It’s always easy to see things logically and provide sound advice from the outside looking in.
When you see someone suffering from emotional or physical abuse, it’s natural to wonder why they don’t just leave the bad relationship.
Deep down, we know this is much easier said than done – but why?
The answer lies in the trauma bonding associated with narcissistic abuse syndrome and its relationship to addiction for the victim.
Every addict knows about the infamous “pink cloud” all too well. You get sober for a few weeks. Your brain chemistry resets itself. You start to feel like you’re on top of the world!
Next thing you know, you’ve relapsed. The same concept applies to abusive relationships – especially with narcissists due to their manipulative behavior. Here’s how…
Narcissistic Abuse Syndrome and the Connection to Addiction
Before we jump into information about pink clouding, it’s important to explain the similarities between addiction and narcissistic abuse.
No one enters a bad relationship voluntarily – just like no one makes a formal decision to become a heroin addict or alcoholic.
Maybe you start with a few drinks every night after work to unwind. You slip up every so often and overdo it but hey, it’s just a wicked hangover, right?
You’re an adult. Why can’t you enjoy a nice buzz at Sunday brunch and sleep the rest of the day away? It’s your day off – you earned this.
Who cares if you’re mixing some vodka into your Gatorade to day-drink at the kid’s soccer game? You’re not hurting anyone.
Alcoholism is a perfect analogy to the addiction you suffer during an abusive relationship with a narcissist. Why? Because casual alcoholism – like routinely day-drinking on the weekends and just pushing through work until 5 PM – has become extremely normalized.
When you’re suffering through narcissistic abuse, it begins to feel completely normal.
Or maybe your relationship with a narcissist is more like a heroin addiction.
You always knew it was wrong from the beginning but you figured a few dates or chats can’t hurt – you can end it at any time. Now it’s too late and you’re stuck.
How Trauma Bonding and Neurochemicals Keep You Holding On
Everyone knows by now that’s it’s silly and ignorant to ask an addict “so why don’t you just stop drinking/using?”
For starters, there’s physical dependence. In heroin addiction, withdrawal is excruciating. In alcohol or benzodiazepine withdrawal, it can literally kill you. Going cold turkey isn’t desirable or even an option for many people.
However, there’s also the high and good feeling you get from taking the drug or drinking.
In the beginning of addiction, the highs happen much more often and they’re more euphoric. Later, addicts find that they barely get drunk or high at all anymore.
The same is true of victims suffering from narcissistic abuse and it happens because the dynamics of the dysfunctional relationship cause us to become trauma bonded… but even more, addicted to our own neurochemicals – activating the same pleasure centers in our brain as any other kind of addiction, including those to drugs and alcohol.
That’s because the brain releases a surge of dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine during the love bombing phase of the relationship, but also during hoovering attempts.
The narcissist will start a fight, manipulate everything you say, gaslight you, hurl insults, and make you feel completely worthless. Next, he or she will shower you with praise, gifts, and affection – temporarily of course.
They want to be your only source of joy and they hold that “high” over your head with trauma (withdrawal). You can’t leave the relationship because you’re chasing the high of trauma bonding.
At this point, addicts may genuinely try to quit. Maybe they’ll buy “just enough” to taper their dose but it won’t work. In many cases, a victim of narcissistic abuse syndrome will think “maybe this will finally be the time she changes for good.”
The truth is, the narcissist will never change. He or she is just using those “good times” to keep you hooked and guilt you into staying if you dare consider leaving.
What is the Pink Cloud?
If you’ve ever spent time in addiction recovery settings, you’ve surely heard about the pink cloud – and its dangers.
Once you get sober for a while, you start to feel high on life – quite literally – as your brain balances itself. The problem is, this high is temporary and it’s often followed by a moderate bout with depression as you adjust to your new ho-hum life without any substances to break the silence.
When you leave a narcissist, you might feel like you’re on top of the world and nothing can stop you.
Maybe you went No Contact with your abusive mom. Maybe you finally moved out of your abusive partner’s apartment and started to rebuild. Either way, you feel completely liberated.
Just like an addict on the verge of relapse, you say to yourself “one text can’t hurt – just to see what they’re up to.” Just like an addict, you start to remember all of the good times you had together and write off all of the abuse.
Sometimes, the narcissist will break their silent treatment with a touching message and create a pink cloud experience. They really seem genuine this time!
Maybe you even blame yourself again. It’s common to start doubting your logical thoughts at this point.
Don’t fall for it. The narcissist knows what you love about them. They also know what you hate. They’re simply using your emotions and saying what you want to hear so they can manipulate you into staying in the relationship.
Don’t be mistaken: the abuse will continue.
5 Signs That You’re Pink Clouding
Sometimes you’ll experience a pink cloud after you’ve left the narcissist. Other times, you may not have made the decision to leave but are still going through withdrawals from the narcissist’s silent treatment.
Depending on your situation, keep an eye out for these signs that you need to stay vigilant and begin recovery for good.
- You’re rationalizing. The narcissist was just stressed out and didn’t mean what they said during that last fight. You’re not innocent either – who is?
- YOLO. If your emotions feel this strong and the narcissist hasn’t given up yet, surely there must be something there, right? What if this is the love of your life and you’re throwing it away?
- Just one more time. One text/date/conversation can’t hurt. They seem to care now and now is what matters. Why shouldn’t you give them another chance?
- You feel giddy. The narcissist is showering you with affection and it feels like the initial stages of the relationship again. You write off all of the bad times in favor of this fleeting feeling.
- You’re isolating yourself. You stopped texting your friends or support system about the relationship and you’re pretending everything is fine again.
How to Break the Spell of Narcissistic Abuse Syndrome
To avoid falling for the pink cloud, the first step is to go No Contact. Just as an addict can’t teach themselves moderation – we cannot fall for believing we can manage contact. You need to cut off the narcissist completely.
If you share custody of children, you’ll want to implement Extreme Modified Contact.
But leaving the narcissist is just one small part of recovery. You also need to build support systems to avoid relapsing. In many cases, you may find that you need to develop new supportive relationships because the narcissist isolated you from all of your friends and family.
Like an addict, learning healthy self-care and identity building are crucial to recovering. Once you build an identity and strengthen yourself, you’ll be far less likely to relapse with your past narcissist or any future narcissists that enter your life.
Remember though: the possibility of relapse never goes away. We must always stay vigilant and remember where we came from.
Just like drug or alcohol addiction, going cold turkey is only the first step in your recovery from narcissistic abuse syndrome and trauma bonding. You need to re-learn how to build your identity and care for yourself. Otherwise, you may relapse and find yourself in the trap again.
If you’re ready to go deeper and change your life right now, I offer a wide range of effective resources and techniques to protect against toxic people – in my bestselling program, The Break Free Program.
I’m excited to share with you the psychological tools I and thousands of others have used to heal from narcissistic abuse.
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