Trauma Bonding – Is It Love or Something Else?
When you connected with your narcissist, did you feel like finally you had met true love? Was the connection so intense and powerful that you believed your love was truly meant to be for ever, regardless of the pain you experienced? Nearly everyone who has been in a relationship with a narcissist agrees that the relationship to the narcissist initially felt like the greatest love of their life.
When we first became attached to the narcissist, we had the deep and powerful inner belief that this relationship was ‘the one’ – it felt so real and so true to us. It felt astoundingly ‘right’. We thought we had hit the jackpot. Over time the cracks started appearing, yet we still experienced the glorious times (even if they became less and less) of this ‘delightful person’ who we wanted to believe was the partner of our dreams.
Of course, we had to employ all sorts of psychological defences to protect this belief. We were all conditioned to believe that powerful and all-consuming feelings, and the not being able to stop thinking about someone’ and ‘feeling an intense attachment’ must mean love.
Trauma Bonding Number 1 –
Stockholm syndrome has been widely documented and proven to be a very real deal. The conditions of narcissistic abuse are ripe to create this phenomenon. Firstly, the victim feels that they cannot escape the relationship, this is for the reasons of not wanting to shatter the glorious dream of “what this relationship is meant to be”, the loss of lifestyle, finances, security, children’s wellbeing etc., or because of the very real threat of how disastrous life may become when trying to leave and
inciting a narcissistic injury within the narcissist, which inevitably brings revenge and destruction.
Therefore, automatically the roles have become prisoner and persecutor. The prisoner’s wellbeing depends heavily on how the persecutor is treating her or him on a daily basis. The prisoner knows that there is a very real threat of cruelty and pain being inflicted by the narcissist, and therefore will try to minimalize the torture, by firstly focusing a great deal of attention on ‘the enemy’, and then trying to find a heartfelt connection with the narcissist to procure nicer treatment.
The narcissistic partner becomes the deliverer of good or bad treatment, and when good treatment comes, there is so much hope and relief that the pain is going to end that the victim focuses on the good times, and ‘conveniently’ numbs out the bad times – even dismissing them.
We were taught very little about real love – as a safe, supportive, calm, regenerating and trustworthy entity. And we didn’t realize that true and real love necessitates a deep knowing that you are the other half of a safe, supportive and genuine ‘team’. Narcissistic relationships, in all reality, do not and cannot fit into a healthy description of ‘love’. Maybe we never knew what ‘safe’, ‘respectful’ ‘reliable’ love was. Maybe it seemed unrealistic, too hard to achieve, or maybe even boring….
Maybe we have only ever know feelings of fear, deprivation, unease, persecution, anxiety and then the glorious highs that DO come when agony is temporarily relieved with the feelings of ‘Thank God he does get it’, ‘He really does love me” and ‘Now the pain will stop’. But of course, these feelings of euphoric relief and release never lasted. They were simply the reprieve between the hills of the terrorizing roller coaster. Maybe we never realized that when we really ‘fell in love’ with the narcissist, something much more sinister was engendering our powerful feelings of love and attachment. It seems ludicrous and insane to believe that someone treating you poorly could make you want them, love them, and attach you so powerfully. But it is OH, so true! Let’s find out WHY. The good times are so much about relief, and I can breathe again, and the danger is over for now – that they feel like intense joy, love and appreciation.
Victims who suffer from Stockholm syndrome within narcissistic abuse are significantly detached from the real world around them, and are instead enmeshed in the narcissist’s demands, emotions and tormented world. This often happens as a result of self-isolation preferred by the victim, regarding loss of self-esteem, deep inner shame, and the not wishing to confront the outer world which is full of questions regarding the victim’s apparent reclusive behaviour and disconnection from previous interests, friends and family – as well as, of course, the narcissist’s wrath for having any interests that don’t pertain to the narcissist.
Stockholm syndrome feels like ‘love’, as it is a deep attachment to another person for emotional and literal survival. No different to a child trying to instinctively cling to, grant attention to, love and inspire kindness and security from an abusive parent.
Trauma Bonding Number 2 –
Cognitive dissonance occurs when there is tension created as a result of two opposing thoughts. A simple real-life example is the thoughts ‘I want to stay home and relax, but I’d really like to meet up with friends tonight.’ In order for a person to be able to comfortably accept their choice without anxious feelings of having made the wrong decision (the lingering of inner shame) – a justification for the choice has to be created. Such as ‘It’s totally okay to honour myself, and not meet up tonight – I owe it to myself to relax. If I’m okay with that they will be too.’
In the case of narcissistic abuse, the thoughts of ‘This is abusive and unbearable, and I need to get out of this relationship, are in total contrast with ‘I have to stay and make this work.’ In order to ease the inner anxiety of having made the wrong choice, justifications have to be fabricated to offset the inner knowing of horrific abuse.
These justifications are ‘stories’ such as ‘I know she loves me, and she’s doing her best – it’s just that she had a horrible childhood’, or ‘I know this relationship is meant to be, and I am going to stay and see it through’, or worse still ‘He really is a great guy, it’s me with all the problems, and I know I make him like this’, or ‘If I love him enough, I know I can heal him’ or ‘I’m the only person that understands her. I can’t leave her, it’s my duty to stay and love her with everything I have.’
