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

Narcissistic Abuse in a Toxic Relationship: This is What Happens to You

Narcissistic Abuse in a Toxic Relationship: This is What Happens to You

What’s it like to be in a relationship with a narcissist? 

Do you know how it feels to be in a toxic relationship with a narcissist? Have you experienced narcissistic abuse? And can you recall the first time you really started to realize that something wasn’t right? It’s this ache in your gut, that one stray tear you can’t control and as it rolls down your face, it almost burns. It’s like your body gets it before you do, somehow.
It’s this feeling that something is missing or isn’t right. So, you try to figure it out. So, you start thinking and you go through all of the obvious possibilities.
Am I hormonal?
Am I being unreasonable?
Are my expectations just too high?
Could I be overthinking this whole thing?
As much as you rack your brain, you aren’t clear. You just know that  it is something else.  Something you can’t quite put your finger on….like a piece of you feels like it’s missing or gone somehow.
But how do you lose a whole part of yourself? You might kind of laugh at yourself, but the thought makes you feel almost nostalgic … but in an unidentifiable, achy way that can’t be logically explained. Maybe you have this sense that it might be some kind of other life calling to you. You think maybe it’s on the soul level.
Not sure you’re dealing with narcissistic abuse in a toxic relationship? Take this narcissistic abuse self-assessment and find out now. 

Narcissistic Abuse Causes You to Lose Yourself

You start to feel like you’re living inside your own head. You’re so internal that you might even start to hate everyone and everything. You start to see through it all, and everyone seems artificial. Their lives seem small and petty. Their problems seem unreal somehow – they are so far away. They are blind to your struggles and you can’t even begin to verbalize them, because they sound so petty when you say them out loud.

But you do your best to keep looking perfect on the outside and you pretend like nothing is wrong. You keep smiling and pretending that all is well.

Perfect on the Outside, Broken on the Inside

You maintain a perfect social media presence,  photos of your beautiful home and successful kids. You feel like a huge fraud as you try to project the image you want to see in your life, rather than what it really looks like behind closed doors.
It’s like social media gives you a certain amount of validation that you can’t get elsewhere. It makes you feel better somehow, like it’s okay that you’re dealing with all of this internal conflict, because you project that perfect life image.
Meanwhile, the narcissist in your life is always threatening to leave you. Threatening to stop loving you if you don’t conform to their will. They threaten to stop caring about anything if you don’t shape up.
We will just live our separate lives, they tell you. See how you like that, they say.

Apathy, Brain Fog and Cognitive Dissonance in Narcissistic Abuse

It’s like you’re living in some kind of bubble and nothing feels real. You’re not even sure YOU are real.  You’re exhausted and pretty much numb at this point. But every now and then, something reminds you of who you used to be, the fun and silly and passionately driven person that the narcissist seems to have beaten of you (emotionally anyway).
And when that happens, that person who you used to be…that person gets sad. Then you feel angry and like you’re finally ready to go. But inevitably the scary thought that is change takes you down this stupid road that imagines that things can be better.
The one part of you that is afraid to jump without a net shows up again and tells me that you’re overreacting and that it’s not really as bad as you think. That’s the problem with the narcissist’s intermittent-reinforcement-style of love because right about the time you think maybe it really is going to be different …bam! Smacked in the face with more manipulation and mind games again.
You remember that the definition of insanity is to continually repeat the same cycles and behaviors while expecting different results. And yet, here you are. You’re tired of being in this relationship and tired of feeling consumed with trying to make it okay when you are clearly less important than literally anyone or anything else in the narcissist’s life.
Your cognitive dissonance is strong now. You always thought this relationship was supposed to be us against the world. Me and you, you and me. Ride or die. Unconditional acceptance of one another. You keep offering it up, but you inevitably get the opposite in return.

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.

