Trauma Bonding & the Narcissist – Nobody Does it Better!

emotional-rollar-coasterFeeling attached to a narcissist or sociopath even though he treats us badly is a constant source of angst for those in recovery from toxic relationships. Victims want to know why…why can’t I just let go of this guy? Why can’t I move on? Why am I obsessed with no closure? Why do I feel so connected to someone who feels no connection to me? One logical answer to this is that we’re normal and they’re not and normal people want to fix things that are broken so that they work again.

The problem, of course, is that a narcissist can’t be fixed because he was never right to begin with. In essence, the narcissist isn’t really broken at all. He simply is what he is and what he is is no good. This being true, what do we do, after a Discard, when we can’t shake the feeling of being only ½ a person without him…of feeling utterly attached even when we’re apart and even when he’s with someone else? Why can’t we disconnect from the Bad Man? Well, there is an answer to this for those who seek a deeper psychological reason for the suffering and it’s a condition often referred to as trauma bonding.

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When we think of trauma bonding, we typically associate it with The Stockholm Syndrome (TSS) – a condition named after a real-life situation where a group of hostages became emotionally attached to their kidnapers. TSS, however, although certainly similar to trauma bonding, typically occurs in life-threatening situations where the victim is literally in fear of dying at the hands of her toxic, abusive partner. Trauma bonding is more descriptive of the attachment dilemma that occurs from the type of trauma caused to our emotions (i.e. betrayal and neglect, over and over and over). It’s the type of bonding that can easily occur via passive-aggressive manipulation (i.e. sex, lies, silent treatments) and other forms of narcissistic control.

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The narcissist partner, as cunning as he or she is, understands the process for streamlining a victim’s codependency to point of least resistance. He has actually figured out – without a single day of formal training – that the best way to ensure narcissistic supply is to create trauma bonds with his targets via the method of “seduce and discard”.  He has figured out an easy way to turn us into a narcissist’s enabler.

The conditioning that leads to trauma bonding focuses on two powerful sources of reinforcement recurring in succession over and over and at perfectly timed intervals. Psychologists call this reinforcement the ‘arousal-jag’ which actually refers to the excitement before the trauma (arousal) and the peace of surrender afterwards (jag). Take a second to reflect on the narcissist’s behaviors. Creating trauma bonds is what he’s been doing his whole life!

‘Arousal-jag’ reinforcement is all about giving a little and then taking it away over and over and over in well timed intervals. Narcissists do this all the time (disappearing/reappearing, silence/chaos) whereby creating an illusion of twisted excitement that reinforces the traumatic bond between us and them. And to be clear, the narcissist feels a connection here as well only his connection is to the excitement alone and not to us. This is why a narcissist always has multiple partners because it doubles and triples his excitement factor. The fact that we – as his victims – become so attached to the chaos that we’ll eagerly await a hoover is quite an added bonus!

Are you getting it yet??

The excitement before the trauma (of betrayal and neglect) is created during the devalue stage…that point in time right before a discard when our intuition has already told us he’s going to leave based on his behaviors. It’s that knot-in-the-stomach feeling, the overwhelming urge to call his phone 100 times, the torment of cognitive dissonance…. it’s the hours spent scouring the internet looking for clues…it’s the feeling we get from the chaos that a narcissist ALWAYS creates right before the silence. Like it or not, we become highly addicted to his narcissistic behaviors and all of the nonsense that goes with it… and we miss it like a motherfucker when it’s gone…when, suddenly, the narcissist goes silent. We long for the connection – as manipulated and fabricated as it is – until we can barely breathe. Then, right before we either kill ourselves or come to our senses, in swoops the narcissist once again – like a Phoenix rising – to give us the second reinforcement: the peace of surrender that happens afterwards. His reappearance is meticulously timed for maximum effect and usually follows a silent treatment that has lasted just a tad longer than the one before. The narcissist is conditioning us to accept less and less so he can get away with more each time he vanishes.

Either way, this second dose of reinforcement – the peace of surrender – is absolutely heaven! Again, it’s an addiction – to the narcissist and the make-up sex, to the vanishing of our anxiety, and to the feeling of calmness and euphoria we get from knowing that, once again, we’ve been given a reprieve to breathe until the cycle repeats again. Seduce and discard…seduce and discard…till the end of all fucking time. And, at the moment it’s happening, we’re actually okay with that! In fact, there’s no place in the world we’d rather be.

