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Traumatic Love: Is Your Narcissistic or Borderline Wife or Girlfriend Making You Sick?


woman yelling at manDo you have trouble sleeping? A perpetual knot in your stomach? Do you experience chronic indigestion or gastrointestinal pain? Do you get stress headaches? Are you afraid to let your guard down with your significant other? Do you censor yourself because you’re afraid to speak the truth to your girlfriend or wife?

If so, you may have developed a trauma response from being involved in an abusive relationship. Stated more simply, you’re suffering post-traumatic stress from being involved with an abusive narcissistic, borderline, histrionic, sociopathic or non-pathological insecure and controlling woman.

Trauma, whether it’s physical or emotional, develops in two ways. It can be caused by a single, isolated event like being mugged, a horrific car accident or a natural disaster. Trauma can also develop from ongoing, chronic, relentless stress such as being in a war, being bullied at work or being in an abusive relationship.

Can you really compare being involved with an abusive woman to water-boarding, jail, hurricanes, and war?

Absolutely. Being emotionally and/or physically abused by these women can have the same effects as being in a war or a cataclysmic event. Combat, torture, imprisonment, tsunamis, and life with a controlling abusive woman share the following characteristics:

  • It’s unpredictable.
  • It has the element of the unexpected.
  • You feel powerless to control your environment.
  • The psychological or physical abuse is repetitive.
  • It’s intentionally cruel.
  • The abuse occurs in a setting or is inflicted by someone whom you once trusted and with whom you felt safe.

Being emotionally abused by the woman you love, who supposedly loves you, is experienced as betrayal and a fundamental violation of trust. Betrayal trauma is caused by emotionally abusive behaviors like gaslighting, mood swings, verbal attacks, rages, alienating your child(ren) from their normal affection toward you (Parental Alienation), being nice to you only to lure you in closer for another emotional sucker punch and/or physical abuse.

Being attracted to crazy, abusive women and being predisposed to trauma share many of the same risk factors. An abusive relationship causes psychological trauma and the same reasons you became involved in an abusive relationship also prime you for developing trauma. Because you experienced emotional trauma as a child, you’re attracted to adult relationships that recreate these conditions. It’s a vicious circle.

Some of the these factors include:

  • Having emotionally or physically abusive parents (e.g., they were overly critical, intrusive, neglectful and/or violent).
  • Being a parentified child (having to take care of your parent(s)’ emotional and/or physical needs instead of your parent(s) taking care of you).
  • Having unresolved childhood or adolescent abandonment issues.
  • Having a painfully traumatic first love experience in adolescence or early adulthood with an abusive woman.
  • Being the target of childhood bullying.
  • Being chronically ill in childhood, which may have led you to develop a dependent personality.

What’s the difference between PTSD and Betrayal Trauma?

The primary difference between PTSD and betrayal trauma is fear vs. anger. Historically, PTSD is considered to be caused by extreme fear; betrayal trauma is thought to be caused by anger. Both evoke a fight or flight response.

However, prolonged repetitive emotional abuse can create a third response. If you can’t fight (i.e., because your abusive wife/girlfriend twists reality, blames you for everything and puts you in no-win situations) or can’t or won’t take flight (i.e., dump her warped ass) you default to the third response. You numb out, shut down and experience a pervasive sense of profound learned helplessness.

When most people are hurt or betrayed by someone, they get angry, possibly end the relationship and steer clear of him or her in the future. However, if you’re predisposed to relationships with abusive women and trauma, it’s not in your nature to respond to hurtful behaviors the way most people do.

At first, you may  experience denial and disbelief that the woman you love could treat you so callously and cruelly. Then you essentially ignore her abusive behaviors. You minimize and excuse her indefensible behavior, almost seeming to forget the most vitriolic verbal attacks and rages. In fact, you really may not remember the worst of it.

Men who have developed a trauma response actually dissociate during the most bitter attacks. Dissociation is a defense mechanism in which your conscious mind shuts down, like when she’s screaming at you and you go someplace else in your head. After her rage has subsided, you actually can’t remember what happened. Your mind took you away to protect you from the abuse.

In order to protect yourself, you block out and forget the abuses (a form of psychogenic amnesia) in order to maintain the relationship. It’s a sort of “functional forgetting” or selective memory to protect you from the cognitive dissonance of being with this woman. However, there are psychological and physical consequences to ignoring the painfully obvious.

If you didn’t make excuses for, minimize, forget or deny the pain you experience because of her crazy, hurtful behaviors, then you would have to end the relationship. These are more defense mechanisms you probably developed as a child to protect yourself from the people who loved you. They helped you survive as a child, but as an adult, they’re enabling you to stay in an abusive relationship in which you’re emotionally and psychologically traumatized.

