Love: are you an addict?
Tuesday, 18 October 2011 07:36 GMT
We have all witnessed it, heard about it, read about it, or experienced it. Secretly a lot of us fantasise about it, and long for it. That intoxicating feeling of obsession with another, a rush of excitement, a craving, a hunger and an insatiable need to be with the other. We call it infatuation, lust, and often love. Intense feelings of love are similar- as observed by neurologists studying the human brain- to an intoxicating high. Being with the one we love floods our brain with a cocktail of feel good hormones and endorphins giving us that sense of absolute connection and happiness.
It is such a potent feeling, we can easily get hooked. Hooked on the person, hooked on the sensation. We constantly want more. We can become truly addicted.
Let me quickly say that I am not negatively commenting on the basic human need for love and attachment, nor am I denigrating the power of attraction and lust in healthy relationships. What I am exploring today is why people love and cling to partners who betray, disappoint and hurt them. Why is it that they feel compelled to stick by them, forever hoping against reality, that things will change?
How many times have you heard this from friends and family: 'I can’t believe I allow him/ her to do this to me...I am miserable in this relationship…I am angry/ afraid/unhappy.’Yet, that person cannot leave their partner. They know the relationship is mostly painful and destructive yet they say things like ‘I can’t live without him/her, I can’t bear to be away from him/her, and my life without him/her is empty and meaningless. I love him/her.’ Their tormentor is also their love object. They are trapped and their suffering is tremendous and real. Is it love? Is it addiction?
Sigmund Freud, who is largely thought of as the father of psychoanalysis, coined the term, the pleasure principle. He thought that humans were pleasure seeking and would therefore always go for situations that provided them with gratification and satisfaction. This theory however does not explain why some attach themselves to people who belittle them, hurt them, and in some cases even physically harm them.
Later psychoanalysts came up with theories about our attachment to our earliest caregivers. They believe that our earliest attachment to our parents or caregivers, whether positive and secure or the opposite, colours and influences how we attach to our loved ones in the future.
Those lucky enough to have received proof and assurances that they are loved and they matter will behave significantly differently to those who were rejected, criticised or abandoned by their parents or caregivers. While it would seem logical, what is less obvious is why we would seek to repeat painful situations.
Those earliest messages remain imbedded in our psyche and we then re-enact, sometimes with deadly precision, those same relationships.
As illogical as it may sound, going for something familiar, albeit painful and damaging, can be comforting. We repeat patterns with the childlike endless hope that we can change things, that we are good enough and worthy of love. This time our partner, husband/wife will love us and take good care of us.
Unconsciously their neglect and abuse is reminiscent of what has been experienced, and it remains attractive in its familiarity, despite its impact.
If you feel you stuck in such a relationship whose hallmark is anguish, it may be helpful for you to think: who does your partner or your partner’s behaviour remind you of? What patterns, words, feelings and behaviours are familiar?
We can thus think of the addiction not as an addiction to the other but as an addiction to the pattern that is familiar. Often a person will chose and love a rejecting or neglectful partner unconsciously recreating what he or she experienced in childhood. If you are familiar with pain, you will recreate it and re-experience it. It is not a conscious decision, and that is what makes our actions so incomprehensible. Psychotherapy can be the space for awareness, where patterns can be unearthed, explored and hopefully broken. Love can be that intoxicating rush of adrenaline without the anguish. And while every relationship has ups and downs, love and harmony can coexist. There is a space between two people, where a gentle communion based on trust, communication and mutual support and understanding can flourish. We could also call it love.
You can write to Danah via this website or contact her on www.danahsaadawi.com.