A large majority of narcissistic relationships are kept in place by a trauma bond. A trauma bond is an emotional attachment between victims of abuse and their abuser that is formed through an abusive cycle of mirroring, manipulation, devaluation, invalidation, dehumanization, chaos, and intermittent reinforcement. They are so powerful which often leaves victims of narcissistic abuse wondering if the narcissist feels the trauma bond as well.
Narcissists do feel the trauma bond but not in the same way that victims of abuse feel the trauma bond. A trauma bond makes narcissists feel complete because the dynamics of a trauma bond relationship are designed to help the narcissist manage their suppressed negative emotions.
The bond between a victim of narcissistic abuse and the narcissist puts the narcissist in a position from which they can get the validation, admiration, and reassurance that they desperately need, it allows them to fulfill their insecure need for power and control, and it soothes their fear of abandonment/rejection.
This article is packed full with information that explains why trauma bonds do so much for the narcissist but there’s something that you should know first. There are some unique situations where a narcissist can actually be trauma bonded in a relationship and we’ve created a short video below explaining how!
A Short Video About How a Narcissist Can Be Trauma Bonded
Why Do Trauma Bonds Make Narcissists Feel So Good
There are two huge reason that trauma bonds make narcissists feel so good. First, an unhealthy/abusive childhood has left the narcissist so emotionally inadequate that they’re incapable of maintaining any type of healthy relationship. Second, the abusive cycle that creates a trauma bond helps narcissists be emotionally stable.
A Narcissist’s Unhealthy/Abusive Upbringing Is Why Trauma Bonded Relationships Make Them Feel Complete
One of the reasons that a narcissist will feel complete when they’re able to manipulate and bully their victim into developing a trauma bond can be found within the narcissist’s unhealthy/abusive upbringing.
It’s believed by many professionals that narcissism originates from an unhealthy/abusive upbringing with unavailable, unresponsive, and inconsistent primary caregivers. This level of neglect leaves children with a list of emotional inadequacies longer than train smoke that are really, really important for victims of narcissistic abuse to understand if they are going to have a successful healing journey.
Suggested Reading: How Are Narcissists Made?
However, there’s one emotional inadequacy in particular that can explain the benefit that narcissists have for keeping their victims trauma bonded, compartmentalization.
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.”
What does this mean and why do narcissists do this?
An upbringing with unavailable, unresponsive, and inconsistent primary caregivers does two very harmful things to a child.
First, the child will be incapable of developing a realistic sense of self because their unavailable, unresponsive, and inconsistent primary caregivers can’t mirror emotions, thoughts, feelings, and needs.
Second, because the child doesn’t have available, responsive, and consistent primary caregivers who can mirror their emotions, thoughts, feelings, and needs, they develop a belief that their true self isn’t good enough to be acknowledged, validated, reassured, and ultimately loved by others.
The combination of the two forces these children to suppress, or compartmentalize, their true identity, and all of the negative emotions that come with it, deep within themselves.
They replace their true identity with a falsified identity that is designed to accumulate all of the validation, admiration, and reassurance they couldn’t get from their unavailable, unresponsive, and inconsistent primary caregivers.
In a perfect world, the narcissist would be able to build their new identity out of things that would make them a really good, well-rounded, and authentic human being.
Unfortunately, the emotional inadequacy they develop from a childhood of neglect makes them incapable of looking past society’s superficial exterior when building their falsified identity, so, they build it out of the most superficial, trivial, and materialistic aspects of life.
What’s the significance of all of this?
A narcissist’s emotionally inadequate approach to rebuilding themselves gives them a new appearance but that is it. They shove the same inadequacies, fears, bad habits, insecurities, and vulnerabilities that they developed in a childhood of neglect deep within their psyche, which is also known as compartmentalization, and hide it behind their falsified identity.
In other words, they carry the same problems they developed in an unhealthy/abusive childhood to adulthood. This makes their falsified identity extremely fragile which is problematic as it is the only thing holding back all of their suppressed negative emotions that their emotional inadequacies make them incapable of managing on their own.
When they experience any form of authenticity, like someone holding them accountable for their behavior or seeing past their grandiose aura, it contradicts their falsified identity which jeopardizes their emotional stability.
The reason for this is because contradictions to their falsified identity allows all of their suppressed negative emotions to escape the small compartment deep within the narcissist’s psyche that they have trapped them in.
To sum up everything that has been stated above, the reason that a narcissist will feel complete when they’re able to trauma bond their victim is because by manipulating them into validating, admiring, and reassuring the narcissist on a daily basis, giving up all of the power and control in the relationship, and soothing their fear of abandonment, it reinforces the narcissist’s false sense of self which helps prevent the narcissist from emotionally imploding on themselves.
The Abusive Cycle That Creates Trauma Bonds Allows a Narcissist to Be Emotionally Stable
As we mentioned before, trauma bonds are formed through an abusive cycle of mirroring, manipulation, devaluation, invalidation, dehumanization, chaos, and intermittent reinforcement.
For victims of narcissistic abuse, it is really important to understand how this cycle of abuse works because the dynamics of the cycle are how a narcissist is able to get the validation, admiration, and reassurance they desperately need, fulfill their insecure need for power and control, and soothe their fear of abandonment.
Understanding the cycle puts victims in a position from which they can dismantle the manipulative structure, physically and/or mentally escape the abuse cycle, and most importantly, heal.