Next week, I’ll post the second part of this post. I’ll explain the three categories of symptoms you may experience as a result of staying in an abusive relationship: physical, psychological, and interpersonal.

Meanwhile, if you’re in an emotionally abusive relationship, please consider the harm you’re doing to yourself by not ending it. You’re an adult now. You don’t need to depend on this crazy woman like you had to depend on your parents for survival. You can break the psychological dependence and walk or run away.

by Dr Tara J. Palmatier, PsyD

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Related content:

25 Signs your Narcissistic or Borderline Wife or Girlfriend is Traumatizing You

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  1. NYCguy
    October 24, 2012 at 5:25 pm

    This article is really eye opening. I was dumped my npd ex 2 months ago and now she is in a relationship with a rich guy. she is 36 and a mother of 2 and is trying to be a pin up model. our entire relationship ( 2.5. years)from begning to end was about her looks and ego. She guilted me , accused me every single day of cheating and convinced me I am a peice of crap.Mind you she is divorced and get about 30k a month in alimony and child support never worked and was pampered. I made 800 a week and spent all my $$$ on her to keep her happy. Looking back now I am thankful she dumped me and cheated on me. I tried so hard to make her happy. She was always jealous of me as I am not an ugly guy but she could never handle anyone giving me attention instead of her.I supported her pursuit of modeling but didnt support the fb comments by the pig men on fb. The comments were heart wrenching and vulgar. I voiced my complaints and she continued to pursue them and she would never acknowledge me as her bf on fb. this new guy is on fb as her bf.( who she knew before she met me, I am convinced she was talking to him the entire time we were together). I was involved in a car accident a month after the break up and she blocked me while I was in the emergency room. she accused me of being with another girl. I look back now and I am begining to love myself again. I am still shamed , disrespected and disgraced by this person. Publically on fb , and infront of my family and freinds. I have never been continually cut down so deep before like this. I have read about 15 articles on this site and each one has helped me make sense of the past 2.5 years. thank you. I will continue to be a member on this site and support it.

    sincerely,
    NYCguy

  2. Mark
    October 22, 2012 at 5:06 pm

    Me: 62 years old, SSDI because of treatment resistant rapid cycling bipolar illness. My wife; 67, married 17 years, lived together 3 years, no children. Alcoholic, mood swings, been telling me for years she’s not interested in sex, history of verbal abuse, dislikes my friends, both of whom live in the midwest and I talk with two to three times a week, never had any interest in learning about my illness, though I was on a psych unit of the hospital where she worked, wouldn’t change health plans so I could find a more competent psychiatrist…I’ve pretty much hit the highlights.

    And I saw she was trouble from the time we started dating. I was needy and lonely and she was(and still is) a beautiful, sexy woman but oh so effed up! BUT I SAW THE DANGER SIGNS and walked right into the spinning propeller! It has been twenty years of hell. When I was working, I knew I could survive, financially, but as I got sicker and went from full time to a part time job, life at home became more uncomfortable. I no longer have any libido, I have digestive problems, migraines every few weeks. I do believe much or all of those would resolve if I left, though it’s damn near impossible to live on $600 per month. I will prevail, though. Getting new health insurance, thanks to Medicare, and getting back my former primary who went into private practice and knows my whole story. However, I did leave her three years ago and stopped by the house because I still had her car keys. She ‘honey’ and ‘deared’ me and told me things would change and how she loved me so. My parents would be ashamed of me because they were clear headed, worldly and wise. My dad was strong, confident and wouldn’t put up with bs from anyone. They taught me well but I didn’t listen. Why is it so hard to leave something that makes you miserable, sick and unhappy? More and more I keep thinking about leaving her a note and walking out when she’s gone for the day, just like the song, “By The Time I Get To Phoenix”.

  3. Julian Mondragon
    July 13, 2012 at 7:47 pm

    I have experienced the symptoms mentioned.. I was involved with her for 13months,, I’m so hurt inside, I don’t know why, she continously accused me of cheating on her, when in the end she went into my wallet found a stupid card to a salon where a female cut ny hair, and said I was sleeping with her.. she called the police and the police were aware of her status… I need to move on, it hurts cause my feelings for her, but I know God wants this for me… for 2 weeks now I have trouble sleeping. Its hard to believe she turned on me so quick, she’s already involved with someone else… I feel so down, but I am slowly making progress… thank you,Julian Mondragon

  4. Noel Russouw
    April 18, 2012 at 4:32 pm

    I was married for 6 years, it was a nightmare from the day we married, once I put the ring on her hand, The abuse started, telling me what jobs I can apply for, who i can assccoiate, when, and the list continued, the friends that I had made whilst living in the UK at the time that me meet and got married slowly faded, Over the years I became isolated and felt trapped,I would call back home to see how my family, Mom Dad, etc where doing or they would call me, and well during the conversations my ex wife would hurl abuse at me well i would be on the phone. In all honesty i cant really remember when last she had actually said a decent thing to me.

