Trauma Bonds and Intermittent Reinforcement

Trauma Bonds and Intermittent Reinforcement

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. 

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? 

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. 

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Why You Feel So Confused All the Time

Why You Feel So Confused All the Time

After my first marriage, I found myself missing my toxic ex. It was the strangest thing! I knew logically that it was not healthy for me to feel this way but I couldn’t stop remembering the good times. The longer I was away, the more the bad times seemed to slip my mind.

As it turns out, I’m not alone here.

Why do you feel so confused all the time when a narcissist is involved?

So often, I hear survivors of toxic relationships are sad about the loss of a narcissist – not the toxic person they currently know, but the person they thought they’d known – or the person they believed they were involved with.

Today, we’re going to talk about why there’s so much confusion in toxic relationships (video) – and what you can do to eliminate it.

Why is there so much confusion in and around toxic relationships?

Well … on an essential level, it’s because the narcissist hides behind a sort of “armor” that is their “false self.” That means that they fool you from very early on.

Your first impression of the narcissist may have been a very good one; that’s because he or she showed you only the best parts of themselves when you met – they constructed a series of qualities and traits that are those they present to the outside world.

They make it very difficult to see who they truly are – you’re stuck deciding whether you’ve really got the sweet and charming love you signed up for, or whether the wool was pulled over your eyes and the real narcissist is actually the toxic, abusive, insulting and manipulative narcissist you’re dealing with in real life.

Of course, this leads you to a serious kind of mental torture that causes you to literally be at odds with yourself – we call that cognitive dissonance. You’re trying to reconcile the illusion you were initially presented with the person you have now got to deal with.

In a lot of cases, in order to cope with this mess, you start trying to improve your SELF – to change for him/her. But in reality, you’ve done nothing wrong and you’re not the issue at all – you’re just subconsciously trying to uphold that initial impression you had of the narcissist – the image of his or her false self that is challenged during the inevitable devaluation phase.

By the time you get to the discard phase (also inevitable with a narcissistic person – the cycle, like the beat, goes on), you’ll be treated to glimpses of the truly ugly face of the narcissist – the one that spews out the cruel and painful poison that causes you to lose all faith in yourself faster than you can say boo.

And you see the coldness, the callous indifference that leads to what feels like absolute torture to you.

While your first reaction is that everyone has a bad moment and this can’t be who they really are, the truth is that this is probably the closest you’ll come to actually seeing the narcissist’s REAL self.

This is about the time you recognize that the amazingly charming or engaging or otherwise awesome person you got involved with in the beginning is gone – and suddenly you see this horrible contempt that they have for you. And when you realize they felt that way all along, your heart breaks a little more, if that’s possible.

But what you have to realize here is that none of this is your fault. In reality, narcissists are not capable of feeling genuine love or empathy for anyone else – they just use people to meet their own selfish needs. Once they exhaust one source of supply, it’s on to the next.

Don’t let yourself believe in the magical connection you once thought you had – it was just a part of the whole narcissistic abuse cycle – an illusion, just like the narcissist’s identity.

So now that you know all of this, what do you do with it?

You start picking up the pieces of yourself, and you begin the healing process. You go forward, and you go no contact (or low contact, if you’re forced to deal with him/her – say at work or as a co-parent). You aren’t to blame – you were simply used as a pawn in the narcissist’s game.

Do you feel confused all the time?

Or do you ever find yourself wondering, “Why am I so confused all the time?” I know I have – and I know I’m not alone here. If you’re anything like me, you’re naturally curious and you actively look for solutions or at least answers to the things you’re dealing with in life. That means that you’re probably here because you’ve been searching for answers on why you’re feeling so lost and confused lately.

I have good news and bad news for you. The good news? This search may have just changed your life. The bad news? You may be dealing with a toxic person in your life. So, let’s dig in a bit and help you figure this out.

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The feeling of being constantly confused can lead you to questions like:

  • Am I losing my mind?
  • How do I stop being confused?
  • What is causing me to feel so confused?
  • Is something wrong with me, or is someone else causing this?
  • What can cause mental confusion?
  • Is this confusion related to someone in my life?
  • Is my relationship in my life causing me to be confused?
  • Could I be dealing with gaslighting?

If you’re in a relationship that leaves you feeling confused and unsure of yourself all the time, this video is for you.

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