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Bullies: Intermittent Reinforcement and Sex Withholding

Uploaded 3/13/2018, approx. 3 minute read

My name is Sam Vaknin, and I am the author of Malignant Self-Love, Narcissism Revisited.


Today I would like to discuss two seemingly unconnected issues.

One is intermittent reinforcement, and the other is sex withholding.

Start with the first.

Intermittent reinforcement is the hot and cold approach.

One day, full of love, caring, tenderness, advice, support, and the next minute, full of rage, criticism, humiliation, attacks.

This hot and cold approach, approach and avoidance, gestures of love, followed by inexplicable hatred, seemingly unprovoked.

These are the main tools of the bully. Most bullies are actually not necessarily sadistic. Many of them are not even aware of what they are doing.

Intermittent reinforcement is rarely conscious. As I said, many bullies are not aware of their misbehaving.

If you confront them, they would deny that they are bullies, or that they are misbehaving. Many bullies even claim to be the victims.

Perpetrators are sometimes drama queens. Perpetrators sometimes claim to be on the receding end.

Manipulation is the outcome of intermittent reinforcement, but contrary to common opinion, manipulation is rarely intentional. It's more like a reflex, more like an instinct.

The internet and the media confuse psychopaths with bullies.

Psychopaths, indeed, are deliberately manipulative, but only few bullies are psychopaths.


If we take a typical example of a bully, it would be a person who has a few personality disorders, such as narcissistic or even borderline, but they are not usually anti-social. They are not usually psychopaths.

Most bullies are not self-aware. Most bullies deny that they are bullies. Most bullies claim that they are victims.

This is the typical profile.

One strategy, one technique used by bullies is the withholding of sex.

Again, when confronted with this type of misconduct, the bully would usually answer that he is very stressed, life is difficult, business is not going well, he has psychological problems, a medical condition, and so on and so forth. The litany of excuses why not to have sex with his spouse or intimate partners is literally infinite.

Usually, the bullying side, the side who withholds sex, would accuse the other party of being nagging, of interfering, of being insensitive.

Now you want sex. After this hard day that I've had, in these difficult circumstances, all you can think of is having sex.

Do you think sex is automatic? I have to be in the mood for it. It has to be under specific circumstances. It can't just happen. It has to be planned for.

Indeed, in a minority of cases, there are psychological and medical problems, but the withholding party is an abuser. The withholding party is a bully if he refuses to acknowledge the existence of the problem, the existence of the sexlessness in the marriage. And he forces his partner to deny that this is a problem as well. He refuses to receive treatment of any kind or to consult any professional. He does not allow his spouse to have sex with other partners if he cannot give it to her. He refuses to let his spouse or intimate partner divorce him. He finds her happiness an anathema. He thereby does not agree to let her find her happiness with someone else, but fully function on them.

The bully or the abuser does not provide his or her partner with sex substitutes, such as love or intimacy. Caressing, tenderness, cuddling, a kiss now and then. Even these are missing. The bully rejects his partner or her partner. He humiliates her. He is on a move to ruin the self-esteem and self-confidence.

This is a way of isolating her and rendering her incapable of finding an alternative.

In a way, the bully imprisons his intimate partner. He holds her hostage.

Granted, on birthdays and special occasions, he will come out with these dramatic, oversized gestures. Flowers all over the house, an expensive tree, and unlimited expense account.

Some women say, I would rather be miserable in a Mercedes than happy on a bicycle.

Well, to each his own. If happiness matters to you less than material goods, then you deserve what you get from your bullying and abusive partner.

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