Trauma Bonds and Intermittent Reinforcement

Trauma Bonds and Intermittent Reinforcement

Ever wonder why you are so easily manipulated by a narcissist? Why you can never seem to break free from their toxic influence? And why it’s so hard to move on?

Narcissistic abusers are often pathological and subject to mood swings, where they can go from being very nice, charming, and giving to people who outright manipulate, demean and devalue you at the flick of a switch.

This is because narcissists have no emotional or compassionate empathy. In other words, they feel no remorse or guilt for their actions and truly believe they deserve only the best treatment from others.

Understanding the concept of intermittent reinforcement is an important step towards freedom. Why? Because it’s exactly what’s keeping you stuck in the trauma bond with the narcissist. 

What is intermittent reinforcement?

Intermittent reinforcement can be defined as positive (reinforcing) behaviors from the narcissist from time to time, leaving you in a continuous cycle of trying to de-code what they want to keep getting the good treatment. Setbacks or negative behaviors follow after periods where the waves of good treatment come, which keeps you hooked on trying to figure out how to please the abuser and get back into their good graces once again.

How does intermittent reinforcement create trauma bonds?

Trauma bonding is a coping mechanism. It’s also a survival instinct. Most people who have narcissistic parents experience something called intermittent reinforcement. Before we get into how trauma bonding is caused by intermittent reinforcement, let’s talk about what each of these terms means in detail. 

What is trauma bonding?

Trauma bonding as a coping mechanism is a condition that causes abuse victims to develop a psychological dependence on the narcissist as a survival strategy during abuse. Of course, this makes recovering from a toxic relationship significantly more difficult than it might otherwise be. While bonding is normal in healthy relationships, trauma bonding is a sort of toxic version of this that results in an abusive relationship – verbal, physical, or otherwise.

 

How does intermittent reinforcement lead to trauma bonding?

In layman’s terms, intermittent reinforcement is this on and off giving affection unpredictably that almost every narcissist does. This really does a trick on your brain! It’s what creates trauma bonding. 

That’s because when you are trauma bonded from intermittent reinforcement, it’s the intermittent reinforcement it keeps you trapped in the cycle of narcissistic abuse. Tiny bits of affection may now be all it takes to keep YOU addicted to the narcissist

This could even be why you can’t leave a relationship or feel the strong urge to reach out to the narcissist once you are doing no contact. The breadcrumbing in narcissistic relationships sets you up for the foundation of trauma bonding.

Another problem is this intermittent reinforcement could be the reason you think things will change, setting you up for cognitive dissonance.

What is cognitive dissonance?

Cognitive dissonance is a form of psychological stress or discomfort that happens when you simultaneously hold two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values. As you might expect, it often affects narcissists as well as their victims at different times and for very different reasons.

This is how they take control of you. 

Narcissists use intermittent reinforcement to get you addicted to them, whether they realize it or not. This is, in essence, the very nature of trauma bonding.

When you experience trauma bonding as a result of intermittent reinforcement, it leads to you not trusting yourself – and sometimes not even knowing what you feel or think. Of course, this is the narcissist’s goal all along – to make you feel confused, afraid, and unable to trust your own perception. 

This way, keeping you under their control is much easier. 

Check out the video below for more about the narcissist, intermittent reinforcement, and how it affects you. 

Are you dealing with trauma bonding in a toxic relationship? 

This is one reason it is hard to leave and let go of a narcissist.  When you have been affected by narcissist abuse and are trauma bonded, there is a lot going on, but know that bit by bit, you can free yourself from the trauma bonds – and, as a result, from the narcissist. 

Understanding what you are experiencing can hopefully remove some of the confusion, fear, or anxiety involved with dealing with and ending a toxic relationship with an abusive narcissist. This will clear your head, so you can begin healing.

Do you have trauma bonds with a narcissist?

If you aren’t sure, try our trauma bonding self-assessment. And remember: trauma bonding is a real experience created by narcissistic abuse – and it is challenging to struggle through.

Get Support in Healing From Trauma Bonds via Zoom

Other Ways to Get Help With Your Narcissistic Abuse Recovery

Why does a narcissist move on so quickly after the discard?

Why does a narcissist move on so quickly after the discard?

Have you been discarded by a narcissist, only to learn that they’ve already moved on to another partner days, weeks, or even hours after your relationship ended? Or, have you learned the hard way that your ex (or soon-to-be-ex) is already involved with someone else even before your relationship ended? Sadly, it’s all about narcissistic supply. Let me explain.

What is narcissistic supply?

Narcissistic supply is what makes the narcissist sort of an “energy vampire.” In other words, they get a certain amount of attention, validation, admiration – basically your energy, from people in their lives. While a narcissist’s main source of narcissistic supply usually comes from one or more people, it can also involve pets, groups of people, and more. The so-called “supply” is the food for the narcissist’s ego. Many narcissists have a whole circle of supply or “narcissistic harem.”

Why do narcissists move on so quickly after they discard you?

