jueves, 2 de mayo de 2019

Intermittent reinforcement

Have you ever played a slot machine?

You put a coin in, pull the handle and you may get the jackpot or not. So whatever happens, you will most likely do it again. And again. Every time you feel more scared to lose all your money and the dream of winning the jackpot seems more and more pleasant in your imagination. After a while, you feel like you have invested too much to just leave and let the next person to arrive pull the handle once and win the jackpot.

This is called intermittent reinforcement and it's so addictive because of the way it destabilises our levels of serotonin and oxytocin in the brain.

If you think you are in a toxic relationship, think about if your partner is using intermittent reinforcement, on purpose or not. Look for inconsistencies. Perhaps they are very sweet and supportive and they criticise the way you speak. Maybe they surprise you from time to time with thoughtful gifts and sometimes ridiculise you in front of their friends. It's possible that they say loving things and then are mean when you are sick. Probably they promise to spend more quality time with you and then cancel plans last minute.

And for sure, when you try to explain what's going on to them, they blame you saying that you are too demanding and jealous, you are imagining things. They ridiculise your feelings through invalidation and your self esteem is already so low that you buy it!

The pattern that intermittent reinforcement follows is that there is no pattern, the consequences don't depend on your behaviour, but are erratic and random. Unpredictable.

What you feel does follow a pattern: fear, love, fear, love. You tolerate the fear hoping for the love, and when the love arrives, it validates the assumption that the fear suffered before was worthy.

You could ask.. Who is stupid enough to let themselves into such crap? Well, it doesn't happen all of a sudden, it starts slowly, with small things. Inconsistencies.

I'm sharing this because if I had known what intermittent reinforcement was a while ago, it would have spared me a lot of trouble and mental suffering. Maybe someone reads this today and wakes up from the nightmare I was living in not that long ago.

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