Trauma Bonding With A Narcissist: Why It’s An Unhealthy Addiction For You

Trauma bonding with a narcissist: the reason you stay with an arsehole for so long!

It’s like you know you’re not happy, but you feel too trapped to leave. That extreme emotional attachment is trauma bonding.

So the next time someone asks you: “Why didn’t you just leave?” 

You can tell them it’s more complicated than that.

Because if you’ve been in a relationship with a narcissist, you understand why it isn’t so easy to “just leave”

You’re fighting a magnetic pull that feels like you can’t live without them. But the person you can’t live without, is also the one hurting you and making you miserable.

So you’re not just leaving, you’re also trying to break a trauma bond with a narcissist. And as you know, thats a very sticky bond to remove.

Trauma bonding definition

Trauma bonding happens when you get stuck in a harmful relationship because of the abuser’s constant mix of love and toxic behaviour. They change between adoring you (rewarding you) and hurting you (punishing you).

This cycle of on and off again behaviour makes it hard to break free from the relationship. Because the more you experience the abuse, the stronger your emotional attachment to the abuser becomes. 

What’s Trauma bonding with a narcissist?

So there’s a power imbalance between you. And the narcissist holds full control.

They’re the puppet master of your emotions and they’re manipulating you to rely on them. And the more dependant you are, the more willing you are to stay in the relationship. So, trauma bonding with a narcissist makes you fiercely loyal to them, even if they’re terrible for your well-being.

Trauma bonding and the narcissistic abuse cycle

In the first stage of the narcissistic abuse cycle – idealisation – the abuser makes you feel loved and cared for. It sets the foundations of your relationship and gives your mind a reference point for how great the relationship began.

But low and behold, the love bombing phase of the relationship only lasts for so long. Once the devaluing stage begins, the sudden shift in mood from love to rejection creates confusion. 

When the first incident happens, it feels far from your previous experiences with this person. This makes it easier for you to justify and rationalise their bad behaviour as a one-off. After all, this is the first bump in the road.

So naturally, you believe them and stay when they apologise later with fake promises that they’ll never hurt you again. The purpose of this inconsistent behaviour is to instil hope in you and to hoover you back in. 

Narcissists want you to cling to the relationship in the hope of it getting better again. They want you to believe that they’ll change, and you might be able to “fix them”.

On the other hand, they also want you to fear things could get worse. So you begin to adapt your behaviour around them, worried you might be why they acted cruelly. You want to stay on their good side and avoid any future outbursts. This creates a shift in power for the narcissist. 

“Making a partner miserable and comforting her leads to trauma bonding

The narcissist manipulates you into seeking comfort from the source of your pain – which is them. And each time you do that, you’re strengthening your bond. But you’re also moulding your behaviour to suit their needs, which is what they want too. 

The discard stage

The discard stage is the biggest mental test every time you repeat the cycle. The distance they create between you evokes a sense of need and longing for your narcissist. Despite however much they hurt you, they’re also the only one who can relieve your pain. So you crave them back and find it increasingly difficult to detach yourself from them.

It feels like they’re slowly destroying you, but equally, you can’t stop going back to them. Of course, the big payoff is the hope for the relationship to return to how it was. But, what ill behaviour are you tolerating until you get there?

Trauma bonding and addiction

Trauma bonding with a narcissist is like an unhealthy addiction – and guess what?

The more they play their mind games, the stronger that addiction gets. They toss in little nuggets of hope, like “We’ll travel together” or “I can’t imagine ever being apart from you.” And those promises mean something to you. They instil the belief that they love you and you get excited for your dreamy future together.

Now, here’s where it gets interesting. Your unpredictable narcissistic relationship, is creating a cocktail of hormones behind the scene. So all your emotional highs and lows get synced up with their matching hormones. And when you receive love, you get a dopamine hit. But when they stress you out, you get a hit of cortisol instead.

So your brain starts seeing the reward after the abuse as a good thing. Like, “Okay, yeah, they were mean. But look at this lovely thing they said afterwards!” And your brain kinda links the abuse with a positive feeling.

Dopamine … creates reward circuits and generates associations in our brain which link our romantic partners with pleasure … The catch? Dopamine flows more readily in the brain when there is an intermittent reinforcement schedule of affection and attention, rather than a consistent one (Carnell, 2012). The hot and cold behaviors of a toxic relationship actually exacerbate our dangerous attachment to our abusers rather than deterring it – creating an addiction that is not unlike drug addiction.”

Like with any addiction, you experience an intense urge to satisfy a need regardless of the negative consequences. You’re more preoccupied with the short-term gratification the narcissist brings you rather than the harm they inflict.

