how to heal a trauma bond

How Excessive Reading About Narcissism Can Perpetuate the Trauma Bond

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The aftermath of a toxic relationship can be emotionally devastating. Survivors often find themselves in a state of confusion, hurt, and self-doubt, struggling to untangle the emotional web left behind. In search of answers and healing, many individuals turn to extensive reading about narcissism, hoping to gain insight and closure.  Even after the toxic partnership has ended, the trauma bond forged during the relationship can persist and continue to torment survivors.

One surprising factor that can contribute to this enduring trauma bond is excessive reading and research about narcissism.  In this article, we will explore how immersing oneself in the study of narcissism can inadvertently fuel the trauma bond, hindering the healing process and perpetuating the emotional turmoil.

Understanding the Trauma Bond

Before delving into the impact of excessive narcissism research, it is crucial to understand what a trauma bond is. A trauma bond is a psychological phenomenon that occurs when a victim of abuse or manipulation forms a strong emotional connection with their abuser. This connection is characterized by a mixture of love, fear, and dependency, making it incredibly difficult for the victim to break free from the toxic relationship. The trauma bond often develops as a survival mechanism, as victims may believe that their abuser is their sole source of support and protection.

Several factors contribute to the formation of a trauma bond:

  1. Intermittent Reinforcement: Narcissists use a cycle of idealization, devaluation, and discard to keep their victims emotionally invested. This unpredictable pattern creates a sense of hope that the relationship can improve.
  2. Isolation: Narcissists often isolate their victims from friends and family, making them more dependent on the abuser for emotional support and validation.
  3. Gaslighting: Gaslighting involves distorting the survivor’s reality, causing them to doubt their perceptions and memories. This manipulation fosters a sense of dependence on the narcissist for a “correct” understanding of reality.
  4. Love-Bombing: At the beginning of the relationship, narcissists often shower their victims with excessive affection and attention, creating an intense emotional connection.  Survivors remain imprinted onto the love-bombing phase long after the abuse has started.
  5. Cognitive Dissonance: Survivors experience internal conflict as they struggle to reconcile the narcissist’s abusive behavior with the loving persona they initially encountered.

Narcissistic individuals are experts at manipulating and exploiting their victims, which makes it more likely for a trauma bond to form. Survivors of narcissistic abuse may find it challenging to escape the clutches of the trauma bond, even when they have physically removed themselves from the toxic relationship. This is where excessive reading about narcissism can inadvertently exacerbate the problem.

The Allure of Knowledge About Narcissism

In the quest to heal and understand the trauma they have endured, survivors often turn to literature on narcissism. Books, articles, online forums, and social media communities offer a wealth of information on the subject. At first, this pursuit seems like a healthy step towards recovery, as knowledge empowers individuals to recognize and avoid narcissistic individuals in the future.

Here are a few reasons why individuals often turn to books, articles, and forums to learn more about narcissism:

Validation and Confirmation: Many survivors of narcissistic abuse seek validation and confirmation that they were indeed in a toxic relationship. They may have experienced gaslighting and manipulation to the point where they doubt their own reality. Learning about narcissism can help them realize that they were not imagining the abuse.

Recovery and Healing: Knowledge about narcissism can provide insights into the dynamics of such relationships and offer guidance on healing. Understanding the psychological mechanisms behind narcissistic behavior can be empowering and can help survivors regain a sense of control over their lives.

Preventing Future Entanglements: Armed with knowledge, survivors may feel better equipped to identify and avoid narcissistic individuals in the future. This can be a crucial step in preventing further harm.

While these motivations are valid and can contribute to recovery, the danger lies in the excessive and obsessive pursuit of information about narcissism. Survivors often don’t realize that the very information they seek can result in numerous pitfalls, such as:

  1. Constant Reliving of Trauma: Excessive research can keep survivors constantly reliving their trauma. Consuming stories and descriptions of narcissistic behavior can trigger painful memories, exacerbating the emotional turmoil.
  2. Hyper-Vigilance: Immersing oneself in narcissism literature can lead to hyper-vigilance, where survivors remain in survival mode associated with trauma or prolonged exposure to stressors. This can have significant negative impacts on an individual’s overall well-being and functioning.
  3. Continued Dependency: The trauma bond often thrives on dependency, and excessive research can inadvertently maintain this dependency on the abuser. Survivors may keep returning to the topic, seeking answers and explanations from the very source that caused them harm.
  4. Confirmation Bias: Engaging in extensive research can lead to confirmation bias, where survivors interpret every behavior and action in a way that might support the beliefs they want to have about the relationship. They may seek out information that claims narcissists are unaware of the damage they cause or that narcissists have cripplingly low self-esteem.  This can hinder their ability to objectively assess relationships and situations.
  5. Stagnation in Healing: The trauma bond can persist as long as survivors remain fixated on the narcissistic abuser. The more they immerse themselves in the topic, the more challenging it can be to move forward with the healing process.  This is partly why there are so many survivors who’ve been out of their relationships for years but haven’t made much forward progress.

The Reinforcement Loop

Obsessive research can inadvertently lead to a reinforcement loop by fueling a desire for more information and validation. Initially, the quest for knowledge may be driven by a genuine curiosity or a need to make informed decisions. However, as survivors delve deeper into their research, they may become increasingly fixated on finding answers or accumulating more data.

This obsession can manifest in several ways, such as constantly seeking out new sources, spending excessive amounts of time online, and neglecting other aspects of their life. The more survivors research, the more they feel compelled to continue, as each new piece of information provides a sense of accomplishment and reinforces their belief that they are on the right track.

As the reinforcement loop tightens, survivors may start to experience negative consequences. Their obsession with research can lead to a decline in their overall well-being, including strained relationships, deteriorating mental and physical health, and a lack of productivity in other areas of life. Paradoxically, even when they recognize these negative outcomes, they may rationalize them by convincing themselves that more research will eventually lead to a solution or validation.

