A majority of narcissistic relationships are kept in place by a trauma bond, which is a psychological response that occurs when an abused person develops an unhealthy attachment to their abuser. They are incredibly intense and cause many people who have experienced narcissistic abuse to wonder if the narcissist in their life also feels the trauma bond.

Narcissists do feel the trauma bond, but not in the same way that the people that they abuse feel it. A trauma bond makes narcissists feel remarkably well because the dynamics of a trauma bonded relationship are designed to help them regulate the painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions that they’ve suppressed.

This article is a thorough exploration of the ways that narcissists benefit from creating trauma bonded relationships. We have also created a short video (see below) that summarizes our article Can Narcissists Be Trauma Bonded?” to give you an insider’s look at the unique situations where narcissists can actually develop their own trauma bond. 

A Short Video About The Rare Instances Where a Narcissist Can Be Trauma Bonded!

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Trauma Bonded Relationships Make Narcissists Feel Really Good

There are two primary reasons that creating a trauma bonded relationship makes narcissists feel really good:

1. Narcissists feel comfortable in trauma bonded relationships because they have a corrupted perception of emotional closeness that has rendered them incapable of maintaining healthy relationships. 

2. The manipulation tactics that are used to create a trauma bonded relationship gives narcissists access to a massive amount of narcissistic supply that allows them to maintain a grandiose sense of self-importance, specialness, and uniqueness

10 Examples of Narcissistic Supply

1. Accomplishments and professional success.
2. Financial success.
3. Materialistic things, such as a big home, expensive car, 5-Star hotels, etc.
4. Acquaintances high-status people and institutions.
5. Winning
6. Sex
7. Provoking arguments, emotional reactions, and chaos
8. Receiving awards
9. Attention in the news or social media
10. Having a mate that is desired by others (i.e. a trophy wife)

A Narcissist’s Inability to Maintain Healthy Relationships Causes Them Feel Most Comfortable in Trauma Bonded Relationships

The pinnacle of emotional closeness is love. According to the triangular theory of love1, the three variables that define love are intimacy, passion, and commitment. When a relationship of any kind has all three variables present, it is called consummate love. 

This type of love can be characterized by empathy, mutuality, compassion, a mutual willingness to compromise, respect, honesty, then of course, commitment, passion, and intimacy. However, narcissists are incapable of achieving this type of love.

Narcissistic relationships have infatuated love, which is purely motivated by passion, meaning commitment and intimacy aren’t present, and it is intoxicating, irrational, associated with bad decision making, and usually short lived.

Suggested Reading!

Our article “Can Narcissists Love” guides you through the six types of love and explains why narcissists can, or cannot achieve each one.

To grasp a comprehensive understanding of the reason that narcissists are incapable of maintaining a healthy relationship (consummate love) and how it causes narcissists to feel most comfortable in trauma bonded relationships, we have to unpack their origin story.

An Abusive And/or Unhealthy Childhood Upbringing Corrupted a Narcissist’s Perception of Emotional Closeness

It’s believed by many mental health professionals that narcissism originates from an unhealthy/abusive upbringing with emotionally unavailable, unresponsive, and inconsistent primary caregivers. 

 This belief has a very broad spectrum of possibilities that could range anywhere from primary caregivers who are physically abusive (e.g. hitting, pushing, spanking, etc.) to those whose emotional availability, responsiveness, and consistency is unhealthy (e.g. too much pampering, being overprotective, lack of boundaries).

When primary caregivers are emotionally unavailable, unresponsive, and inconsistent with their child, they don’t mirror their thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs. This means that the narcissist never got the healthy forms of validation, admiration, and reassurance that they need to develop a realistic sense of self and have a healthy cognitive development. 

What happened instead was the narcissist developed painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions such as a sense of inadequacy, being unlovable, unwanted, worthless, and weak. 

But because of their unhealthy cognitive development, narcissists don’t have the emotional intelligence required to utilize healthy forms of emotional regulation to manage these painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions. 

To evade further harm, narcissists created a falsified identity to suppress all of their painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions by mirroring society to get the validation, admiration, and reassurance that their primary caregivers deprived them of.

In a short video (see below) we’ve put together an example of mirroring so you can better understand this concept.

A Short Video With an Example of Mirroring!

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In a perfect world, the narcissist would be able to use mirroring to build a new identity out of aspects of life that would make them a really good, well-rounded, and authentic human being. 

