Why Is It So Hard to Leave the Narcissist in Your Life?

Why Hard Leave Narcissist Your Life

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.

Related: Breaking the Ties that Bind: Examining Trauma Bonds with an Extreme Narcissist

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.”

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.

Result: The researchers learned that having any predictable pattern of rewards for pressing the bar resulted in fewer bar presses after the rewards stopped for good.

Pattern 4 — Intermittent Reinforcement

The researchers finally outwitted the rats by doing away with any predictable pattern of reward. They varied the times between rewards and how many bar presses would be required to get food in exchange for work.

Result: The rats kept pressing the bar, even though they were never rewarded again.

In the terminology of “Learning Psychology,” the response of bar pressing was never extinguished on a schedule of “intermittent reinforcement.” In human language, the rats continued to work in the hope that someday they would once again be rewarded.

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Dr. Elinor Greenberg PhD, CGP

Elinor Greenberg, Ph.D., CGP, is an internationally renowned Gestalt therapy trainer who specializes in teaching the diagnosis and treatment of Borderline, Narcissistic, and Schizoid adaptations in a lively and practical way. She has trained psychotherapists in her approach in the US, Norway, Sweden, Wales, England, Russia, and Mexico. Dr. Greenberg is the author of the book: Borderline, Narcissistic, and Schizoid Adaptations: The Pursuit of Love, Admiration and Safety.View Author posts