A narcissistic relationship – like drugs – promises happiness but eats away at your psyche instead. So to continue a long-term relationship with a narcissist – just like long-term drug use – won’t pan out well for you either!

What does trauma bonding with a narcissist look like?

You’ll notice the symptoms of trauma bonding are not too dissimilar from addiction. Drug addicts, alcoholics and gamblers are notorious for going back and forth to their addiction. This is the same case for narcissistic abusive relationships. 

I repetitively took my ex back even though he always put me through hell. It was also the same case for Laura. We never understood the mechanics of why we couldn’t stop returning to the source of our harm. 

But knowing about trauma bonding helped explain so much to us. It was something we wished we had known about before; it was the missing piece to our puzzle. Spotting the signs can encourage you to look deeper at your relationship and acknowledge what may be happening.

So if you find yourself questioning whether your relationship is unhealthy, chances are you’re in a trauma bond. And you’ll experience the following:

Signs of trauma bonding with a narcissist

  • Find it hard to stay away from the person who’s hurting you
  • Rationalise and normalise bad behaviour as well as your own negative emotions
  • Feel stuck and like you can’t do anything about your situation
  • When you’re away from them, you feel worse
  • Defy logic; you’re blind to their actions not matching the reality they promised
  • Try to mask/play down the narcissists behaviour from others
  • Defensive to any threat to the relationship 
  • A sense of guilt when you think of leaving the relationship, more concerned with how it might affect them
  • Feel protective and loyal to your abuser
  • Obsess over how good the relationship was – it helps you justify staying
  • Hopeful things will change and improve

How do you break a trauma bond with a narcissist?

Okay, so you’ve figured out you’re in a trauma bond, but how do you go about breaking it?

It’s no easy task; it’ll take everything in your power to part from the narcissist. But when you know what trauma bonding with a narcissist feels like, you can start to see what’s happening in your relationship. So educating yourself is one of the first steps…

10 Tips to help break a trauma bond

1. Education

Learn about trauma bonding and inform yourself about narcissism. They’re critical to your recovery from narcissistic abuse. I filled my Instagram with heaps of narcissistic abuse pages so I would see it daily.

When you can acknowledge what’s going on, it helps you understand how fucked up it all is! And when you know more, you’ll see you deserve better.

2. Tune in to what’s going on in the relationship

What I mean by this is to focus on the present moment. So often, when in narcissistic abusive relationships, we spend much of our time fantasising about the future. We’re very hopeful that things can get better.

But this is also what’s keeping us stuck and stopping us from moving on. So if we can tune in and notice that their promises do not match reality, it gives us awareness. We have to acknowledge that what we’re experiencing is abuse.

3. Keep a diary

You can feel very alone in abusive relationships because you keep many things hidden from others. So, write them down if you’re not speaking openly about your concerns. This offers you a non-judgemental reference to look back on.

It also helps affirm point number two and make you accountable for what’s happening. For example, it’s hard to remember specifics if a narcissist’s gaslighting you. But a daily diary keeps note of that.

4. Be patient with yourself

Leaving them for good might take several attempts. I read somewhere that, on average, it takes a person 7 times to leave their abuser permanently.

Remember, narcissists are experts at manipulation, so they know what works to win you back again and again. Take it a day at a time and know that recovery isn’t a linear process.

5. Make mindful decisions

Ensure you’re making decisions to better your situation and not theirs. It’s challenging to switch your thinking to being selfish, but it’s vital for moving on. You need to stop worrying about how they’ll be without you.

Instead, be more concerned with how much worse you’ll be if you stay. Acknowledge how awful your relationship’s been. You’ve gotta look at the whole picture and not just remember the positives.

6. Let yourself feel all the emotions

Notice when you allow them to comfort you. Learn to self-soothe and be less reliant on them instead.

The relationship pattern encourages you to return to them to make you feel better. You need to pick up on when you’re allowing that to happen. This helps you see the trauma bond with a narcissist as they dictate your happiness with positive reinforcement.

7. Allow time for you to grieve the relationship

This is a tricky process to endure. You’re mourning that your needs were never going to be met by this person. And the life you thought you’d have together, won’t ever be a reality.

It’s devastating to acknowledge all these things, say goodbye to your old self, and move forward. Starting alone again isn’t easy, but essential in your recovery. The uncertainty of what’ll happen makes you fearful. But I promise you, a future with a narcissist will be bleaker than being alone.

8. Boundaries

Write a list of non-negotiable boundaries for yourself. Narcissistic abuse destroys all your boundaries, so you need to build them back up again.

