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

Your Brain on Narcissistic Abuse: Cognitive Dissonance, Trauma Bonding & Healing in Recovery

Your Brain on Narcissistic Abuse: Cognitive Dissonance, Trauma Bonding & Healing in Recovery

As a survivor of narcissistic abuse, I know how hard it can be to believe you could have been abused by someone you thought loved you.

It’s not just that they were charming, seductive, and desirable.

It’s also that they seemed to care about you. You may have even felt loved – at least on some level.

Did you know that your brain betrays you in narcissistic relationships?

It’s true! Your brain and body seem to be conspiring against your conscious self when it comes to narcissistic abuse.

See, you know that what you’re dealing with is abuse, on a logical level. You know it doesn’t feel good to be with a narcissist.

And yet, some part of you secretly hates both the narcissist and yourself because you haven’t left or are missing them.

You start to think that, despite all of the evidence to the contrary in your personal experiences, not to mention your reading and research, the narcissist MIGHT really change for the next source of narcissistic supply. 

And obviously, some part of you is well-aware that this abuse is wrong and that you should end the relationship, or at least be happy it ended. 

But for some reason, you can’t stop thinking about the narcissist. You’re second-guessing yourself, feeling remorse and regret combined with self-doubt that ending is or was the right thing to do.

The more you miss them, the worse you want to see them – and the more you’re sure that you were overreacting and that you weren’t really abused at all. 

Absence makes the heart grow fonder, as they say, and you develop abuse amnesia – forgetting what the narcissist has done to you and beginning to believe that things really can get better this time. 

What are the long-term effects of narcissistic abuse in a toxic relationship? 

It’s hard to imagine that everything you thought was true about your relationship might have been a lie, and yet this is the very reality you might be dealing with if you’ve just recognized the narcissistic abuse in your life.

This is just one of many ways that narcissistic abuse in a toxic relationship can lead you to find yourself dealing with serious cognitive dissonance.

And don’t worry – you’re not alone here – in fact, you’re in good company. The effects of narcissistic abuse are all-encompassing – and something like this happens to nearly every narcissistic abuse survivor somewhere along the way.

If you’re one of us, you might also be living with a form of post-traumatic stress disorder that significantly affects your everyday reality.

One of the most painful things that we deal with as survivors of narcissistic abuse is the complete destruction of our self-esteem and our ability to trust ourselves, thanks to the control, gaslighting, and manipulation that narcissists inflict on the people closest to them.

Perhaps most distressing is the fact that narcissistic abuse can cause neurological issues – also known as brain damage.

On the plus side, the neurological changes caused by this long-term trauma can be reversed, thanks to our brain’s neuroplasticity.\

What is neuroplasticity?

How do you reprogram your brain after narcissistic abuse?

As you probably know, our minds, more specifically our subconscious minds, control our lives.

In other words, we are what we think or believe.

Research has shown that there is a mind-body connection and that the mind can help us overcome health problems.

As I mentioned, one of the most important things to remember is that your brain is neuroplastic – this is what makes it possible for us to actually help to reverse and heal ourselves. 

This video gives you an idea of how neuroplasticity works and how you can use it to your advantage.

What is cognitive dissonance?

Cognitive dissonance is the mental discomfort (disagreeing cognitions) we experience when we encounter information that contradicts our existing set of beliefs or knowledge.

In other words, when we experience cognitive dissonance, we feel anxious because part of us wants to reject new information because it is threatening to our established beliefs – but another part of us knows that the new information may be true and is demanding that we accept it as such.

This internal tension can cause stress and anxiety – especially if we are unaware of its source. This video offers a comprehensive look at cognitive dissonance in narcissistic abuse recovery. 

 

How can you deal with triggers and feeling dissociated during narcissistic abuse recovery?

Understanding trauma bonding is vital to understanding why it’s often so difficult to leave a narcissist, as well as why you can be triggered by seemingly innocuous things if you were previously involved with one. And the good news is that knowing more about it can help you better cope with your experience. Take the information below and use it to better understand your trauma bond and how to get past it.

