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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73 Comments

  • jean

    July 17, 2017 at 12:24 pm Reply

    today is one week of no contact. I’ve tried many times before but this time I have to follow through. I want to follow through. my mind keeps wanting some kind of pay back or karma for his hurtful lying cheating USING behavior. I don’t know why I can’t just let it go. there are triggers everywhere that take me back. but I have realized that the man I loved is not there. maybe he never was. but I loved him and my concept of him for over 4 years. it’s hard to understand how he can look me in the face and tell me how he loves me and then hurt me, leave me, have other women, and replace me… crushing.

    • Zari Ballard

      July 17, 2017 at 4:47 pm Reply

      Hi Jean,

      They can do this because every day, all day, it’s all about what they can get away with. When I realized that my ex didn’t “love” me any more than he “loved” that girl and this girl and the girl who rings out his groceries at the market, I could finally breathe. We want to think that we’re the favorite but the truth is that we’re just the most convenient. It was far easier for me to let go when I realized that. As long as I was thinking that he actually “loved” me but did that to me anyway, I couldn’t let go. So, it’s not about “replacing” you, girl. This whole thing that he does, even though it feels like it, is NOT personal. I swear to God this is true.

      Zari xo

  • Julie

    July 10, 2017 at 10:56 am Reply

    I believe I am in love with a narcissist. I have read and read articles because I was afraid I was the narcissist. However, I can see how he bombed me with beautiful messages of how he would stand by me no matter what. How he has always loved me. Then all of a sudden the texting stopped. They he created this fight with me out of nowhere where he said I said things that I never said and acted as if I were better than him. He said that he could not have people in his life that did not support him. It was the oddest situation. I told him I was sorry he felt that way but I had never said those things or insinuated what he believed. He did not talk to me the rest of the night. I sent him a message telling him to have a good life. He responded with, I think we can work this out. It was so odd. He would always comment on my Facebook shares on his page and then he stopped. This went on for linger than a month. Then yesterday he started it back up. He was all happy on the phone. I caught him 3 different times saying things that put me on hightened alert that he may be cheating. I called him on it but he said he was home and asleep. I have no proof. Now, I am causing drama and I am paranoid. He says life with him is simple and drama free. When he is with someone, he is with them and I will know it. He says he does not lie, cheat or steal. I do cause some drama based upon his actions towards me and I own that but I really think he is a narcissist. I cannot seem to cut free from him. I went no contact over the holiday and it liked to have killed me. He cometely cut me off but I kept messaging him. I had to go to therapy 2 days after breaking up with him. His response to him finally responding to me was that he was concerned for mental health and he wanted me to call him after my session. UGH!!!!

    • Zari Ballard

      July 14, 2017 at 6:31 pm Reply

      Hi Julie,

      Please read my book When Love Is a Lie because you will think that you wrote it. My ex behaved the exact same way. It’s all manipulation and control and everything is intended to keep you in a heightened state of anxiety all the time. I, too, was desperate and for answers and resorted to begging and pleading with every silence. No more. Read my book or book some time to talk to me. All I can say is that you CAN get over this. It’s all about putting this relationship in its proper perspective. You CAN cut him loose…you CAN mentally break free even with him still in your life so that when and if he does return, you are different and he knows it. When mine left for the final time, kissing me good-by never to return, I didn’t shed a tear and I didn’t go looking for him. I was done. I’m not saying I wasn’t sad but I just knew it was OVER and that I couldn’t do it another second. You can feel the same way, I guarantee it….I help people every day get to that point.

      Zari xo

  • Elisabeth

    July 2, 2017 at 6:25 am Reply

    I have been in a relationship with a married man for ten years ….his threat to kill me if i find another partner I put down to his immense feelings for me,calling me constantly in my working day asking me why I was spending so much time with customers just led me to reassure him constantly that I would never cheat on him..I now realise his continual quest for money because he wasn’t able to pay his bills were to lead a lavish lifestyle….a conman,a confidence trickster
    I have read story’s about situations like I am in and have always been bewildered as to why women are not strong enough to end the relationship but you become numb with embarrassment…you feel as if you have been mentally raped with no one to turn to ….

    • Zari Ballard

      July 10, 2017 at 2:34 am Reply

      Hi Elisabeth,

      Stop being bewildered about it and just get out of it. Cut your losses and choose to LIVE IN PEACE instead. We can’t control the behavior of others, we can only change our reactions to it. I spent thirteen years in and I am free and you can be too. Book some time with me if you can and I will be happy to help you. Also, my book When Love Is a Lie will guide you in the right direction. You don’t want to waste another ten years do you? Of course not! The only thing worse than a narc is a MARRIED narc. Get out now and save the rest of your life.

      Zari xo

  • Mary

    May 9, 2017 at 3:45 am Reply

    I am 18, and i recently got out of a relationship where i feel my person was a
    Narcissist. We were together for almost 3 years, and everything was my fault. He blamed me for everything, he had a complete obsession with having friends even though they really didnt like him they used him. And i tried to tell him, but when i did i became “possessive” and to him it was because i was obsessed with him and i didn’t want him having friends. At the end of our relationship he told me he knew he was emotionally abusing me but he couldn’t stop. And he told me he wasnt a mean person, just to me he was. So after the break up, he blocked me. And has no contact within the past two weeks. And its been so awful for me, because im trying to understand. But he is out partying and not caring at all.

  • Chelsea Sims

    April 26, 2017 at 9:23 am Reply

    I have just read this and have tears in my eyes from how much I relate to it. I’m married to a wonderful man and I fail to connect because the narcissist has ruined me. He still comes and goes and i feel powerless to him. The worst part is the sexual attraction I have for him….I can’t find that with my husband and it hurts. I struggle to let go of the narcissist in all forms. It’s been 8 years, he was my first love, first physical connection. My heart aches when he leaves after all the things he confirms from the past. He tells me I was the only one, that he only loved me, that he messed up and wants me, that I’m special to him, that we have a connection unlike anyone else. Then when he pulls away and i confront him he snaps, acts out and then blocks me. The sad part is that I’m always the one to contact him. I’m hurting so badly to write this. I want to break free from his hold and enjoy my marriage

    • Zari Ballard

      May 7, 2017 at 11:55 am Reply

      Hi Chelsea,

      If it’s any consolation, I speak with so many women in your EXACT situation. You are not alone and you can get your head back to normal so that you can enjoy (and feel fulfilled) in your marriage. It’s all about changing your perspective about this person who is hurting you…see him for what he is and finally letting the bullshit go. Consider booking some talk time with me if you can and I will see you through it. You have someone in your life who loves you and you have to stay in it. A good partner is far and few between, I am afraid, so feel motivated and positive. The narc will only bring you unhappiness. I hope that we can speak sometime…I would be happy to help:)

      Zari xo

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