Exploring relationships with partners devoid of morals, empathy, honesty and a conscience

Craving and Yearning to Have Him Back after the Abuse? Time to Learn About the Reward Center

Craving and Yearning to Have Him/Her Back? Time to Learn About the Reward Center

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“Even though our break up was 3 months ago, I still think about him constantly. I’m ashamed to admit it, but there’s a part of me that wants him to contact me again. I’d love for him to reach out. Maybe we could try and make it work. I feel addicted … like I’m craving him. After all he has done to hurt me, my friends are shocked that I’m thinking this way. I am too! What could be causing this?”


It is possible the reward system of the brain is heavily involved in this reaction. The aftermath of a relationship with an abusive personality is often a difficult place to be. The desire to be back to your old self again is strong, yet your brain may not be cooperating. Suddenly, you may find yourself in an obsessive state, where all you can think about is your ex-partner.

What is he doing?

Who is he with?

Does he miss me?

Does he feel badly for what he’s done?

Let’s take a look at one of the reasons you might be experiencing such difficulties.

Be aware that it does not reflect personal weakness if there are cravings and desires to return to your former psychopathic partner. Variables such as trauma bonding and/or neurobiological changes can easily happen in association with the ending of a relationship or rejection.

Oh, I see.

A part of this response is associated with the brain’s reward system seeking out what provided pleasure and comfort at one time. In this state of mind, the cravings can feel like withdrawal from a drug.

This is not personal weakness.

It’s a neurobiological response that tends to accompany these breakups. However, with effort you can learn to tolerate these sensations without acting upon them, thereby avoiding risk to your emotional and physical safety or life.

This neurobiological response is not isolated to narcissistic or psychopathic relationships. 

Yearning, craving, and dysregulated emotions can happen in response to any significant relationship ending. However, this phenomenon is especially associated with relationships of

• abuse            • power differentials           • control           • intensity

What makes this experience more difficult for the survivor of an abusive relationship is that her cravings are often in direct conflict with her belief about his behavior and possibly even conflict with her true feelings for him!

These relationships tend to include abuse, betrayal, attempts to alter her reality, gas lighting, blame shifting, and severe disrespect. She may have feared him. She may have no interest in living her life with a man she cannot trust.

Yet to have those thoughts, while simultaneously craving him can be quite distressing.

The survivor might completely understand (cognitively/ thinking-wise) that remaining with a dangerous person could result in severe emotional injury or loss of her life. However, once the mesolimbic dopaminergic system (reward center) kicks into high gear, even she will have to fight against craving someone she knows is not healthy or safe.

This is a crisis that many who have been through ‘regular’ relationship breakups are not likely to understand. The intensity may be more profound and longer lasting than one who was with a normal/ non-psychopathic partner. This type of break up requires resources that extend beyond that of others reminding the survivor to “just move on” or “let it go.”

Craving can take over for many survivors after an abusive relationship because the more rational area of the brain might take a back seat to the reward center of the brain. The brain (chemistry, etc) is within a dysregulated state. The very region of the brain (prefrontal cortex) that is needed to ‘control’ some of the imbalances, is actually less active when it comes to romantic love (Fisher, Brown, Aron, Strong, & Mashek, 2010).

Attempting to relieve the cravings through some form of contact or retaliation toward the psychopathic or narcissistic partner could lead to problems. Some survivors have found that such actions exacerbated their pain, caused humiliation, or landed them in legal trouble.

Recognizing the resources required for your specific situation (e.g., possible professional services) and taking control of your healing via appropriate action can lead toward the path of recovery.

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• You might find our article Healing and recovery helpful.  Healing & Recovery

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Berridge, K. (2007).  The debate over dopamine’s role in reward: the case for incentive salience. Psychopharmacology 191:391–431.

Fisher HE,  Aron A, & Brown, L. (2006). Romantic love: a mammalian brain system for mate choice. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B (2006) 361, 2173–2186.

Fisher HE, Brown LL, Aron A, Strong G, & Mashek D.J., (2010) Reward, addiction, and emotion regulation systems associated with rejection in love. Neurophysiology. July 104 (1):51-60.

Koob, G and Volkow, N. (2010). Neurocircuitry of Addiction. Neuropsychopharmacology Reviews (2010) 35, 217–238.

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