Try This Reality Anchoring Technique

Reality anchoring is one of the most powerful NLP Anchoring Techniques you can use during your day-to-day life – anywhere and at any time. 

Many studies have been conducted on the effectiveness of reality anchoring using different methods to evaluate it, and all of them have come up with similar results in terms of the effectiveness of the reality anchoring technique to reduce negative emotions, increase positive ones and enhance perceived well-being. 

This video offers a helpful reality anchoring technique for when you feel cognitive dissonance coming on. 

How does reality anchoring work?

A reality anchor is a mechanism that allows you to connect your current situation with an unrelated but positive place in the past.

In other words, you may want to consider looking toward the future while making an emotional connection to some positive experiences from the past.

Doing so can increase your sense of well-being and happiness. It can also decrease any amount of sadness and increase your ability to cope.

This can be achieved by creating a trigger that links one part of your body with a pleasant memory.

For example, you may believe that smelling fresh flowers will reassure you that you were happy on a particular day in the past.

The reality anchor technique is used to encourage a person to be able to adjust their current emotions by finding the source of those emotions in an event in the past or future.

 

Why should you care if you’re trauma-bonded with the narcissist?

Understanding trauma bonding is vital to understanding why it’s often so difficult to leave a narcissist, as well as why you can be triggered by seemingly innocuous things if you were previously involved with one.

And the good news is that knowing more about it can help you better cope with your experience.

Take the information below and use it to better understand your trauma bond and how to get past it.

 

How does trauma bonding from narcissistic abuse actively affect your brain and state of mind?

The chemicals oxytocin, which encourages bonding, endogenous opioids – responsible for pleasure, pain, withdrawal, and dependence; a corticotropin-releasing factor which involves withdrawal, and stress; and dopamine which is connected to the craving, seeking, wanting the narcissist back, even when they’ve caused you extreme emotional stress and pain.

Toxic relationships and narcissistic abuse lead your neurochemistry to fall into dysregulated states, which makes it really hard to leave a narcissist and even harder to finally get over a toxic relationship.

Take Dr. Daniel Amen’s free Brain Health Assessment to discover your Brain Type and your Brain Fit Score!

How can you re-wire your brain after narcissistic abuse?

Your brain is neuroplastic, meaning it can change and heal in some pretty amazing ways. When you’re dealing with the type of brain damage that is caused by narcissistic abuse, you can sort of re-wire your brain yourself.

(Of course, you should always check with your medical professional to ensure there’s not some other underlying reason for brain fog or being forgetful.)

Speaking of brain fog, let’s define it. 

What is brain fog? 

Brain Fog is the feeling of dissociation or disconnectedness often experienced during and after narcissistic abuse.

It’s a very common symptom of narcissistic abuse-induced C-PTSD.

Most survivors report feeling lost like they’re not really there, or like they’re sort of watching life happen through a screen or a bubble.

Use Mindfulness to Beat Brain Fog!

Mindfulness is a powerful way to beat brain fog. Learn to live mindfully by practicing the following.

  1. There is no wrong way to do this – just do it and know that everyone has wandering thoughts.
  2. Begin your mindfulness practice by focusing on your breath, it will help ground you for the session.
  3. Some people find it useful to use a mantra to focus on – that is a word or phrase that you say aloud and/or chant. It can be ‘Om’, something like ‘Peace’ ‘Love’ ‘Calm’ or anything you want.
  4. You can use an audio or video of guided meditation if that helps you stay focused.
  5. When you find your mind wandering, and you will, simply return to observing your breath for a minute or so to get back into your practice. You might say aloud ‘thinking’ to label what occurred (your mind wandering to other things) without judging it as bad or good.
  6. Observe – your thoughts, feelings, and sensations – this is the objective of mindfulness (though Buddhists would say there is no goal).
  7. Release – any thoughts, feelings, or sensations without judgment – this is critical to get the benefits of mindfulness.
  8. Label – your thoughts, feelings, and sensations, even the errant ones that occur when the mind wanders; this can be helpful in the ‘observing and letting go’ process.
  9. The more you do this, the easier it becomes.
  10. There are active forms of mindfulness for those who can benefit from something more involved, ie. mindful movement and mindful walking.

