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What Does Pink Clouding Have to do With Narcissistic Abuse Recovery?

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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.

Huh?

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.

  1. 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?
  2. 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?
  3. 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?
  4. 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.
  5. 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. Sign up below for my free 10-day email recovery series. Join over 35,000 individuals who are recovering from narcissistic abuse.

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14 comments
Anonymous says September 30, 2019

What if your child is the narcissist? All the information out there leads to “relationships” or “mothers”! How about when it’s your own adult child?

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Working The 5 Phases of Trauma Recovery After Narcissistic Abuse - Kim Saeed: Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Program says September 16, 2019

[…] the most difficult to endure because of the psychic pull to reconnect with the narcissist and the biochemical addiction that develops after enduring repeated traumas.  Breaking No Contact is undoubtedly the number one reason people stay entangled in toxic […]

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Shelagh says September 1, 2019

Hi again Kim so very true about pink cloud I’d never heard about it till this evening.I just want you to Kim get it out there drugs and alcohol is not just for the young SAS I turned 60 years and e joyed drugs as a. coping mechanism after 34 years of marriage I’m still trying no contact but am finding it hard. Keep up your terrific work Kim

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Shelagh says September 1, 2019

Thanks Kim for your articles I thought after 3 years I knew everything about NPD disorder till I read about pink cloud. It’s so true that’s excatly how I felt and at 60 turned to drugs possibly as a crutch

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Anonymous says August 19, 2019

I had to learn to forget! No contact! Forgive myself and my Ex! Love myself and attend Church, AA, Women’s recovery groups and Counseling. Fill my life with Love and HAPPINESS.
When he does come out of Prison, I am protected with Strength within, the Law, and have done what is necessary to protect myself within my rights. As a Survivor we do have rights. Now them! Get Help. Friends and Family. God Bless.

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Mon says August 17, 2019

Thanks for this enlightening explanation.

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Liz Cadiz says August 16, 2019

Get into an Al Anon group!! The manipulations and head games are the same, even if the logistics of the addiction are not.

Also, helping others is excellent medicine – try volunteering at one of any number of organizations – from dog-walking, trash cleanups, or tree planting to church groups, Habitat housebuilding, visiting old folks, or cooking for someone who lives alone. These things help you identify what you like and value, what you’re good / not good at, and build healthier relationships… don’t overcommit, and if you start to smell a “user,” just break off and go try something else! That’s the beauty of volunteering – you don’t owe anything to the group – they get what they get.

Most of all, pray… for your own healing, for learning what is truth, for folks in traumatic situations like you, and also for your abuser and folks you don’t like… everybody has their own hurts, and broken ways of dealing with life. Pray thanks for something you do have – gratitude and praise are crucial!! We all have something to be thankful for – for example, I love camping, but when I come home, I often pray thanks for indoor plumbing!! 🙂 You can choose what to focus your attention on. Notice kindness and choose to think about that, and less about hurtful stuff. Phillippians 4:8.

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Anonymous says August 11, 2019

I’ve read as much information as possible on narcissistic personality disorder & the abuse that’s very often suffered by their loved ones. Something I’ve never been able to get a firm grasp on though, is whether or not the individual with NPD is even aware of what they’re doing? It’s said that a person who suffers from any of the narcistic traits was likely abused as a child or grew up with a parent who failed them in some way emotionally. I don’t belittle that in my case he has told lies at nauseam & made repeated conscious decisions to do / say things that were intentionally hurtful or “wrong” by societal standards in a romantic relationship or that knowingly affect a supposed loved one.. but the degree of though & time that goes into making the necessary effort to keep me hooked or create the pink cloud effect, just isn’t something I think he cares or knows enough about to do purposely. Do I stay immersed in something I should’ve ended years ago bcuz I think “it’ll be different this time?” Yes, I do… but whose fault is that? Because I don’t think he cares one way or the other & it’s me who keeps picking him up when he’s fallen or stands by when he’s done wrong & afraid of the consequences .. it’s me who allows it to continue & I guess I don’t know why that’s his fault. My fear is just how “victim-ish” this sounds, because I’m not so brainwashed that I’m trying to find an out that makes him blameless & it all my doing. I assure – he is not & I’m not responsible for many of the acts that have damaged us as a couple.. I’m simply not. I’m not perfect, I’ve done things I’m not proud of but I promise you I sleep just fine at night knowing I was honorable inside our commitment to one another. Whether I’m delusional or not, I believed for many years he was the greatest love of my life & I didn’t do anything to intentionally risk having that kind of love – forever. He is extremely bright and a highly intelligent individual when he puts forth the effort, I have seen him manipulate and I know that it is not a foreign concept to him so I’m not minimizing that either but I just don’t think there’s as much conscious thought in how they behave or treat others as is sometimes described.

