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Intermittent Reinforcement: The Wind in the Willows


Intermittent Reinforcement
The Wind in the Willows

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A bird piped suddenly, and was still; and a light breeze sprang up and set the reeds and bulrushes rustling. Rat, who was in the stern of the boat, while Mole sculled, sat up suddenly and listened with a passionate intentness. Mole, who with gentle strokes was just keeping the boat moving while he scanned the banks with care, looked at him with curiosity.
"It's gone!" sighed the Rat, sinking back in his seat again. "So beautiful and strange and new. Since it was to end so soon, I almost wish I had never heard it. For it has roused a longing in me that is pain, and nothing seems worth while but just to hear that sound once more and go on listening to it for ever. No! There it is again!" he cried, alert once more. Entranced, he was silent for a long space, spellbound.
"Now it passes on and I begin to lose it," he said presently. "O Mole! the beauty of it! The merry bubble and joy, the thin, clear, happy call of the distant piping! Such music I never dreamed of, and the call in it is stronger even than the music is sweet! Row on, Mole, row! For the music and the call must be for us."
The Mole, greatly wondering, obeyed. "I hear nothing myself," he said, "but the wind playing in the reeds and rushes and osiers."

From: "The Wind in the Willows" by Kenneth Grahame
Chapter 7

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The Pretender
by Lynn S

"I just remembered I forgot you, my dear,
But at least I'll acknowledge you now.
I will tell you whatever I want you to hear
To get your attention somehow.

Perhaps I'll offend you, or you'll think I'm kind;
Perhaps you'll get wise to my game.
Whether worship or hate, some supply I will find.
To me, the result is the same.

I'm incredibly caught up in living my dreams
And time is quite short on my end.
But you are ignoring me lately it seems
So I guess I'll resort to pretend.

Pretending is easy for me, as you know.
I'll do anything it might take.
So, darling, forgive me for punishing you,
It's just what I do," said the snake.


"Rat" in The Wind in the Willows heard the elusive, intermittent call of the songbird. The silence between calls was excruciating, perhaps rendering the silence even more beckoning than the call itself.

People with narcissistic tendencies can be experts at this very kind of push-pull. Often this push-pull effect is created by promoting an air of mystery and an environment of intermittent reinforcement much like the infrequent, siren call of the songbird. This narcissistic abuser is Mr. Mysterious. He is typically always flitting about, always so terribly busy, and frequently in the midst of some mysterious life-altering situation that made him inaccessible when previously he was completely attentive to you for a time. He is totally self-absorbed. N's LOVE exuding this air of mystery. It usually makes the target try harder to be 'the one' who gets inside the wall and stay invested in finding the key that unlocks the mystery.

It is nothing short of crazy making when an N focuses his attention on you with a laser beam, then withholds, then makes excuses and let's you know in no uncertain terms that what it is he has going on and his life are more important than you. Then he may give you a crumb, perhaps toss out an 'Are you OK?' Interpret that as, 'How are you going to react to this? Are you willing to play by my rules?'

Mr. Mysterious makes it seem like a big deal every time he ignores the target and then come down from his throne to throw her a crumb. What a gift he bestows when he is so very busy himself. It is no gift. He has likely noticed that her interest has waned a bit and also likely that his other supply sources are a bit low, so he simply goes fishing in the familiar pond again. He does this periodically and just often enough to keep the target off-balance, wondering when the good guy will appear again, and interested in unlocking the key to his mysterious, illusory world into which he grants glimpses but never an entrance.

Lynn

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Articles: Intermittent Reinforcement


Can't Let Go of a Bad Relationship?
By Susan Anderson

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But there is still another factor which really cements people to the abuser. They get hooked by the “intermittent reinforcement.” The abuser, every once in a while, will give them what they need, i.e. “a pat on the arm” or saying “love you” or “bringing home a paycheck.” It’s intermittent.

If you ever studied classical conditioning (Pavlov’s dog and all of that), you may remember that if you want to “train” a rat to respond a certain way, rather than giving a steady reward (i.e. sugar pellet), give it only intermittently. Intermittent reinforcement is more powerful than steady reinforcement.

This explains the paradox of relationships. If your partner mistreats you in all kinds of emotional or physical ways, you run the risk of getting deeply hooked in.

You’d think it would work the other way – that if your partner made you feel secure, safe, and comfortable, you’d have a hard time leaving. But the irony is that many people feel freer to leave someone who has made them feel secure. Ever hear “nice guys finish last?”

But if they are made to feel chronically insecure, heart-sick, anxious, or hurt, they can get caught up in the drama of the abuse and locked into the dynamics of the relationship– especially if every once in a while, their partner gives them a little crumb of love -- intermittent reinforcement.

If you are in a traumatic bond, you not only suffer from your partner’s criticism, blame, betrayal, unreliability, or neglect, but you suffer from beating yourself up for allowing it to happen.


From, 'Who's Pulling Your Strings' by Harriet Braiker
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When positive reinforcement is delivered on a partial or intermittent schedule, the stage is set for the development of addictive behavior. The very uncertainty built into a randomized schedule can create frustration and compulsive behavior where the target is always looking for that anticipated reward. In manipulative relationships involving intermittent or partial reinforcement, the target has great difficulty differentiating between circumstances where behavior is being partially and intermittently reinforced and those where the reinforcement (gain) has ceased altogether.

Basics of Domestic Violence by Megan Johntz

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She stays in part because the abuse is intermittently reinforced. If I want to teach you to be scared of me very quickly, I will harm you at random intervals. If I only hit you every Tuesday at 11:30, you'd be able to prepare for it, as well as safely let down your guard and relax all the other times. The random or intermittent nature of the abuse keeps her ever hyper-vigilant and confused. One week he likes her to hold his hand, the next week he slaps her for it. She is never sure when to be scared, or what behavior is triggering the abuse, so she remains confused and perpetually frightened. Behaviors are learned rapidly through intermittent reinforcement, but they also last longer than behaviors learned by predictable reinforcement. She learns quickly that he is in control, and her brain locks in that "truth" for even years after the end of the relationship.

Last edited by LynnS, Mar/29/2009, 12:13 pm


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"The best way out is always through."--Robert Frost
Mar/29/2009, 12:11 pm Link to this post  
 




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