“Once you’re in the psychopathic (or narcissistic) 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/narcissist – feeling no empathy, no remorse or no guilt, just moves on to the next target”
Paul Babiak, psychologist – see here.
Narcissists and 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 horrible characters?
Two crucial ways disordered people 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 toxic person trying to rekindle it.
Here are some more quick-fire ways they get you hooked:
- They use intense mirroring
- They create a manufactured soulmate
- They play the perfect match
- They start to withdraw and become distant.
- They use intermittent rewards
- You may be drawn to toxic people (repetition compulsion)
All these things can set off the addictive process where the person often can’t stop thinking about the toxic person 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 narcissists or 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.
However, in some cases, there may also be something unresolved going on the victim, whereby unaddressed deficits in their own psyche from childhood are leading them to draw in toxic people over and over again, in a dysfunctional attempt to resolve issues surrounding attachment and love.
Therefore, we’ll try to cover this question from both angles – explaining both why you are addicted to a narcissist or psychopath in micro sense within a relationship, and also why you might be addicted to having relationships with these abusive types of people over and over again, if this is what seems to fit your life pattern.
We’ll cover this wider issue as well, but let’s get started with some specifics of how these disordered people seem to good at addictively bonding you to them in relationships.
How Narcissists & Psychopaths Create Addictive Bonds
One term which has been used to describe this addictive dynamic is the psychopathic/narcissistic bond. This refers to the powerful synthetic bond narcs/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.
Here are some ways they can do this, common during the “idealize” (honeymoon) phase of a relationship with them:
- Intense mirroring (copying of body language, traits, speech patterns and personality). A sense that the person is walking and talking in rhythm with you.
- “Love bombing” – showering you with constant charm, warmth, entertainment, gifts, attention and adoration.
- Constant, regular contact in person or by phone at first. Giving constant attention and often demanding it in return, especially with the narcissist.
- Bombarding your inbox/phone/social media with constant sillyness, humor, memes, inside jokes, stories, poems etc. (They’ll latch onto whatever you like and bombard you with it).
- Promises of some bright future plan they have concocted, of some brilliant, easy, wealthy, abundant life together. No downsides or reality checks.
- Intense and/or frequent sexual intimacy. The intent is to make it as addictive as possible.
- The sense that you have known each other your whole life, despite perhaps only knowing each other for days or weeks.
- A sense that they are the perfect match or “soulmate”. This is entirely synthetic and manufactured from the psychopath/narcissist.
- They may talk about their “crazy ex”, but compare you favorably to them, saying how much better you are, how you understand them like no one else (put a bookmark in this one, because it flips in the devalue/discard stages).
- Also displaying apparent pity about your past stories of abuse/neglect etc. Seemingly very attentive and caring.
- Overall, a “flying high” feeling of perfection, that you have found the perfect person and the perfect relationship. Nothing else can top it. Once victims recover from the insanity of these relationships, they see how unrealistic this was.
“When you first meet a psychopath, things move extremely fast. They tell you how much they have in common with you—how perfect you are for them. Like a chameleon, they mirror your hopes, dreams, and insecurities to form an immediate bond of trust and excitement. They constantly initiate communication and seem to be fascinated with you on every level. If you have a Facebook page, they might plaster it with songs, compliments, poems, and inside jokes.”
Jackson Mackenzie – see here
If normal healthy relationships enthuse you with energy and make you feel good, the narcissist/psychopath will try and make you feel that little bit better. If normal people sort of reasonably attune to you, they’ll try to perfectly tune into you. If normal sex is pretty good, they’ll try and make it that little bit better.
They 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 narcissist/sociopath. 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/narcissistic bond for more on this.
The second half of the equation is what the disordered person 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!
Intermittent Rewards Explained (Important in Addiction Psychology)
This is one of the crucial concepts to understand for people wanting to guard against narcissists, 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 preempt 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 Narcissists/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 mold 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 narcissist/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 disordered person.
The person is now completely under the toxic person’s control, where they keep trying to reconnect with them, and the narcissist/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 narcissist/sociopath has molded 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 Addictive Cycle With Disordered People
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 narcissist or psychopath’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 toxic, addictive bonding and psychopathic/narcissistic 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 narcissists/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. Disordered people can do a lot of damage even in a short amount of time. Also especially get help if you’re addicted to abusive relationships in general (see section below).
- Mindfulness meditation can also be an excellent way of re-grounding yourself and restoring calm and balance after a toxic relationship.
- See our recovery resource guide for some good channels to binge watch, plus concepts, articles and books to consume on the topic.
- Avoid jumping quickly back in to more intimate relationships to fill the gap left by the toxic person. Take time to heal and re-establish proper boundaries and get the help you need.
Understanding An Addiction To Repeating Relationships With Toxic People
Searcher intent may vary with this general topic, and we realize some people may be asking the question more along the lines of: “Why am I addicted to keep getting into relationships with toxic people like narcissists/sociopaths? Why do I keep drawing these people in over and over again? Why am I always drawn to people who are bad for me, who abuse and mistreat me?”
In other words, it’s not only the addiction to the toxic person within any one relationship. It seems to be an addiction to having these kinds of toxic entanglements with narcissists/sociopaths over and over again, a pattern that keeps playing out in their life. What’s going on here?
If you find this pattern of drawing in toxic people like narcissists and psychopaths seems to keep repeating over and over again in your life, then you need to look more deeply into your relationship with your initial caregivers.
Most often, when people have an addiction to toxic relationships with disordered people like narcissists and sociopaths, it’s because they’re playing out some kind of repetition compulsion, trying to meet attachment and love deficits that were formed in their early years. They’re trying to solve the “puzzle box” of love, by seeking out people who resemble their original caregivers in some way, trying to get the love/attention/affection they did not get from them, from someone who at least resembles them.
Put simpler still, the repetition compulsion leads us to symbolically repeat the past to try and resolve it.
If this sounds like the story of your adult life – always addicted to seeking out people you know on some level are bad for you, but still being drawn to them in a way you can’t quite rationally understand – then it’s probably time to find a good therapist to work through unresolved attachment issues you may have.
Once you become aware of unconscious patterns playing out, they cease to have the same power over you, and you can make better choices in partners. But awareness if the first step, and examining your relationships and patterns in your family of origin, if they were dysfunctional in some way, can be a good step in breaking addictions to toxic relationships with narcissists and psychopaths in your life.