Why does it always seem like narcissists need a new source of narcissistic supply almost immediately when your relationship ends – and that’s assuming they haven’t secured it ahead of time? The narcissist most often moves on quickly after a relationship. Many narcissists will be already involved with new supply before discarding you and so the new supply is well in place before they lose your supply.

This is one really devastating part of the narcissistic pattern that hurts and leaves survivors with no sense of closure.

Many survivors deeply internalize the final blow from this as if they have no worth, and never meant anything to the narcissist. They worry they must be at fault, that they are not good enough. They wonder if they should have done more, if they are less beautiful/handsome, that they are inadequate…are you feeling me here?

I’m hoping that by seeing this is a toxic pattern of the narcissistic person and some reasons they do this you may feel validation or even a sense of relief that you are indeed not the problem and never were. 

Narcissists Take No Accountability

One thing to understand and really, to me it’s one of the main indications of a toxic person, is that a narcissist will not accept accountability for their actions or emotions.  They have a constant need to protect the delusional personality they set up.

What they think is who they are, they reason. So, when seeing any issue they may cause that does not align with the delusional belief of “self,” they push it away and start to blame shift or deny.

One big way a narcissist uses denial is to use a new person to bolster the ego and delusional created self. After all, how hard is it to convince a stranger through love bombing and overt attention that you are an amazing person? This is the lie they are telling their new supply. They are shirking all responsibility both to the old relationship, yours, as well as to their own healing from a breakup. They need others to give and boost their sense of self so badly they do not care who they use to get there. It’s like if they have someone new to mirror back all the love-bombing they can prove to the world how astoundingly perfect they are and thus continue the delusion they live in. Couple all of this with zero empathy for others and you have a selfish drive for attention and the use of another to regain the sense of their own inflated ego. 

You were once the new source of narcissistic supply.

If you find yourself asking why or doubting your worth because the narcissist has a new supply, remember that you too were a new supply once. Remember that narcissists use all others in their life to feed their egos in one way or another. While it can hurt a lot and it can seem like the person who is new supply is at fault, oftentimes they are as much a victim as you were.

Of course, there are cases where the new supply seems to be as toxic as the narcissist – but then you might ask yourself do you really want any attention or association going to those people? New supply is simply that, a new person to be used by the narcissist for supply and you, too, were in the position of being that new person once. You were told lies about their exes and were made to feel like you were different and needed by the narcissist. 

The narcissist is the common denominator.

The most important thing to realize is this is not because of you. You are not the problem and you are certainly deserving of being treated way better than any narcissist will treat you. You are no less valid or important because a toxic narcissist has found a new supply. You deserve the healing and amazing things life outside of narcissistic abuse can give you. Moving on fast is a narcissist’s weakness not because of you or who/how you are. The narcissist is a perpetual liar with the most significant lie being who they present themselves as. They are seeking the supply they need and taking and using another person. You deserve a better life and to be loved for who you are. Love yourself, find the truth of your amazing truth, and do not compare yourself to the new supply. New supply is the new victim, you have survived and can move past the abuse into a thriving life. 

Worried the narcissist will be better for the new source of narcissistic supply?

Does the new supply end up with a better version of the narcissist? Absolutely not, says Angie Atkinson, who shares her thoughts on why you shouldn’t be jealous of the narcissist’s new source of supply in this video.

Start Getting Help with Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Today

Did you know? Online help is readily available for survivors of narcissistic abuse. Here are some options to begin healing from narcissistic abuse right away.

 

Narcissistic Mothers and The Golden Child

Narcissistic Mothers and The Golden Child

The Golden Child of a Narcissist is Often a Victim Too!

When we think of the golden child, we often think of the one in the family that never got the abuse from a narcissistic parent. As a person used as the scapegoat, it may be difficult to see the effects abuse had on a golden child sibling.

Of course, there are many situations where unfortunately the golden child becomes a narcissist themselves, but there is another thing that happens for many who grew up in homes with a narcissistic parent and in particular a narcissistic mother. Those people who are empathic and caring stuck in the role of the golden child who then suffered because of it.

The pressure to be perfect, watching siblings be scapegoated or ignored, feeling guilt for being the chosen one are only a few examples of the effects of this form of narcissistic manipulation of children. Other issues like difficulty in adult relationships because of expectations created by a narcissistic parent can really make a challenging belief system not easily healed in people who grew up the golden child.

Manipulation and the Narcissistic Mother

Narcissists manipulate the people in their lives. This is a universal truth of narcissism. Narcissistic mothers seem to have a very pervasive and persuasive way of manipulating entire families to create a household that revolves around her ego, delusion, and selfish need for control. They tend to create a family (abuse) system that includes a scapegoat and golden child as well as sometimes a lost child.

By creating this system she can manipulate the entire family, as people fall into line under her directives. If you are told you are one thing as a child enough times you will believe it, especially when it comes from mom.