In order to rectify the cognitive dissonance of narcissistic abuse, huge overcompensations of reasons to stay have to be created in order to offset the deep inner shame of accepting and enduring abuse. These justifications have to be powerful enough to seem real to the victim, and they serve to create even greater feelings or attachment, devotion and love.
Trauma Bonding Number 3 –
Repetitive Compulsion Disorder
Narcissists are unpredictable in nature. The dealing out of random and conflicting abuse and support creates heightened anxiety and addictive state within their victims.
Remember the example of what happens to lab rats when they have a button, which releases food pellets, that is set on ‘random’. Normally the rat knows how many times to push the button to receive his meal and is very content with that. However, when the button becomes unpredictable and unstable the rat goes into a frenzy pushing the button until the floor of the cage is littered with pellets. He is more interested in staying ‘hooked on’ pushing the button than attending to his own self-care. The rat is addicted to pushing the button (trying to get it to act predictably), just as a gambler is hooked to a poker machine, and just as a narcissistic abuse victim is hooked on trying to gain stable, sane, and safe behaviour from the narcissist.
When life is ‘dangerous’ with any hope of ‘relief’, our psychological and emotional survival wiring compels us to hang on and put all our energy into finding relief from the danger. Manic fear and pain reigns until the euphoric relief of the situation presents. If the button was re-set to a standard number of pushes the rat relaxes again, yet if the button was taken out of the cage, the rat would suffer survival panic.
If the addicted gambler wins a jackpot, she experiences temporary relief that she has won back her money lost, yet if she is removed from the poker machine before winning, she will find a way to get back to a machine as soon as possible. If the narcissist attends to your needs, apologizes and acts like he or she has reformed, you feel incredible relief and that you have been removed from the warzone. Yet, when the narcissist leaves the scene and is no longer reassuring you, you suffer severe
separation anxiety that can feel akin to a heroin addict deprived of the next fix. Repetitive compulsion disorder creates intense addiction anxiety, which can only momentarily be relieved by ‘jackpots’, but it never takes long for the anxiety to reach an intense peak again – and of course when we don’t know better, we think these feelings of I can’t live without you and I can’t think about anything but you are ‘love’.
Trauma Bonding Number 4 –
With all of the survival fears, powerlessness and anxieties taking place, a great deal of neuropeptides, resulting from your disturbed, fearful and unstable thoughts, are manufactured in your hypothalamus (chemical manufacturing plant of our brain) and are distributed into your blood stream and received by the cells of your body. Our cells get addicted to the peptides they receive powerful doses of, and then physiologically we get addicted to getting more of these peptides, which the narcissist triggers within us regularly.
This creates feelings of I need his attention, I need his validation, I need his approval, I need his support, I need his love, I need him to provide me with some RELIEF and eventually just like a drug addict licking the crumbs off the lounge room rug, we will try to get any amount of the narcissist’s energy regardless of how damaging and soul destroying it is. What we don’t realize, in our obsessive quest for relief, that it is the pain and intensity of the dramatic highs and lows that the cells of our body have become addicted to.
We have become a helpless addict, and our drug dealer is the narcissist. He or she is dispensing regularly our body cells’ drug of choice – narcissistic abuse. The thought of breaking away from the narcissist of course, at this level, feels unthinkable, and impossible to do. And of course, we mistake it for ‘love’.
Trauma Bonding Number 5 – Infantile Regression
In times of intense trauma, it is common to regress back to your most instinctual learnt behaviour in order to try to survive. This is the clinging of a child to the ‘parent’ you believe is powerful and able to provide some sort of relief to the trauma at hand. What happens when the closest person that you perceive as a source of support happens to be a cruel and abusive narcissist? The answer is ‘No difference’, because you have already formed powerful attachment and addiction bonds that want to
create this person as your saviour.
Infantile regression is powerful, unconscious and a primitive survival program that operates at the very core of your being. Your maturity and self-reliability go out the window and is replaced by utter childlike helplessness. In this state you believe that you will literally die if you do not agree with the narcissist, take the blame, do anything to keep the peace, and grant everything the narcissist wants in the primitive hope that the onslaughts will stop and you will be allowed by the narcissist to avoid
complete emotional annihilation. Your rights are completely withdrawn by yourself and numbed out in your need for survival.
The perverse twist to this is that you have now surrendered your soul to the narcissist and idolized this person as ‘Your God’, who has the ultimate power to dictate your fate. Then when the narcissist ‘allows’ you to exist again, your idolization becomes the pathological survival belief: This person is the Creator of my world. What greater illusion of ‘love’ could there ever be?
The truth about love that you need to travel towards is I am the creator of my world, and I am never reliant on any specific person being that creator for me. When I am my own creator, I will reject what is not good to me, and add into my experience more of who I already am. In order to do this your focus has to come off the narcissist, and on to yourself so that you may heal from the illusions.