Why Is It So Hard to Leave the Narcissist in Your Life and How narcissistic trauma bonding keeps you coming back for more.
By Dr. Elinor Greenberg
I am seeing more and more people in my office who tell me some version of the following story:
I used to be a really confident and mentally healthy person. I had a good job, lots of friends, and I was happy most of the time.
Now I am a total wreck. I can’t concentrate on my work and I feel as if I am going crazy. I know that I am in a really destructive relationship with a Narcissist who abuses me, but somehow, I can’t manage to leave once and for all.
This person used to be incredibly loving to me, but now they treat me like dirt. I don’t understand what is happening or what I have done that makes them treat me this way. I love them so much! I have tried to leave, but each time I come back the moment that they start being nice to me again. I literally cannot make myself stay away. Can you help me?
Why is it so hard to leave the abusive Narcissist in your life?
If the above story resonates with you, and you too have found yourself begging for crumbs of affection from an abusive person with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, I may be able to help you understand how you got here—and why you are finding it so hard to just walk away and not look back.
The answer is that you have become “Trauma Bonded” to this person through a blend of “Intermittent Reinforcement” and “Stockholm Syndrome.”
What is “Narcissistic Trauma Bonding”?
Humans are wired to emotionally bond with the people around them. This ability to bond is the glue that keeps families and relationships together.
When we feel endangered or insecure our natural reaction is to reach out to those we are bonded with for protection. But what happens when the person we are bonded to is the one who is mistreating us? Then our tendency to bond works against us.
Under normal circumstances, we might be able to walk away from our abuser and look for help elsewhere. Unfortunately, the conditions that create trauma bonding are not at all normal.
With “Narcissistic Trauma Bonding,” you are initially showered with intense love and approval. It is like a fantasy come true.
Then gradually the ratio of positive to negative events shifts—often so subtly that you cannot say exactly when this happened. You find yourself in fights with someone you desperately love who claims that everything bad that is happening is all your fault.
Unless you walk out immediately and never look back, you are well on your way to becoming this person’s psychic prisoner. You will find yourself “Trauma Bonded” to someone who is destroying you.
This is like your own personal opiate addiction crisis. You are now addicted to this person’s approval and only desire their love and no one else’s. You know you should stop, but you do not have the willpower to do so on your own.
The 7 Stages of Narcissistic Trauma Bonding
Stage 1: “Love Bombing” —
The Narcissist showers you with love and validation.
Stage 2: Trust and Dependency —
You start to trust that they will love you forever. You now depend on them for love and validation.
Stage 3: Criticism Begins —
They gradually reduce the amount of love and validation that they give you and start to criticize you and blame you for things. They become demanding.
Stage 4: “Gaslighting” —
They tell you that this is all your fault. If you would only trust them and do exactly as they say, they would shower you with love again. They try to make you doubt your own perceptions and accept their interpretation of reality.