After my ex, I wrote a list of them to ensure I never settled and kept true to my needs. Having a visual focus helps remind you of what’s best for you. You can write anything on that list, but stick to it and don’t compromise on your needs.

A good one is to refrain from dating apps when feeling sad and lonely. Please don’t do what I did and date too soon when you’re not ready!

9. Find like-minded people who know what you’re going through

Honestly, this isn’t a plug for Sallt Sisters! But finding people who understand and can validate what you’ve been through is the most healing thing. Connection heals you.

There’s heaps of research that proves the value of connection. I encourage you to reach out if you need someone to talk to. I’ve instantly bonded with many women when I’ve been brave enough to speak up about my abuse. You just click, and they get you.

10. Get a therapist

If you’re fortunate enough to afford therapy, then I highly recommend that you do. It’s okay to need that support.

If you cut your leg open, you’d go to a hospital. If your mental health isn’t great, you’d go to a therapist. They’re there to help and offer non-judgemental expert advice.

My therapist helped me come on leaps and bounds. She was my saviour when I was at my lowest and didn’t know what to do. She helped me understand so much and normalised all my feelings that I thought I was alone with.

How to get over a trauma bond with a narcissist

You won’t be able to heal a trauma bond if you stay close to your narcissist. That’s because it allows them to keep repeating the cycle that also keeps you hooked. So it’s unrealistic to think you can fix it together. Which means you have to detach yourself and do the hard work to reach that point.

I mean, did you ever hear of the alcoholic who stopped their addiction by keeping a bottle of vodka within close reach?!

Na, I didn’t think so!

And I’m not comparing the two saying ones easier than the other. The point i’m making is you need to remove the temptation from your life in the same way an alcoholic does.

And that my buddy, is the trusty method of:

Going no contact

I understand that if you’ve kids with a narcissist that things’ll be different for you. And I can’t speak for that situation either.

But if you’re childless, separate yourself from them and don’t allow them to gain access to you.

I know Laura and I keep hounding on about no contact. But it’s the most important and healthiest choice you can make for yourself. Your relationship with them has taught you that things never change and get better. And even though it isn’t always bad, the good times always end, right?

Time away from the narcissist will help you see their toxicity and it’ll give you a fresh perspective. You’ve just got to give it a good chance to see it working in your favour.

The proofs in the process, it does work, and you’ll see that when you try it for yourself.

So have a go with what I did:

Have 24 hours off your social apps

So let your loved ones know you’re having a wee social detox. Delete Whatsapp if you have to. And block that scumbag for 24 hours.

Allow yourself a day and a night without their influence.

Plan the whole thing out if it helps. Like where you’ll take yourself for breakfast, who you want to catch up with and when you’ll take that long hot bath.

Whatever you do, treat yourself to a whole “me” day! And promise yourself you won’t contact them and you’ll stay focused on you.

Everyone and everything can wait 24 hours for you.

We all deserve 24 hours to ourselves. (Maybe even 48 if you want to make a weekend of it – thats what I did)!

And then when you come back from your break, notice how you feel. How does it compare to before when you were in contact with them?

Because I realised I felt worse when I heard from him, compared to when I didn’t. When I had the control of who could and couldn’t contact me during my offline period, that’s when I felt better.

So there was my answer. Even though it was only a fraction better, it was still a nudge of confirmation.

It was my proof that I needed to go no contact.

And sometimes you need that little bit of proof to take the next step.

Try and be present

Like all addictions, they take a lifetime to conquer. So I know why breaking a trauma bond with a narcissist feels impossible right now. But that’s because you’re looking to the end. When really you should be focusing on the now, the day to day. And not overwhelm yourself with how far you’ve got to go.

You’ve got to battle all the separate parts and not think of them all as one. So break it up into little chunks. Once you’ve managed to stop talking to them, then look at trying to not think of them. Then you might decide to delete their number.

All these steps will add up and slowly boost your confidence to not need them anymore.

But until that point, you just need to persevere and keep trying everyday. And when you fail, you get back up again and try to do better the next day.

So don’t worry about relapsing and instead, accept that it’s part of the process. Because even if you fall off the bandwagon, it doesn’t discount the effort that came before it.

Like if you went five days without talking to them, and then slipped up and called them, you still went five whole days with no contact. That still counts as progress. And you can start back up again the next day.

So don’t let little slip ups stop you from trying. You’re just practicing putting no contact into place. And thats a skill that takes time. Cutting out someone you loved and spoke to every day is no easy feat. So it’s going to come with it’s challenges.

Have you experienced trauma bonding with a narcissist? And are you ready to break to it?

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