Category Archives: abuse

For All The Women Broken By An Emotionally Abusive Relationship

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I hope you learn to be enthralled by the sound of your own heartbeat. The one that reminds you that you are alive, that your life is meaningful, that you were divinely made, not meant to be mistreated. I hope you learn to fly rather than clinging to the people only interested in clipping your wings. I want you to be the powerful woman they never saw coming. Within you is a light that is brighter than the belittling words of those who are afraid of your potential. Within you is an entire universe, just waiting to be built.

Read the Article Here: For All The Women Broken By An Emotionally Abusive Relationship

Featured image by Nicola Fioravanti.
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The Power of Intermittent Reinforcement: Why Trauma Bonding Makes It Difficult To Leave A Toxic Relationship

This story is brought to you by Thought Catalog and Quote Catalog.

By Shahida Arabi

Flowers after days of the silent treatment. Crocodile tears after weeks of brutal insults. An unexpected extravagant gift after a rage attack. A sudden moment of tenderness after hours of critical remarks. What do these all have in common? In the context of an abusive relationship, they are all demonstrations of intermittent reinforcement – a dangerous manipulation tactic used to keep you bonded to your abuser.

Psychologist B.F. Skinner (1956) discovered that while behavior is often influenced by rewards or punishment, there is a specific way rewards are doled out that can cause that behavior to persist over long periods of time, causing that behavior to become less vulnerable to extinction. Consistent rewards  for a certain behavior actually produce less of that behavior over time than an inconsistent schedule of rewards. He discovered that rats pressed a lever for food more steadily when they did not know when the next food pellet was coming than when they always received the pellet after pressing (known as continuous reinforcement).

In laymen’s terms, when we know to expect the reward after taking a certain action, we tend to work less for it. Yet when the timing of the reward or the certainty that we’ll get it at all is unpredictable, we tend to repeat that behavior with even more enthusiasm, in hope for the end result. We relish the joy of a “hard-earned” reward that much more.

Abuse and Intermittent Reinforcement

There is almost always intermittent reinforcement at work in a relationship with a malignant narcissist or manipulator because abuse is usually mixed in with periodic affection at unpredictable moments. Intermittent reinforcement works precisely because our “rewards” (which could be anything from the fleeting normalcy of affection to a display of the abuser’s remorse) are given to us sporadically throughout the abuse cycle. This causes us to work harder to sustain the toxic relationship because we desperately want to go back to the “honeymoon phase” of the abuse cycle.

Intermittent reinforcement along with the effects of trauma ensure that we become “addicted” to the hope of reaping our “reward” despite evidence that we’re risking our own safety and well-being.

The instability of the abuser ironically drives their victims to become a source of constant stability to them.

This same phenomenon (albeit much more simplistically) is displayed in the behavior of gamblers at slot machines. Despite the low chance of winning, gamblers become “addicted” to investing their hard-earned money just for the chance of a pay-off.

It bears repeating that while this behavior may seem nonsensical on the surface, it’s because humans feel far less incentive to perform a certain behavior when they know it will always yield a reward. An inconsistent, unpredictable cycle of rewards, however, causes them to invest more in the hope for that ever elusive “win.”

Intermittent Reinforcement Literally Causes An Addiction to the Unpredictability of the Abuse Cycle

This effect even works on a biochemical level; when pleasurable moments are few and far in between, merged with cruelty, the reward circuits associated with a toxic relationship actually become strengthened. When pleasure is predictable, our reward circuits become accustomed to it and our brain actually releases lessdopamine over time when with a consistently good partner. It could be argued that in many cases, rejection and chaos by a toxic partner creates an addiction that is far more long-lasting than the predictable quality of “stable” love.

“Most relevant to our story, activity in several of these brain regions has been correlated with the craving of cocaine addicts and other drugs. In short, as our brain scanning data show, these discarded lovers are still madly in love with and deeply attached to their rejecting partner. They are in physical and mental pain. Like a mouse on a treadmill, they are obsessively ruminating on what they’ve lost. And they are craving reunion with their rejecting beloved—addiction.” – Dr. Helen Fisher, Love is Like Cocaine

Dopamine is a powerful “messenger” that tells us what feels pleasurable but also alerts us to what is important for survival; it is the same neurotransmitter that causes the brains of those in love (especially in adversity-ridden relationships) to resemble the brains of cocaine addicts (Smithstein 2010, Fisher, 2016). As Dr. Susan Carnell, Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Johns Hopkins University, writes in her article, “Bad Boys, Bad Brains”:

“What’s more, if the reward always follows the conditioned cue, then the cue can also become less dopamine—inducing—what’s the point of wasting all that precious motivation potion telling you to pursue a reward when, likely as not, it/he will show up anyway? Dopamine actually flows much more readily when the rewards are intermittent, e.g. you don’t get to eat a cookie every time you see one; or when you see Edward he’s nice to you sometimes…but not always… their sheer unreliability sets off your dopamine neurons.”

