“Once you’re in the psychopathic bond, you don’t want to break it. And it often amazes the friends who are watching from outside. “You’re still with him?”. Or “Can’t you see?” is very common. And they really can’t see, because of the strength of the bond that’s been built.
Now when the psychopath is done with you, they leave. They’ve never had a bond with you, it’s all been a game. And so they just stop playing and move on to the next target. You’re left with all these open wounds, because you thought you had a relationship with this person……
And that’s the psychological and emotional abuse of a psychopath – feeling no empathy, no remorse or no guilt, just moves on to the next target”
Paul Babiak, psychologist – see here.
Psychopaths are known for being masters of manipulation and control, but how exactly do they get others so hooked and obsessed by them, despite being such despicable characters?
Two crucial ways psychopaths get their targets hooked on them are by creating the image or facade of a perfect person and relationship, and then by cleverly slowly withdrawing this synthetic affection so the victims pushes further into the psychopath trying to rekindle it.
This sets off the addictive process where the person often can’t stop thinking about the psychopath and struggles to break free from the relationship, even though they know on some level it isn’t good for them.
In it’s simplest form, this is how psychopaths manage to lure so many people in and keep them entranced, despite masses of evidence which show they are actually a toxic and abusive people and are slowly destroying the person they have in their midst.
The Psychopathic Bond
One term which has been used to describe this addictive dynamic is the psychopathic bond. This refers to the powerful synthetic bond psychopaths are able to create with their victims through the careful use of feigned interest and empathy, mirroring, creating a “manufactured soulmate” and in creating a fake sense of bliss and “flying high” perfection in the early stages of the relationship.
The idea behind this is already to get the person hooked by this sense of the relationship being extraordinary, unbeatable, offering “that little bit extra” that other relationships can’t give them.
If normal healthy relationships enthuse you with energy and make you feel good, the psychopath will try and make you feel that little bit better. If normal people sort of reasonably attune to you, the psychopath will try to perfectly tune into you. If normal sex is pretty good, the psychopath will try and make it that little bit better.
The psychopath is trying everything they can do already to get the person hooked and enchanted on them and the relationship itself, even though it’s a completely fake charade created and maintained by the psychopath. In the early stages they need to keep this pretense up of the relationship offering something more, something extra that the person target can’t get from other relationships.
See our article on the psychopath bond for more on this.
The second half of the equation is what the psychopath does once they have reeled you in. This is where we need to take a slight detour into behavioral psychology and conditioning to see how they manipulate. We promise you it’s worth it!
The Theory of Intermittent Rewards
This is one of the crucial concepts to understand for people wanting to guard against psychopaths, and manipulative people in general. In summary, intermittent or unpredictable rewards are more addictive than predictable and stable rewards, and this is crucial tactic many manipulative people use to get people hooked on them.
In the 1950s and 1960s behavioral psychologist BF Skinner discovered that pigeons or mice responded far more addictively when rewards were given to them on an intermittent, unpredictable basis then if they were given regularly and predictably.
When they were fed something at regular, predictable intervals, they behaved pretty normally as they grew to understand and trust when the next “hit” was coming. When they were fed only a very random and variable intervals, the pigeons behaved far more erratically, frantically pecking at the door to their cage trying to elicit and pre-empt the next “hit”.
The unpredictableness of the rewards made them more addictive. The same is true for humans. There is something about not knowing exactly when the next reinforcement or “hit” is coming that makes it addictive.
It makes the person keep going back for more, trying to get the positive reinforcement in the belief that this next time will be when it comes. This is why certain forms of gambling are so addictive and have this “just one more go” appeal to them.
How Psychopaths Use Intermittent Rewards To Get You Hooked
Applying this to toxic relationships with psychopaths and narcissists, they lure you in with an initial barrage of warmth and charm, creating a synthetic bliss, and then slowly pull back and withdraw this warmth in precisely the mould of an intermittent reward schedule.
In other words, they start to slowly withdraw and distance themselves from the victim, switching from the idealize phase to the devalue phases in the words of Jackson Mackenzie. The victim starts to wonder what is wrong, since they had got used to this sense of bliss and perfection. They thought they had the perfect match. “What did I do wrong?”they might ask.
This was carefully planned by the psychopath. They pull back enough that the target starts to doubt themselves and seeks to rekindle, but still bombard them with just enough rewards (charm, warmth, approval, attention, sex etc), but at a progressively decreasing frequency, which really draws the victim into an addictive pattern of relating where they ever more desperately try to rekindle what they thought they initially had with the psychopath.
The person is now completely under the psychopath’s control, where they keep trying to reconnect with the psychopath, and the psychopath keeps throwing them just enough psychological “breadcrumbs” to keep them interested, but is all the while eroding their identity and self esteem away for the discard stage, where they drop the person cold and move onto someone else.
In more extreme cases, the person’s self respect and boundaries become completely eroded, and treatment they would have once never stood for they now treat as perfectly normal and acceptable. The psychopath has moulded and shaped them gradually into someone completely different.
This is why it is important for us to be able to step back and take an objective look at how far we’ve come, or more importantly, how far we’ve fallen, since a certain person entered our lives. Psychopaths, narcissists and other toxic personalities want you fixated and addicted to them, so you can’t see the forest for the trees anymore.
Dr Ramani on Narcissists & Psychopaths using intermittent reinforcement to get you hooked
Breaking This Cycle
Realizing that these toxic personality types exist and the common manipulative patterns they use is half the battle here and the main reason we created this blog. Here are some other tips to avoid getting caught up in a psychopath or narcissists’s nonsense and to untangle quickly once we realize something is wrong:
- Be aware that the act of glib charm and charisma the psychopath used to reel was you in was a fraud and a facade. See our articles on the psychopathic bond and psychopathic mirroring for more on how and why they play this manipulative charade.
- Being aware of the power of intermittent rewards is important here. Bringing awareness to any process which was unconscious or automatic before immediately lessens it’s power over us.
- Educate yourself as much as possible in the nature of psychopaths and the common manipulative tactics they use. This blog will help you out, as will the excellent books available on our Resources page.
- Break off all contact from the psychopath as soon as possible – change phone number, locks, block them on social media, cut them off completely. Possible in many cases but not all when kids, financial commitments are involved.
- If the relationship was especially prolonged and traumatic, seek the help of a qualified therapist to deal with any issues which have arisen out of it. Psychopaths can do a lot of damage even in a short amount of time.
- Mindfulness meditation can also be an excellent way of re-grounding yourself and restoring calm and balance after a toxic relationship.
- Avoid jumping back into more intimate relationships to fill the gap left by a psychopath or other toxic personality. Take time to heal and re-establish proper boundaries and get the help you need.