“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.” – Dr. Joe Carver, Love and Stockholm Syndrome
Avoiding the abuse of Intermittent Reinforcement involves maintaining healthy personal boundaries consistently. This can often be easier said than done as abusers can be very devious when they meet someone new; the charm and love bombing will often be laid on thick so the targets defences are eventually lowered. Intermittent reinforcement is a dangerous manipulation tactic used to keep victims bonded to their abuser. Generally there is Intermittent Reinforcement present in a relationship involving a malignant narcissist or a toxic or manipulator. The abuse is often combined with intermittent displays of affection at unpredictable moments which are given irregularly through the cycle of abuse. This results in many targets trying to put even more effort into sustaining the toxic relationship as they frantically seek to get back to the ‘honeymoon phase’ of the abusive relationship cycle. Paradoxically, the instability of the toxic abuser causes their victims to become a source of constant stability for them. Intermittent reinforcement often causes trauma as the toxic behaviour causes damage to the person’s well-being.
Abusers are able to use periodic affection or small acts of kindness to their advantage. They will play the victim or give their victims some type of affection periodically. When there is an absence of the abuse their occasional positive (fake) behaviour seems to be an improvement in the minds of their victims. Victims live in hope these small acts of kindness are confirmation of the abuser’s ability to change in some ways but this hope is not based in reality. Intermittent acts of kindness are sporadic and rare consistent; these acts of ‘kindness’ are merely part of the abuse cycle designed to exploit the victim of abuse while manipulating them into staying.
Intermittent Reinforcement & Trauma Bonding
The abuse can be physical, psychological or both but the control power of Intermittent Reinforcement derives its effectiveness due to the feelings of uncertainty within the target. They are usually left feeling a great amount of self-doubt about the abuse due to the mix of fake affection, apologies and false remorse involved. Trauma bonds keep victims attached to their self-esteem has been gradually diminished, they have been isolated and taught to rely on their abuser for their own sense of self-worth. Abusers create trauma bonds so victims of abuse should seek professional support while creating distance between themselves and the abuser; this means absolutely No Contact or very Low Contact if possible. Survivors can receive support and guidance by working with a trauma professional to understand and release their justifiable anger at being abused or even allowing themselves to be abused. This significantly assists in detaching from their abuser and moving forward with their life with improved self-esteem and the confidence they will not repeat the cycle with another abuser. The best way for victims to cope with the aftermath of being abused is to be very clear they have been involved with a toxic manipulator.
“Attachment is the great fabricator of illusions; reality can be attained only by someone who is detached.” – Simone Weil
When individuals tolerate Intermittent Reinforcement as an adult within a relationship, this is often due to experiencing this pattern in their earliest relationships which includes parents or caretakers who were people they loved. If you are currently in an intermittent reinforcement relationship either consistency has to be developed or you need to leave as soon as possible; a healthy, secure relationship cannot exist without consistency. Abusers rarely change so will be very reluctant to modify their behaviour. Usually, they have absolutely no intention of changing because their manipulation serves their purposes to remain in control; many will seek out a new target than change for their current partner. Understand this: This type of relationship is purely transactional with the abuser seeking to gain and regain control. It will be extremely difficult to move past this relationship because it is not a relationship but an addiction. Victims often go through withdrawals symptoms from the chemicals that their own body produces due to the abuse which can be difficult to cope with.
The reality is there are people who are in relationships based on Intermittent Reinforcement. The components of a healthy relationship like genuine love are withheld by the abuser and only granted inconsistently, unpredictably and occasionally. The trick of this manipulation tactic is that it often keeps victims hooked into the cycle; if you are in an intermittent reinforcement relationship, you are involved in an abusive relationship. Abuse maybe conscious if the abuser has a personality disorder e.g. borderline or narcissism or unintentional but it is still abuse. It can be extremely difficult to move past this type of relationship because it is similar to withdrawing from an addiction; withdrawal symptoms will often be experienced due to the chemicals the body produces as a result of this type of abuse.
Intermittent Reinforcement is a very powerful manipulation tactic that keeps people involved in toxic relationships. The continuous tension involved keeps people involved in relationships and interactions are a direct threat to their emotional health and can cloud sound judgement regarding a so-call, false relationship that probably has to come to an end. Being the victim of insidious abuse a can bring up complicated emotions afterwards and survivors have to recognise investing in a toxic partner is a total waste of time. Once contact has been totally broken eventually the first feeling is likely to be total relief. The abuser may believe their target is still suffering, missing them or controllable but the longer No Contact maintained the firmer the resolve will grow to never return. Those who escape this type of abusive relationship eventually begin to think clearly and find their true selves again. Clarity is always so much better than confusion which is what the toxic manipulator wants to create within their false ‘relationships.’ I have been involved in this type of toxic abusive relationship myself and while it can take time, recovery is very possible and healing for me was a joyful experience!