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.
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 it is that they want in order 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 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.
In the case of trauma bonding and 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. They use trauma bonding and intermittent reinforcement to get you addicted to them, whether they realize it or not. By doing so, they also find it much easier to keep you under their control.
Are you dealing with trauma bonding in a toxic relationship?
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. 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.
Get Support in Healing From Trauma Bonds via Zoom
- NEED SUPPORT AND CONNECTIONS WITH PEOPLE WHO UNDERSTAND WHERE YOU’VE BEEN? Join my small group coaching program for narcissistic abuse survivors. Learn all about it and sign up at QueenBeeing.com/groups.
- Schedule 1-on-1 coaching with me here.
- Questions? Please feel free to email me at [email protected].
Other Ways to Get Help With Your Narcissistic Abuse Recovery
- The QueenBeeing SPANily, Official – We consider this the best narcissistic abuse recovery support group on the web. It offers several subgroups and features a vigilant, compassionate admin team full of trained coaches and survivors, supporting more than 12k members. SPAN is an acronym created by Angie Atkinson that stands for Support for People Affected by Narcissistic abuse in toxic relationships.
- Other Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support Groups – We also have separate groups for each stage in your narcissistic abuse recovery and some for those who have moved past recovery and are evolving into the next phase of their own life. Survivors have unique and individual needs, even when they’ve moved on – so we’re still here for you.
- One-on-One Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Coaching – If you prefer to get more personalized support in your recovery, you might like to schedule a session with one of our coaches to plan and execute your narcissistic abuse recovery plan.
- Find a Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Therapist – If you’re looking for a therapist for narcissistic abuse recovery, either because you cannot afford coaching and want to use your health insurance or because you have additional issues you need to address that do not fall within the realm of coaching, you will want to find the right therapist for you – and as far as we’re concerned, that therapist must understand what you’ve been through. This page offers assistance to help you do exactly that.
- Where Are You in Recovery? You might not be sure exactly where you fit in and what level of recovery you’ve achieved. If that’s the case, you’ll want to check out this self-assessment to help you determine precisely where you fall in the stages of recovery from narcissistic abuse. Once you finish and submit the assessment, you will be given resources for your situation, along with recommendations of which groups to join.
- Which Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Program is Right for You? If you aren’t sure which program you want to utilize to facilitate your recovery from narcissistic abuse, this self-assessment will help you decide.