By Joyce Alexander, RNP (retired)
Most of you know I have spent a good portion of my life training animals of various kinds — dogs for obedience and to work livestock, horses, donkeys and cattle (oxen).
When we train animals, we “condition” them to do X and they receive Y reward. Ivan Pavlov, a Russian physiologist, conditioned dogs to expect to be fed by ringing a bell every time they got fed. Eventually when a bell was rung, even though there was no food in sight, the animals expected to be fed, and their bodies reacted by making them “slobber” at the mouth, just as they would if food were present.
B.F. Skinner, and American psychologist, observed that animals who had intermittent rewards, rather than continual rewards, would continue a behavior longer than animals who got rewarded every time they did an act. For example, a rat that pushed a lever and got a grain of food every time, would quickly stop pushing it if the food didn’t com. But a rat that sometimes got a food pellet when he pushed the lever would continue to pound on the lever for a very long time, or even never stop pushing it, even though he did not get a food pellet.
In humans, this “intermittent” rewards works in a slot machine, or in gambling games, because every once in a while you get rewarded. Therefore, you keep hoping that next time will be THE TIME.
Psychopaths and intermittent rewards
You may ask what this training technique has to do with psychopaths. Well, just as Las Vegas was built on intermittent rewards for gamblers, relationships with psychopaths are built on the intermittent rewards they give us.
At the first part of the relationship, the psychopath “love bombs” us by giving us the good things we enjoy — compliments, doing things for us, great sex. WOW! We think we have found nirvana. Just as a dog I am beginning to train gets a treat every time he “sits,” then only sometimes when he “sits,” the psychopath only gives us the “loving” some of the time. Also, just as I eventually no longer give the dog a food treat any time he “sits,” and the most he will get is a “good dog” verbal compliment, or a scolding if he doesn’t sit fast enough, the psychopath quits giving us treats and gives us “scoldings.”
We have been conditioned by the psychopath to be and do what they want, because we still desire that initial “love bombing,” and we dread the “scolding” they will give us if we don’t “jump” when they say “frog.” We keep on hoping against hope that we will be able to please them again. We do whatever we can to keep the scoldings to a minimum and get them to reward us with “love” again.
Running for bread
It doesn’t make any kind of difference if the animal we are training is a dog, a parrot, a donkey, an steer, a horse … the conditioning works the same. Intermittent rewards cause the desired behavior to continue. If we give continual rewards every time they perform the behavior, it wouldn’t take long for the behavior to be extinguished when we stopped rewarding it.
My mammoth jack donkeys, Fat Ass and Hairy Ass, haven’t had a piece of bread (their preferred treat) in a year or more. But any time I go to the hangar and open the freezer, they come running up to the fence on the never dying hope that I will get bread out of the freezer and give them a piece. They are totally “conditioned” to that treat, and they know that the opening and closing of the freezer is what always preceded them getting a slice of bread.
The psychopath we have had relationships with know what “rings our chimes,” what makes us happy and what makes us sad, or what makes us angry. It is like a panel of buttons on the front of our chest. They know just the exact words to say, or the thing to do, that will press our “buttons” and get the reaction they want from us.
No Contact is the answer
No Contact keeps those buttons covered. That is why it works.
Psychopaths know that in the past, if they pressed “button A,” you would do B. So they will keep on trying because IT ALWAYS WORKED IN THE PAST. They just know if they keep doing it, it will EVENTUALLY work again. So they will press it harder and faster and longer. Just like some old lady sitting at a slot machine, plugging in quarters, she just “knows” that the very next quarter will get her a reward. Just like my donkeys running up to the fence when I open the freezer, they still hope to get a slice of bread, a reward.
Expect when you go No Contact that the psychopath will up the ante and will work harder and longer to get a reaction. If it takes 30 times for them to eventually get a reaction, THEY LEARN THAT it takes 30 TIMES TO GET A REACTION. If next time it takes 40 times, they learn that they must work a bit harder to get a reaction, so they keep on and on and never stop.
So hang in there. Once you make up your mind to go NO CONTACT, then STAY no contact, because if you give them ANY reward of ANY kind, even a well deserved “cussing,” it is still a reward. It is ATTENTION, and even negative attention is attention. Not being noticed at all is the worst punishment they can have.
If you are required by law to have contact with them, like if you share children, do it only by e-mail, so that you have a record of it. Discuss ONLY the children. Do not respond to any nasty comments they make. Refuse to discuss the other person with your children, and Gray Rock them entirely. NO emotional responses at all. If possible, get someone else to pick up and drop off the kids, so you do not have to see him/her. Or do it in a public place, a police department parking lot if necessary.
We can stop them only by not responding. So when your ex is trying to push your buttons, just think about Joyce’s donkeys Fat Ass and Hairy Ass running up to the fence for a slice of bread. Visualize your psychopath with long ears, standing there trying to get a reaction from you, and then DON’T GIVE IT. Take control and refuse to allow the psychopath to make you respond to his/her button pushing!