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

The Psychology of Toxic Relationships Between Narcissists and Codependents – Trauma Bonding

The Psychology of Toxic Relationships Between Narcissists and Codependents – Trauma Bonding

Let’s dig into the psychology of what happens between a narcissist and a codependent in a toxic relationship. The typical toxic relationship involves trauma bonding. Learn why and how trauma bonding happens in a toxic relationship, plus the psychology of the narcissist as well as the psychology of the codependent during the relationship. And finally, we’ll touch on what it takes to heal after such a relationship.

This video goes into what trauma bonding means in detail. 

What is Trauma Bonding?

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.

Read more about trauma bonding here. 

What is a Narcissist?

A narcissist, in general,  is someone with a high opinion of him/herself, but when we’re talking about narcissistic abuse, we’re talking about the type of person who is toxic, verbally (and sometimes physically) abusive. They may or may not also be diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder. For the record, while it is not considered to be a “mental illness,” but a personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder manifests in an inflated sense of importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others.

What is Codependency?

Codependency is complex, but a general definition is that it is a toxic emotional and behavioral condition that makes it nearly impossible to have a healthy, mutually satisfying relationship. It is also known as “relationship addiction” because people with codependency often form and stay in relationships that are one-sided, emotionally destructive, and/or abusive. The term originates from Alcoholics Anonymous but fits toxic relationships surprisingly well.

How do you let go of the narcissist when you’re dealing with trauma bonding?

In this video, I explain exactly what you need to do in order to let go of the narcissist in your life when you’re struggling with being trauma bonded. It’s time to stop allowing the narcissist to live in your head – do this instead! Stop Letting the Narcissist Live In Your Head After Discard: DO THIS! Plus: I’ll teach you how to deal with your toxic anger once it stops being useful in your recovery (to propel you forward) and how to recognize when it’s time to let go, and how to release your anger and heal in the end.

How can you make recovering from narcissistic abuse less painful?

I always say that when you “think like a scientist,” you can significantly reduce the pain – that’s how it worked for me! In this video, I’ll fill you in on exactly what I mean, as well as how you can do it too!

What stage of narcissistic abuse recovery healing are you in?

Knowing your stage of recovery is the best way to know what to do to heal yourself if you are in one of these toxic relationships. Take our self-assessment to find your stage in narcissistic abuse recovery right here, free.

Resources for Narcissistic Abuse Recovery

Do you think you’re being abused by a narcissist in a toxic relationship? Have you dealt with narcissistic abuse in the past? Are you working on narcissistic abuse recovery? If so, you’ll want to know about these resources.

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