Narcissistic Love is One-Sided and Conditional

Your relationship with an abusive narcissist will always be conditional and one-sided. You’re tired of never being enough. You’ve had enough of not being enough by now. You always say you’d rather be alone than unhappy … but the idea of losing everything you’ve worked so hard to build scares you more than the idea of shutting your mouth and pretending so that your kids can have a good life.
But you keep asking yourself this crazy question: am I really willing to give up the next umpteen years of my life being miserable? Isn’t it possible that I can have it both ways?
And yet, as you sit in the cold, numb aftermath of yet another attack on your personal character, your thoughts are dulled and foggy. You can’t seem to form a complete thought as the narcissist’s sharp, cutting insults replay over and over again in your head.
This torturous soundtrack is accompanied by a small voice in the back of your head, the part of you that remains indignant about the abuse, the slowly-dying part of that still knows it’s not normal and remembers that you deserve better. That part of you quietly counters the insults, reminds you that they’re all a part of the manipulation tactics the narcissist uses to gain control.
That’s the same part of you that truly knows that you’re not in a “healthy” relationship and that there’s little chance you’ll successfully change this person. That part of your mind races, struggling to form a plan to fix things, to make your escape, or to at least find “normal” again.
And it’s that part that will ultimately help you to not just exist and survive, but also to really thrive and become the fully realized person you deserve to be. The longer you remain in a toxic relationship, the more you deny your truths in order to avoid the wrath of this narcissist, the quieter this voice becomes.

Denying Your Feelings as a Result of Narcissistic Abuse

When you deny your feelings when you allow yourself to be told that you’re not a real person and that you don’t matter – you begin to act as if that is true. You start to breathe and believe it – you emanate a vibrational sense of “I’m not good enough.” And you become inferior because you believe that you’re inferior.
It’s hard to be happy when someone is always criticizing everything you say and do. It feels like you’re always walking on eggshells. And when you start to actually enjoy a conversation, whether it’s with them or with someone else, they cut you off because they aren’t interested in anything you have to say or they interrupt because whoever you’re talking to is not paying attention to them…well…it’s emotionally crippling, to say the least.
Only a person with extremely high self-esteem could even survive it, you think, let alone remain capable of thinking they have value in the world. You need someone to talk to, but you don’t know who will get it. You’re living in a constant state of invalidation. But why?

Because, at some point, during our toxic relationships and often beginning in childhood, people like you and me? We learn that love must be earned. We learn that our value and worth are conditional at best – and that’s if we think we have any at all. People hurt us and our souls are crushed. Our selves are lost.

Narcissistic Abuse Makes You Feel Unlovable and Worthless

We forget who we are, or maybe we never knew. We learn that people don’t love unconditionally, or that if they do, no one has found us worthy of such love. So what do we do? How do we deal?

We tiptoe around and we accept the crumbs – that intermittent reinforcement thing again- the crumbs of kindness and affection that have been our sustenance for our whole lives. We take those crumbs and we are grateful for them because we don’t even think we deserve this much, and we can’t imagine what it must feel like to be one of those people who has people who actually love them.

We pretend to be happy, Our faces smile, but not our eyes.

Most people don’t notice, and those who do make us feel attacked.  They say they’re concerned about us, they note that we’re different than we were before. And often, their concern is genuine. But whether we aren’t ready to hear it yet or we’re concerned that they’ll upset the abuser in our lives, we push them away and we hope they will just leave us alone. Because one more conflict with the narcissist will kill us, we think. And this person, as much as we love them, just doesn’t really get what we’re dealing with when it comes to our relationship with the narcissist.

Why Narcissistic Abuse Makes You Walk on Eggshells and What That Means for You

We learn to walk on eggshells, and we may or may not cognitively realize that underneath it all, we’re such nice people because we are secretly afraid that the narcissist will leave us, like everyone else does and has, in one way or another.

We get scared that everyone will leave us or otherwise abandon us. So we start being too nice to everyone around us. We stop talking about ourselves because people don’t seem interested and because our emotions seem to be a burden for anyone with whom we’ve shared them. We allow people to abuse us and we beg them to stay.

We accept it because we secretly fear that they have been right all along and that we truly are in fact unlovable.

Why You Have to Keep Starting Over in Narcissistic Abuse Recovery

Every now and then, we think we’re going to change ourselves. And we want to change our lives. We promise to ourselves that we’re finally going to start taking care of ourselves for once. We swear that we’re going to finally come into our own power and we’re going to start enforcing our boundaries – maybe for the first time ever in our lives.

