Brian was a great guy. Liked by most people and half of the time quite social and animated. The other half of the time he was grumpy, snappy and disengaged. That was the time when he felt on edge, hyperalert and unsafe. As if he was back in the army, patrolling, on the lookout for the enemy and sometimes involved in active battles. He could feel the tension, smell the sweat and blood and see his best mate falling over after being hit.

Sarah was shy and came across calm and collected. But she wasn’t. She felt panicky inside, couldn’t focus and was easily startled. She hid her feelings behind a constant smile, pretending all was good. What she really was doing was avoiding anything that could trigger her fear and anger. Elaine grew up in an emotional abusive environment and was used to tuning into the people around her to check if she did something wrong. So, if she did, she could move into safety.


Both Brian and Sarah are what is called hypervigilant, extremely alert. And ready for the appropriate fight, flight, freeze or fawn response. Their bodies continuously produce the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline, even though they are not in danger. This is called PTSD or complex PTSD. PTSD is connected to traumatic events, such as Brian has experienced. cPTSD is connected to ongoing trauma, such as Sarah has known.

Stress reactions

Imagine that your trauma is connected with a bear, who jumps from behind a tree. You could:

Fight the bear and your stress hormones will support extra power and strength in your body;

Flight and with the help of adrenaline you will run faster than you ever did;

Freeze as your system stops. You can’t think or move and have to hope the bear loses interest in you;

Fawn is the immediate reaction to flatter your bear and hope your pleasing behaviour will mellow him.


Any form of PTSD takes out a lot of energy as the body and mind are continuously roaring to go. It is difficult to sleep, relax, concentrate, connect with others and trust.

Symptoms of PTSD | Mind, the mental health charity – help for mental health problems

Narcissism and PTSD

When subjected to narcissistic abuse, the reaction is often to fawn as that seems the best suitable option to keep yourself safe. Pleasing your abuser, giving them what they want might get you off the hook…. That is only working for the next time your narcissist wants something from you. In order to survive victims often ‘forget’ certain events, make excuses for the behaviour of their abuser and ignore cognitive dissonance (that uncomfortable feeling that something isn’t right is being explained in a way that makes sense, so the discomfort disappears).


If you think you suffer from PTSD and want to talk about it, please book your free coaching call with me via this link: