Many of us don’t understand why it's so hard to stay away from the Narcissist even after we learn how toxic they are to us. Aside from their obvious charm, it's important to recognize how the Narcissist brainwashes us. I know it sounds dramatic, but it's true. Narcissists literally brainwash us. They know exactly how to keep us coming back with the lure, the promise and the hook. Understanding how they do this is helpful to your recovery.
Narcissists are master manipulators. They know how to make us feel guilty, so we will come back for absolution. They know how to make us feel sorry for them, so we will offer to help them. They know how to promise great things, so we will return in hopes that it will be different this time. They know how to make us doubt ourselves, so we will seek validation from them. Ultimately, they have trained us to return to them over and over again.
There is a principle in behaviorism called Random Reinforcement, which explains how inconsistent responses to identical behavior can lead to addiction. This same principle is precisely why slot machines and gambling are dangerously addictive. You get a big reward for a certain behavior on one occasion; other times that same behavior leads to a huge loss or punishment.
The thrill that the next go-around might be the big pay-off or reward for a certain behavior keeps us coming back for more. We chase that high from the last time we were rewarded. Being in a relationship with a Narcissist is like a roller-coaster ride with incredible highs and unbelievable lows. It is exhilarating and exciting one moment, and demoralizing and demeaning the next.
We get caught in a cycle of chasing that next high, hoping that if we weather the storm, the next moment will bring the return of the good again. Unfortunately, the good never returns permanently. The Narcissist knows by rewarding us intermittently, we remain hooked. They keep us on our toes guessing and always ensure we are left wanting more from them.
Narcissists are brilliant manipulators and know what they’re doing every step of the way. They enjoy punishing us more than they enjoy rewarding us. It is all part of a master plan to keep us under their control. It is part of the lure (the hook) and they use it to play us like pawns.
After spending years with a Narcissist, we begin to doubt our ability to make decisions. The Narcissist has controlled and directed our every move for years. They train and condition us to look to them for answers, which ultimately strips us of our ability to make any choices for ourselves. As a result, we become terrified of being alone and don't trust our own instincts. Narcissists also isolate us from our family and friends so we become dependent on them and have lost our support system.
Stockholm Syndrome is a term used to describe a psychological phenomenon where hostages bond with their captors. The syndrome is named after the Norrmalmstorg robbery of Kreditbanken at Norrmalmstorg in Stockholm where bank robbers held bank employees hostage from August 23 to August 28, 1973.
In this case, the victims became emotionally attached to their captors and even defended them after they were released. The term Stockholm Syndrome was coined by the criminologist and psychiatrist Nils Bejerot who assisted the police during the robbery. Frank Ochberg originally defined it to aid in the management of hostage situations and describes it as: “A primitive gratitude for the gift of life.”
There is still debate as to what specific factors contribute to the development of Stockholm Syndrome, but the goal of every abuser is the same – to ensure the victim becomes reliant and dependent on him for survival. Continued contact between the perpetrator and the hostage, a long duration before resolution and emotional abuse vs. physical abuse are key components. These are the very components at play when in a long-term relationship with a Narcissist, which helps explain why it is so difficult for us to stay away.
This dynamic is also often referred to as "Trauma Bonding" because the Narcissist has conditioned us to believe we can’t live without him. He wants to keep us confused and coming back to him so he can keep using us forever. Here, on The Path Forward, we were refer to it as "Crazy-Making." Bottom line, because of this phenomenon, it takes a lot of time and effort for us to finally realize we are actually better off on our own.
It is precisely why "No Contact" is the only way to break free from the hold the Narcissist has over us. No one understands like those who have been through it themselves and the support we give one another here is essential to our recovery. We must deprogram from the Narcissist in order to move forward and No Contact is the only way to do this.
Celebrate every moment, hour, day and week you maintain No Contact from your ExNarc because it brings you one step further to the freedom you deserve. Do not punish yourself for setbacks as you are only human. Recovery is not perfect. It's about progress, not perfection. If you step off course, do not dwell on it, but instead be honest about why you think it happened, forgive yourself and quickly get yourself back on track.
“Progress means getting nearer to the place you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.”
― C.S. Lewis