Begin by setting aside 5 minutes to practice mindfulness the first week, then increase it to 10 minutes and continue to increase your time every week or so until you are practicing 20 minutes. If you can’t manage 20 minutes, do what works for you. Even 5 minutes each day (or twice a day) will help you.

Supplements That May Help With Your Healing

Did you know that there are certain supplements designed to help with healing your brain?

Did you also know they can be taken while your brain is still in recovery from trauma bonding in narcissistic abuse?

Are you wondering what supplements actually do this and if the claims are true?

I’ve compiled a list of supplements that have helped me and others I have coached in recovery.

It is based on personal experience, what I have read, and what other people have told me.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but my aim is to help you find some useful information about healing your brain in recovery.

*Please note, I am not a medical professional and nothing on this site should be taken as medical advice. Do not take any supplements without first discussing with your doctor and getting their approval.

  • Calm My Brain: Quell your worried mind with this highly effective formula for the relief of anxiousness, featuring the ultimate calming mineral magnesium, the powerful stress-busting herb KSM-66® ashwagandha, and the fast-acting amino acid L-theanine.*
  • Attention Support: Trouble concentrating? Can’t sit still? Attention Support contains natural ingredients selected for their clinically proven benefits to help you relax, stay calm, and increase your attention span.
  • Betaine TMG: Provides the nutrient betaine (trimethylglycine, TMG), which enhances SAMe for healthy mood; provides crucial methyl for DNA, brain neurotransmitters, melatonin, and myelin production; and helps cells regulate their water content.
  • Brain & Body Power: The easiest way to get your daily mind and body essentials – parceled into convenient packets including a brain optimizing multi-vitamin-mineral, and pure omega-3 fish oil capsules.
  • Brain & Body Power Max: The most advanced memory-directed formula – perfectly portioned into convenient daily packets including a multi-vitamin-mineral, maximum memory-boosting nutrients, and omega-3 fish oil for complete daily nutrition.
  • Brain & Memory Power Boost: Our most advanced, best-selling memory formula with a lineup of powerful nutrients clinically proven to help protect circulation in your brain, boost mental connectivity, sharpness, and sustained focus.
  • Brain Boost On-The-Go: Fight brain fatigue and tackle your day with the zero-calorie, caffeine-free, and sugar-free, effervescent berry blend that’s perfect anytime, anywhere. Quick natural energy and hydration to help promote mental clarity. Simply add to water and enjoy.
  • Craving Control: Anyone who has ever tried to make better choices knows all too well how cravings can sabotage the best intentions. Craving Control contains all-natural ingredients that help to calm the craving centers in our brain, balance blood sugar and promotes a positive mood.
  • NeuroLink: Feeling irritable or sad for no reason? NeuroLink helps to balance our emotional ups and downs by delivering an exclusive blend of key nutrients to neurotransmitters in our brain helping us to feel tranquil and clear.
  • BrainMD’s GABA Calming Support: Calm your mind naturally with GABA Calming Support, an exclusive formula that contains clinically studied nutrients that help to calm your brain waves and help act as the biochemical “brakes” your brain needs to slow down your anxious or fretful thoughts.
  • Serotonin Mood Support: Does your mind race with negative thoughts? Try our customer favorite Serotonin Mood Support, which contains a patented form of saffron along with other key nutrients that help to promote calmness, positive mood, serotonin balance, and even healthy weight management.
  • SAMe Mood and Movement 400: SAMe Mood & Movement 400 provides SAMe (S-AdenosylMethionine), a nutrient with very high energy that helps power numerous enzymes important for the brain, joints, liver, muscles, and other organs. SAMe is fundamental to the body’s renewal, repair, and overall well-being.

Going Forward in Narcissistic Abuse Recovery

Being in a relationship with a narcissistic abuser causes survivors to experience a form of trauma and shock. For this reason, trauma therapy is helpful because it acknowledges that healing is a process and that there is more than one way to move forward.

Trauma therapy is often focused on the past but will also guide you toward future goals and dreams while teaching you how to deal with various triggers.

