Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy


Education, Counseling

Date of Defense


Graduate Advisor

Dr. Susan Kashubeck-West


Dr. Lee Nelson

Dr. Michael Griffin

Dr. Emily Brown


Although emotional and psychological abuse, in addition to physical assault, are now commonly accepted as aspects of Intimate Partner Violence (IPV), narcissistic abuse as a subset of IPV is not widely recognized or understood. Due to the extremely debilitating, chronic mental health effects of narcissistic abuse (Bremner, 2008; Campbell, 2002; Yoon et al., 2009), this study sought to explore the experiences, personalities, early-life (childhood) trauma histories and mental health outcomes of heterosexual women who self-identify as having been in an adult romantic relationship with a man with pathological narcissism. Specifically, this study aimed to identify the nature and frequency of abuses experienced by women during the relationship, their specific mental health symptoms during and after the relationship, and the kinds of mental health diagnoses they received. A cross-sectional online survey was utilized to test the research questions. The sample consisted of 1,995 participants who identified as female survivors of narcissistic abuse between the ages of 18 and 80 with a mean age of 46. The direct relationships of previous early-life (childhood) trauma, as well as elevations or deficits in certain personality traits, were tested for correlational patterns and predictions of Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD). Key findings include: 1) women scored four times higher than normative statistics for the presence of early-life trauma; 2) almost three-fourths (73.3%) of participants met the clinical criteria needed to diagnose C-PTSD, yet only 4.2% indicated they had been diagnosed with the disorder; 3) the presence of early-life trauma predicted greater intensity and severity of C-PTSD-related symptoms; 4) slightly more than half of participants reported above average empathy, with 12.6% scoring as super empathizers (the highest category); 5) elevated empathy predicted greater intensity and severity of C-PTSD-related symptoms, though the practical significance was low; 6) the presence of narcissistic abuse predicted greater intensity and severity of C-PTSD-related symptoms when controlling for early-life trauma; and 7) the presence of altruistic and self-directed personality traits predicted greater intensity and severity of C-PTSD-related symptoms when controlling for early-life trauma. These findings may help researchers and clinicians to better understand the impact of narcissistic abuse on survivors and positively impact prevention and intervention efforts by helping to identify both risk and protective factors. Directions for future research regarding personality traits, early-life trauma and the limitations of present research are discussed.