Breaking Free from Narcissistic Trauma Bonds: Healing from the Emotional Wounding
If you suffer from narcissistic abuse syndrome, you are dealing with trauma bonds, as well.
Any behavior that keeps you on high alert, or focused on someone’s behavior, is capable of forming trauma bonds.
What is a Trauma Bond?
Trauma bonds occur over time through the use of “intermittent reinforcement,” which is a type of behavioral “conditioning” where a reward (or a punishment) is given irregularly instead of every time the desired behavior is observed. In other words, periods of abuse are interspersed with periods of kindness (or the absence of cruelty). This cycle of “always guessing” keeps the target on high alert in survival mode. They never know when the abuser will be cruel or kind. It’s like a game of chance, like playing slot machines or Bingo. Sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose, but it’s the possibility of winning that keeps you going back for more.
How are Trauma Bonds Created?
Trauma bonds are created in several ways:
Love bombing: The love bombing dynamic occurs when a narcissist, including a narcissistic mother, unexpectedly showers you with love, attention, kindness, or affection. Love bombing comes in various forms—gift-giving, forgiveness for past “offenses,” anything that makes you feel validated or special. Love bombing helps form a trauma bond because it’s a form of intermittent reinforcement: you never know when it will happen.
Verbal abuse: Shouting, name-calling, sarcastic comments, character assassination, backhanded compliments, insults, demeaning remarks, “put-downs,” and shaming are some examples of verbal abuse. The abuse happens on an irregular schedule, so it’s a form of intermittent reinforcement (spoken cruelty interspersed with periods of civility and kindness.) The resulting shame causes a trauma bond.
Positive reinforcement: Although it sounds healthy, positive reinforcement can also create trauma bonds. When a person (including children) is rewarded for doing something they didn’t want to do or obeying without question, there’s a trauma bond created. Healthy relationships don’t require rewards.
Victim blaming: When a narcissist blames their target (or the narcissist mother blames her child) for the cruelty inflicted upon them, they will likely believe they deserve it because they’ve been conditioned to. This belief establishes a trauma bond.
Silent treatment: When a narcissist purposefully ignores you, that causes feelings of helplessness, anxiety, and fear of abandonment. Having no control over the situation, you’ll focus on the narcissist and wait for their acceptance, however long it takes.
“Moving goalposts” (aka changing the goal): Narcissists often redefine or change their expectations, sometimes several times, during any interaction. Doing this ensures a frustrating encounter for those involved. A narcissist (including narcissist mothers) is never satisfied, and keeping you emotionally invested in their happiness creates trauma bonds.
If you struggle with narcissistic abuse syndrome you’ll often doubt your self-worth and sanity. Targets of narcissistic abuse tend to focus on their faults, failures, and inadequacies, whether they’re real or not. Sometimes these “deficiencies” began as an idea expressed by the vocal narcissist.
There are several symptoms of narcissistic abuse syndrome. Many of these are the same as those of complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD,) which affects people who’ve experienced serious traumas.
Symptoms of Narcissistic Abuse Syndrome
- Accepting an imbalanced sense of responsibility
- Intrusive, or unwanted thoughts
- Unhealed triggers (physical and emotional responses to similar past traumatic situations)
- Flashbacks or nightmares where the target emotionally re-lives a traumatic experience
- Avoiding people, places, or conditions linked to the narcissist or the traumatic event
- Feeling isolated, abandoned, or detached.
- Feeling alert or hyper-vigilant, or easily startled (“fight or flight”)
- Negative thoughts about self and the world
- Accepting misplaced blame
- Difficulty concentrating or sleeping
- Self-destructive behaviors
- Involvement in abusive romantic relationships
- Lost trust in family or friends
- Feeling worthless or unworthy
- Lost sense of self
- Holding the narcissist in high esteem
- Doubting their judgment and decision-making skills
- Ignoring their own needs
- Devaluing or minimizing their contributions to relationships
- Making excuses for a narcissist’s behavior
- Continually trying to please the narcissist
- Attachment issues
- Weak boundaries
If you constantly wonder about your narcissist’s emotional state, for example, what will he/she be like today? Should you try to avoid them? Or do you frequently-
- think about what you could be (or should be) doing differently to please them?
- believe your relationship problems are all your fault?
- deal with mood swings, lost sleep, anxiety, apprehension?
These are all symptoms of Narcissistic Abuse Syndrome, and if you have any of them you may also have trauma bonds. The good news is that you can detach from the abuse and heal. Keep learning and doing the work.
Could you be feeling the effects of Narcissism Awareness Grief? Download the free chapter to find out:
from Lemon Moms: A Guide to Understand and Survive Maternal Narcissism
Tools for Healing
Learn about setting boundaries
Learn about codependency and maladaptive coping skills
Understand the Narcissistic Abuse Cycle
Learn how to stop being a source of narcissistic supply
Learn about dysfunctional family roles
More Resources for You~
If you are on a healing journey from a narcissistic mother, allow me to introduce you to Lemon Moms: A Guide to Understand and Survive Maternal Narcissism.
For as long as I can remember, there was something “different” about my mother. She wasn’t like other mothers.
My mom didn’t hug or kiss, smile at, spend time with, or play with me. She never seemed happy to see me. She didn’t ask about my school day and wasn’t interested in knowing my friends. She seemed to have no interest in me or anything that I did. My mom called me hurtful names and obscenities, and at times, she ignored me, not speaking to me for days, weeks, or even months. When she felt sad I was expected to emotionally care-take her. When she didn’t feel like parenting, I was responsible for my siblings. When she lost her temper, she hit. When I was disobedient, there were bizarre punishments.
I was not allowed to express feelings, ask questions, or show initiative or curiosity. My feelings were discounted, minimized, or invalidated. She re-wrote my memories, and I was expected to believe her version. I was to obey, stay quiet, and not question.
If any of this sounds familiar, you are not alone. If there is manipulation, power struggles, or cruelty in your relationship, this book can help. If you second-guess your memory, doubt your judgment or sanity, or continually seek your mother’s withheld affection, attention, approval, or love, this book can explain why.
Get it Here:
Join the Free Email Survival Course:
Weekly lessons, strategies, and homework to start you moving forward from the effects of hurtful or non-nurturing relationships, narcissists, and Lemon Moms.
A Private Facebook group is included for members only.
YOUR CRASH COURSE IN RELATIONSHIP SELF DEFENSE
In a world where love and companionship are highly valued and sought, it becomes necessary to navigate our relationships cautiously. Understanding relationship warning signs can be helpful in your relationships with family members, friends, and colleagues too. By recognizing potentially harmful patterns of interaction or behavior, you can take proactive measures to avoid toxic dynamics and nurture positive connections with those who share your values and aspirations.
In this book, I delve into concepts of personality quirks and idiosyncrasies, relationship dynamics, and the definitions and differences in what is meant by toxicity, dysfunction, mental health, and abuse. You’ll learn how to guard against emotional, physical, or psychological harm that can arise from unhealthy relationships. By honing your ability to discern the warning signs, you can enjoy more satisfying relationship experiences!
I hope you join me on this transformative expedition as we delve into the intricate tapestry of human interactions and the delicate balance between connection and self-preservation. Together, we will navigate the sometimes-hazardous realm of relationships, armed with information that can guide us toward more fulfilling relationships. We will uncover the hidden patterns and subconscious biases that can lead us astray and we’ll empower ourselves to make informed choices that align with our true desires and values. This journey of self-discovery will illuminate the path toward healthier relationships and serve as a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and its capacity for growth and transformation. So, get ready to embark on an odyssey of awareness, self-discovery, and empowerment as we leave past missteps behind and embrace a future filled with love, authenticity, fulfillment, and a constant feeling of safety and security.
Get it Here:
*Use code redflags2off for $2.00 off on author’s site. Refunds are not made retroactively.
Feel empowered to rescue, protect and heal yourself from their mistreatment or abuse
The TOOLBOX (Recover from Toxic People) App is a great portable way to feel supported and validated as you experience personal growth. It’s for anyone affected by past and present toxic, hurtful, non-nurturing or neglectful relationships.
Healing begins with awareness, understanding, and action. Take back your power and move forward.
Experience the power of self-affirmation: using positive statements to improve well-being and performance. Learn research-based steps to write the most effective affirmations to manifest love, positivity, peace, self-confidence, motivation, success, and other wonderful things.
I AM: A Guided Journey to Your Authentic Self, Workbook and Journal, by Diane Metcalf
Get it Here:
Get the TOOLBOX posts twice monthly in your inbox!
About the Author
Diane Metcalf is an experienced advocate, speaker, and author specializing in abuse and family dynamics.
She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology and a Master of Science in Information Technology. Her professional portfolio is diverse, encompassing fields such as Domestic and Partner Abuse Counseling, Geriatric Care Management, Developmental Disability Services, Vocational Rehabilitation, Information Technology Management, and Education.
Through her personal healing journey from physical and emotional abuse and neglect, and with ongoing self-improvement practices, she has developed effective tools that she happily shares with others seeking growth in their own recovery. Her focus is on healing relational trauma through awareness, intention, and introspection, combined with healthy coping strategies and tools.
She is the author of the highly praised “Lemon Moms” series, an emotionally supportive collection that dives into the effects of growing up with mothers having narcissistic traits. This compassionate trilogy provides valuable insights and guidance for coming to terms with past traumas to initiate the healing process.
Learn more about the Lemon Moms series: Lemon Moms
See what’s new on DianeMetcalf.com
This website is intended for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional therapy.