As I am writing this, I am realizing that my ex worked very, very hard at trauma bonding. In fact, he was a Master at it, subjecting me to silent treatments (two weeks on/two weeks off) like clockwork, for months at a time, and with no explanation at all. In addition, from mid-October to mid-January every year for 13 years he made like Houdini and fell completely off the grid.  And right before leaving, he’d ramp up the chaos, making me feel horribly anxious and angry yet desperate for his attention. But I was addicted to it and he knew it.  Wayne knew exactly what he was doing!

Our addiction to the narcissistic chaos and then to the reprieve also explains why we find it so hard to maintain No Contact and/or to move on into new relationships after it’s over. No one excites us in quite the same way or with the same intensity as a toxic partner. Via trauma bonding, we become the suffering and the suffering becomes us. We forget what normalcy feels like. We stop differentiating between good excitement and bad excitement. The chaos and turmoil becomes almost as big a turn-on for us as it does for the N.

If we look back on or inward on (if we’re still in it) our relationship, we see that at the moment the Idolize Phase ends, the trauma bonding began. We may not have even known this but you can be sure that the narcissist did. As time passed and the narcissistic partner became more successful at managing down our expectations of the relationship, our connection to the nonsense began to stick like super glue. But now that we know it….that there is a name for that strange hold this bizarre person had over us..we can make sure it never happens to us again. If we’re still in the relationship, then we can get out (and fast!) because, unlike a hostage victim who trauma bonds with a kidnapper, we are NOT being held at gunpoint and we CAN escape. Let us be grateful for that fact and do what we need to do to save our sanity.

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  • Angela

    December 28, 2016 at 4:40 am Reply

    I’m experiencinformation this now I think..
    I have written to you before.. during D&D not only did I go back but the treatment got worse and he physically attracted me when I’d finally decided to try set some boundaries. Fractured my jaw, displaced my two fronthings teeth and split my lip in two which required 12 stitches.
    My mum reported this to the police and he is currently on bail ( he doesn’t know I’ve made a statement as I originally wouldn’t give one until the hoovering started up again and I realised he was in was never going to be free to live my life. I wouldn’t mind he’s hoovering me whilst living with his pregnant ex!
    This article has some what made it clear to me why I’m wracked with so much guilt, he has tried to ruin me mentally, financially and physically yet when the text messages came it took every bit of will power I possess to not reply and pass them on to the police.
    7 days and his bail ends and the police will remand him. I’m in counselling to get pass the guilt I feel when logically I’ve done nothing wrong.
    God give me strength and to all those dealing with these evil beings xx

    • Zari Ballard

      January 3, 2017 at 2:42 am Reply

      Hi Angela,

      My hope is that police come and get him and put him away. Yes, you are trauma bonded to be sure but now it’s a new year and you’ve got to think about your future. In the blink of an eye, another year will go by and then another and then another. Get a restraining order, move in with your mum if you haven’t already, get a gun or some way to defend yourself…DO NOT TAKE HIM BACK. At some point, it has to end. Who cares about guilt! What are you possibly feeling guilty about??? You have to know better and I’m sure that you do. No doubt he is a manipulator. How is he out on bail…is it pending a trial? It appears as if you may be the one who has to disappear so that he CAN NOT hoover you…lose his number and BLOCK him. If you don’t, girl, he will abuse you until he kills you.

      Please let me know how you are doing, my sister. I’m here to support you no matter what:)

      Zari xoxo

  • Gail

    December 26, 2016 at 11:26 pm Reply

    And thank you so much. I spent my entire day reading this site. Beginning 8:30a.m.-11:39p.m..
    Clicking on the site has been one of the best thing’s that happened in 2 years.
    As I read everything here, my mind visualized my lifes past 5 years. I was there reliving moments, I could see his face,expressions, hear his words,& feel the tension as I did then.
    All the post from others,& reading relatable to living this hell I became emotional and excited for the 1st time in 5 years I finally had some answers to my WHYs.
    The heaviness in my heart, felt slightly less now that I had some understanding of the hell I lived in. I believed that I wouldn’t ever know what living in this hell was about or why.
    I would take this hollow soul to my grave.
    Now I have slight hope that it’s possible I might find a little more peace from the help here.
    I do not feel I will ever be able to find complete healing anywhere. I went through some very traumatic situations that go beyond defining abuse.Emotional and physical and then some.
    Day after day I live through it even now that he’s been gone 2 years. The daily fight within my heart and mind tear my world apart.
    I do not live, I only exist.
    I never knew any of this such type of abuse or person had an actual definition, a knowledge of, and real explanation of reasoning for something so awful.
    Amazing, truly amazing is all I can say right now.
    I understand now thing’s no one should ever have to try and understand.
    But I thank God for bringing this site up when I Googled “why I still love my abuser”.
    Just another one of my questions of many I have been seeking an answer to through the years.
    I look forward to reading eveyone last word here. I pray I find more hope and answers I once never had.
    Thank you again so very much.