Breaking free from this as an adult can sometimes mean understanding all the roles narcissists use within the family structure because each role plays a part in supporting the narcissist’s delusion of self.

Revealing these truths to yourself hopefully will give you some understanding to know it is NOT you, it is what you were programmed to believe that is the issue. It is not YOUR fault, it is the manipulation of your innocence that was done to you by a narcissistic parent.

Additional Resources for Healing From Narcissistic Abuse

More Resources for Narcissistic Abuse Recovery

  • Best Books on Narcissistic Abuse Recovery
  • Comprehensive Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Glossary: This is a comprehensive guide to words and phrases (related to narcissism, NPD and related conditions, narcissistic abuse, and narcissistic abuse recovery) that are commonly used in articles, videos, and narcissistic abuse recovery support groups. Defined here as specifically how they relate to narcissism, narcissistic abuse, and narcissistic abuse recovery, these terms have been developed by psychologists, coaches, therapists, and survivors of narcissistic abuse who need a way to understand and overcome the abuse.
  • FAQ Help: Whenever you need help with something related to this site or you want to know how to find something, join a group or otherwise deal with an issue you’re having, visit our new FAQ Help page.
  • Self-Care for Survivors: This is a page that covers everything you need to know about self-care, from how to build your own self-care kit to how to sign up for self-care support, and more.
  • New Resources Page: This is a one-stop overview of narcissism, NPD, and narcissistic abuse recovery, offering a long list of resources that will be helpful for you.
  • Stalking Resources Center: If your narcissist is a stalker, the information and resources on this page will help you get and stay safe.
Is Your Relationship Toxic? 40 Warning Signs To Look Out For

Is Your Relationship Toxic? 40 Warning Signs To Look Out For

How can you tell you are in a toxic relationship?

People very often ask how they can be sure a person they are in a relationship with is a narcissist. The struggle to not only understand but to accept what they see and feel can cause so much confusion to survivors of narcissistic abuse. One thing that is asked for is a checklist of abuse, a way to check and see if what is being experienced is really abuse and not the fault of the survivor.

Toxic Relationship? Ask Yourself These Questions

  • Are you struggling to understand what is going on in your relationship?
  • Have you questioned things then later second-guessed if it was you that was at fault?

Breaking Trauma Bonds and Healing

In this video, I talk about 40 ways you might experience narcissistic abuse. The things described in this video are meant to help you understand and be aware of signs of toxic abuse in relationships. The more you understand about narcissism the easier it is to accept a narcissist is a narcissist and will abuse. Acceptance helps you to break those horrible trauma bonds that tie you to an abusive person. Know the signs, ask questions, get informed!

Additional Resources for People in Toxic Relationships

The Female Narcissist And A Few Ways They Manipulate

The Female Narcissist And A Few Ways They Manipulate

Do you know a female narcissist?

Like every narcissist, the female narcissist often has many sneaky ways of manipulating.

For example, a female narcissist will often use the fact that she is female – not only to excuse the abuse but also to justify it. She may even attempt to cause you to appear to be the abuser in this process. Crazy-making would be an understatement in the effects the female narcissist can have on the people around her.

Have you been abused by a narcissistic mother, female partners, or friends?

Maybe you have had the unfortunate experience of having a narcissistic female boss or any other position of power over you. If so, you know the pain and frustration they cause.

What are some of the ways a female narcissist manipulates to get away with being abusive? 

Female narcissists control through manipulation and threats. They will use “care-taking” and even sexual behavior (favors, withholding, etc.) to get what they want from you. They use gaslighting, their physical attributes, guilt and obligation – and many more types of coercion to get people to do what they want. They become abusive in covert ways, and sometimes in more obvious ones.

In this video, I’ll fill you in on what female narcissists are like and how they most commonly manipulate you.

Need help with narcissistic abuse recovery?

More Resources for Narcissistic Abuse Recovery

  • Best Books on Narcissistic Abuse Recovery
  • Comprehensive Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Glossary: This is a comprehensive guide to words and phrases (related to narcissism, NPD and related conditions, narcissistic abuse, and narcissistic abuse recovery) that are commonly used in articles, videos, and narcissistic abuse recovery support groups. Defined here as specifically how they relate to narcissism, narcissistic abuse, and narcissistic abuse recovery, these terms have been developed by psychologists, coaches, therapists, and survivors of narcissistic abuse who need a way to understand and overcome the abuse.
  • FAQ Help: Whenever you need help with something related to this site or you want to know how to find something, join a group or otherwise deal with an issue you’re having, visit our new FAQ Help page.
  • Self-Care for Survivors: This is a page that covers everything you need to know about self-care, from how to build your own self-care kit to how to sign up for self-care support, and more.
  • New Resources Page: This is a one-stop overview of narcissism, NPD, and narcissistic abuse recovery, offering a long list of resources that will be helpful for you.
  • Stalking Resources Center: If your narcissist is a stalker, the information and resources on this page will help you get and stay safe.

 

 

Pin It on Pinterest