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Does a Narcissist Feel a Trauma Bond?

Reviewed by Karis A. Williams, MSMHC, LPC,   January 13, 2024

Almost everyone who is involved with a narcissist on any level wonders if the narcissist knows what they are doing.  There is so much denial, gaslighting, blame-shifting, misremembering, and lying going on.  What if they really have no idea what they are doing?  

Okay,  back to reality now.  They have to know what they are doing in order to keep their stories straight for whoever they are playing up to at the moment. To learn more about whether a  narcissist knows what they are doing, check out this article.

So then, if a narcissist knows what they are doing, does a narcissist feel a trauma bond?  In fact, they do. But not in the love-hate, hot-cold on-again-off-again way that their victims do.  While victims hold on for the next kind thing the narcissist does to get them back under their spell, the narcissist has been taking in their loyalty, kindness, generosity, and hard work all along.  They are on top of the world because you are giving them the narcissistic supply they so desperately need.  And they are putting almost nothing into the relationship in return. 

Read on to learn more about the dance going on here. 

A Narcissist Will Feel a Trauma Bond as Pleasure

When you are trauma bonded to the narcissist, you feel intense pleasure.  You are in the love-bombing phase, the first of three phases (also known as idealization.  For more on the stages of narcissism, click here).  Literally everything he does is out of adoration for you.  Or so you think.  This is the part that confused me so much.  Early in our relationship, he would pledge his undying love for me.  And then do the strangest things.  I would just think he didn’t mean anything by it.  I couldn’t imagine anybody could do such things just to be unkind.  I had no idea that there were people that had no ability to feel or show empathy.

For example, soon after we were married, we each had our own music collection from before we were married.  If I told you they were cassette tapes, you would know how old I am!  Anyway, my tapes were all in their cases, in alphabetical order and in a large case that held them all.  Additionally, we both had much of the same music back then.

The Strange World of Gaslighting

I would get home from work, errands, or whatever I  had been doing.  Then I would go to listen to some music.  I would open up my music case and notice that the tape cases were not in the right spot.  Not that big of a deal.  But then the tapes inside of the tape cases were not the right ones.  That was a bigger deal.  

After having to go through every case to find the right tape, I would finally find the one I wanted to play.  I mentioned it a couple of times, thinking he would pay more attention next time.  But it kept getting worse.  

Finally, one day I told him it was very frustrating for me to have to put them all back in order on a regular basis when he could just do it from the start.  Instead of apologizing and saying he would put them back correctly, he told me there is no wrong way to put things away and he was not going to put them back the way he found them.  I was so confused.  It seemed to be such an insignificant thing.  But eventually I realized that is exactly what they use to cause chaos.  If you call them out on it or tell others, you are the one that sounds so silly for being so uptight about such an insignificant thing.

Similar things went on for 30 years and I never realized until the end of our marriage that is was all gaslighting to keep my sense of reality confused.

*Note:  For the best resources on understanding, dealing with, and healing narcissism, click here!

How Narcissists Get Pleasure From Intermittent Reinforcement

Back to the story!  In the beginning of the relationship, during the love-bombing phase, I believe narcissists really think they have met the perfect partner.  So the love-bombing isn’t really torture for them.  They enjoy doing good things, knowing that it will keep their new person endeared to them.  

Unfortunately, it doesn’t take very long before they start to see holes in the perfection they are expecting.  And then suddenly, they start to feel duped.  This wasn’t what they were expecting.  But they don’t want you to see their disappointment yet.  So they keep up with the love-bombing.  But they also start doing things behind the scenes.  Those things keep you under their thumb.

As long as you are still taking care of them and building them up, they are still benefitting from the relationship.  They no longer feel like you are the most incredible person in the world.  But they do see you as their main narcissistic supply.  And they have to protect that supply.  It is as necessary as oxygen to them.  And that is the extent of the (trauma) bond they feel toward you.  It is your trauma but their bond to you is for the good that you continue to do in order to get the bones they throw at you to keep you from walking away from the chaos. 