However, the emotional neglect that they experienced from their unavailable, unresponsive, and inconsistent primary caregivers left them so emotionally stunted and immature that they are incapable of looking past society’s exterior.

As a result, they end up building their falsified identity out of the most superficial, trivial, and materialistic aspects of life.

This causes the narcissist to develop a grandiose sense of self-importance, specialness, and uniqueness.

The sad outcome of a narcissist’s emotionally inadequate approach to constructing an identity is the development of a deeply rooted hatred for their true identity. 

The emotional neglect that their primary caregivers subjected them to causes narcissists to avoid the fundamental requirements of healthy relationships such as empathy, compassion, mutuality, honesty, emotional closeness, vulnerability etc., because they think it makes them weak, inadequate, unlovable, unwanted, and worthless.

It is for this reason that narcissists feel more comfortable in relationships where they are in a position of power, control, and dominance, such as the trauma bonded relationships that they create.

The Manipulation Tactics That Are Used to Create Trauma Bonded Relationships Give Narcissists Narcissistic Supply 

When a narcissist manipulates someone that they are abusing into developing a trauma bond, they place themselves in a position of power and control from which they can accumulate as much validation, admiration, and reassurance (narcissistic supply) as humanly possible.

The importance of understanding this reasoning behind a narcissist’s desire to place themselves in this position is immeasurable so we are briefly going to go over it before getting into the manipulation tactics that narcissists use to create trauma bonds!

Suggested Reading!

To protect yourself and heal from narcissistic abuse, you have to grasp a comprehensive understanding of narcissistic supply! Our article “What Is Narcissistic Supply?” gives you all the information that you need to strengthen your healing journey!

In the previous section, we spoke about the emotionally inadequate approach that narcissists have to constructing and identity. Well this approach prevents them from developing the emotional intelligence needed to manage all of the painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions that their unavailable, unresponsive, and inconsistent primary caregivers forced onto them.  

As a result, the narcissist suppresses all of their painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions deep within their psyche with a defense mechanism called compartmentalization (definition in the image below).

According to the APA Dictionary of Psychology, “compartmentalization is a defense mechanism in which thoughts and feelings that seem to conflict or to be incompatible are isolated from each other in separate and apparently impermeable psychic compartments.”

In other words, they carry the same emotional struggles that they developed in their childhood, into adulthood, which makes their identity extremely fragile. Due to the fragility of their identity, narcissists are prone to narcissistic injuries.

For example, if a cashier at a coffee shop were to tell a narcissist, “I understand that you are late for work but there is a long line ahead of you so you will have to wait your turn.” this would contradict their grandiose sense of self-importance (this is the narcissistic injury), trigger all of their painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions, compromise their emotions stability, and send the narcissist into a rage. 

The only way that a narcissist can protect their identity is by gathering a massive amount of narcissistic supply, hence their desire to place themselves in positions of power and control in the trauma bonded relationships that they create. 

Now, let’s dive into the four manipulation tactics that narcissists use to create trauma bonds: mirroring, future faking, the devaluation phase, and intermittent reinforcement, also known as breadcrumbing.

We will quickly explain all four manipulation tactics and then for those of you who would like to see a real example of these manipulation tactics, there will be a video for those of you at the end that has been reviewed by Karina Ramdath, a registered social worker and therapist, with a really good example of how narcissists use these tactics to create a trauma bond!

Suggested Reading!

If you would like to learn more about narcissistic injuries, check out our article “What Causes Narcissistic Injuries?” to grasp a comprehensive understanding of it!

Mirroring

As we mentioned before, when speaking about narcissism or narcissistic abuse, the term “mirroring” refers to a manipulative technique that occurs when a narcissist absorbs an extraordinary amount of information about the identity of a specific person or a group of people. The narcissist uses this information to create a falsified identity with which others can relate.

When a narcissist mirrors someone, they fill a void in that person’s life. It puts the narcissist in a position from which they can transform themselves into the “perfect” person for the person they are manipulating. Mirroring is a versatile form of manipulation because it operates based on the needs of the person being manipulated. 

Future Faking

The term “future faking” refers to when a narcissist makes a false promise for the future to get exactly what they want in the present. What makes future faking such an effective form of manipulation is the relationship the technique has with mirroring.