    During our married years and with my experiance i started off a transport company, worked hard and gave her what she wanted when she wanted, that still was not eneough for her, I was forced to sell to business 3 years later to save my marriage, I did hope to get it back on track, 9 months later she asked me to leave.

    My son was 3 going on 4 and my daughter was only 14 months at the time, I tried working it out with her, going to marriage counselling for 6 months, but in the end it failed, When I finally moved out the, it made it worse, she did not want me, but would not let me go.

    Today 4 years on and with the recession I have lost evey, home, kids struggled to find work as unemployment is the transport industry is so bad. I finally decided to return home to South Africa with just the clothes on my back, I have one day left.

    This is just the very tip of the Iceberg,and i will honestly admit that, i have scars that run deep, now I dont trust any women at all.

  5. Kelly Dart
    May 3, 2011 at 1:58 pm

    I am almost certain my ex-husband had / has NPD (or Histrionic Personality Disorder, it lies somewhere between the two) having spent two years researching Narcissism / Histrionic / Anti-social personality disorders upon the advice of my therapist, as the saying goes, ‘if it walks and talks like a duck, chances are…’ After 10 years of marriage, I had to leave or die. At times, the 2nd option would have been easier…

    I came across this site, and I have to say that if you believe your current partner / ex has a personality disorder, the same traits are as for men as women, and there is a wealth of stuff out there to read. It isn’t really gender specific, although it helps reading for the correct gender (although not always!). When we read about NPD in the incorrect gender to our own situation, it can sometimes make us feel that it truly was our fault as we have a tendency to still hear the ‘it’s you that made me like this’ or ‘you are controlling!’ or ‘You think you are better than me’ (when we never ever did / were!) or more aptly described, ‘PROJECTION’. Dont let that put you off, just keep reading!

    Anyway, I wanted to add how such behavior causes physical ailments when we try to turn a blind eye, or let the bad behavior, the ridicule, the lies, the verbal assaults, the manipulation etc etc ride (as I did!). I am 35 years old, and relatively fit. However, back when we were together, my periods became irregular, if they appeared at all. I always had a ‘cricked’ neck which would take weeks to get better, about 3 times a year. I was constantly tired (as in exhausted) even when I got up for work. I always had a cold, sore throat and started having anxiety attacks while out shopping, which I couldn’t attribute to anything at that time. However, since we separated my periods have been as regular as clockwork, I haven’t had that neck pain since, and apart from time off work initially due to reacting badly to the end of my marriage (why? god only knows now!), I haven’t had a day’s sickness from work. And I havent had an anxiety attack since. Funny that. I’m now normally tired (even though I am a single parent these days, and should be more tired than not!)

    Unlike Geronimo, I havent had the support of someone, but I sometimes imagine how lovely that would feel, being with someone who truly cares. So good on all of you who are moving forward – it can only bring good things

  6. DANIELLE
    June 23, 2010 at 5:00 pm

    My GF has PTSD from being sexually molested by her mother.. she is s social worker and has had much therapy…. I have ADHD and we love each other .. she is very critical of me.. has been in 2 very weird relationsships before me she claims they abandoned her. she says I have a big ego… she pushes my buttons by being very critical, constantly tells me what i am doing wrong accuses me .. I get mad and run.. she goes into a trauma response.. when i run i am angry and do not call or answer my phone for hours. I want to punish her.. which i know is bad…
    why do I run away. i have never done that before.. she wants to end the relationship. we have done this 4 times in 4 months
    D…

    • Lighthouse
      June 23, 2010 at 5:35 pm

      You have already answered why you run… because ‘she pushes my buttons by being very critical, constantly tells me what i am doing wrong accuses me’.

      The question is do you ask her to stop before you run ?

      If you have yet she doesn’t respect your request, then keep running next time because the behavior you describe is not one that supports the decription ‘love’ (more like ‘abuse’).

      Go, define what you want from a relationship, learn the art of defending your boundaries, and THEN carry on and find a new woman.

      Lighthouse

  7. John
    April 25, 2010 at 2:05 am

    I have been wondering why I have been able to live with my narcissistic, emotionally abusive wife for 15 years and still love her..this article finally shows me that it’s related to my childhood experiences of witnessing my parents’ abuses.

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