False Hope of Hot and Cold: Intermittent Reinforcement, Trauma Bonding, Approach-Avoidance

Uploaded 12/20/2022, approx. 13 minute read

What are you all doing here?

Good afternoon, baby seals.

This is Sam Vaknin, author of Malignant Self-Love: Narcissism, Revisited in a Professor of Psychology in the Center for International Advanced Professional StudiesOutreach Program of the SIAS Consortium of University. This is a university satisfied.

Then we can move forward into the topic of today's video, which is essentially intermittent reinforcement.

Now, we tend to think of intermittent reinforcement in a very stereotypical way, but actuallymany behaviors, many decisions, many choices have to do with intermittent reinforcement.

Intermittent reinforcement is a very allpervasive phenomenon in a multiplicity of relationships, not all of themabusive, dysfunctionaland pathological.

But let's start with the definition, of course, because I'm an academic, and academics define before they discuss what is intermittent reinforcement.

Intermittent reinforcement involves two peopleat least, but not necessarily only two.

You can have intermittent reinforcement on a collective level. The government can engage in intermittent reinforcement. Social media companies do it all the time.

Intermittent reinforcement is when a receiving party, aka victim in intimate relationships, a receiving party receives regular, regular signals, messagesand treatment, which are cruel, callous, abusive, disempathic, indifferent and so on.

I repeat, when there is a receiving party, a recipientwho is subject to behaviorsor treatments, treatment or decisionsor choiceswhich on the surface appear to be sadistic, cruel, callous, abusive, disempathic, etc.

And thenevery once in a while there's a display of extreme affectioninterspersed with the abuse. There are instances of reward. This is very unsettling. It's discombobulating. Look it up.

When you are subjected to an endless stream of abuse, you know what to expect. You know the rules of the game. You know all the ropes. You prepare yourself mentally and physically.

But what do you do when abuse is then a gift, place to love? Love succumbs to pain. Pain follows affection. Affection results in hurt.

What do you do when the signaling is inconsistent? What do you do when you keep receiving mixed signals, information bits that contravene each other? What do you do when your data don't fit inneat frameworks? How do you interpret the world? How do you make sense of anything and everything that's happening? What's the meaning of such behavior? Hot and cold. A behavior that at one time tells you you're nothing, you're an object, you are filth, you're unworthy, you're bad, you're corrupt, you're stupid, you're inadequate. A bad object signaling.

And then suddenly it gives place to the most warm, empathic understanding, accepting sakur.

How do you reconcile these two streams of messages?

The answer is you don't. And it gives rise to traumatic bonding.

But intermittent reinforcement is often described in the literature in a very one-dimensional, caricaturistic way.

Intermittent reinforcement is much more deep, complex and pervasive than we imagine.

Let us examine two phenomena.

False hope, false hope, giving someone false hope and then withdrawing this hope and then giving hope again.

That's a form of intermittent reinforcement.

Any time you give anyone a reason to hope, a reason to get up in the morning, of his own debt, a reason to existand then you take it away, you are engaging, however unwittingly, in intermittent reinforcement.

Another phenomenon which many of you may be acquainted with from my videos is approach avoidance, repetition compulsion.

Repetition compulsions in general, but especially approach avoidance. They're forms of intermittent reinforcement.

The borderline personality frequently engages in this.

People with borderline personality disorder frequently approach and then avoid because they are subject to the twin anxieties, in government anxiety versus abandonment anxiety. They approach in order to allay, to mitigate, abandonment anxiety and then they avoid in order to calm down and amirate the engulfment anxiety.

This approach avoidance, I hate you, don't leave me, I love you, I want you dead.

These messages, conflicting messages from borderlines, they are forms of intermittent reinforcement.

Indeed, many partners of borderlines and partners of even codependents describe the relationship as a kind of trauma and the bonding is especially intense because the person who causes you pain is the only person who can take it away. The person who has locked you into a position of hurt and agony and uncertainty and indeterminacy and fear and stress, the person who locked you into this is the only one who's holding the key to release you from it.

Intermittent reinforcement is an attribution error.

You tend to think that only the person who had mistreated you can make it all go away with a kiss.

And so there are four types of intermittent reinforcement.

Fixed interval schedule, F.I.

Very common in relationships.

