3. Cortisol, Adrenaline and Norepinephrine.
Cortisol is a stress hormone, and boy, does it get released during the traumatic highs and lows of an abusive relationship. It is released by the adrenal glands in response to fear as part of the “fight or flight” mechanism. As cortisol, adrenaline and norepinephrine all get released in response to a perceived threat (such as the one posed by a toxic narcissist), our stress hormone system goes into overdrive and our focus on whatever has triggered that stress sharpens as a way to counteract the threat.
In addition, cortisol and oxytocin work-together to consolidate and reconsolidate fear-based memories in a way that is even more powerful and vivid than other memories. This is why our brains tend to become overly fixated on toxic people and can’t stop thinking about them.
Since we are unlikely to have a physical outlet of release when cortisol is triggered during cycles of emotional abuse, this often traps the stress within our bodies instead. As we ruminate over incidents of abuse, increased levels of cortisol lead to more and more health problems. Christopher Bergland suggests numerous ways to counteract the effects of this hormone, which include physical activity, mindfulness, meditation, laughter, music and social connectivity.
Adrenaline and norepinephrine also prepare our body for the flight or fight response, and are also culprits in biochemical reactions to our abusers. Adrenaline promotes an antidepressant effect, triggering fear and anxiety which then releases dopamine – this can cause us to become “adrenaline junkies,” addicted to the rush of vacillating between bonding and betrayal. During No Contact from a narcissistic partner, withdrawal from that “rush” can be incredibly painful.