What makes you addicted to your abuser?
Your Brain on Love, Sex, and the Narcissistic by Shahida Arabi
This article was originally published in April 2015 on Self-Care Haven and is an excerpt from the copyrighted book Fifty Shades of Narcissism: Your Brain on Love, Sex and the Narcissist. Reprinted on TheMindsJournal with permission from the author.
Many survivors of narcissistic abuse feel overwhelmed by the addiction they feel towards their narcissist, long after the abusive relationship has affected their physical, mental, and emotional health. Make no mistake: recovering from an abusive relationship can be very similar to withdrawal from drug addiction because of the biochemical bonds we may develop with our toxic exes.
Discussion of biochemical interdependence in the context of narcissistic abuse has been rare, and while researching how different chemicals and hormones affect us during the cycle of abuse, I have come to realize that our brain chemistry is not on our side when it comes to dissociating from toxic substances. abusive partners.
What makes you addicted to your abuser?
Understanding why we are addicts allows us to realize that our addiction is not about the merits of a narcissistic person, but rather about the nature and severity of the trauma we experienced. It enables us to detach and move forward with a powerful knowledge that can move us toward relationships of greater agency and health than those we experienced in the past. In addition, it challenges the victim-blaming rhetoric in society that prevents many survivors of abuse from seeking support and validation of their trauma—validation would help the people addicted to their abuser, not hinder, these survivors. to leave the abused. relations.
Survivors suffer from a lack of connection and may suffer many setbacks on the road to recovery from the psychological trauma of the relationship. Aside from the reasons I’ve suggested in this blog post about why abuse survivors stay in abusive relationships, I thought I’d explore how brain chemistry can trap us in this addiction to a narcissistic or sociopathic partner. Some of these same biochemical connections make it difficult for us to separate from non-narcissistic partners and force us to remain addicted to our abuser.
Known as the “cuddle” or “love hormone,” this hormone is released during touch, orgasm, and sexual intercourse. Promotes attachment and trust. It is the same hormone secreted by the hypothalamus that enables bonding between mother and child. While “love-bombing” and mirroring in idealization phases with our abusive partners, our relationship with them is likely to be very strong as a result of this hormone. Intermittent reinforcement of positive behaviors pervasive throughout the cycle of abuse (such as gifts, flowers, compliments, and sex) ensures that we still release oxytocin even after we have experienced incidents of abuse.
I have heard from many survivors who remember the wonderful sexual relationship they had with a narcissist, containing exciting sexual chemistry they feel unable to achieve with their future partners. This is because charming emotional predators like narcissists can mirror our deepest sexual and emotional desires, resulting in a strong sexual bond, which, of course, releases oxytocin, promoting greater trust and attachment. Meanwhile, the narcissist, who is usually devoid of empathy and does not form these kinds of close attachments, can move on to his next supply without much thought or regret.
On the darker side, sex with a narcissist can also be demeaning, manipulative, and abusive in and of itself, especially if the narcissist in question engages in risky sexual behaviors or tries to coerce victims into engaging in sexual acts they don’t feel comfortable with. With. This can also bind the victim to the abuser because it conditions the victim to associate fear with sex and betrayal with love—creating a trauma bond that will be discussed later in this article.
The addictive nature of oxytocin is also categorized according to Suzanne Kuchinskas, author of The Chemistry of Connection: How the Oxytocin Response Can Help You Find Trust, Intimacy, and Love. The unfortunate truth is that estrogen enhances the bonding effects of oxytocin while testosterone does not. This makes it more difficult for females in any type of relationship to break away from the bond as quickly as they can for men. Hence, they remain addicted to their abuser.
The same neurotransmitter responsible for cocaine addiction is also responsible for addiction to dangerous romantic partners. According to Harvard Health, both drugs and pleasurable, intense memories stimulate dopamine and create reward circuits in the brain, essentially telling the brain to “do it again.”
Do you remember remembering the fun and beautiful first moments with your narcissistic partner? Romantic dates, sweet compliments, and compliments, amazing sex—long after you two broke up? Yes – the release of dopamine in your brain tells you to “do it again”.