The first part of this abusive cycle that causes trauma bonding is mirroring. In a narcissistic relationship, mirroring is when a narcissist will absorb a ton of information about the victim’s identity and use that information to create a falsified identity that is designed to fill a void in the victim’s life.
They’ll learn the victim’s vulnerabilities, insecurities, goals in life, desires, likes and dislikes, and reflect or “mirror” them back to the victim in a way that is reassuring and validating for the victim to manipulate them into developing a false sense of emotional and physical safety/security.
This is a very powerful form of manipulation that portrays the narcissist as “perfect” to the victim which causes them to envision a happy, healthy, and secure future with the narcissist.
The second part of this abusive cycle is called future faking. A future fake is when a narcissist will make a false promise for the future to get what they want in the present. It can manifest in both a verbal and non-verbal manner.
A verbal form of future faking would be false promises. A non-verbal form would be the narcissist’s demeanor as a result of the mirroring. By presenting themselves as the perfect person for the victim, they’re manipulating them into envisioning a healthy, happy, and secure future together, which is a lie and essentially a future fake.
To successfully future fake the victim, a narcissist will use all of the information he/she gathered during the mirroring phase to create a captivating promise. For example, if the narcissist knew that the victim wanted to move to Los Angeles to pursue her acting career, the narcissist might pretend to want to move there as well just to keep the victim hooked in the relationship.
When it comes time to actually move, the narcissist will reach into their bag of lies, excuses, abuse, and manipulation to find a way to coerce the victim into either delaying the move or giving up on it altogether.
What future faking does is it solidifies the “perfect” image the narcissist has fabricated by placing the victim up on an emotional pedestal from which they can see the happy, healthy, and secure future that they desire, making them extremely vulnerable to trauma bonding.
The Devaluation Phase
The third part of this abusive cycle is called the devaluation phase. The devaluation phase is home to the most invalidating, devaluing, dehumanizing, and chaotic narcissistic behavior patterns imaginable.
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Once the narcissist has created a suitable falsified identity and used future faking to place the victim up on an emotional pedestal from which they can see a happy, healthy, and secure future, they’ll kick the pedestal right out from under them by revealing their true identity, a manipulative abuser.
The initiation of the devaluation phase forces victims of narcissistic abuse to make a very difficult decision.
Do they acknowledge that the person they envisioned a happy, healthy, and secure future with is an abuser and leave or do they hold onto the hope that the happy, healthy, and secure person they were manipulated into envisioning will come back and stay?
It seems like a really simple answer but it is not.
You see, a hidden aspect of trauma bonding is called cognitive dissonance. It is a theory that suggests when we experience an inconsistency among our beliefs, information, and behavior, it causes a tremendous amount of psychological tension. To ease this tension we will change one or more of the elements causing the inconsistency to make everything consistent.
In narcissistic relationships, this manifests in the form of the justification, rationalization, and ultimately normalization of narcissistic abuse.
Intermittent reinforcement is the delivery of a reward at irregular intervals and it is a very common behavior pattern to see narcissists use to keep their victim trapped within the trauma bonded relationship.
When a narcissist senses that they’re losing power and control over their victim, they will use intermittent reinforcement to give the victim a glimpse of the happy, healthy, and secure version of themselves that they created by mirroring the victim’s identity to trigger the victim’s sense of hope that the relationship is still worth fighting for.
The saddest thing about all of this is that at this point the narcissistic relationship is so emotionally starved that narcissists don’t have to put that much effort into the “reward” of intermittent reinforcement to push the victim back into a state of cognitive dissonance.
What makes intermittent reinforcement so dangerous is that the “reward” actually triggers the reward center in the victim’s brain and floods their body with dopamine causing the relationship to feel almost like an addiction for the victim.
Suggested Reading: Why Do Trauma Bonds Feel Like an Addiction?
It’s for this reason that leaving any type of trauma bonded relationship, not just narcissistic ones, is incredibly difficult. We wouldn’t expect someone who is addicted to a substance to change overnight so we shouldn’t expect victims of trauma bonded relationships to do so either.
How Does This Abusive Cycle Help Narcissists Be Emotionally Stable?
This cycle causes victims of narcissistic abuse to develop a deep craving for the high points of the dysfunctional relationship. These high points are the moments where they’re reminded of the happy, healthy, and secure version of their abuser. When the victim doesn’t see this version of the narcissist, they lose sight and control of themselves in pursuit of it.
This means that they’ll neglect their own emotions, feelings, thoughts, and needs to ensure the narcissist has their needs met in the hopes that it will bring the high points of the relationship back. Last, but certainly not leas, the victim will remain in the relationship despite the negative consequences it has on their well-being because the narcissist has become their only known source of happiness.
What this all means is that the narcissist will be able to get the validation, admiration, and reassurance that they desperately need, fulfill their insecure need for power and control, and soothe their fear of abandonment/rejection simply because they’re in total control of their trauma bonded victim which makes them feel complete and emotionally stable.
What Should You Take Away From This Article?
The complexity of trauma bonding and narcissistic abuse should never be underestimated! When it comes to narcissism understanding the hidden aspects of it gives victims of narcissistic abuse the insight needed to dismantle the narcissistic abuse cycle and continue down their healing journey.
It’s so really important that victims of abuse address the trauma that arises from the invalidation, devaluation, dehumanization, and chaos that narcissist subject their victims to with a qualified professional.
This article has been reviewed by our editorial board and has been approved for publication in accordance with our editorial policies.
THIS INFORMATION IS FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY AND IS NOT INTENDED TO BE A SUBSTITUTE FOR CLINICAL CARE.
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