The abuser awards the victim the reinforcement. Reinforcement is simply a behavior or a message which alters or modifies your behavior.

Whenyou are subject to reinforcement, which is positive, you're likely to repeat the behavior that elicited the positive reinforcement more.

And when you're subject to a negative reinforcement, it's likely to inhibit the behavior that had produced it or it led to it.

So the abuser awards the victim a reinforcement. Think of it as a cookie or a candy.

So he awards reinforcement after a specific interval, a specific period from the last reinforcement.

And usually it's a fixed interval.

This is also known as partial intermittent reinforcement.

So every two weeks on the dot, according to schedule, there is a tradition of positive reinforcement following two weeks of harrowing harassment and punitive actions and fear and pain inflicted on the victim.

The victim then learns to survive these two weeks in order to reach the final point where she's awarded with something, a candy.

The abuser waits for a specific time to offer, for example, affection or understanding or attention or a listening ear or shoulder to cry on.

And this causes the victim to display slower reactions after the reinforcement behavior.

In the presence of this kind of reinforcement, the victim becomes more tolerant, more new to the abuse as the time passes.

He develops a victim develops abuse tolerance, the same way alcoholics develop alcohol tolerance.

This is the fixed interval schedule intermittent reinforcement.

There's another type known as variable interval schedule intermittent reinforcement.

The reinforcement reward, the gift, the candy, the soothing come after the time that is unpredictable, a time that is variable from the previous time that had elapsed.

The victim receives the reinforcement by surprise. It's abrupt. It's sudden. It's not scheduled.

And therefore it is much stronger, much more potent.

Such cases increase the anticipation of the reward and the affection.

The victim becomes addicted to the reinforcement.

The victim tolerates abuse of any kind from their partner in order to get this spontaneous, spontaneous relief because intermittent reinforcement is about building up your anxiety, your stress, your fear, and then relieving it with a kind word, with a touch, with a smile.

It's cruel. It's nothing more cruel than intermittent reinforcement except possibly listening to my videos.

And then there's the fixed ratio, fixed ratio schedule intermittent reinforcement.

In fixed ratio schedule intermittent reinforcement, the abuser delivers an affectionate display after several responses.

The abuser is actually focused on the victim's response. He wants to get a rise out of the victim. He wants to elicit the kind of reaction in the victim that is discernible and visible.

So the victim continues to produce higher and higher rates of responsiveness until they get the reward.

Clinically speaking, this is Pavlovian conditioning. Pain is inflicted and it gets attached in the victim's mind to an ultimate reward.

So the victim learns to actually anticipate the pain, want the pain, crave the pain in order to finally benefit from, joyfully, the offered reward.

Behavior pauses and the victim continues the same pattern after the following abuse incident.

And finally, there's the variable ratio schedule intermittent reinforcement.

The reinforcement is awarded after a variable number of responses in the variable ratio schedule intermittent reinforcement.

Remember that the previous variation, the fixed ratio schedule intermittent reinforcement is when the abuser provides a reward after a fixed number of responses.

Let's say five. The victim has to respond five times, for example, by crying or begging or supplicating or self-harming.

And then the abuser provides the reward. And again, the reward could be a smile, could be a kind word, could be a tiny gift or a big gift.

But there's always a reward.

And in the fixed ratio schedule, this has to do with a fixed number of responses.

Naturally, in the variable ratio schedule, the reinforcement, the reward, the award come after a variable number of responses.

Once the abuser would comfort you and soothe you and hold you and love you and lick away your tears after three times of crying, after three events of crying.

And then next time he would do it after two, after seven, luck remotes incidents.

There's no predictability. There's no way to tell. There's no way to prepare yourself.

The abuser offers affection faster or delays the affection at his or her sole discretion.

And this in turn causes the victim to display a high and steady rate or response upon receiving the reinforcement.

All these have devastating consequences on the body, hormonally and otherwise.

Ultimately, these behaviors wear down the victim. The victim becomes kind of zombified and much more amenable to manipulation, which is precisely the idea behind intermittent reinforcement.

Trauma bonding is about control.

Watch my interview about trauma bonding on this channel.

Thank you for listening. I hope I haven't traumatized you too much. And here's my smile to soothe you and comfort you down.

Yes, yes, I know. Sorry about that. See you next time.

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