A prominent dopamine theory suggests that our brain releases dopamine not only for pleasurable events but for important events associated with survival. As Psy.d Samantha Smithstein says, “Dopamine is not just a messenger dictating what feels good. It also tells the brain what is important and what to pay attention to to survive. The stronger the experience, the stronger the message for the brain to repeat the activity to survive. “.
Abuse survivors are unfortunately hijacked by dopamine. Abusive tactics such as intermittent reinforcement work well with our dopamine system because studies show that dopamine flows more easily when rewards are presented on an unpredictable schedule rather than predictably after conditioned cues.
So the random sweet things whispered to us after an incident of emotional abuse, the apologies, tricks of pity, and rare displays of tenderness during the devaluation phase, before another incident of abuse — help solidify this kind of circuit of rewards rather than deterrence. He. She.
Combine this with the powerful experiences of abuse that alert our brain to “pay attention” as well as the pleasurable memories we recall over and over – and we’ve got a biochemical link from hell – and victims stay hooked on their abuser.
3) Cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine.
Cortisol is the stress hormone, and boy, does it get released during the painful highs and lows of an abusive relationship. It is released by the adrenal glands in response to fear as part of the “fight or flight” mechanism. Since we are unlikely to have a physical outlet to release when cortisol is triggered during cycles of emotional abuse, this often traps stress inside our bodies instead. As we ruminate on incidents of abuse, increased cortisol levels lead to more and more health problems. Christopher Berglund suggests several ways to counter the effects of this hormone, which include physical activity, mindfulness, meditation, laughter, music, and social contact.
Adrenaline and noradrenaline also prepare our bodies for the flight or fight response and are also responsible for biochemical reactions with our abusers. Adrenaline potentiates an antidepressant effect, triggering fear and anxiety which then triggers a release of dopamine – and this can make us “adrenaline junkies”, addicted to the rush of swinging between bonding and betrayal. While not in contact, withdrawing from that “rush” can be very painful.
4) Bonding trauma.
All these tremors of fear and anxiety in the face of danger can re-enact past traumas and create coherence with the traumas. Traumatic bonding occurs after intense emotional experiences with and binds us to our abusers, creating subconscious patterns of attachment that are extremely difficult to separate. It is part of the phenomenon known as the Stockholm Syndrome, in which hostage victims become attached to their perpetrators and even defend their captors.
Although survivors of narcissistic abuse come from different backgrounds and anyone can be a victim of narcissistic abuse, the bonding to trauma is most important for those who grew up in violent or emotionally abusive homes, and/or had a narcissistic parent in addition to their children. Most recent experiences with trauma and abuse.
Survivors of multiple abuse incidents by different narcissistic individuals can reinforce subconscious wounds they experienced in childhood in the traumatic relationship with current abusers. If there was past abuse, such as the experience of having to survive in an abusive home, this may lead to repetition or re-enactment of the trauma, which is the root of Gary Reese, Ph.D. In his article, “The Trauma Bond,” calls “relational trauma”: ” The key to understanding the behavior found in abusive relationships is to look at the early years of childhood. Relational trauma is the root…. There are many features common to these types of relationships.
The first is that they are deeply ambivalent, reflecting Bond’s tragedies: fear, dependence, neediness, fear of abandonment, despair, the realization of helplessness, and anger. This is a mixture of very strong feelings that drive the relationship and make it unstable …
The second feature of this type of relationship is that it is a forced reenactment. Alan Shore, the attachment expert, put it this way. “An added complication of unresolved trauma is the narrative re-enactment of the trauma in which the victim unconsciously replays the original traumatic event over and over.”
For more information on trauma bonding, please see The Betrayal Bond: Breaking Free of Exploitative Relationships (2013) by Patrick Carnes. Also be sure to check out Gary Reese’s blog, The Hero’s Journey.
It is important to understand the different types of biochemical and psychological connections that often create bonds between abusers and their victims and force the victim to become addicted to their abuser. A better understanding of these connections allows us to move beyond victim-blaming and move toward greater understanding, empathy, and support for survivors struggling to leave abusive relationships. We must not judge but continue to empower ourselves and others with this new knowledge.
If you enjoyed this article, be sure to check out the expanded version of this article in its eBook version.