In the first and second blogs of this series, I introduced you to the basics of trauma bonding and what trauma bonding looks like (also known as betrayal bonding or Stockholm syndrome). In the last blog of this series, I’ll go over the psychopath’s use of intermittent reinforcement as the tool to keep you trauma bonded. I’ll also cover how you can protect your children from becoming trauma bonded to the pathological parent and to prevent them from becoming trauma bonded to other predators as adults.
Intermittent reinforcement or operant conditioning is a motivational tool used by animal trainers and casino owners. When you refuse to leave a slot machine because you’re afraid to walk away because the next player may win the big jackpot, and you saw someone win $50 right before you started playing, you’ve been conditioned to stay put, feeding more coins into your slot machine. It’s an extremely powerful tool, and psychopaths use it to keep you hooked by doling out crumbs of love for your “good behavior” intermittently.
The Psychopath’s Seductive Lure
Most psychopaths use affection and silent treatments or threats of abandonment as their intermittent reinforcement tool. During random periods, they will give you some brief feelings of affection, and just as quickly, they’ll take it away, and you wait, like an addict, for your next fix of affection. Just like the rat starving as he keeps pulling the lever for pellets, you wait, starving for love, hoping to get it back. You wait for the psychopath’s return after suddenly abandoning you, and you play “good” so he’ll come back faster. Each silent treatment or discard gets longer, shorter, and he’ll switch it up to keep you completely guessing and off-balance.
Some psychopaths use sex as an intermittent reinforcement weapon. Many, like the one I am divorcing, are probably very confused about their sexual identity and proclivities. Most narcissists don’t care about where they get their supply and it makes sense that, to them, attraction to men and women makes sense because then the whole world is a potential source of supply. The cerebral narcissist, according to the self-proclaimed cerebral narcissist, Sam Vaknin, uses his feigned achievements and headline knowledge to lure his prey, whereas the somatic narcissist uses her beauty. However, all narcissists typically love-bomb you with promises of soul-mate status, marriage, a beautiful home together, vacations, and wonderful intimacy. Once you are “hooked,” the narcissist uses sex as a weapon. He blows hot/cold and pushes/pulls you with sex.
Male narcissists are notorious for purchasing drugs for erectile dysfunction. I have my theories on that, but most prefer emotionless intimacy with others, male or female, and they cannot perform with very intimate partners over time. Female narcissists are notorious for cheating as well. Not all narcissists are cheaters, but all narcissists are liars. In my opinion and in my experience, they all cheat in one form or another.
Once you have a huge fight, and you begin to withdraw or he senses you pulling away, he will attach to you again to suck more energy and emotions from you by seducing you with intimacy. The highs and lows in your relationship become the basis of your trauma bonding.
Trauma Repetition and Repetition Compulsion
The compulsion to repeat dysfunctional behaviors or traumatic episodes was coined “repetition compulsion” by the father of modern Psychology himself, Sigmund Freud. Patrick Carnes calls is “trauma repetition,” and Carnes notes that for many of us who have ended up with psychopathic/narcissistic partners, trauma repetition played a huge role as to why we put up with the crazy-making. See, trauma survivors unconsciously seek partners that will help them recreate painful episodes of their childhoods. If you have been with similar, emotionally unavailable partners, you may be engaging in trauma repetition by subconsciously selecting someone who would repeat the traumatic episodes of your childhood for you. You may even be unconsciously addicted to the intensity of this dramatic type of relationship because of what you witnessed as a child in your parent’s marriage. You may have become “numb” to normal sensations of intimacy.
This is nothing to be ashamed of, since by becoming aware of the dysfunctions of our past, we can start to change our radars and our “pickers.” We unconsciously relive our painful experiences and repeat our traumas from childhood by picking the most unavailable partners that remind us of our narcissistic parent(s), and we attempt to resolve those traumas with the intimate psychopath to whom we become trauma bonded as adults.
Beware of Repetition Compulsion When Negotiating Child Custody and Visitation
As you may have come from a narcissistic family, you were more easily trauma bonded to the psychopath because you were trauma bonded to your parents. As children, we are helpless and cannot choose our parents, and we’re bound to suffer. As adults, we aren’t helpless once we break the trauma bond to the narcissist, but your children may suffer the same fate that you suffered. Hurt people, hurt people.
When negotiating child custody with a narcissist, keep in mind that “negotiating” and “narcissist” go together like, “yummy” and “dog poop.” They don’t. However, in my experience, a good lawyer can help you get to a negotiation if you understand that psychopaths are completely paranoid, and you can induce their paranoia with the right tools, and you can help others see the sinister thing lurking underneath their charming masks…it takes a lot of skill, but it can be done with the help of a knowledgeable attorney. Check out our other blog series on timing.
It is amazing to me how many clients say, “This is her child. She has to love her child,” or, “He is a religious man, and therefore, he seems to be a good father.” Remember lesson one of Divorcing a Narcissist? Narcissists don’t see others as separate human beings. To them, we are all just property or just there to serve them, mere extensions of themselves.
Thinking of the painful experience of detaching from the psychopath, you need to negotiate a custody agreement that gives you as much parenting time as possible, and if you’re unable to reach a settlement agreement because narcissists aren’t really known for their abilities to give-and-take, qualities required to reach a fair settlement agreement, you have to be willing to go to court or leverage other things, less support, etc. If you ultimately believe that the best thing for your situation will be to allow more parenting time, we will fully support your decision, and we will provide you with tips on how to absorb some of the pathological traits of the narcissist so that your child doesn’t have to absorb them. For example, teaching your children the art of reframing their concerns and needs at an age-appropriate time is a valuable tool, when dealing with the pathologically-disordered parent (“You’re the best dad because you can do X for me.”)