Awareness of cognitive dissonance, trauma bonding & emotional flashbacks can be instrumental in understanding what your inner experience of the relationship was so you can work through it & begin letting go. Find a therapist here. 

You might also want to try narcissistic abuse recovery coaching, or if you’re looking for more of a small group setting with a lower price point, try our small group coaching plan – there are significant benefits to this and the price is significantly less than one-on-one coaching. 

Takeaway

You are not to blame for your traumatic relationship with a narcissist. By understanding what happened to you and having the right support on your healing journey, you can go on to live a happy and meaningful life.

After overcoming narcissistic abuse, you may find yourself feeling like a whole new person. If you have found yourself in that stage, take comfort knowing you’re not alone.

It is a journey that is as exhilarating as it is exhausting, but the end result is well worth all the effort.

You can recover. You just have to take your time, and you have to trust the process.

Give yourself permission to rebuild your life from the ground up. It’s going to be a long and difficult road, but it will be worth it in the end.

Get Help With Your Narcissistic Abuse Recovery

Cognitive Dissonance, Trauma Bonding & Healing in Recovery – Here’s the link for your free tools.

Dealing with relationship trauma

Dealing with relationship trauma

Are you dealing with relationship trauma?

The bad news? The second you fall in love with someone, the likelihood that you’ll be dealing with relationship trauma increases exponentially. The good news is that you don’t have to suffer in silence – and there are things you can do to begin to heal and resolve relationship trauma and move forward.

What is relationship trauma?

Relationship trauma is a term used by psychologists and other mental health professionals to identify the condition people suffer after having been subjected to relationship abuse (emotional, physical, and otherwise). Many victims were also exposed to prolonged and/or extreme forms of abuse/neglect during childhood. This can predispose them to end up in toxic relationships as an adult, which cause them to be retraumatized in adulthood.

What are the signs of relationship trauma?

The signs of relationship trauma can be as subtle as they are obvious. If you’re dealing with it, you’re far from alone. In fact, according to the National Domestic Abuse Hotline, nearly 10% of couples experience relationship abuse. Other research shows that as many as 40% of women and 25% of men have experienced some form of domestic violence in their lifetime; 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men report having been sexually or physically assaulted by a partner at some point in their life.

Common signs of abuse include:

  • Fear for your safety
  • Feeling trapped and/or controlled
  • Being isolated from friends and family
  • Losing self-confidence and self-esteem
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Feeling like you can’t trust anyone else (including yourself)

See more signs of relationship trauma and narcissistic abuse here.

Are there different types of relationship trauma?

There are three main forms of relationship trauma: Acute, Chronic, and Complex, according to MedicineNet.com.

Acute Trauma

Acute trauma is the result of a single incident that traumatized the victim. This could be something like a car accident, having your home broken into, being raped or assaulted, or even a natural disaster. In any case, the event is extreme enough to cause you to doubt your physical security.

Chronic Trauma

Chronic trauma happens through prolonged trauma that happens over the course of time. According to MedicineNet, it “may result from a long-term serious illness, sexual abuse, domestic violence, bullying, and exposure to extreme situations, such as a war.”

Complex Trauma

Complex trauma means that you’ve dealt with a variety of traumatic events, to put it mildly.

“The events are generally within the context of an interpersonal (between people) relationship,”  writes Shaziya Allarakha, MD.“It may give the person a feeling of being trapped. Complex trauma often has a severe impact on the person’s mind. It may be seen in individuals who have been victims of childhood abuse, neglect, domestic violence, family disputes, and other repetitive situations, such as civil unrest.”

What does relationship trauma look like?

Relationship trauma can profoundly affect your entire adult life, including your present-day relationships, career, family life (including communication with your own children).

People develop different types of relationship trauma that can change the way they relate to others. Some people become addicted to relationships that are too good to be true. Others fear intimacy and can’t get close enough to their partners. They’re afraid of being entrapped by someone they love, and this fear may keep them stuck in unhealthy relationships. Some psychologists suggest that this could also be related to attachment styles developed early in childhood.

What are the long-term effects of relationship trauma?

