Today we are going to delve into the hotly debated topic of trauma bonding with a narcissist.
Have you questioned over and over and over and over why letting go of your toxic ex has been such a difficult uphill battle?
Have your friends and family ever asked you “why on earth you chose to stay in such an unhealthy relationship with your toxic ex for as long you did?”
Or perhaps you are still caught up in the entanglement of dating someone you know deep down inside is in fact toxic and not good for you, but you just can’t seem to pull away from them – you feel addicted to them, despite the way they have continued to treat you?
If you answered yes to any of those questions you probably are experiencing the effects of trauma bonding with a narcissist or some other toxic personality type. Firstly, you are not crazy, delusional, or overreacting. Your symptoms of addiction to this toxic person and relationship are very real and there are two reasons why you are feeling as though you can never live without having this person in your life and that first reason is the unhealthy emotional attachment that you have formed with this person.
How and why does this unhealthy emotional attachment happen?
(1.) The most common reason unhealthy attachments occur is from having experienced in childhood some form of neglect or abuse that negatively impacted your ability, in adulthood, to form healthy attachments to other people in your life, more specifically within your intimate relationships. You might have been punished and disciplined consistently as a child and to win back the approval or love of your, for example, parents you realized that being a ‘good little girl’ or ‘good little boy’ was the quickest and best way to receive the positive attention and treatment you desired to have from those who cared for you.
(2.) Another example and I fall within this grouping as well, is that of growing up in a single-parent home. My mother is an amazing woman, hard-working nurse, devoted mother, and fierce protector of her family; my brother and I never wanted for anything growing up. We had a normal childhood and were loved and cared for mostly by our mother. However, although my father was in our lives to some extent, he wasn’t physically present in our home; and because I did not have a stable, male adult figure living in my home early on in my life my formative years, my expectations for how a man should treat and show affection for a woman was non-existent or a guessing game.
As such, when I met the covert narcissist, I did not have a template to compare him to; what I do know for sure is that I was smitten by his carefully, crafted persona of being my prince charming. Mix in a seductive cocktail of ‘love bombing’, which I speak about in my article, entitled Signs You Are Dating a Toxic Relationship, and ta-da! You have just persuaded someone, in this case, me, into believing that this person is your true soulmate. However, not all situations where an unhealthy emotional attachment is present in a relationship means that you have experienced some sort of neglect or abuse in childhood.
Other possibilities could be that you have low self-esteem, low self-worth, and lack personal boundaries which some would argue are usually formed during your childhood years, but for whatever reason in your adult years are non-existent or have been corrupted and weakened; which keeps you locked into the cycle of attracting and dating toxic individuals.
The second reason why most targets experience trauma bonding with a narcissist is because of the relationship's, unhealthy addictive nature.
Below I have constructed my own personal definition of what trauma bonding with a narcissist means based upon my own personal experience of dating and eventually being devalued and discarded by a covert narcissist. I've also researched other survivors experience with trauma bonding and I've come to further understand trauma bonding as - an individual's inability while dating a toxic person to sever ties and walk away from their abuser without feeling inadequate, obsessive and compulsive:
Seeking approval from your abuser
Seeking love outside of what you can give to yourself
Validation that you matter and are important to this person
Obsessive thoughts about your abuser
Anxiety and fear of losing the narcissist in your life permanently
Selflessly giving of yourself without receiving in return
Furthermore, because trauma bonding is an intense conditioning tactic utilized by most narcissists and other toxic personality types the victim will usually experience withdrawal symptoms similar to cocaine addicts who are desperately seeking another hit to get them high. How is that possible? Well, victims of narcissistic abuse who have been excessively love-bombed and then methodically devalued for a prolonged period will experience increased levels of Dopamine (which is responsible for our motivation, triggers pleasure and satisfaction as part of our reward system and stimulates how we are aroused). It is a neurotransmitter that is released by our brains and is the same biochemical reaction that drug addicts AND victims of narcissistic abuse are releasing at rapid rates when taking drugs OR when experiencing the highs and lows of being love-bombed by an emotionally abusive intimate partner.
The Emotional Cycle of Intermittent Reinforcement
As a result, when an abuser, such as a narcissist, decides to strategically withdraw their love, affection, and attention without warning vs. when the abuser decides to enticingly, bombard their target with bouts of ‘love bombing’ when it is convenient and beneficial for them to do so is what usually induces that feeling of being addicted to the narcissist and how it's often experienced and described by victims of narcissistic abuse. According to Helen Fisher, "this back and forth, up and down giving than taking routine is known as Intermittent Reinforcement" and one of the major causes you feel as though you are on a perpetual, emotional roller-coaster while dating a narcissist or some other toxic personality type.
The cyclical nature of the intermittent reinforcement phase creates an ongoing, never-ending series of arousal (the love-bombing phase) and devaluing episodes (withdrawal of attention and love) within the relationship. Fisher further states that because key biochemicals are being flooded into our brain it causes us to momentarily experience the same euphoric, blissful feeling that most addicts crave to experience when they are using drugs, such as cocaine. For example, Fisher claims that when we are being 'love bombed' by our abuser that blissful feeling of love releases another chemical known as norepinephrine from our brain, which is responsible for the intense feeling of wanting to re-experience what is known as the 'honeymoon' phase over and over again, which most couples who are first falling in love with one another describe as feeling as though they are on cloud nine in the early stages of getting to know one another - the arousal of our deepest emotions.
Love Bombing and Other Tactics
What you must understand is that narcissist and other toxic personality types are masterful at having the ability to intuit when is the most opportune time to manipulatively inject their targets - energetically and emotionally - with another round of their enticing, 'love bombing' cocktail whenever they want to arouse their target into giving them something favorable, such as sex, money, shelter or whatever it is that they are trying to extract from their target.
Likewise, when they are in the mood to devalue and discard their target, yet again, they will cunningly and strategically become cold and inattentive as they gleefully withhold the love they know their target craves and is hoping to get from them, much like a drug dealer supplying or withholding drugs from an addict. Think about it, when you are constantly being flooded with intense hormones such as, dopamine, cortisol, serotonin, oxytocin, and adrenaline - what do you think will happen?
Naturally, your system will become dysregulated, unbalanced, and frantic always wanting to receive more of 'the good stuff' - the enticing cocktail, crafted into the form of their 'love bombing' tactic; and this is how they are able to maintain control within the relationship and of their target for such long periods of time. The hot and cold, Dr. Jekyll vs. Mr. Hyde charade is the narcissist modus operandi.
In PART TWO of this article I will delve into a few tips and advice to help you free yourself from the grips of trauma bonding with a narcissist. You are not alone. Help and support are available to you if you are truly prepared to let go of the toxic relationship you are currently in and finally RECLAIM, HEAL and TRANSFORM your life!
I hope you enjoyed this week's article and have gained some valuable information to help you move forward with confidence! As a Breakup and Wellness Coach my work in this world is dedicated to supporting and helping women such as yourself to HEAL, RECLAIM and TRANSFORM your life after leaving a toxic relationship. Do reach out if you would like to discuss how I can support you on your journey of recovery, healing, and transformation.
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