by Hope Jay
It defies logic that people form bonds with their abuser. But the research unequivocally demonstrates, there are both scientific and social emotional reasons that bonding with an abuser is both a very real phenomenon as well as one of the most difficult bonds for a victim to both reject and ultimately, to break.
Narcissists work very hard in the beginning of relationships to “hook us” on their affection, which is done through love bombing, which releases large quantities of dopamine in our brains. Dopamine is the “feel good” hormone which affects the brain very much like cocaine, and leaves us wanting more and more to feel the “high” that we originally felt in those early stages of love bombing with a Narc.
As we now know very well, the love bombing stage generally ends fairly early on as we devolve into the “devaluation and discard” phases. But the way that Narcs keep their supply “hooked” is with something that social scientists call “intermittent reinforcement”. Studies have shown that intermittent reinforcement is actually the most powerful motivator know to humankind.
It is the same type of psychological reinforcement used in Casinos; where there is no rhyme or reason for the “reward”, but people begin to work harder and harder toward a perceived pay off because there is no way to know when it may happen, and it is not dependent on your behavior so it is random and beyond your control.
It is those conditions which a Narc intuitively understands will hook us on their “love”-they dose it out randomly and it is not dependent on our behavior, so it leaves us always guessing, feeling out of control, and always wanting more. Even as the relationship descends into madness, occasionally they will show us a glimmer of the person we fell in “love” with and return to a version of “love bombing”, even if ever so slightly, but enough to “reinforce” us to keep working and working for another random glimpse of that love we crave so deeply.
As our brains are starving for dopamine, they are also being re-wired by the abuse. There is documented research that longstanding verbal, psychological and physical abuse and trauma can rewire your brain. When trauma occurs repeatedly, cortisol—the hormone released during times of stress—can exist in abundance in the brain. This hormone can activate a part of the brain called the ”amygdala” the area responsible for emotions, emotional behavior and motivation, and cause even more cortisol to be released, which can lead to complex PTSD.
As all these things are happening inside our brain, we lose our sense of self and become more and more dependent on our tormentor as our sense of reality is diminished by the gas lighting and other emotionally abusive tactics we are living with every day. When you begin to doubt your sense of self and question your own reality, your dependence on your abuser increases exponentially. This is what is sometimes referred to as “Stockholm Syndrome”, the very real phenomenon where abductees (or abuse victims) form intense and lasting irrational bonds with their abductor (or abuser). This has been documented in kidnapping victims as well as victims of both sexual and physical abuse, but a similar “trauma bond” forms with victims of narcissistic abuse because we are also being “brainwashed” with similar psychologically manipulative tactics over time.
Once you understand all the elements at play, it is so much easier to understand how even very strong people, after years of narcissistic abuse, feel emotionally depleted, devastated, and like they have lost themselves somewhere along the way. It is also much easier to understand why victims stay in abusive relationships long past any sane reason to do so. We are trauma bonded, and we defend them and their abusive behaviors because we are trauma bonded and have lost all sense of perspective and reality.
The first step at breaking that trauma bond is to go NO CONTACT. Once you go no contact, it is like that moment in the Wizard of Oz when Dorothy’s house that was spinning violently around in the cyclone lands in Oz in total silence and she opens the door to a new and previously unexplored land. You can’t climb out of the rabbit hole or get off that rollercoaster while still relating to a Narc. You must stop pumping the poison into your veins before you can ever clearly see how toxic the relationship was. It will happen slowly, little by little, over time. You will remember who you were before, and turn your energy and effort back toward you and reclaiming the person that you once were and will be again once you have broken free and begin to heal. Then you must invest time and energy and effort into your healing and recovery. You can break the trauma bonds and you can rediscover yourself and be better and stronger than you ever were before.