The long-term effects of relationship trauma are varied and depend on both the person and the traumas they’ve suffered. Some examples include the following.

Parental rejection leads to toxic people pleasing

Valuing yourself highly and feeling safe and secure is important for everyone, but it’s especially important for those who’ve suffered from parental rejection. At the root of this is the belief that your value is based on what you do, not who you are. This leads people to put their own needs aside, putting themselves at risk for burnout and breakdown.

Sexual shame leads to extremely low self-worth and intimacy issues

Trauma tends to make us think we’re broken — we may come to believe that we’re “damaged goods” or “damaged goods who can’t be fixed.” If this is our experience with sex, it makes sense that some people would have a hard time enjoying sex or being interested in sex. In some cases, it’s been hard for these people to see themselves as sexual beings at all.

Others have trouble understanding what sex has to do with their value as a person. Or they’ve had parts of them broken so long that they don’t think they have a right to enjoy sex or be sexual at all. All of this can lead to chronic sexual shame and a need for constant reassurance of the kind “I’m good enough” or “I’m lovable.”

Risk avoidance leads to isolation and chronic fear

If you’ve had a lot of parental rejection or sexual shame or both, one thing may become clear: You don’t feel good about yourself most of the time. You may grow up thinking that if you’re not perfect, then you’re worthless. That can lead you to avoid situations where things might go wrong, which often means avoiding new experiences altogether or limiting your experiences to those that feel safer to you.

You may feel unable to trust anyone ever again. You might not want to believe that another person could do this to you again. But the truth is, it’s not rational for you to have total trust in anyone else from here on out. You can learn to trust selectively and build a bond of mutual respect again with a partner who has betrayed you in some way.

Why do we stay with partners who traumatize us?

You can’t change the past, but you can move forward. If you find yourself with an abusive partner, you might be afraid to leave, or you might even wish you could go back once the relationship ends. This is likely a result of trauma bonding and C-PTSD (complex post-traumatic stress disorder).

What is trauma bonding?

Similar to Stockholm Syndrome, this is a condition that causes abuse victims to develop a psychological dependence on the narcissist as a survival strategy during abuse. Trauma bonding also makes recovering from a toxic relationship significantly more difficult.

What is C-PTSD (Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder)?

Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) is a serious mental health condition affecting a large percentage of victims and survivors of narcissistic abuse. This disorder can take years to treat and many professionals aren’t familiar with its symptoms or misdiagnose it.

Some therapists and other mental health professionals may even victim-blame if they aren’t familiar with the subtle tricks of a narcissist. Unfortunately, it can be a lifelong condition, but it can be managed with mindfulness and behavior modification, among other therapies and modalities.

If you are affected by C-PTSD, you may wish to supplement your therapeutic treatment with narcissistic abuse recovery coaching. Or at the very least we recommend that you find a therapist who understands your unique situation. Check out this guide on how to find a therapist who understands narcissistic abuse and recovery.

How do you end the cycle and recover from relationship trauma?

Relationship trauma is what happens when a relationship ends and one or both parties have difficulty processing that experience. You can experience relationship trauma in a variety of ways, but, in general, the process involves the following steps:

  • Recognizing that you’ve dealt with traumatic abuse in a toxic relationship
  • Acknowledging the impact the relationship had on you
  • Coming to grips with your feelings about the relationship and how it ended
  • Deciding what to do next with your feelings and your life
  • Moving forward with your life without the toxic person in it.

The DUO Method was designed to help survivors of narcissistic abuse take back their lives. The good news is that you don’t need to do this all by yourself. It is possible to overcome the pain and move on, especially if you’ve learned from the situation. Start here if you’d like to start your recovery right now.

Here are a few pieces of advice for moving forward.

1. Ask for help.

There’s no shame in asking friends and family to help you through a difficult time because they know what you’re going through better than anyone else. They might be able to offer insight into the hurt you’re experiencing or help you regain perspective on your situation. You can also reach out to a coach or therapist, who can help guide you through this process and give you support as you work toward recovery. Online support groups can also be very helpful for survivors of narcissistic abuse in toxic relationships.