    • Zari Ballard

      December 27, 2016 at 2:20 pm Reply

      Hi Gail,

      Thank you for sharing and I am SO GRATEFUL that you found my site helpful. The same thing happened to me years ago when I discovered I would think about reading on the site every minute that I was away from it. I felt just like you do. I saw myself and my narcissist in every post. This discovery gives us our “a-ha” moment, doesn’t it? It suddenly, and in the blink of an eye, gives us a place to belong.

      You don’t have to “just exist”, my sister. There is light at the end of this tunnel and you can – and will – make it to the other side. I have just now sent you a PDF copy of my book, When Love Is a Lie, to the email that you used to post your message. Please look for it. If you don’t see it, check your SPAM folder because sometimes Gmail will do that to a Yahoo email. Hang in there, girl. We are all here to support you….

      Zari xo

      • Gail

        December 27, 2016 at 8:56 pm Reply

        Hello Zari,
        I can not thank you enough for your kindness and for helping me.
        I do not have words to express the feelings of my gratitude for you, my hopes,and the sense of understanding I have come to find here.
        Finally! Finally! I have some understanding and the answers to some of the “WHY’S ” I have desperately asked everyday since I met him, and after leaving asking WHY? became an overbearing obsession. I was miserably destroyed in the extreme chaos I put myself through trying to find answers.
        I have sent him hundreds of emails, I was sending them daily multiple times a day.
        I would text,call, I begged, I pleaded. I begged God.
        I just wanted to die literally, because I was so consumed by this.
        Tbh. I still am but not to the extreme I was.
        I am still stuck because I am still waiting for him. I do not feel I can be out in a social world, and impossible the thought of any communication from another man.
        I do not feel I will ever be acceptable for feelings of intimacy,love,or even happiness between a man & a woman.
        I can say honestly though reading thsee articles have as I said ,made me feel a little bit more like I will find a clearer view in my thoughts and thinking.
        I admit I sat a few hours in disbelief and it hurt to realize that none of it was ever true.
        He didn’t love me. It was all not even real. I don’t understand why someone would be so cruel. I never did anything ever to deserve this. Oh God, why??
        But while yes it hurts, by now understanding what a narcissist is through reading information about it, I feel like I’m not all the blame anymore. That insight is a good feeling. Now that the initial shock has passed.
        I am going to strive with everything I have to get to that light you tell me of.
        I do exactly what you said you did with the site you found. I wake up and come here I go to sleep from here. This site has become like a daily must have.
        I am so eager to find that light.
        I thank you so much for the book,the hope and for being there.
        Thank you

      • Gail

        December 28, 2016 at 10:42 am Reply

        Oh wow..I am really sorry to just randomly post comments that maybe..Fuk I don’t know.
        I am to page 40 of your book and I can’t stop crying. I cannot believe this.
        It’s all so horrible true.. Omg monsters do not even come close to describing these creatures. I don’t even know wtf to call them. Heartless evil mother fuckers.
        I am destroyedto my very core of existence from him.
        I am soooo undesirable right now, I am trying to focus more.
        I feel kinda stupid right now posting this text. I just felt a strong need to talk to someone who knows. And that is definitely you. I thank you so much for your help for knowledge. Knowing exactly what is going on.
        I ll be honest I wish maybe I didn’t know right now. I don’t understand what just happened.
        I hope you will write me back soon. I would love to call you but I have been seriously living in my room for two years on what that bastard didnt consume of my income which would be nothing. My daughter actually struggles to pay the rent because I’m not a person and won’t go outside much less into the world. WORK!? I haven’t worked, I don’t even have human contact.
        I just miserably exsist. And pretend someday I’ll be that amazing woman I once was.
        Again I’m sorry. I just needed to tell someone something.

      • Nicki

        March 1, 2017 at 8:18 am Reply

        Hi Gail – I read through your post(s) and this is what struck me – you said:

        He never loved me! That made me go blank. he pushed so hard to teach me love, to open up, and seemed so desperate to be love. it was me who wanted nothing to do with love at all.

        Think about that statement – “it was ME who wanted nothing to do with love at all.” You had a complete epiphany! when WE realize the part that we played, you begin to heal your old wounds that have haunted you. The reason you were (notice how I’m using past tense) enmeshed in this relationship is because YOU thought YOU didn’t deserve love. This relationship was a mirror. YOU thought you didn’t deserve love so that’s why you continued to be stuck.