The Small Kindness Perception and Why We Stay

We literally become “addicted” to the unpredictability of the abuse cycle (or even just a toxic relationship in general), as well as the severe highs and lows. What’s more, the abuser’s sporadic acts of kindness cause us to mistrust our own gut instincts about their true character and compel us to give more weight to their sob stories after abusive incidents or surprise displays of gentleness. Clinical psychologist Dr. Joe Carver calls this phenomenon “the small kindness perception.”

“When an abuser/controller shows the victim some small kindness, even though it is to the abusers benefit as well, the victim interprets that small kindness as a positive trait of the captor…Abusers and controllers are often given positive credit for not abusing their partner, when the partner would have normally been subjected to verbal or physical abuse in a certain situation…Sympathy may develop toward the abuser and we often hear the victim of Stockholm Syndrome defending their abuser with ‘I know he fractured my jaw and ribs…but he’s troubled. He had a rough childhood!’ Losers and abusers may admit they need psychiatric help or acknowledge they are mentally disturbed, however, it’s almost always after they have already abused or intimidated the victim.” – Dr. Joe Carver, Love and Stockholm Syndrome

As Dr. Joe Carver reminds us, abusers are able to use periodic affection or small acts of kindness to their advantage. By employing pity ploys or giving their victims some affection, a gift, or just the absence of their abuse from time to time, their positive behavior becomes amplified in the eyes of their victims.

Their victims hang onto the hope that these small acts of kindness are evidence of the abuser’s ability to change or at the very least, justification for their malicious behavior. However, Carver is clear that these are excuses and diversions, not signs of redemption. These intermittent periods of kindness rarely last. They are embedded in the abuse cycle as a way to further exploit abuse victims and to manipulate them into staying.

Severing the Trauma Bond

Whether the abuse is primarily physical or psychological, the power of intermittent reinforcement lies in the power of uncertainty. The abuse victim is thrown into self-doubt about the abuse because there are usually periodic moments of affection, apologies and faux remorse involved.

Abusers can deliberately harm you just to seemingly come to your rescue. They act as both the predator and the hero because it causes their victims to become dependent on them after horrific incidents of cruelty. Intermittent reinforcement is used to strengthen the trauma bond – a bond created by the intense emotional experience of the victim fighting for survival and seeking validation from the abuser (Carnes, 2015).

Trauma bonds keep victims attached to their abusers through even the most horrendous acts of psychological or physical violence, because the victim is diminished, isolated and programmed to rely on the abuser for their sense of self-worth.

Victims are then conditioned to seek their abusers for comfort – a form of medicine that is simultaneously the source of the poison.

In order to sever the trauma bond, it is essential that the victim of abuse seek support and get space away from the abuser, whether that come in the form of No Contact or Low Contact in the cases of co-parenting.

The most powerful way to heal from the uncertainty created from intermittent reinforcement is to meet it with the certainty that you’re dealing with a manipulator.

Survivors can benefit from working with a trauma-informed professional to safely get in touch with their authentic anger and outrage at being abused, which will enable them to remain detached from their abuser and grounded in the reality of the abuse they’re experiencing. Learning to identify and “track” the pattern can help to disrupt the vicious cycle before it begins again.

Only when survivors allow themselves the complexity of their emotions towards the abusers can they fully recognize that their investment in their toxic partners has little to no positive return – it is, in fact, a gamble that is far too risky to take in the long run.

Works Cited

 

Carnes, P. (2015). Betrayal Bond: Breaking Free of Exploitive Relationships. Health Communications, Incorporated.

 

Carnell, S. (2012, May 14). Bad Boys, Bad Brains. Psychology Today. Retrieved November 16, 2017.

 

Carver, J. (2006, March 6). Love and Stockholm Syndrome. Retrieved November 16, 2017.

 

Fisher, H. (2016, February 04). Love Is Like Cocaine – Issue 33: Attraction. Retrieved November 16, 2017.

 

Skinner, B. F. (1956). A case history in scientific method. American Psychologist, 11(5), 221-233. Retrieved here.

 

Smithstein, S. (2010, August 20). Dopamine: Why It’s So Hard to “Just Say No”. Psychology Today. Retrieved November 16, 2017.

Get my #1 Amazon Bestselling Book, Becoming the Narcissist’s Nightmare.how-to-devalue-and-discard-the-narcissist-r2-ebook-cover-3

About Shahida Arabi, Bestselling Author

Shahida Arabi is a summa cum laude graduate of Columbia University graduate school, where she studied the effects of bullying across the life-course trajectory. She is the #1 Amazon bestselling author of three books, including Becoming the Narcissist’s Nightmare: How to Devalue and Discard the Narcissist While Supplying Yourself, featured as a #1 Amazon Bestseller in three categories and as a #1 Amazon bestseller in personality disorders for twelve consecutive months after its release. Her most recent bookPOWER: Surviving and Thriving After Narcissistic Abuse, was also featured as a #1 Amazon best seller in Applied Psychology.

