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.
Stage 5: Control Is Established—You do not know what to believe but think that your only chance of getting back the good feelings of Stage 1 is to try doing things their way.
Stage 6: Resignation and Loss of Self—Things get worse, not better. When you try to fight back, they up their abuse. Now you would just settle for peace and for the fighting to stop. You are confused, unhappy, your self-esteem is at its lowest.
Stage 7: Addiction—Your friends and family are worried about you. You know that this situation is terrible, but you feel as if you cannot leave because this person is now everything to you. All you can think about is winning back their love.
How is it possible that this can happen to a normally sane and functional person like you?
The answer to this question lies in understanding the underlying dynamics of how humans react to a combination of dependency and abuse coupled with “intermittent reinforcement.”
Many research studies have focused on how to get healthy laboratory rats to keep pressing a bar in the hope that they would continue to get food pellets. The researchers’ goal was to keep the rats working for rewards long after they had stopped giving them any. They chose lab rats because they react very similarly to humans in these types of situations.
The researchers experimented with different patterns of rewards and found the following:
Pattern 1 — Reward them every time they press
This was the least effective reward schedule. The rats expected to be rewarded after every bar press. When the rewards stopped, they might press one or two more times just to see whether any new food appeared. But…even the dumbest rats quickly wandered away and stopped paying attention to the bar.
Pattern 2 — Reward for every 10th press
Here the researchers got the rats used to pressing the food bar 10 times before the food came out. This means that the rats could not learn that no more food would come until after they had already done the work of pressing at least 10 times. Most tried at least one more time and did another set of 10. Eventually, all the rats realized there were no more food rewards for bar pressing and they stopped working and wandered off to look elsewhere for food.
Pattern 3 — Reward every 10 minutes
Here the rats learned that they would only get food on a set time schedule. Once they figured out that they would get rewarded 10 minutes after a press, they would eventually get very economical with their presses. They would press once or twice towards the end of the 10-minute period, then stop and wait for their reward. After the rewards stopped, it only took a few non-rewarded 10-minute periods for the rats to stop pressing the bar.