        He didn’t teach you love. He taught you to condition yourself to put up with his control which isn’t love. It feels like love right now because that’s all you know. Once you get yourself emotionally healthy and love yourself again, you will attract people who love you – not people who control you. And I’m going to tell you this girl, you’re going to feel weirded out when this does happen. You’re going to say that he’s boring, or you don’t feel any passion. that’s because your view of “love” is hitting, controlling and manipulating. When someone lets you live your own life and make your own choices and supports you, that’s love.

        If you keep doing the work on yourself, you will learn to love yourself again. Trust me. This happened to me. I am only 5 days into No Contact (he thinks it’s the silent treatment – won’t he be surprised?) but I feel on top of the world. Only 5 days you ask? Yup – that’s because I did the work WHILE I was with my Narcissist. I logged everything in a book – his weird behavior, what he did, what he said – anything I could. I took that book to a psychologist and we analyzed it – I started to notice patters, abuse and manipulation. When it was all there in black and white I could see the LOGIC behind it. The abuser keeps you in a “fog” which confuses you – which is exactly what he wants you to do. And slowly and surely as time went on, I kept coming back to this site and reading and waiting – and true to form everything he did was textbook. There was no surprises anymore because the N follows a pattern – because it works. Figure out this pattern and you will be one step ahead of him every time. You will eventually become repulsed, tired of the drama and when he does pull the silent treatment like my N is doing to me, you can laugh behind his back at how small of a person he is, how he thinks he has control, how he’s sitting thinking that this behavior will induce longing and pain in me. He will revel in it, get joyful and turned on. And what am I doing? Laughing at him behind his back because he is emotionally stunted, unfulfilled and a liar and a cheat who will be a lonely old man, sitting in front of his computer and jacking off to porn because no one will put up with him.

        You can do this girl. Get help – don’t suffer alone. Read everything you possibly can – get support. and most of all love yourself. Admit your part – once the ego is exposed, you can start to heal. And even though I am not a religious person, I got down on my knees and prayed to God or the universe or whatever greater power is out there to help me. And it worked.

        Take care.

  • Gail

    December 23, 2016 at 11:05 am Reply

    I have not left this site since 8:30a.m.. It is like reading the story of my life word for word.
    I feel afraid to know some of the things I went through are actually known of and exist in life for others.
    I can still feel heaviness &fear in my heart right now after reading the Trauma Bonding ” section. To realize I’m the TSS instead of trauma bonding is what I experienced exactly .
    Things came back into my mind like they happened yesterday or I might face something this afternoon. That’s still how fresh it feels to me even after 2 years.
    WTF could be more stupid than the idea of going back!?
    I do not understand so much, I have a million “WHY’S ” I have fear I may never find my way out of what ever I have become trapped in.
    An addiction I’ve read,I would rather be drug addicted daily than to feel this gut wrenching fukd up feeling I suffer constantly.
    I’m sorry I just needed to vent.
    I need to tell someone my story, I think.
    I’m scared but I’m going to try to continue to learn to get better.

    • Zari Ballard

      December 26, 2016 at 7:57 pm Reply

      Hi Gail, hang in there and know that it gets better. It helps to talk about so please consider booking some talk time while its at a discount. You’d be AMAZED how a simple conversation with someone who “gets it” can change your perspective of the relationship. You do have the power to get better…always remember that:)

      Zari xo

  • Jan Venturini

    December 3, 2016 at 3:46 am Reply

    I need help. My beautiful granddaughter is being distroy ed by trauma bond she has with her father, my son. I got custody a few months back. She believes his abuse was ok. BECAUSE he said he was just punishing her. Now she is mimicking his behavior by excalating a small argument into war and temper tantrums then the guilt trip then the I am sorry routine. I need aaelp helping break this cycle of extreme good and bad behavior WHAT DO I DO???

    • Zari Ballard

      December 6, 2016 at 11:01 pm Reply

      Hi Jan,

      I am so sorry that you are going through this. I wish that I knew more about the situation…why you were awarded custody of your granddaughter, was she taken from the parents or did you fight for it, what about your son and the child’s mother, what type of abuse, how old is the child…why you suspect it is trauma bonding. It’s hard for me to give advice when this is obviously a complex situation and I have little information. Consider booking some time with me or write back with more information so that I can respond appropriately. Understand that your granddaughter is likely trying to get a rise out of you…she wants to see emotion for whatever reason. Have you thought about professional counseling for her? Was there a court order for this situation and is there visitation? I’d like to help, sister, but I need more…

      Zari xo

  • reniel

    October 5, 2016 at 10:44 am Reply

    hi moreen I’m also a scapegoat and I have also been in a relationship for 3 years with a narc I almost lost my son and my mother and my family threw me out I’m now staying at a domestic violence women shelter . I’m being stalked I’m paranoid and I don’t know who to trust.