We think it’s time to follow our passion and to actually start truly LIVING our lives. And sometimes, we succeed – we actually make things happen. Sometimes, we even manage to leave! Changes begin to become more and more apparent, and we think, “This is it! I’ve figured it all out!”

We are finally happy. We’re on top of the world! Other times, we fail. We forget to try, or we feel too exhausted at the end of the day. Or, we just…can’t.

But let me tell you something. Sometimes, it takes more than one shot. Sometimes, you have to keep starting again, and again. Sometimes, we have to learn new ways to think – and we have to do it again and again. We have to relearn all of it each time we forget. We have to remember who we are and what we’re doing here. The narcissist always does their best to make us forget, to shape and mold us into the extension of themselves they both want and simultaneously hate and resent. And yet, that little voice inside of ourselves keeps telling us that something isn’t right. That we need and in fact deserve better.

And you know what? That little voice, your intuition, is right. And it reminds you that the truth is that we only really fail when we stop starting. No matter where you are n your journey, and no matter how good it really gets, you still might, on occasion, have to start again. And that’s okay. You’re totally normal. Just keep starting. Don’t give up on yourself, and keep tuning in to that little voice, your gut – whatever you call it, tune into it and listen carefully. It is the part of you that knows the truth, and it’s the part of you that’s going to get you out of this whole thing and help you to take your life where you need it to go. You with me?

Question of the Day

Can you relate to dealing with narcissistic abuse in a toxic relationship? Share your thoughts, ideas, and experiences in the comments section below this video, and let’s talk about it 

Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support & Resources

If you feel you need additional help and support in your narcissistic abuse recovery, look for a trauma-informed professional who is trained in helping people who are dealing with overcoming narcissistic abuse in toxic relationships. Depending on your particular situation, you might benefit from Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Coaching, or you might do better with a therapist. You have to decide what to do from here – if you’re not sure, start with my free Narcissistic Abuse Recovery quiz. With your results will come recommended resources for your situation. It’s totally free.

More Free, Helpful Information & Resources to Help 

Related Resources for Narcissistic Abuse Recovery

 

 

Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive Dissonance

Maybe you’ve heard the term ‘cognitive dissonance’ before, maybe you haven’t. Regardless of where you are in your healing journey, if you’re just discovering the term cognitive dissonance now, it will help shed some light on why you feel like the crazy one for believing that something is wrong in the relationship – and that something is not within yourself.

Are they really a narcissist? What if I was wrong? It wasn’t so bad, was it?

How often have you asked yourself these questions? Be honest.

Ever find yourself wondering if your love will be enough to heal the toxic person? You may be experiencing cognitive dissonance and abuse amnesia. 

Cognitive Dissonance, Feeling Conflicted, and Trauma Bonds 

Do you know the feeling of really not wanting to be with the narcissist ever again but then feeling the urge to contact them? That is just one example of cognitive dissonance. But let’s get a little more specific.

What is cognitive dissonance? 

Officially, cognitive dissonance is a form of psychological stress or discomfort that happens when you simultaneously hold two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values.

Ironically, cognitive dissionance often affects narcissists as well as their victims at different times and for very different reasons.

In layman’s terms, cognitive dissonance is the holding of two conflicting beliefs or values at the same time.

Examples of Cognitive Dissonance 

Though inconsistent thinking is common in those who have been subjected to narcissistic abuse, it may not necessarily be a sign of cognitive dissonance. There are other factors that can bring about this tendency to have conflicting thoughts and feelings.

For example, when a person is experiencing intense emotions, they are more likely to be unable to process new information.

The goal here isn’t to assign blame or suggest some kind of thought disorder with regard to cognitive dissonance but rather to better understand why these sorts of internal conflicts happen in the first place.

Though inconsistent thinking is common in those who have been subjected to narcissistic abuse, it may not necessarily be a sign of cognitive dissonance. There are other factors that can bring about this tendency to have conflicting thoughts and feelings.

For example, when a person is experiencing intense emotions, they are more likely to be unable to process new information.

