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.

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Your Anxiety and Depression May Have Been Caused by Narcissistic Abuse, Study Says

Your Anxiety and Depression May Have Been Caused by Narcissistic Abuse, Study Says

Until the last decade or so, I rarely felt super happy. My life seemed to alternate between feeling stressed and anxious and feeling depressed. Sure, there were occasional bouts of feeling ALMOST happy, and there were a few high points I could share. But in general, my resting state was always waiting for the other shoe to drop. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t focus.

Dissociation as a Symptom of Narcissistic Abuse

I was so dissociated that I struggled to even feel like a real person. But when I learned about how my toxic relationships with narcissists had affected me on some fairly profound levels, I also learned how to choose my own perception and eventually managed to switch it up. These days, my resting state is usually at the very least calm, if not actually happy.

And while my life wasn’t so great back then, it turns out that I’m not unusual in this way. See, living with constant anxiety, depression and stress is a common problem for people who are or who have been involved in longterm relationships with narcissists – whether they’re your spouse, partner, parent or someone else. And, according to a study I’m going to share with you today, we’ve been right all along: narcissistic behavior in toxic relationships literally causes anxiety and depression – even after the relationship ends.

In this video, I’ll explain all of that and give you tips on how you can manage and resolve it in your own life.

(See video on YouTube)

You might already know that the feeling of being anxious is something we’ve inherited from our ancestors, but did you know that anxiety developed early in our evolution in order to help prehistoric humans survive in their unstable and dangerous environment? It’s true!

Defined as an overall feeling or sense of nervousness, worry and general unease, humans of today are still plagued with anxiety, though it isn’t necessary in our current world since, for the most part, we’re not fighting to stay alive every day.

So then why is it that we still struggle with it to the point that there are a number of officially diagnosed anxiety disorders? And how is it that going through a toxic relationship and dealing with common narcissistic behaviors causes these disorders, along with clinical depression and various forms of PTSD? Well, this is where that study I mentioned comes in.

If you were raised by a narcissist, you won’t be surprised to learn that a study published by the National Library of Medicine reports that being raised by narcissistic parents can cause anxiety disorders and major depression.

But just to summarize it for you, the study collects a number of academic psychology reports and scientific research papers that point to the issue: the anxiety orders of today all seem to indicate that any sort of psychological or emotional trauma in childhood is the culprit.

How Narcissistic Abuse Leads to Anxiety and Depression

It turns out that going through what the study authors termed “early life stress” can profoundly affect the central nervous system (CNS). In layman’s terms, that means that your nervous system becomes almost disabled, compared to that of someone who didn’t experience such traumas. That’s because these kinds of traumas and the levels of stress you experience during narcissistic abuse will lead to high amounts of inflammatory hormones being dumped into our systems. And even when we’re not actively being traumatized – and this is the worst part – our bodies begin to release these same hormones even at the memory of these traumas. Essentially, we become overloaded with emotional stress.

Study Confirms That Narcissistic Abuse Causes Lifelong Mental Health Issues

The study confirms what I’ve been saying for years: going through narcissistic abuse, whether as a child or as an adult, is now considered a major risk factor that can contribute to anxiety disorders, depression and PTSD. And, going through psychological abuse can be equally and even more profound on its effects on your mental health when compared to experiencing physical abuse and aggression.

Surviving Trauma in Childhood Doesn’t Doom Your Mental Health, BUT…

On the plus side, psychologists say, going through this as a kid doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll absolutely develop anxiety in your lifetime. Still, traumatic events in childhood – especially while your brain is still developing – can definitely contribute to the supersensitivity seen in the neuroendocrine and stress response systems. That means that going through additional emotional and/or psychological traumas as you get older can trigger anxiety, depression and other psychological disorders.

Because of the increased stress and the fact that in time, most sufferers of narcissistic abuse experience adrenal fatigue, this can be the most dangerous kind of abuse.

When the adrenal fatigue hits, you’re going to be dealing with several possible outcomes – again, including an anxiety disorder, clinical depression, or both.

What Makes You More Susceptible to Narcissistic Abuse?

Worse, feeling anxious and depressed means you’re more susceptible to narcissistic abuse and therefore less likely to be able to extricate yourself from a toxic relationship, which explains why so many of us struggle to leave or go no contact with the narcissists in our lives.

Narcissists tend to target sensitive, empathic and compassionate people. People who are wired to always see the best in other people and who by nature are helpers or fixers. People who make an effort to understand the narcissist, and who often see their glaring flaws and choose to love them anyway. People who will put the narcissist’s needs above their own at nearly any cost.

This of course leads to the narcissist’s initial recognition that this is someone they want to keep around – so they begin to create the web of crazy that we end up stuck in during these toxic relationships. They begin to try to make you emotionally, physically and/or financially dependent on them. And they do it by whatever means necessary.

But how do they accomplish it?

How do narcissists take control of you?

They start by devaluing you – at first, maybe with little jabs and undercutting comments. Later, it becomes more direct and aggressive, and before you know it, they’re deep into gaslighting. That’s where they intentionally and willfully psychologically “game” you by making you doubt your reality and question your own perception.

They start to make you feel crazy, and while some part of you KNOWS that you’re perfectly sane, deep down, the constant repetition eventually wears you down and you find yourself wondering if you really ARE crazy.

Adrenal fatigue and its effects in narcissistic abuse

This part is exactly where you begin to experience adrenal fatigue. You start to feel foggy and confused, and you question your very sanity. You doubt your morals and your ethics and honestly; you don’t even know who you are anymore.

You are living in a constant state of stress and a complete lack of self=confidence. This, of course, leaves you feeling lost, confused and alone in your relationship and in your life. You avoid your friends and extended family members. You start to feel uncomfortable in any social situation. You forget how to talk about yourself. You start to dissociate.

You might even get physically sick. It’s like you’re not even there sometimes.

This makes it feel impossible to free yourself sometimes, and many unfortunate people find themselves feeling completely stuck with literally no options.

Narcissistic abuse isn’t your fault

You might blame yourself for being in this situation. But you shouldn’t – instead, you should recognize that while the narcissist dragged you down, and while a coach, therapist or support group can help, only YOU can ultimately pull yourself out of it.

The question of the day is: are you as unshocked by this study as me? Have you experienced this kind of relationship? Share your thoughts, share your ideas, share your experiences in the comments 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.

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