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Adrenal Fatigue and Narcissism: How to Cope With A Narcissistic Relationship

An image of a man and woman having coffeeNarcissism is becoming known as one of the more common and troubling issues in the modern world. A few years ago, this issue was barely in public awareness at all, yet today there are numerous stories about its effects on relationships, individuals, and modern culture.

If you’ve found yourself in a narcissistic relationship at home or at work, it can have a devastating effect on your health. It can leave you exhausted, confused, lethargic, and unwell, putting incredible strain on your adrenal glands and stress response. That’s why there’s such a strong link between adrenal fatigue and narcissism.

If you’ve found yourself in this kind of relationship, then it’s important that you understand what’s happening and seek out help. Otherwise, it could have devastating effects on your health and happiness over the long and short term.

What Is Narcissism?

Narcissism is not to be confused with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), a personality disorder that must be diagnosed by a mental professional. Narcissism is a spectrum that ranges from severe to mild. People with severe narcissism may have NPD, but this can only be determined by a mental health professional.

Narcissism is defined by extreme self-involvement. Obviously, everyone can be self-involved and self-obsessed at times, but someone with narcissism displays these characteristics consistently and ignores the needs and emotions of the people around them. Narcissists also don’t understand how their behavior affects others, even though it may cause incredible damage to the people closest to them.

Here are some of the traits of a narcissist:

  • Lack of empathy
  • Unwillingness to take responsibility for their own behavior
  • An intense need for admiration and validation from others
  • A sense of entitlement or that the world owes them something
  • Charm or charisma when in public
  • Arrogance
  • Rudeness or abuse to others they feel superior to

Narcissists In Relationships

Narcissists can be very charming at first. They’re often the most charismatic person in a room, drawing others into relationships. Unfortunately, a relationship with a narcissist is often confusing, stressful, and even abusive. It can put pressure on every part of your life, causing incredible stress, which will put your long- and short-term health at risk.

If you’ve ever found yourself in a relationship with a narcissist, whether it’s a workmate, boss, family member, or partner, you may experience:

    An image of a couple arguing

  • Criticism
  • Exploitation
  • Blaming and shaming
  • Arrogance
  • Gaslighting, where they make you doubt yourself and your interpretation of events
  • A lack of care or support

People in a narcissistic relationship are often left feeling confused, invisible, disrespected, and neglected. They often expend all of their energy trying to fulfill the narcissist's needs without getting any of their own needs met or even acknowledged in any way. This can leave you feeling exhausted and fatigued, even once you’re out of the relationship. This is why there’s such a strong link between adrenal fatigue and narcissism.

These relationships can become abusive. If you believe that you’re in an abusive relationship of any kind, then your first priority is to get out of the relationship and to get help with healing and recovery. This is the best way to safeguard and improve your health and state of mind over the long term.

The Consequences of Narcissistic Relationships

If you’re in a narcissistic relationship, then it’s important that you seek out help and support. The strong links between adrenal fatigue and narcissism mean that these kinds of relationships can be very damaging to your mental, emotional, and physical health. And even if you’re finally free of the relationship, the trauma of it can linger.

People who have been in a narcissistic relationship often experience symptoms such as:

  • Fatigue
  • Exhaustion
  • Weight problems
  • Lack of motivation
  • Brain fog
  • Confusion
  • Feeling "crazy"

These feelings are all normal for people who are in or coming out of a narcissistic relationship. They can lead to a state of mind that’s very negative, very self-critical, and very unhealthy. And your state of mind can have debilitating effects on your physical and adrenal health, which is why you can’t just ignore it. Instead, you need to find strategies that will improve your health, your wellbeing, and your general state of mind.

Improving Your Health After a Narcissistic Relationship

It’s important that you take steps to protect and improve your mental, emotional, and physical health and to lower your stress levels when you’re in or coming out of a narcissistic relationship. The links between adrenal fatigue and narcissism mean that the symptoms and problems associated with this kind of relationship mustn’t be swept under the carpet. This will only lead to long-term unhappiness and health problems.

Here are some strategies that will help:

  • Get out of the relationship if you can
  • Learn strategies to manage your own mental and emotional health if you can’t get out of the relationship
  • Try to focus on the positives in your life
  • Start a gratitude practice and focus on what’s right in your life
  • Drink lots of water
  • Eat well without making major changes to your diet as this will just cause additional stress
  • Try yoga or meditation
  • Do some gentle exercise
  • Try new things to find what you’re passionate about
  • Self-reflect to learn the lessons that will help protect you from being in the same kind of relationship in the future
  • Learn to control what you can and let go of what you can’t
  • Let yourself feel the negative emotions that resulted from your relationship rather than trying to push them down or away
  • Seek out positive friendships and social support
  • Seek out professional help when and if you need it

Everyone’s different and the strategies that work for someone else may not work for you. So, just keep working at it, and eventually, you will find yourself on the path to recovery.

The Link Between Adrenal Fatigue and Narcissism

An image of a fatigued manA narcissistic relationship can cause stress in every part of your life. This is why there’s such a strong connection between adrenal fatigue and narcissism. Adrenal fatigue occurs when you experience chronic stress over a long period of time. This causes the overactivation of the NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) stress response.

