Executive Dysfunction After Narcissistic Abuse

Have you ever heard of executive dysfunction?  As the name describes, this is when executive functions don’t work properly.  Executive functions are cognitive & mental abilities that enable us to accomplish things.  They help us by directing & controlling our behavior, planning, prioritizing as well as giving motivation.

Executive functioning is higher level cognitive functioning.  Some examples are:

  • Emotional regulation, such as working through anxiety.
  • Impulse control.
  • Attention, such as directing attention where it is necessary to accomplish things.
  • Planning such as creating & following a schedule.
  • Self assessment, such as making sure you’re taking a reasonable amount of time on the task at hand.
  • Using working memory, such as following directions or reading.

Anyone can experience executive dysfunction periodically, in particular when overly stressed or tired.  That is entirely normal.  It becomes abnormal when executive dysfunction interferes with daily life.  Difficulty with decision making, concentrating, organization & low motivation are some examples.

Executive dysfunction is often caused by brain damage.  Traumatic brain injuries, dementia & Alzheimer’s disease are known causes, but mental illness can cause it as well.  Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, depression & Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder are known to cause it as well. 

PTSD is another mental illness that can cause executive dysfunction, & that is the reason I felt it necessary to discuss executive dysfunction.

May of us who struggle with PTSD or C-PTSD also struggle with executive dysfunction, yet are unaware that was what our problem is.  It doesn’t help that those in our lives call us lazy, tell us we need to get out more often or offer other equally useless & unsolicited advice.  Useless or unsolicited, it still can take a toll on the self esteem especially since it’s already been so damaged thanks to the narcissists in our lives.

Those of you who have been down this road, I want to let you know today that you aren’t lazy!  There is something wrong with you & it’s not your fault that you have this problem!  Your brain has been broken due to the trauma or traumas you have experienced.  Brain damage in any capacity is no joke!  It’s a horrible thing! 

Brain damage is also not something you can fix easily, like a broken bone.  Brain damage may heal completely or it may not heal at all, no matter what you do or don’t do.  The brain is a very unique organ & very unpredictable in how it responds to injury, trauma & even healing.  I’m not telling you this to make you lose hope.  I’m telling you this so you can be realistic in what to expect.

With the symptoms of executive dysfunction, you can learn ways to work with your symptoms. 

Set up a routine & stick to it.  Not so much you become rigid about it because there will be times you need to change it.  Even so, having a set schedule takes some pressure off because you know what you need to do each day.  It becomes a habit, so it’s easy to remember over time, too.

Use a calendar app on your phone to help you remember appointments & tasks that are out of the ordinary.  One with alarms is especially helpful.

Utilize sticky notes & to do lists to help you to stay organized. 

When motivation strikes, use it!  There tend to be more days without it than with, so when it happens, use it to the best of your ability.

Executive dysfunction isn’t easy to live with I know, but you can learn ways to cope!


Filed under Abuse and the Healing Journey, Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Mental Health

10 responses to “Executive Dysfunction After Narcissistic Abuse

  1. Thank you! Very timely for me. Recovering from long-haul covid, I am now getting my mental and physical abilities back. Previously, I was always a guy with a schedule and plan. It’s hard for me now to balance that with the reality that I have windows and energy and motivation. I’m trying to use my schedule as more a guideline or suggestion. For example, if I feel led to explore a topic online further I will do it, and let the laundry go until tomorrow. Or if in recovering my house – which was in quite a disarray – if I feel led to spend extra time tidying up a certain area, I do it – and again, let laundry folding go until tomorrow. But it’s odd for me for sure. And I don’t trust myself. I always feel like I should be doing something else. But I am trying to work through that.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I totally relate. So frustrating for sure!

      So glad you’re recovering & it sounds like doing well under the circumstances!

      Liked by 2 people

    • I’m so sorry you are going through this. I can totally understand your frustration. I haven’t had covid, thankfully. But I injured my neck and right shoulder back on April 18 and the pain, and loss of range of motion, has slowed me way down. The laundry room is full to overflowing of dirty laundry, and our floors are long overdue for the vacuum and mop. Not to mention all the dust everywhere! Augh!! I am a neat freak clean fanatic, so this is HARD for me. Plus our weeds need mowing again. My husband is too weak from his cancer treatments to do it, and I can’t do it. We will have to hire a crew to do the yard work, to keep the city happy.

      Both of my granddaughters and my daughter got covid. My oldest granddaughter was in the first year of her PhD program at Syracuse University, when she and her husband got covid in April of 2020. The covid made her so sick, so exhausted, and it interfered with her memory function so bad that she ended up having to withdraw from the university at the end of the last semester. Heartbreaking! And my daughter, who had covid last Thanksgiving, is still tired, achey, and having problems functioning on her job as a therapist. It’s sad.

      The past year and two months of isolating most of the time to avoid covid has left me feeling like a hermit. Now that I have had the covid vaccine, I want to start getting out again… but I don’t know if I can!

      Yes Doug, like you said, this is a very timely article.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Thank you for your comment Linda! I’m a clean, organized freak also! My symptoms sound like your daughter at Syracuse. I was so weak it was all I could do to keep my cats alive. I was so afraid I would die in my sleep, I asked a couple of friends to text me once a day to see if I was alive, and if they didn’t hear back within a day or so, to come get the cats. I was disoriented as well. I honestly didn’t know Kamala Harris was our vice president. A friend had to tell me. Not to be political, it was just that before I had checked out, I thought there was controversy around her, and assumed Biden might have picked the little mayor or someone else. I could barely walk. I had always taken pride in my clean house and appearance. I lost 47 pounds. My body was bones covered in crepey skin. I looked like a 97 year old convalescent patient. Going up the stairs was not even a question, much less going to the grocery store. Thank goodness for all the delivery services now. For me, it was such a humbling experience. It forced me to sit down and evaluate my life and realize who my true friends are. I feel like there is a spiritual component to this. It seems we are all under attack right now. This might sound odd, but about a month ago, I was really, really sick and started vomiting violently what appeared to be blood. I couldn’t keep down water or Gatorade. The vomit changed in color as the night went on. The next day I felt remarkably better and was able to keep down solid food. I have steadily improved since then. I will pray for you that you Linda. Have in there! The enemy wants us to be discouraged. Virtual hugs!

        Liked by 1 person

      • ibikenyc

        So sorry for all of you ❤

        Liked by 2 people

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