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

 February 23, 2018

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.


Stockholm Syndrome

Stockholm Syndrome is the term for a situation in which adults who are mistreated by their captors develop positive feelings towards the people who are mistreating them. As the situation progresses, the captives start to become more childlike and dependent. They become grateful for any small signs of approval and affection. Eventually, they may bond with their captors and even come to love them.

The name comes from a 1973 bank robbery in Stockholm, Sweden in which the robbers took hostages. Much to the world’s surprise, by the time the captives were freed, they had developed positive feelings towards their captors, instead of hating them.


How does all of this apply to being in a relationship with an abusive Narcissist?


Stage 1 — Continuous Reward with Nothing Required in Return

In the beginning, when the Narcissistic individual is focused on “getting” you, they give you lots of emotional food pellets in the form of attention, praise, and sweet gestures. They tell you how wonderful you are, bring you thoughtful gifts, and focus on making you feel good.

Almost everyone responds well to getting continuously stroked and praised by someone that they find attractive. This is the Narcissistic courtship pattern that has come to be known as “Love Bombing.”

All that they ask for in return is that you continue to give them a chance to prove their love to you. This is the human equivalent of teaching the lab rat where to look for food pellets.


Stage 2 — Performance Rewards

Once Narcissistic individuals feel more secure with you, they stop continuously rewarding you. Now you only get positive attention when you do things that make the Narcissist feel good. Enough positive attention is still flowing your way that you do not really notice that now you only get rewarded when you “press the bar.”  In human terms, you are being groomed to want to please the Narcissist in your life.


Stage 3 — Devaluation Starts, Rewards Decrease

In this stage, your Narcissistic mate starts to occasionally mistreat you. They may become critical of you, become controlling, or publically put you down. You still get occasional emotional “treats,” but now they are unpredictable. The bad moments start to outweigh the good. You are now on the equivalent of an “intermittent reinforcement schedule.”


Stage 4 — “Gaslighting”

If this is your first experience with an abusive Narcissist, you are likely to be extremely puzzled as to why this is happening. Your Narcissistic mate supplies the answer. They insist that you are the problem. If only you would do more of a, b, or c, and stop doing x, y, and z, everything would go back to being perfect. The term “Gaslighting” comes from a movie in which a man deliberately tries to drive his wife crazy by making her doubt her own perceptions of reality.

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