    I actually slept quite well knowing that I would wake up in the morning and not be subjected to yet another day of being treated as less than human. It took years to get to the point of understanding that I had to invoke forgiveness so I could move on.

    With the help of my friends, and a new and wonderful partner in my life, I was finally able to move well past all of that horrific experience.

    There is life after an abuser. I am living proof.

  16. PeggyLee says:

    I hear You. I get You. I hear.. that … person. I “get” that person. I k n o w. I’m here. I stand. See me. Watch me.

    Love love love. THANK YOU! 🙏

  17. I can completely relate to your story. I have now been in a great relationship for 10 years now and was married for 10 years prior to the horrible relationship that lasted for 3 years before I was able to finally flee and not return. There are (unfortunately) many of us that know what you went through. No need to over explain. No judgment. We ended up in that situation for many reasons…mostly because the ‘abuser’ convinced us their love was beyond anything we could have imagined. And they were right. Love doesnt have chains. Love doesnt cause anxiety attacks. Love doesnt hold someone hostage. Thank you for sharing your story. I sometimes forget that I’m not the only person in the world who loved someone who destroyed me.

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