2. Remember that recovery is a process, not a destination.

You can’t just snap your fingers and expect yourself to be instantly healed. Narcissistic abuse recovery takes time and effort, so don’t expect everything to turn around immediately. Too many of us have been hurt in relationships that came to a bad end, and we’ve been left to pick up the pieces. It’s a difficult thing to do, but there are some things you can do to help yourself heal.

3. Release the need to hold the narcissist accountable. 

Obviously, forgiveness isn’t really an easy thing when it comes to recovering from relationship trauma. But you don’t have to traditionally forgive the narcissist. Rather, you need to release the need to hold them accountable and release the need to remain connected to them.

4. Be honest with yourself about what happened.

When a toxic person hurts you, you’re not wrong to blame them for your pain, but staying stuck in victimhood will prevent you from recovering. Instead, it can be more productive to look at the situation objectively and consider how you found yourself in this relationship in the first place and how you could have handled the situation differently. While the narcissist will never be able to do the work to figure out why they hurt you or what it really means, you can certainly recognize what happened by learning to understand the dynamics of toxic relationships. Thoroughly understanding why you found yourself there and what made you stay can also help you avoid future toxic relationships.

5. Go no contact if possible.

In order to work through a relationship trauma, you also need time and space away from the person who hurt you. This isn’t just about getting away from them — it’s about regrouping and getting a new perspective on what happened. You must understand that your experience was real and valid, despite the fact that your abuser likely gaslighted you and made you doubt yourself and your reality. This takes time and requires healing. If you can, go no contact (or low contact, if you have children under 18 with this person).

6. Be prepared to find your own closure. 

As much as you deserve it, your abuser will absolutely not willingly give you the closure you so desperately want and need. So, you’ll need to prepare yourself to find and create your own form of closure after the end of a toxic relationship.

7. Move forward and create the life you want and deserve.

In the end, you can intentionally choose to heal and then create the life you want and deserve. It’s a sort of personal evolution that can often be the silver lining to this otherwise miserable situation.

When dealing with relationship trauma, focus on finding healthy outlets for your feelings so you can move forward with life. Find a therapist or psychologist who is an expert in dealing with these kinds of issues. Spend time with people who can give you feedback on how your actions have affected them or others around them; seek support groups; make healthy choices, and take good care of yourself while healing.

Do you think you’re dealing with the effects of relationship trauma? Take this relationship trauma test and find out.

Resources for Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support

No Closure At the End of Your Relationship? What Now?

No Closure At the End of Your Relationship? What Now?

Why do narcissists refuse to give you closure in a relationship?

Are you desperate for closure after the ending of a relationship with a narcissist?  Rarely is the need for relief from the discard allowed by the narcissist – and being able to speak your mind and discuss the issues you lived with if you have gone no contact is practically a foreign concept.

Lack of Closure After a Toxic Relationship Leaves You Reeling

Feeling the need for closure in order to move on and heal can perhaps be one of the more frustrating things survivors of narcissistic abuse go through after a discard. I know that for me personally, it left me feeling like it was impossible to stop thinking about the narcissist and I even struggled to forgive myself for having been with them in the first place. Can you relate?

What can you expect from the narcissist at the end of a relationship?

With a narcissist, if you get closure then you are one of the rare few. The narcissistic person will not allow you to get the closure you need. Instead of closure you get the silent treatment, smear campaigns, gaslighting, blame-shifting, the narcissist playing victim, hoovering, and repeated abuse. In other words, anything but closure.

They might even call you the abuser. Of all the people I have spoken to about the abuse they have suffered, not one has said they have had closure directly from the narcissist.

Can you create your own closure so you can move forward with your healing after narcissist abuse?

Absolutely you can! This video talks about why a narcissist won’t give you closure as well as ideas for how to move forward with your own life to create the closure you seek.

Get Help with Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Now

Additional Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support Resources

‘Love’ with a Sociopath: The Cookie Illustration

‘Love’ with a Sociopath: The Cookie Illustration

~THE COOKIE ILLUSTRATION~

What is ‘love’ with a sociopath like?

