The Hot and Cold Dynamic and Why It’s Addictive

Intermittent reinforcement (aka hot and cold) is the STRONGEST type of reinforcement. There have been studies done with rats to demonstrate its addictive nature. Two different groups of rats in cages had a lever to press which produced food pellets. In the first group every time they pressed the lever a pellet came out – these rats were fine and just learned to press the lever when they were hungry. The second group of rats the pellets came out intermittently and the rats ended up pressing the lever on repeat until they died. Until they DIED guys! That’s how strong intermittent reinforcement is.

This is the SAME THING that happens in our brain with the hot and cold dynamic. We get nothing, nothing, nothing and then SOMETHING addictive chemicals in the brain light up and we are hooked. This is why it can be so hard to walk away from.

It is perpetuated if we had a caregiver that was unavailable (physically or emotionally) because that becomes our framework for how to relate. We will tend to be drawn towards other people who are unavailable in an unconscious attempt to correct what we did not receive as children. This is called repetition compulsion – where we repeat what we did not heal from/repair from our childhood. 

The impulse will be to keep going outside of ourselves to try to get our needs met. The healing, which can seem counterintuitive, is to heal from the inside out. 

We heal by becoming aware of the pattern and where it stems from and meeting that place of ourselves and our needs with so much compassion, understanding and love. 

We heal by giving ourselves the gift of outside support and giving ourselves the space to feel, process and integrate the past.

We heal by working on regulating our nervous systems, supporting our inner child/inner teenager, rewiring our subconscious mind and taking care of ourselves mind, body and spirit.

We heal by being really honest with ourselves and loving ourselves enough to see that this pattern is a form of self-torture.

We heal by being courageous enough to share our truth and honor ourselves and have uncomfortable conversations, set boundaries and allow those who aren’t aligned to fall away (which makes space for those who are!!).

We heal by realizing that if someone is hot and cold with us – it is not personal, or a reflection of our worth – but merely a reflection of their own ability to create connection and intimacy with another (based on their past experiences). 

We heal by being consistent with ourselves, surrounding ourselves with consistent people and allowing our nervous system to get used to that feeling of safety and peace so it doesn’t crave the old familiar dynamic. 

If you are stuck in a hot and cold dynamic and need some support in your healing I would love to provide that for you. Book your consult here:

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