When I was in college, my dad told me something that has stuck with me my whole life.. “if he hits you, he is not a good man. It’s an act of a violent person & wrong. It’s his fault, no matter what giving you every right to walk away for good. If he hits you a second time, it’s up to you both to do some serious soul searching – why would he ever do such a thing & why would you be with someone who’s capable? It will likely be the end of the relationship .. as it should be. If he hits you a third time, it is no longer his fault because it is quite obviously who he is.. the fault is now your own, for staying. It’s your choice not to leave & remain involved with a monster. I won’t allow you to continue a dance with the devil & then cry out to me asking why you’re in hell.” It’s extreme I know but it’s breeds the question in my mind nonetheless .. how much of his Narc behavior is he truly aware of as wrong & intentional about vs if I’m still here & still overlooking or forgiving or pretending it’s not what it’s been over & over again why would he change? Why is he responsible for what I’ve allowed him to continue due to my own want for the fix he provides? My grandpa was an alcoholic his whole life, I’m yet to find anyone who blames it on Jim Beam.

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Linda says July 16, 2019

I appreciate this article very much, but what if the narcissist is your adult child? I could cut off all contact with a partner with this disorder much more easily than I can my own child, whom I still love, despite the emotional abuse. Any comments/suggestions would be appreciated.

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    Kim Saeed says July 21, 2019

    Hi Linda,

    I understand how difficult it is when your adult child is a narcissist. Honestly, if you don’t want to cut off contact, you’ll need to accept them the way they are. You can try to do self-esteeming activities, but if they hit you with unexpected cruelty, any progress you’ve made could be destroyed.

    Wishing you the best…

    Reply
Julie Fitzhugh says June 18, 2019

I feel like I need to know more about the strengthening of these bonds caused by prolonged researching.
My brief story: I’m 42 and live in a small coastal town. I’ve been separated from my narc of 15 yrs for 6 years. We have 2 school aged kids together. 4 of the last 6 yrs were spent still trying to act like a family during month long cohabiting, continued relations and him having more of what I felt like we’re affairs as I was still being lied to and led on.
But now, I low/no contact as much as possible. I know he is Satan, I’m aware of all that he’s put us through and would never want to be WITH him ever again but I can’t seem to break this damn bond no matter how hard I try!
I desperately still need him financially, which he withholds and hold over my head constantly.. I am very much still exposed to his abuse even while he works out of town on the road more and more these days. We have not slept together in 1.5 years as he is repulsed by me (this last discard almost being the death of me). I crave him as the sex was absolutely incredible and he knows it! This is torture for me. I’m at my highest weight I’ve ever been and deeper in depression and self loathing than I’ve ever been.
I stopped researching narcs quite a while ago but am still desperate to heal as I’ve seen no improvement. And I’ve found myself really intrigued by learning about my inner child, forgivness, toxic love addiction/trauma bonds, narc abuse syndrome and healing in general. It’s eased my mind and curiosity somewhat but my healing is at a standstill if not in reverse. I feel completely robbed of my best years where I had any potential. (My social anxiety and shame worsen by the week).
No contact is out of the question for now so how do I kick the habit of him!? I just don’t know where to go next. Or how to start loving myself again. It seems impossible. I have a feeling the answer is trauma therapy, but my lack of motivation and feeling overwhelmed by life have kept me from it thus far. I’ve bought into programs that I never follow through on, audio books I never finish, sat through webinars that I felt like I was being already, subscribed to a few sites but the emails overwhelm me, tried positive self-talk but feel like I’m lying to myself, getting out in public (enduring the pain), and anti-depressants. What next??? I’m not sure I can handle much more failure.

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    Letwin says July 18, 2019

    Do the inner work sweetheart all will be fine…it start with inside love yourself if you heal inside you can heal for your generation too from the bottm of my heart I can feel you can you try subliminals it helps me a lot

    Reply
Bryan says June 16, 2019

I too struggle with what Rosie does but at the same time these articles are extremely helpful. Just like an alcoholic must continue to go to AA meetings, I feel that I have to continue to stay up with these articles so I don’t slip. My Narc will contact me via email or text every few months. She rarely says anything nice and always baits me. Today I almost replied! This article got me back on track. FWIW going no contact in today’s day and age is really hard. They use a new email address or phone number or contact a friend or family member. You almost have to go into the witness protection program to get away from them. I moved from Colorado to Florida to get away from her and she still persists. I will stay strong!

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Rosie says June 16, 2019

I can see where endlessly researching narcissist abuse and watching endless videos about it can slow down healing, but how do you kick that habit when you have been doing so for 3 years? I try to stop but find myself drifting back to the videos and articles.

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