Well, imagine there’s a vending machine in front of you with one big red button that says, ‘FREE COOKIES’. At first, the cookies are so delicious.. so euphoric. But afterward, every time you press the button, you receive a painful electric shock.

But you keep pressing the button, hoping.. becoming frantic. After about the 99th time of getting shocked, you get a broken chip of a cookie.

You actually feel sad, yet you are thankful for at least having this broken piece of cookie.

When you finish the broken cookie, you realize you would gladly get shocked another 99 times to get another broken piece of cookie. Desperation is now a daily occurrence.

So you continue, accepting the malfunction and the biting pain of each shock. You now live on your knees in front of the cookie vending machine.

Then one day, the cookies stop coming.

That’s ‘love’ with a sociopath. It’s not real love–this is trauma bonding.

Only you can stop it.

This is the behavior of addiction.

~~

And…that machine is deriving power from harming you. Power that it will use to continue harming you as long as you stay.

Do you want a better life? Then do the work of recovery.

Trauma Bonding

Trauma Bonding

This article has been medically reviewed by our content partner Dr. Robin Bryman

Trauma bonding is a common condition among narcissistic abuse survivors and their abusers.

Thanks to an ongoing cycle of intermittent reinforcement, many survivors of toxic relationships go through this, much like kidnapping victims and hostages do.

Trauma bonding is often a bigger issue for people who also grew up in toxic and abusive homes, partially just because it feels like “normal” to them.

As Warwick Middleton said, “The capacity for dissociation enables the young child to exercise their innate life-sustaining need for attachment in spite of the fact that principal attachment figures are also principal abusers.”

What is Trauma Bonding?

Trauma bonding is often used interchangeably for the term Stockholm Syndrome.

“In 1973, Jan Erik Olsson walked into a small bank in Stockholm, Sweden, brandishing a gun, wounding a police officer, and taking three women and one man hostage,” writes Rachel Lloyd.

“During negotiations, Olsson demanded money, a getaway vehicle, and that his friend Clark Olofsson, a man with a long criminal history, be brought to the bank. The police allowed Olofsson to join his friend and together they held the four hostages captive in a bank vault for six days.”

Lloyd continues: “During their captivity, the hostages at times were attached to snare traps around their necks, likely to kill them in the event that the police attempted to storm the bank. The hostages grew increasingly afraid and hostile toward the authorities trying to win their release and even actively resisted various rescue attempts. Afterward, they refused to testify against their captors, and several continued to stay in contact with the hostage-takers, who were sent to prison.”

“Their resistance to outside help and their loyalty toward their captors was puzzling, and psychologists began to study the phenomenon in this and other hostage situations. The expression of positive feelings toward the captor and negative feelings toward those on the outside trying to win their release became known as Stockholm syndrome.”

Similar to Stockholm Syndrome, it’s 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.

What does trauma bonding feel like?

Trauma bonding is the feeling of being addicted to a person. And it literally causes you to become almost physically addicted, due to the ongoing cycle of intermittent reinforcement.

You are fighting a battle within yourself and it turns out that your own body is sort of against you on this one. The cognitive dissonance and the feeling of addiction are what lead us to stay with a narcissist in a toxic relationship even when we logically know better.

“Many survivors have such profound deficiencies in self-protection that they can barely imagine themselves in a position of agency or choice,” writes Judith Lewis Herman. “The idea of saying no to the emotional demands of a parent, spouse, lover, or authority figure may be practically inconceivable. Thus, it is not uncommon to find adult survivors who continue to minister to the needs of those who once abused them and who continue to permit major intrusions without boundaries or limits. Adult survivors may nurse their abusers in illness, defend them in adversity, and even, in extreme cases, continue to submit to their sexual demands.”

This video explains how trauma bonding directly affects our decision-making ability and why it causes it to feel so hard to let go and move forward from a toxic relationship.