This is known as intermittent reinforcement. The least they can do to keep you in their life is what they will do.  And they will keep doing the dance of cruelty and abuse in the most confusing ways mixed with the occasional act of kindness or love.  Over time they will figure out the exact amount of good deeds it will take to keep you enslaved to the abuse for years to come.

Narcissists are Trauma Bonded to Their Best Sources of Supply

To the extent that a narcissist will feel a trauma bond, they will actually feel a need to keep you in their life for as long as you are giving them their narcissistic supply.  I am not sure if they perceive that as actual love or not.  But just as the trauma bond victim has chemical reactions going on in their body that promote the relationship, so a narcissist does as well.  

In fact, it is the very same hormones and chemicals that their victim produces.  Dopamine, oxytocin, and serotonin are the most common ones.  Every time they do something that keeps you bonded to them, it produces the same reaction in them to feel close to you in ways they want to continue.  This can actually feel like real love and a true bond.  In actuality, it is a true bond, but not love.  

And unfortunately, with every surge of adrenaline, cortisol, dopamine, oxytocin, and/or seratonin, they will feel more attached to you.  The more supply you provide, the less they will be willing to part ways.  Once that supply starts to fall away, however, look out.  That is where the devalue and discard phases come into play.  More on that another time.

You Will Never Attain the Narcissist’s Love

Even though your early relationship with a narcissist felt like love, it was not.  This is the saddest part narcissism.  The narcissist lost the ability to love or have empathy for anyone a long time before they met you.  Narcissism is believed to occur when a parent is so neglectful, abusive, or both to their child that the child has to hide their real self.  Instead, they “wear” as mask that looks like what their parent wants them to be like.  And as they grow up, their mask adjusts to whoever they are relating to at the moment and what that person wants them to be like.  It is almost like an actor getting ready for the next role they will be playing.  

(Funny story:  toward the end of my marriage, I could literally see my ex putting on a new face for the role he was transforming into as he had to adjust to the different people and circumstances around him.  Often his whole body would shift into this “new role.”

Once again, back to the story.  Over time, the inability to develop normally causes the brain to develop abnormally, stunting the growth of the hippocampus, prefrontal cortex, anterior insula, amygdala, and cerebral cortex.  This physical change in their brain actually makes it impossible for them to feel empathy or love.  Everything becomes a business transaction, a way to get what they want through trade rather than love and relationship.


So, to answer the question of whether a narcissist can feel a trauma bond, the answer is that they very much feel the bond, but not the trauma, or love, or anything really.  They just feel the need to keep you through whatever means they can while also using you as narcissistic supply.  At the same time, they can’t make you feel good all the time.  Their supply needs to be related to your misery and confusion.  And for that, you can know that they will never love you or be bonded to you in a healthy way.

Have you experienced a trauma bond with a narcissist?  What made you realize this?  What happened once you found out?  Feel free to comment below or here if you do not feel safe commenting publicly.  

Blessings and hugs to you,

If you liked this article, I think you will also love the following articles:

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Can a Trauma Bond Turn into Love?

How to Break a Trauma Bond in 11 Steps

Are You Trauma Bonded?  Take This Test to Find Out!

Recognizing & Dealing With Trauma Bonding Withdrawal Symptoms

Types of Trauma Bonding:  What You Need to Know

The Seven Stages of Trauma Bonding:  An In-depth Look

Signs of Trauma Bonding You Need to Look Out For

What to do When Your Narcissist Threatens You

The Bible Used as a Weapon Against You:  You can Overcome!

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The Link Between Spiritual Abuse and Narcissism

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When the Church Doesn’t Recognize Narcissistic Abuse

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What Does the Bible Say About Narcissism?

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Hi! I am the founder of Navigating Religious Narcissism after being raised under a narcissistic mother and married to a narcissistic man for 31 years. It is my prayer that I can be as valuable on your journey to healing and peace as were so many who crossed my path of healing.

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