She is the founder of the popular blog for abuse survivors, Self-Care Haven, which has millions of views from all over the world. Her work has been shared and endorsed by numerous clinicians, mental health advocates, mental health professionals and bestselling authors. For her undergraduate education, Shahida graduated summa cum laude from NYU where she studied English Literature and Psychology. She is passionate about using her knowledge base in psychology, sociology, gender studies and mental health to help survivors empower themselves after emotional abuse and trauma. Her writing has been featured on The National Domestic Violence Hotline,  Salon, The Huffington Post, MOGUL, The Meadows, Thought Catalog and Harvard-trained psychologist Dr. Monica O’Neal’s website.

The Narcissist’s Pathological Envy Represents How Powerful You Really Are

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Abusers manipulate victims because they enjoy power and control, not because victims themselves lack
merits. In fact, narcissistic abusers feel particular joy at bringing
down anyone whose accomplishments and traits they
envy to reinforce their false sense of superiority.

Shahida Arabi, Becoming the Narcissist’s Nightmare

By Shahida Arabi

Out of all of the manipulative tactics and forms of coercion and control a malignant narcissistic abuser subjects us to, the pathological envy of a narcissist is one of the most baffling and devastating experiences of the narcissistic abuse experience. We often cannot fathom that a loved one, whether a friend, a family member or significant other, would ever want to sabotage our success, undermine our joy or belittle our accomplishments. Yet this horrifying aspect of a narcissist’s diagnostic criteria is even noted in the DSM-5, which states that not only are narcissists envious of others, they believe others to be envious of them.

A narcissist’s pathological envy arises from their need to be the best, their excessive sense of entitlement to being the center of attention at all times, with the most fame, wealth, and status. Any threat to their grandiose delusions of grandeur will result in a narcissistic injury, and inevitably, narcissistic rage. This is why narcissists tend to be pompous critics, usually incapable of the same efforts they criticize in others. The success of others evokes their pathological envy, reminding them of what they lack and could never achieve themselves. As a result, they will do anything and everything possible to minimize the accomplishments of those who threaten their false sense of grandiosity and superiority.

Initially, narcissists and otherwise toxic people may claim to be very happy for your success; during the idealization and love-bombing phases of the relationship, they may even excessively congratulate, praise and flatter you. They may use you as a “trophy” to show off to others, gaining status and prestige from simply being associated with you. They have no problem in benefiting from your wealth, your reputation and your various assets. As the relationship moves forward, however, their need to devalue their victims kicks in and their pathological envy and competitiveness becomes more and more apparent. What was once a subtle look of contempt at the sight of your success soon becomes hour-long arguments bashing every aspect of your identity, your dreams, your goals, and any source of joy outside of the realm of the narcissist’s control.

What many people don’t realize is that narcissists don’t just gravitate towards us because of our vulnerabilities; they are also attracted to our assets – and  not only because they can exploit those assets for narcissistic supply. Anything you achieve or gain joy from stirs this envy within them and in inexplicable need to win or one-up you at all costs. It also represents a threat to their control over you – after all, if you are gaining happiness and validation from somewhere outside of the narcissist, this means you don’t need them. This strengthens their desire to destroy us and our success in every way possible – so that they can isolate us from other sources of validation while demeaning the very core of who we are.

The starry-eyed admiration followed by anger and envy is a classic case of the type of crazymaking you’re likely to encounter in a narcissist once in the devaluation and discard phases of the relationships. Whatever happiness they seem to project in the idealization stage is merely a facade for the deep contempt they feel for anyone they feel threatened by.

Signs of Pathological Envy in a Malignant Narcissist Include:

  • Praises you highly for your accomplishments initially; uses your accomplishments as a way to associate themselves with you and look good. Likes feeling as if they have the “successful girlfriend” or boyfriend – while simultaneously resenting you for it.
  • Competes with you often; if you bring up what you achieved, they have to bring up something bigger or downgrade what you’ve achieved to make you feel small. Nothing you do is truly special or “impressive” – or, it’s really, really special until the narcissist gets tired of praising you and wants to cut you down a thousand pegs or so.
  • Highly competitive in recreational games, sports and other activities; they will be a sore loser and resort to immature actions to “win” or insult your ability.
  • Will accuse you of being arrogant should you happen to share your happiness or present a healthy confidence in your abilities. They are in fact projecting their own sense of arrogance onto you.
  • Isolates you from friends or family members who are likely to support you, by turning them against you or by smearing your name to them. They will emphasize the idea that people are against you (projecting the fact that it’s them that is against you).
  • Behind closed doors (or sometimes even out in the open), devalues and minimizes the things they once praised, making them seem unimportant and lacking because they know they would’ve never been able to accomplish those things themselves. They will suggest that your contribution to the world isn’t valuable or degrade/ignore accomplishments that are in fact a big deal, all with an innocent or smug look on their face.
  • Sabotages important events in your life such as big interviews, projects, deadlines using methods like put-downs, crazymaking arguments that lead to sleep deprivation, pressuring you to spend time with them right beforehand, insulting you, covertly casting doubt onto your abilities and talents, one-upping you and making themselves seem more important, accomplished and talented to stroke their sense of superiority.
  • Treats your goals, dreams and interests with contempt or a condescending attitude, all while bringing the conversation back to them.

It is also helpful to keep in mind that a narcissist will often deny they are envious, though their actions clearly say otherwise. They strive very hard to hide their own envy not just from their victims but from themselves, to the point of delusion. Their false sense of superiority and haughty contempt often accompanies their put-downs, subtle digs, minimizing statements and demeaning insults – all of which serve to belittle the victim and make the victim ashamed of succeeding, of feeling joy, of creating new connections, of flourishing – of thriving and owning their power to create a beautiful life.

To resist internalizing the verbal garbage a narcissist may spew at you out of their envy, remember the following: if someone expresses rage and contempt towards you for daring to be proud of yourself (with a healthy level of pride, of course) or loving yourself, your life, and your accomplishments, the problem is not you. It is them.

HOW TO COPE WITH THE ATTACKS OF A GREEN-EYED NARCISSIST

Survivors may struggle with self-sabotage after experiencing a narcissist’s abusive bouts of envy, rage and verbal attacks. They may begin to fear speaking about their accomplishments or their happiness, lest they evoke their narcissist’s wrath. The cutting words of the narcissistic abuser may reverberate in their minds long after the relationship has ended, instilling in them a sense of pervasive self-doubt and worthlessness. Walking on eggshells and disowning your power, however, is no way to live. Survivors have to regain the certainty that the reason they experienced such a pathological reaction was because they were so powerful in the first place.

As I describe in my new book, POWER, it is essential that survivors develop a “toxic people phrases filter” – one in which anything a toxic person says is “translated into what it actually means. For example, a narcissist’s degradation of the victim’s goals and dreams can be translated and seen for what it truly is: a sign that the narcissist is attempting to sabotage them, because they recognize what the victim has (whether it be financial assets, talent, a support network, etc.) is valuable. This is how survivors can begin to turn put-downs into power.

Remember: normal, healthy people do not sustain a narcissistic injury or lash out in narcissistic rage when they see other people succeeding and doing well for themselves. Healthy people have enough security and empathy to feel happiness for others, and to witness someone else beaming with authentic pride and self-love – without wanting to destroy it or sabotage it in some way.

You deserve to succeed. You deserve to flourish. You deserve to be abundant. You deserve the support of others who are happy for you and share in your joy. Do not let any green-eyed narcissist rain on your parade, trample over your boundaries and make you feel less than because they sense you are rising above and beyond what they ever could. You owe it to yourself to be powerful and victorious.

See the narcissist’s pathological envy for what it really is: a measure of how powerful you really are and have the potential to become.

Copyright © 2016 by Shahida Arabi. 

All rights reserved. This article is derived from copyrighted excerpts from Becoming the Narcissist’s Nightmare: How to Devalue and Discard the Narcissist While Supplying YourselfNo part of this entry may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the author. This includes adaptations in all forms of media.


Interested in learning more about narcissistic abuse? Order my #1 Amazon bestselling book on narcissistic abuse, Becoming the Narcissist’s Nightmare: How to Devalue and Discard the Narcissist While Supplying Yourself.

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About the Author

Shahida Arabi is a graduate of Columbia University graduate school where she studied the effects of bullying across the life-course trajectory. She is the #1 Amazon bestselling author of The Smart Girl’s Guide to Self-Care and  Becoming the Narcissist’s Nightmare: How to Devalue, and Discard the Narcissist While Supplying Yourself, featured as a #1 Amazon Bestseller in three categories and in personality disorders for seventeen consecutive months after its release. She studied Psychology and English Literature as an undergraduate at NYU, where she graduated summa cum laude. Her interests include psychology, sociology, education, gender studies and mental health advocacy. Her writing has been featured on The Huffington Post, MOGUL, Thought Catalog, and Harvard-trained psychologist Dr. Monica O’Neal’s website. Her blog, Self-Care Haven, has had millions of views from all over the world and her work has been shared by numerous mental health professionals, award-winning bloggers and bestselling authors.