“Their experiences led them to create assumptions about others and related beliefs about themselves such as ‘this is my lot in life’ and ‘this is what I deserve,'” writes Christine A. Courtois. “Some also learned that personal safety and happiness are of lower priority than survival and that it may be safer to give in than to actively fight off additional abuse and victimization. When abuse is perpetrated by intimates, it is additionally confounding in terms of attachment, betrayal, and trust. Victims may be unable to leave or to fight back due to strong, albeit insecure and disorganized, attachment and misplaced loyalty to abusers. They may have also experienced trauma bonding over the course of their victimization, that is, a bond of specialness with or dependence on the abuser.”

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.

Often affects narcissists as well as their victims at different times and for very different reasons.

Are you struggling with cognitive dissonance during or after narcissistic abuse?

Get your free cognitive dissonance toolkit right here.

This video offers an overview of cognitive dissonance as well as actionable and practical self-help tips for healing from cognitive dissonance.

How does trauma bonding affect your body and brain?

Is there such a thing as narcissistic abuse-induced trauma bonding? Yes.

And, this is exactly why you might find it so difficult to get over a narcissist. It is like you are literally addicted to them! It might even be why haven’t already left the narcissist.

When you’re in a relationship with a narcissist or sociopath, it often looks nearly perfect from the outside, especially to people who aren’t aware of the dynamics that happen behind closed doors.

And most likely, you don’t want anyone to know how ugly your relationship really is on the inside. Hint: think Stockholm Syndrome (aka trauma bonding) – codependency – and feeling stuck.

How can you manage and heal from trauma bonding?

It isn’t easy, but it’s totally possible to heal from trauma bonding – or at least to manage it into submission.

In this article, my fellow QB coach Lise Colucci explains how self-care can help. Lise also runs a small group coaching program for healing from trauma bonding.

If you find yourself stuck in a toxic relationship, these practical steps will help you heal from a trauma bond and finally let go of the narcissist, once and for all.

The heartbreak is painful, but the healing is real. We will discuss the psychology of a trauma bond and how to let go of the narcissist, plus PTSD and NPD, and how they work.

Being trauma bonded to an abuser is being tied to something you know harms you yet still feeling unable to get away.

The emotional ties alone are confusing and challenging. Here are a few ways to help you break those bonds too.

Trauma Bond Healing Tips from Dr. Robin Bryman

Do Your Research

Learn as much as you can about the narcissist and how they think differently than you do.

This is critical in order for you to understand that you are not alone in this, that there are so many people that are impacted by narcissistic abuse.

Time (Limits) for Obsession

Try to structure your day. For instance, for each hour, give yourself ten minutes to “obsess” about your relationship with the narcissist.

For the rest of the hour, focus on yourself, live in the present moment, and plan for your future. At this point, try not to focus on your past.

Get Help

Find a therapist or coach that understands trauma bonding or who has been through it themselves.

Get It Together

Start organizing your life. Start with finances, career, family, friends, home, etc.

The toxic relationship you were in took so much of your energy and as a result, a lot has been neglected in your own life.

You deserve to focus now on taking your energy back and building a beautiful life for yourself.

Choose Intentionally

Make a list of goals for yourself. They don’t have to be life goals.

You can create a list of things you would like to do. When you’re having a hard, choose something to do from that list.

Get It Out of Your Head

Keep a journal. It doesn’t need to be organized.

For instance, when you’re upset, you can just scribble, free associate, or write down whatever you would like. It doesn’t have to be neat.

 

Take the Trauma Bonding Test

Think you’re trauma bonded with a toxic narcissist, but still not sure? Try this test.

 

Our Recent Posts About Trauma Bonding

Trauma Bonds and Intermittent Reinforcement

Trauma Bonds and Intermittent Reinforcement

Trauma bonding is a real experience created by narcissistic abuse – and it is challenging to struggle through. Understanding what you are experiencing can hopefully take some of the confusion, fear, or anxiety out of it so you can begin healing. This is one reason it is hard to leave and let go of a narcissist.  I know that 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 the narcissist. 

How to Heal from a Toxic Relationship

How to Heal from a Toxic Relationship

This healing guide offers not only solutions but also resources to help you learn not only how to heal from a toxic relationship, but why you were there in the first place. Plus, you’ll learn how you can level up your life after a toxic relationship and begin to evolve into the person you’ve always wanted to be.

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