The NEM stress response usually helps protect you from the damage that stress can do to your body. But when it’s active for too long, it can malfunction and cause serious health issues. When the NEM stress response activates, it prompts the release of cortisol from the adrenal glands. Cortisol then circulates through your system, shutting down some of the body’s functions and activating others, preparing you to respond to the cause of the stress.

But when stress becomes chronic, the NEM stress response remains active and cortisol levels stay abnormally high. This can cause the body’s organs and systems to become unbalanced and malfunction, resulting in Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS) and a variety of symptoms.

A narcissistic relationship can be a key cause of the stress that brings on AFS. These types of relationships can also exacerbate your AFS if it already exists. If this occurs, you may experience additional symptoms such as:

  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Mood disorders
  • Poor sex drive
  • Sleeping problems
  • Headaches or migraines
  • Brain fog
  • Fatigue
  • Blood sugar problems

The symptoms of being in or recovering from a narcissistic relationship can mask the symptoms of AFS. This can be quite dangerous, as it may stop you from getting the help you need to heal and recover from adrenal fatigue as well.

The Neuroaffect Circuit: Your Brain on Stress

When you are experiencing adrenal fatigue and narcissism, every organ in your body will be affected by the high cortisol levels and ongoing dysfunctions. Imbalances and problems in the Neuroaffect Circuit can be particularly frightening and debilitating.

The Neuroaffect Circuit includes the brain, the autonomic nervous system (ANS), and the microbiome or the balance of bacteria in the body. This triad is responsible for the biological aspects of mental health issues. They are each individually and separately affected by ongoing stress, including the ongoing stress of a narcissistic relationship.

Imbalances in this circuit can cause symptoms such as:

  • Mood disorders like anxiety and depression
  • Disordered and negative thinking
  • Neurodegeneration or the loss of neurons, bringing on age-related chronic conditions
  • Lowered stress tolerance
  • Feelings of impending doom
  • Poor sleep

If you experience these symptoms as a result of AFS, it can complicate and worsen any issues that you’re suffering because of a narcissistic relationship. It will also impede your recovery and healing. This is why it’s so important that you understand the connection between adrenal fatigue and narcissism.

Here’s a closer look at how each component of the Neuroaffect circuit can be impacted by the stress of a narcissistic relationship:

The Brain

The brain is significantly affected when you’re stressed because of a narcissistic relationship. Higher than normal levels of stress hormones impact the parts of the brain that regulate your cognitive abilities and your emotional responses. This can lead to mental distress or mental disorders. It can also affect the structure of the brain itself as stress can cause shrinkage in parts of the brain such as the medial prefrontal cortex. It can also cause an increase of white matter in the brain, which can impede communication between the neurons.

The brain’s response to stress may be responsible for many of the symptoms that people experience when in a narcissistic relationship. It can also worsen the health and functioning of the Neuroaffect Circuit as a whole, causing or exacerbating AFS.

The brain is also strongly linked to the gut, so the health of the microbiome will further impact brain health and functioning.

The Microbiome

The microbiome is the balance of bacteria in the body. It’s important that this balance is maintained for the health of the body and the Neuroaffect Circuit in particular. This is particularly important when it comes to the microbiome of the gut. The gut is filled with literally trillions of bacteria that are very easily affected by poor health and stress. And because the gut is connected to the brain via the vagus nerve, any poor health in the gut will quickly affect the health and functioning of the brain as well.

The microbiome can easily become unhealthy when you’re stressed and experience AFS. This is one of the strongest links between adrenal fatigue and narcissism. A narcissistic relationship can affect every aspect of your life, including your diet and inflammation levels. Both of these issues can impact the gut’s microbiome, allowing bad bacteria to flourish and impeding the growth of healthy bacteria. This can lead to poor health and other symptoms common in AFS.


The ANS is particularly affected when you’re stressed because of a narcissistic relationship or because of other causes. Under mild stress, the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), activates to help you survive and deal with the stress. In situations of more heightened stress, the adrenomedullary hormonal system (AHS) becomes activated. The parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) activates once the stress is over and helps your body calm down, rest, and heal.

These three parts of the ANS also involve powerful neurotransmitters (NTs) that drive the stress response. When these NTs are high because of a stressful relationship, it will disrupt everything from your sleeping patterns to your mood and your anxiety levels.

The Takeaway

Narcissism appears to be a growing problem in the modern world. It can leave people who have been in these types of relationships feeling confused, fatigued, and mentally and emotionally exhausted. This is why the link between adrenal fatigue and narcissism can be so strong and so dangerous for your ongoing health and wellbeing.

If you’re struggling with this kind of stress and poor health, then here’s what to do:

    An image of wood blocks spelling either me or we

  • Talk to someone about the narcissistic relationship and consider your options.
  • Work on strategies to deal with your emotions and to help build your emotional resilience.
  • Talk to a professional about adrenal fatigue and how this and other stressors in your life may be impeding your recovery.

For help with designing a recovery plan that suits your lifestyle and your conditions, talk to our team at +1 (626) 571-1234 or click the banner below.

© Copyright 2022 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.

Dr. Lam’s Key Question

The link between adrenal fatigue and narcissism is stress. Being in a narcissistic relationship can cause emotional, mental, and physical stress, bringing on adrenal fatigue. This will complicate your recovery from the toxic relationship and threaten your health over the long term.

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