The Narcissist’s One Trick That Can Keep Us Hooked Forever

Narcissist One Trick Keep Hooked Forever

Casinos know it. Animal trainers count on it. Narcissists have perfected it. This is the narcissist’s most powerful trick ever.

It’s the powerful emotional tool known as intermittent reinforcement, and when used correctly, it guarantees to get—and keep—virtually anyone hooked on anything.

Intermittent reinforcement is when one person in a relationship metes out or reinforces rules, rewards, or boundaries occasionally or inconsistently. Instead of discouraging the other person, intermittent reinforcement actually does the opposite. It fuels their attempts to extract the reward once again, keeping them hopelessly locked onto the relationship.

Take for example a parent who says “no” to their child 90% of the time. It’s the 10% of the time the parent backtracks, which incites the child to whine, throw tantrums, or harangue to get another yes. Animals will do tricks every time, even after the trainer withholds the reward, like B.F. Skinner’s rat that hits the bar repeatedly for the chance pellet, over and over, whether it gets one or not. Gamblers, too, know that the intermittent reinforcement of the random, small payout, will keep them at the slot machines until they empty their purses or pockets.

Those of you obsessed with checking your Tinder account, Tumblr blog, or Twitter, for the ambivalent thrill that comes with those hit-or-miss shots of validation, know what I’m talking about.

The narcissist knows what I’m talking about too. He is adroit at delivering a ping of validation when he senses you’re about to pull away, just to keep you tied to a relationship that serves his needs, usually at your expense.

Related: 12 Signs You Are Married To A Narcissist

It’ll be bad bad bad bad, but then all of a sudden good, and you are fooled into thinking that the good is here to stay. So you stay too. And like Skinner’s rat that starved to death in pursuit of the ever-diminishing, random reward, chances are you too will tolerate increasingly abusive conditions in the hope of catching hold again of a (brief) encounter with good. And just like that, the narcissist’s trick worked, and how!

But with a narcissist, the good is fleeting by design. That’s intermittent reinforcement.

If you’ve ever been stuck in the sticky grip of a narcissist, you know the drill. When the two of you first meet, the narcissist floods you with expressions of love. You are beautiful, witty, enchanting, the woman he’s always wanted but didn’t think existed. His search is over. Your shoulders relax, you let down your walls, throw open the gates. Your heart sings. You let yourself believe you’ve finally found the one.

Then, without warning, the narcissist switches tracks. Out of nowhere, you can’t do anything right. The qualities in you that she first exalted, are now your worst faults. She’s bored with you, disinterested. She starts to mention other guys, her old boyfriend. You think, what happened? You review everything she said, examining past events for clues that she really cared about.

Let’s see, she went to my hockey games, came with me to visit my mom in the hospital. Stuck love notes in my gym bag. Didn’t all that mean she loved me? What happened? Is it me?

No. It’s not you. You’re just caught in the narcissist’s cycle and the narcissist’s trick. The D&D, devalue, and discard phase. The narcissist practice of projecting their internalized self-hate and disdain onto you, by doing and saying things to make you feel invalidated, rejected, and insecure.

Most of us with even a shot glass of self-esteem get hip to this and decide to say sayonara. That’s when the narcissist will employ the emotional hook: Intermittent reinforcement. To keep you from exiting, the narcissist will do an about-face, and signal you’re back in. He’s on time, attentive, he brings your favorite take out, remembers it’s your dog’s birthday. He takes you in his arms, the clouds part, and the light of his love shines down on you once more. You exhale with relief.

Related: 3 Reasons Why Narcissists Always Return To Former Victims

It won’t last. Doesn’t matter. Most of us will cleave to those haphazard disbursements as evidence that a loving, reciprocal relationship is still possible. After the investment we’ve made in the narcissist, we’re already set up to seize on reasons to ignore the bad stuff. So we hang in, continue to chase the good. The narcissist delivers her well-timed, little ping. We’re hooked.

The problem is, over time, the episodes of intermittent reinforcement get fewer and fewer, and the incidents of D&D increase. But the pain of D&D will never loosen the hook, as long as the narcissist continues to fall back on intermittent reinforcement. The only way to get free is to adopt a strict no-contact policy. The sooner the narcissist becomes a memory, the better off you’ll be.


The Narcissist’s One Trick That Can Keep Us Hooked Forever
Narcissist One Trick Keep Hooked Forever Pin
The Narcissist’s One Trick That Can Keep Us Hooked Forever

44 thoughts on “The Narcissist’s One Trick That Can Keep Us Hooked Forever”

  1. Avatar of LindaC3011

    OH MY GOD, this is my life story with my second husband. Looking back, it was all too quick. At the start, i was his world and he had never loved anyone like he loved me (idolise stage) with intermittant reinforcement for good measure. Always felt i had done something wrong to loose favour with him and make him feel insecure. Was with him for fourteen years and was crushed under his emotions. After my sister passed away in 2014 and his lack of empathy and decency toward me and my feelings i left in Sept 2014 to try and find me again.
    After leaving, the love bombing started, he said he was wrong in how he had treated me and my feelings in the past and that his life was empty without me in it and he couldnt function without me. Long story short, i thought maybe i had overthought his bad behaviour and if i could draw a line in the sand and start again, things could be better than ever. Didnt move back, but left the door open for him and we started seeing a counsellor in Feb 2015. The counsellor thought that most of the issues in the relationship were mine and i was too controlling. After three years of taking 2 steps forward and three steps back in the relationship, i came to the realisation that his whole life was and still is a lie. Even while we wer going thorough counsellling he was in a relationship with at least two other women both sexual and emotional. I was meant to be ok with that because i couldn’t meet his sexual needs. Went no contact 1st May 2017 . It’s probably the hardest thing i have ever had to do. Have good days and bad days and some soul destroying days, usually if i let my demons tell me that maybe i’m the problem and i should be more forgiving. Like i said, my life is still a work in progress and i am looking foward to the day i don’t second guess my choices.

