We recently had a live session with Dr. Sara Spowart about trauma bonding. One of the questions asked by our community was, “Can a narcissist be trauma bonded?”
Narcissists can be trauma bonded because many aspects of their psychological makeup, such as a need for validation, history of trauma, poor emotional regulation, fear of abandoment, and a tendency to idealize others, make them highly susceptible to trauma bonding.
In this article, I will teach you more about this by explaining the aspects of a narcissist’s psychological makeup that make them vulnerable to trauma bonding.
1.) They Have a History of Trauma
Narcissists often have a history of trauma, which contributes to the development of their narcissistic traits.
This trauma often involves inconsistent caregiving, where a caregiver alternates between providing attention and affection and being neglectful or abusive.
Sadly, this typically causes the development of an insecure attachment style, where the individual becomes preoccupied with seeking attention and validation from others.
This makes narcissists susceptible to trauma bonding because their past experiences condition them to associate love and care with abusive behavior.
Therefore, they are drawn to relationships with a similar dynamic of alternating attention and affection with neglect or abuse.
Over time, this leads to the formation of a trauma bond, where the narcissist becomes emotionally attached to their partner despite the abusive behavior.
Suggested Reading: How Are Narcissists Made? (Insights from Dr. Jolie Avena)
2.) They Have a Need for Attention and Validation
Narcissists have a deep-seated need for attention and validation from others because they have what researchers call fragile high self-esteem.
This means their feelings of self-worth are unstable, uncertain, based on unrealistically positive self-views, and entirely dependent on external validation and self-deception.
This need for validation makes a narcissist susceptible to trauma bonding because they become emotionally attached to those who provide intermittent reinforcement.
Intermittent reinforcement is a common tactic abusers use, and it means alternating between providing attention and validation and withholding it.
This tactic creates a powerful bond because the narcissist becomes conditioned to associate attention and validation with the abusive behavior.
Over time, this causes the development of a trauma bond, where the narcissist becomes emotionally dependent on their partner despite the abusive behavior.
3.) They Have Poor Emotional Regulation Skills
Emotional regulation refers to the ability to manage and respond to an emotional experience in a socially acceptable and appropriate way.
Narcissists often struggle with emotional regulation, being overwhelmed by feelings of anger, jealousy, or sadness, and often exhibit extreme reactions.
This inability to manage emotions effectively can make them more dependent on their partner for emotional support and stability, even if that support is coupled with abuse.
For example, an abusive partner may provide comfort after an episode of abuse, leading the narcissist to associate this comfort with the abusive behavior.
This reinforces the trauma bond.
Moreover, the narcissist’s emotional instability may cause them to perceive the relationship as more positive than it is.
They may see the highs and lows of the relationship as a sign of love rather than abuse.
This distorted perception can make it harder for them to recognize the abusive nature of the relationship and strengthen the trauma bond.
4.) They Have a Fear of Abandonment
Despite their outward appearance of confidence and self-assuredness, many narcissists harbor a deep-seated fear of abandonment.
This fear typically stems from past experiences of neglect or abandonment and is often a result of an insecure attachment style.
Suggested Reading: 7 Things Narcissists Fear the Most
A narcissist’s fear of abandonment can make them susceptible to trauma bonding in several ways.
First, they may tolerate abusive behavior because they perceive it as a lesser evil compared to being abandoned.
This tolerance can lead them to rationalize or minimize the abusive behavior, reinforcing the trauma bond.
Second, their fear of abandonment may cause them to become overly dependent on their partner for validation and support.
This strengthens the bond and makes it much harder for them to leave.
Finally, the fear of abandonment may cause them to perceive any attention as positive, even if it is negative or abusive.
Well, because to the narcissist, it indicates that their partner is still invested in the relationship, further reinforcing the trauma bond.
5.) They Have a Tendency to Idealize Others
Narcissists often exhibit a pattern of idealizing others at the beginning of a relationship.
Suggested Reading: What Do Narcissists Do During the Love Bombing Phase?
They may view the other person as perfect, often because that person gives them the attention and validation they crave.
This idealization makes them susceptible to trauma bonding.
Well, when the other person inevitably fails to live up to their unrealistic expectations, it can create feelings of betrayal and disappointment.
An abusive partner can exploit these feelings of betrayal and disappointment using intermittent reinforcement.
For example, the abusive partner may alternate between providing the narcissist with affection and validation and then subjecting them to abuse.
When the abusive partner notices that the narcissist is feeling betrayed or disappointed, they will give them a small boost of affection and validation.
This inconsistency can lead the narcissist to become more emotionally attached to their partner as they become conditioned to associate affection and validation with the abusive behavior.
What Should You Take Away from This Article?
There are many aspects of a narcissist’s psychological makeup that make them susceptible to trauma bonding. I hope this article brought you value. Thank you so much for reading it until the end.
About the Author
Hey, I’m Elijah.
I experienced narcissistic abuse for three years.
I create these articles to help you understand and validate your experiences.
Thank you for reading, and remember, healing is possible even when it feels impossible.