Narcissists often know exactly what they need to say and/or do to make people believe their false promises because of how well mirroring allows them to know the identities of other people. Narcissists use future faking to support the falsified identity, which they created using mirroring, so that they can preserve the “perfect” image that the person they are abusing has. 

The Devaluation Phase

When a narcissist senses that the person they have been mirroring and future faking attaches their thoughts, feelings, emotions, needs, wishes, goals, and aspirations to the falsified identity that the narcissist has created, they will drop the “Mr./Ms. Perfect” act and begin their abusive pursuit of narcissistic supply (i.e. validation, admiration, reassurance, power, and control). 

This is known as the devaluation phase and it is home to the most invalidating, devaluing, degrading, dehumanizing, and manipulative forms of abuse that a narcissist offers (i.e. gaslighting, narcissistic rage, projection, baiting, intimacy anorexia, and stonewalling).

Intermittent Reinforcement

Intermittent reinforcement is the delivery of a reward at irregular intervals and occurs when a narcissist senses that the person they are abusing is emotionally and/or physically checking out of the relationship (i.e. they are no longer a reliable source of narcissistic supply).

When this happens, the narcissist uses intermittent reinforcement to remain in power and control of the thoughts, feelings, emotions, needs, wishes, goals, and aspirations of the person that the narcissist is abusing.  

This level of power and control puts the narcissist in a position from which they can manipulate the abused person into becoming a reliable source of supply again.

After months, years, or even decades of the abusive devaluation phase, the relationship is often so emotionally starved that the slightest amount of empathy, compassion, and/or intimacy acts as the powerful “reward” of intermittent reinforcement.

A Short Video With an Example of How Narcissists Use Mirroring, Future Faking, the Devaluation Phase, and Intermittent Reinforcement to Create a Trauma Bond!

For the best experience, please rotate your mobile device sideways.

These Manipulation Tactics Turn Those Experiencing Narcissistic Abuse Into Huge Sources of Narcissistic Supply for the Narcissist

After experiencing mirroring, future faking, and the devaluation phase, intermittent reinforcement has a massive effect on the chemicals in your brain.

You see, at this point in the relationship, you will likely be so emotionally deprived that the small amounts of “kindness”, “empathy”, or “compassion” that a narcissist will use as the “reward” of intermittent reinforcement, triggers the reward center in your brain and floods your body with dopamine.2

Dopamine is the same neurotransmitter that is released when humans abuse drugs like opiates, alcohol, nicotine, amphetamines, and cocaine. What this does to the person being abused is it turns the “reward” that narcissists give out for intermittent reinforcement into their only known source of happiness and causes the trauma bond to feel like an addiction!

Suggested Reading!

People with an addiction tend to show the three Cs3: craving for the object of the addiction, loss of control over use of the object of the addiction, continued engagement with the object of the addiction in spite of harmful consequences.

The “reward” of intermittent reinforcement causes those being abused by a narcissist to crave the reward, lose sight/control of themselves in pursuit of the reward, and continue to be in the narcissistic relationship in spite of the harmful consequences. 

In our article “Why Do Trauma Bonds Feel Like an Addiction?” you can learn more about the reason that trauma bonds feel like an addiction!

This is where those experiencing narcissistic abuse become huge sources of narcissistic supply because they will do almost anything to get the “reward” again. It is a horrible addiction that takes a long time to escape but this is one of the biggest reasons that narcissists feel more comfortable in trauma bonded relationships. 

When they are in a position of power, control, and dominance, trauma bonds make narcissists feel amazing. It gives them all of the validation, admiration, reassurance, power, and control that they could ever want.

What Should You Take Away From This Article?

When it comes to narcissism and narcissistic abuse, taking the time to understand the hidden aspects of it puts you in a position from which you can protect yourself and heal. It is our hope that this article has helped strengthen your healing journey! 

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All of the content that Unfilteredd creates is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for clinical care — please visit here for qualified organizations and here for qualified professionals that you can reach out to for help. This article has been reviewed by our editorial board and has been approved for publication in accordance with our editorial policies.

References

APA Dictionary of Psychology: What Is Compartmentalization? 

APA Dictionary of Psychology: What Is a Defense Mechanism?

[1] Sternberg, Robert J. “A triangular theory of love.” Psychological review 93.2 (1986): 119.

[2] Reinforcing behavioral variability: An analysis of dopamine-receptor subtypes and intermittent reinforcement

[3] Harvard Health