  • Carol

    October 3, 2016 at 1:18 am Reply

    I want to comment here but my head is spinning with so much information. All I know is my husband of 31 years is actually following through on his threat to divorce me. Our marriage counselor was a witness of these threats to divorce me. He bounced in and out of commitment to the marriage counseling and our marriage. Marriage counseling he insisted on or he was leaving me. It is very hard to accept I am most likely married to a narcissus. Our counselor finally suggested he get some testing, which he finally did but the testing counselor was not able take him on as a patient but referred him to his partner who was not interested in seeing the testing results. This has all back fired as his new counselor buys into everything he tells him, including the reason he should not have to be stuck with a fat wife. “He will not be able to enjoy the activities he would like to in his retirement years”. My husband is 65 and I am 57 and I still water-ski on a single ski. I am pretty sure I would be able to keep up with him. I am not stick skinny but if you were to hear him describe me you would envision someone who at least weighed 200 pounds. This has been an ongoing complaint our whole marriage. I live on 500 to 900 calories a day just to stay at an acceptable weight.
    This was not the direction I had intended to go. What I am worried about is this trauma bonding for which you write. It sounds like there will be a long road ahead of me. Not sure I am up to the challenge. Our marriage counselor who now only works with me, tells me “you can not fix crazy”. It is a mantra of sorts. My comment which she keeps reminding me of was “Who does that?” There were so many actions on my husbands part that were just so hard to understand. She tries to tell me that if there was anything she thought I could have done to save my marriage she would have counseled me to do so. I am just tired of hearing how I will be so much better off not being around someone who constantly put me down. Who looks at me as the person who is standing in the way of his fantasy women. I will have a chance at happiness. It is very hard to believe that right now. Now it sounds like this is going to be a very arduous process. It is bad enough to be going through a divorce from a man who now claims he never loved me and can hardly wait to fall head over heels in love with his soul mate. This is nothing new as he has said over the years that by marrying me he may have missed out on his one true soul mate. I digress. Is this really going to be a hard process? I am already feeling some of what you write about. We are still living in the same house. My husband is a minister and we have very limited resources. We have also not told our children, twins 28 and a 20 year old. Well my daughter knows because she asked what we did for our anniversary, I just could not keep lying to her. She was not surprised and reminded me of a time her dad threw an iron and almost hit my youngest who was a baby at the time. I have no memory of that event and a lot of other things. My youngest sister also reminded me of something that happened at her house years ago, no memory of that either. My husband does not know that our daughter knows we are getting a divorce. He has some grand plan to tell them after Christmas when our youngest is home from college.
    I am not sure my counselor I am working with now has the training to work with someone who has to go through the process of separating from a narcissist partner. The pain is already very intense, feeling of worthlessness, and sometimes I feel survival will not happen. I have to stop this crazy typing. I need to be up in three hours to go to work.

    • Zari Ballard

      October 23, 2016 at 10:45 pm Reply

      Hi Carol,

      Please forgive me for taking so long to respond. If at all possible, please consider booking some talk time with me so we can work through your issues. I am deeply disturbed at how “therapy” appears to extend the pain rather than lessen the load. It’s bullshit! I’ve come to the conclusion that unless the therapist herself/himself has experienced this first hand themselves they can not even BEGIN to understand. To find someone like this is rare and, consequently, I’m hearing more and more stories of therapy gone awry – either by blaming the victim in some way or actually falling for the nonsensical stories of the narcissist. I guarantee that you won’t get any blame from me. I may not be a “professional” per se, but I absolutely know what you’re going through and because I’m a survivor, I can help you survive as well.

      YOU are perfect just as you are. Let the bastard divorce you because YOU WILL BE FREE TO LIVE. In time, the pain will subside and you will feel confident in the truth that you know. Don’t ever forget that HE is the un-fixable one and don’t let anyone tell you differently, sister:)

      Consider a talk…miracles CAN happen.

      Zari xo

    • famayah

      December 6, 2016 at 7:27 am Reply

      I encourage you to keep on writing or write in a journal if you haven’t already. For me I find relief in writing.

  • Aurla

    July 30, 2016 at 9:07 am Reply

    This is a truly excellent explanation of why targets become, & remain, obsessed with, & addicted to, narcissists! Thank you enormously for making this fascinating, & extremely helpful, information so accessible! 🙂 <3

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