  2. Avatar of Kt Sims

    This article really hits home. I relate to every word of this. Great article and so true.
    After over 8 years of that abuse, I am now on my fourth month of the no contact policy… and completely done. It’s the only way, and hopefully time will be kinder to me, as my whole life was broken to bits, and I am still picking up the pieces, one by one.

    If you are in a situation like this… Get out sooner than later… “What you allow will continue”…

  3. Avatar of Doug Fliehman

    COMMENTQuite the memory the fucking cunt, Karma surrounds these Monsters. They will get theirs, I hope and pray I get to see My Memory play ‘chicken’ with an 18 wheeler, or something equal as bloody/fatal!!!

  4. Avatar of Miro Šafran

    I went trough that kind of “relationship” where i made her fall in love with me..
    It would’ve never worked and probably cost me my life if i didn’t stop it.. all of it except the thought of her.. still love her after a year tho’ probably always will.. the best thing that happened in my life.. the only thing i dream about day or night.. Now when i look back i see.. She was helpless against me.. a narcissist loved me 🙂

  5. Avatar of Annie Spalsbury

    This is so heartbreaking to me!! I don’t want him to be a narcissist 🙁 can they change?? How do you make them see it? How do you help them change?? Can they?? I love him more then any man ever!! 🙁

    1. Avatar of Jennifer Noyes

      Annie, No they don’t change. I lived this life for 25 years. I had no clue what I was caught up in until it was finally over. And he didn’t call it quits until I started revealing all his dirty secrets and telling the truth about how he was treating me for 25 years. N’s don’t want to be exposed. If you truly believe this is who he is, get out of the relationships. It will not get better! No contact is the way to go.

    2. Avatar of Tracy Mayhew

      From all research undertaken so far, No they cannot change, mostly because they don’t want to change as they don’t see themselves as the destructive entities they are. Leave, save yourself, unless you don’t mind being lied to, cheated on and emotionally destroyed.

    3. Avatar of Miro Šafran

      There’s no imediate help.. modified therapy could do the trick but that’s a longshot.. a conclusion a life changing event could bring clarity to them.. try your best and let their soul do the rest..with time it will

    1. Avatar of Tracy Mayhew

      I believe they know, but they don’t care or more to the point, they intentionally go out to hurt others (depending on their level of psychopathy). As Robert D. Hare states, they are ”without conscience”.

      1. Avatar of ArabiaNytes

        I think you are confused with the symptoms of being a psychopath or sociopath with the symptoms of being a general narcissist. My mother is a narcissistic person with other diagnosable traits, but she does have a conscience and overtime, awareness has brought to light characteristics that were unbeknownst to her. A narcissistic person sometimes does not know the extent of their wrongdoings. It is a collection of their upbringing that shapes their perspective on life and how they are too live within it. Denial, when faced with adversity, is a natural defensive mechanism that they exercise. Unfortunately, this was only brews for an increase in strength of narcissistic actions and behaviors. Overtime, this generalizes in a person feeling that are narcissistic persona is just and deserving. While some narcissistic people have no conscience, as sociopath are, not all narcissistics lack feeling or are aware of their own undesirable traits.

    2. Avatar of Kirstie Shipp

      I agree, unfortunately I seem to be a magnet. Some don’t realise, I guess they are at the milder end of the scale. Or deluded. My ex was the worst I have encountered.

  6. Avatar of Edward Renner

    These traits are also seen in sociopaths. This is very much about manipulation. It’s not an easy thing to identify while you are in the emotional grips of someone who is VERY good at manipulating your emotions. Have you have been isolated from all your friends and family? Are you always being blamed for why they yelled, hit or said painful things to you? When they do give you that rare positive attention, it’s as if the cloudy sky opened up and a ray of sunshine has hit your heart?

    When can you believe someone has changed? When they have spent months talking to a therapist, psychiatrists, trusted clergy member AND made daily choices that prove they are working at changing their abusive ways. Trust actions, not words.

    However, this is similar to any self destructive addition. Unhealthy people rarely seek help until they have hit rock bottom.

    If you feel you are living with a sociopath, get out. It’s only a matter of time before they become violent and you will have to be carried out. If they aren’t physically hitting you, chances are you are being emotionally battered and those bruises take far longer to heal than the physical ones.

  7. Avatar of Harvey Boon

    I particulally like the fact you acknowledge the fact both genders can be narcissistic. But one question, how do you distinguish the difference between this & say someone who is literally trying to make amends for being an ass. Because let’s face it no one is perfect & even the most fantastic relationships have down cycles.

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