The goal here isn’t to assign blame or suggest some kind of thought disorder with regard to cognitive dissonance but rather to better understand why these sorts of internal conflicts happen in the first place.

Cognitive dissonance is exactly why you don’t hear many narcissists admitting their behaviors aren’t normal and it’s the reason why you keep blaming yourself for something that wasn’t your fault.

How does it feel to have cognitive dissonance?

When experiencing cognitive dissonance, your thoughts and emotions feel conflicted and can cause you to experience self-doubt, as well as self-blame and shame.  

The trauma bonds we feel after narcissistic abuse are amplified by this state of cognitive dissonance making it really difficult to move on.

Why is cognitive dissonance a concern for narcissistic abuse survivors?

Here’s the thing. cognitive dissonance is deeply uncomfortable on a neurological level, so when it happens, our brains sort of get to work to try to fix the problem. Our brains are actually attempting to protect us by “helping” us to understand law enforcement

The natural urge to reduce and resolve this dissonance pushes us to change our attitudes, or justify our behavior and we usually do this by changing our thoughts so that they are not in conflict.

For many survivors, it can be very difficult to get to the point of acceptance of who the narcissist really is when feeling cognitive dissonance.

In other words, you might be holding on to or even fooling yourself into seeing the idealized version of the narcissist that you first fell for, or the one they’ve been selling you their whole life. 

Not only does this mean you’re lying to yourself about the person you’re with, but your own needs and wants and even beliefs are switched out and the narcissist’s needs, wants and beliefs replace them. Or else. 

I say this with absolutely no snark, and from a place of love, deep emathy, and commiseration: It might be time to take off those rose-colored glasses and see what you’re really dealing with in regard to the narcissist in your life.

Understanding Cognitive Dissonance As It Relates to Narcisisstic Abuse

This video explains cognitive dissonance as it relates to narcissistic abuse and includes ideas and tips to help you with understanding what is happening to you as well as to make changes to get past the cognitive dissonance.

What is cognitive dissonance as it relates to narcissistic abuse?

In the case of narcissistic abuse, cognitive dissonance can be used to describe the internal battle that survivors go through when they start to unravel the lies and deception they were subjected to.

Cognitive dissonance can also be used to describe the way your brain tries to reconcile what happened to you with what you know about yourself and the world around you.

You question everything you know to be true

Imagine being told something over and over again until it becomes ingrained in your mind as fact.

Then one day, someone comes along and tells you that what you believed was actually false.

You begin to question everything you previously believed was true, but because it has become so engrained in your mind, it causes an internal struggle between your old beliefs and new ones.

This creates cognitive dissonance as your brain struggles to process this new information.

If this sounds familiar, know that you’re not alone; it’s estimated that around 90% of survivors have gone through this experience at some point during their recovery process.

Cognitive Dissonance and Abuse Amnesia

Cognitive Dissonance and Abuse Amnesia

Are they really a narcissist? What if I was wrong? It wasn’t so bad, was it? Are you asking yourself these questions or feeling like your love will be enough to make things ok/heal the toxic person? You may be experiencing cognitive dissonance and abuse amnesia. Check it out and let me know what you think.

Lise Colucci is one of the narcissistic abuse recovery life coaches at QueenBeeing.com. For info or to schedule a coaching appointment with Lise go to https://queenbeeing.com/lise-colucci-c

Join The QueenBeeing SPANily (Support for People Affected by Narcissistic abuse in toxic relationships) – AKA “The SPANily” – at https://queenbeeing.com/span.

Trauma Bonds and Ways to Heal

Trauma Bonds and Ways to Heal

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. Have you experienced this or wonder what a trauma bond is? Here are a few ways to help you break those bonds too . What are your thoughts or experiences?

Lise Colucci is one of the narcissistic abuse recovery life coaches at QueenBeeing.com.  For info  or to schedule a coaching appointment with Lise go to https://queenbeeing.com/lise-colucci-c

Join The QueenBeeing SPANily (Support for People Affected by Narcissistic abuse in toxic relationships) – AKA “The SPANily” – at https://queenbeeing.com/span.

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