Work should ideally be a space for growth, collaboration, and fulfilment. However, when the dynamics shift and toxic behaviours prevail, the consequences can be profound, impacting both physical and mental well-being.

Prolonged exposure to narcissistic abuse or bullying in the workplace doesn’t just leave emotional scars; it can manifest in tangible physical and mental health effects.

Having been subjected to workplace narcissistic bullying myself and helping dozens of clients to identify and overcome it, I’m very well aware of the many long-lasting mental, physical and behavioural effects it can have.

In this article, that’s exactly what we’re going to explore. To watch the extended version, click here.

Workplace Narcissistic Abuse – An Overview

Workplace narcissistic abuse is a situation where an individual not necessarily in a position of power exploits and manipulates others for their benefit. It involves emotional manipulation, gaslighting, constant criticism and putdowns, turning others against the victim and a pervasive sense of superiority.

Recognising this abuse is the initial step toward recovery. I have a mini-series on narcissism in the workplace, which also outlines the narcissistic cycle of abuse. So, if you want more on how to identify narcissistic traits, understand why bullies bully, plus advice and guidance on how to deal with it, click here.

The Physical Toll

1. Stress-induced Ailments

The body’s response to constant stress takes a toll. Headaches, migraines, stomach issues, back and hip problems and an increased susceptibility to illnesses are common manifestations. The immune system, compromised by stress, makes individuals more prone to infections, leaving them physically drained.

The build-up of the stress hormone cortisol that gets triggered when we’re stressed or anxious causes inflammation.

2. Sleep Disturbances and Fatigue

The tormenting thoughts resulting from workplace abuse often disrupt sleep patterns. Insomnia or poor-quality sleep becomes a norm, leading to chronic fatigue. The lack of restorative sleep impacts productivity and exacerbates the cycle of stress.

3. Muscle Aches and Pains

Stress-induced tension can manifest physically, resulting in muscle tightness, body aches, and joint pains. Again, excessive cortisol can inflame your joints.

Back and hip issues are common as the psoas muscle, which runs from the lower back and down into the hip flexors, tightens when the stress response is triggered, as this muscle is key in running and kicking (flight, fight, freeze).

4. Appetite and Weight Changes

The emotional distress from abuse can significantly impact appetite. Some individuals might find solace in eating, leading to weight gain, while others might lose their appetite entirely, resulting in weight loss. Both scenarios are indicative of the emotional turmoil experienced during narcissistic abuse.

5. Exhaustion and Physical Burnout

Emotional exhaustion is mirrored physically. The constant state of vigilance in a hostile environment leads to physical exhaustion, impacting overall vitality and resilience.

When you’re highly stressed and anxious, you become hyper-alert to threats. Literally, your nervous system gets stuck on high alert.

Having to be hyper-alert all the time is bound to lead to exhaustion and physical burnout.

The Psychological Impact

1. Anxiety and Depression

Constant exposure to abuse breeds anxiety and depression. The persistent fear of judgment, criticism, and manipulation, always needing to be alert and on your guard, often leads to heightened anxiety levels, which can lead to more severe anxiety issues and a lingering sense of sadness that can, left untreated, develop into clinical depression.

2. Erosion of Self-Worth

Narcissistic abuse chips away at self-worth. Consistent belittlement, criticism, and gaslighting tactics make you doubt your abilities, eroding your self-confidence and belief in your worthiness.

As I’ve mentioned in previous videos and articles, abusers often turn others against you (in narcissistic terms, we call those people flying monkeys), which can further diminish your self-confidence and self-worth.

3. Post-Traumatic Stress (PTSD)

In severe cases, prolonged abuse can result in symptoms resembling PTSD. Flashbacks, hypervigilance, emotional detachment, and avoidance behaviours are prevalent, making it challenging to function in day-to-day life.

4. Cognitive Impairment

Chronic stress affects cognitive function. Concentration becomes arduous, memory falters, and decision-making becomes compromised. The mental fog from persistent abuse impacts work performance and daily tasks.

5. Social Withdrawal and Isolation

The fear of further emotional harm leads to social withdrawal. Trust in others diminishes, causing isolation and loneliness. The toxic environment at work spills over into personal life, affecting relationships and social interactions.

The Behavioural Ramifications

1. Avoidance Patterns

You might develop avoidance behaviours, steering clear of situations or people reminiscent of the abusive environment. This avoidance impacts professional growth and personal relationships.

2. Heightened Irritability and Anger

The constant emotional turmoil can result in heightened irritability and anger. Interactions become strained, and your emotional state becomes increasingly volatile.

3. Coping Mechanisms

In desperation to cope, some individuals turn to unhealthy habits. Typical behaviours I see are what we call ‘numbing’ activities, which include excessive:

  • Social media scrolling

  • Online gaming

  • Shopping

  • Overeating

  • Binge eating

  • Drugs and alcohol

Now, putting the drugs to one side is never a good idea. All the other things are great in small doses, but when you spend three hours each evening scrolling on social media, that’s a huge red flag. It’s a good indicator that you’re in the FREEZE state of the fight-flight-freeze stress response.

The Wrap-Up

Navigating the aftermath of workplace narcissistic abuse or bullying requires acknowledging its profound impact on both your physical and mental health. Recognising these effects is the first step toward recovery and healing.

In the next article/video, I’ll explore strategies and steps to help you recover from these deep-seated wounds.

In the meantime, if you’re struggling following any type of abuse, please be kind to yourself. Despite what the bully would have you believe, you are strong, competent and loveable!

If you take nothing else away from this article other than this, then I’ll consider it a win:

Bullies and narcissists are incredibly insecure and have low self-worth, low self-esteem AND low confidence.

As incredible as it sounds:

Bullies build themselves up by putting others down.

 Especially people like you who are well-liked, professional, talented, skilled, kind, empathetic and experienced, everything that they consciously or unconsciously believe they are not.

What Next

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Finally, as always, thank you for your continued support.

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