This self-reinforcing cycle of obsessive research can be challenging to break, as survivors become trapped in a loop where they believe that only more knowledge can provide relief from the discomfort of uncertainty or insecurity. Breaking this cycle often requires a conscious effort to strike a balance between seeking information and maintaining a healthy perspective on the value of research in one’s life.

The reinforcement loop is a psychological mechanism that keeps the trauma bond alive and active, even after the toxic relationship has ended. This loop includes these components:

  1. Confirmation Bias: Survivors are more likely to engage with content that validates their experiences, reinforcing their beliefs about narcissism. They may dismiss information that contradicts their perspective.

  2. Catharsis and Cathexis: Reading about narcissism can offer a sense of catharsis, allowing survivors to express their pain and anger. However, this emotional release can become addictive, trapping individuals in a cycle of anger and resentment.

  3. Identity as a Survivor: Some individuals begin to define themselves primarily as survivors of narcissistic abuse. While acknowledging their strength is important, this identity can inadvertently keep them tied to the trauma and the abuser.

heal from abuseHow to Heal a Trauma Bond

Breaking free from the trauma bond and healing from narcissistic abuse is a complex and challenging journey. Excessive reading about narcissism, while well-intentioned, can hinder progress. So, how can survivors strike a balance between seeking knowledge and healing? Here are some strategies:

Limit Exposure: Set boundaries on the amount of time spent researching narcissism. While knowledge is important, it should not consume your life.

Explore healing resources: Consider exploring programs designed to help you heal and move forward from narcissistic abuse

Focus on Self-Care: Prioritize self-care and self-compassion. Engage in activities that bring you joy, relaxation, and fulfillment.

Rebuild Identity: Explore interests and passions that define you beyond the role of a survivor. Rebuilding your identity can help shift the focus away from the trauma.

Practice Mindfulness: Mindfulness and meditation techniques can help you stay grounded in the present moment, reducing anxiety and intrusive thoughts.

Set Personal Goals: Establish goals and aspirations that have nothing to do with the narcissistic relationship. This can give you a sense of purpose and direction.

Creating Hope For a Better Future

While knowledge is a powerful tool for healing, it’s essential to recognize the potential pitfalls of excessive reading about narcissism. Survivors must strike a balance between gaining insight and avoiding the reinforcement loop that can perpetuate the trauma bond. 

Shifting the focus from your abuser to yourself is a crucial step in healing from a toxic relationship. It empowers you to take control of your own life and work on your emotional well-being.  If you know that rising out of fear and pain and into healing and happiness is something that you dearly want, I’m inviting you to take on this journey, with me beside you, just as I and thousands of other Thrivers have.

Get Started On The Stages of Emotional Healing 

If there were one thing I wish I could tell every person about healing, it would be that you can have it. 

Even if you don’t reach what you think is 100% “being healed,” life can transform in ways you can’t imagine from where it is now.

The Break Free Program is my most popular program—no toxic positivity. No fluff. Just deep principles of recovery.

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Resources

(van der Kolk, B. A. (2015). The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma. Penguin Books.)

(Neff, K. D. (2011). Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind. HarperCollins.)

(Nickerson, R. S. (1998). Confirmation Bias: A Ubiquitous Phenomenon in Many Guises. Review of General Psychology, 2(2), 175–220.)

(Cramer, P. (1999). Defense Mechanisms in Psychology Today. Further Processes for Adaptation. American Psychologist, 54(9), 741–747.)


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3 comments
tracy wieder says January 23, 2024

This personality disorder is hideous.I have learned so much in the 2 1/2 years I had to find out what in the world is going on! well he took my daughter manipulated her for several years starting early teen. I’ll remember something and say wow how awful of a human being let alone father. going on 5 years no nothing…im crushed

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Michelle says December 30, 2023

You raised very good points!

Narcissistic abuse victims are programmed to self-abandon. As part of our “deprogramming,” it’s necessary and hugely empowering to study narcissistic abuse. It also takes considerable time to become fluent in narcissistic abuse, just as it takes time to become fluent in Spanish or Italian. A weekend course won’t be enough to cut through years of narcissistic abuse indoctrination, just as a weekend course is insufficient to deprogram cult members.

Some of us will hold on to this course of study because we’re terrified of falling back into patterns of self abandonment. We’ve had our trust betrayed inside and out. It takes time and practice to restore that trust. At some point, though, it’s helpful to let go of the side of the pool (i.e., graduate from our studies) and just start swimming. Only we can decide when we’ve reached that point.

However, your article is a powerful reminder that awareness of narcissistic abuse is NOT the same as healing from narcissistic abuse. It simply empowers us to say “no” and set boundaries, which is where the true healing is. Setting boundaries restores self-trust and that, too, takes time.

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PeggySu says September 10, 2023

I think what you wrote is very valuable and helpful, but I’d like to add some thing. I just recently read that one definition of a trauma bond is that the narcissist creates a dependency and you about something that’s actually real. In my case I was never very confident driver, and somehow my narc figure that out and he would make fun of my driving or wouldn’t let me drive. If we were both in the car, he would beat the terrible backseat driver, so he reduce my confidence in my driving so I needed him to drive me, especially when we were going to the next town. Part of the problem was that we lived in a very small town. They didn’t have any taxi service and had very limited public transportation so after I got to the point where I couldn’t drive anymore because of my arthritis, I was totally dependent on him especially because our town is so small that wasn’t even delivery service for food during the pandemic lockdown. But the thing is it now that I’ve left him fotever moved to a big city with the ordinary services I’m completely drop that dependency instantly, so I think this can happen with certain types of dependencies that really causie a type of trauma bond.

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