This is a very interesting TED TV talk with Helen Fisher on the topic of Love Addiction. Helen Fisher is an author, anthropologist, and advisor to chemistry.com. She has done extensive research on the topic of adult “romantic love.” According to Fisher Romantic Love is “…a very powerfully wonderful addiction when things are going well and a perfectly horrible addiction when things are going poorly.”
What is romantic love and how is it different from lust?
Lust can be triggered not only by a person, but by reading something, or watching a movie. “Romantic love” is experienced through a connection with a particular person. There are different brain areas activated during the sensation of lust vs. the feeling of romantic love.
In this video, Fisher discusses her experiments where she used an fMRI to measure the brain activity of a group of people who were rejected by the one they loved. The men and women were shown picture of their exes who had broken up with them. The results indicated that unrequited passionate love does in fact trigger the same areas of the brain as other addictions. The ventral tegmental area, the left insular region, and right nucleus accumbens, areas associated with risk taking behavior, the perception of pain, anxiety, and obsessive/compulsive behaviors were activated when the participants were looking at the photos of their past lovers. Hormones can also influence love addiction. When in close proximity to the person he or she loves, the brain secretes oxytocin. Oxytocin is the attachment, or “cuddle” hormone. Dopamine and testosterone are released also. These are the hormones which play a role in sexual desire.
What is love addiction?
Essentially it’s the addiction to being in love. A love addict doesn’t usually remain single for a long period of time, instead jumping from one relationship to the next. When the intense passion, or “honeymoon” period ends, the addict may become bored and search for this “high” from someone else. This pattern often occurs without the addict’s conscious awareness. The love addict may get into a long-term relationship at some point. However, the relationship often has rapid cycling of highs and lows.
Love addiction isn’t listed, as of this time, in the Diagnostic Manual (the DSM-IV) as a disorder. However, many researchers would argue that it is a real and powerful addiction. In fact, some studies have shown that it does indeed activate the same brain regions as drug addiction, the reward center. A person can become addicted to the adrenaline rush or “high” of experiencing passionate love.
Drug Addiction vs. Love Addiction:
A marker of drug addiction is withdrawal when the substance is not there, repeated cravings, and an inability to stop. With drug addiction, the consequences often become greater than the positive aspects (i.e. the pleasurable experience through the release of endorphins etc). The more withdrawals episodes are experienced, the greater the dependence on the substance. Thoughts of attaining the drug of choice consume the mind of an addict. Little time or motivation is left for engaging in activities that may have been enjoyable in the past. The addict may feel helpless and out of control. A person separated from the one he or she loves can also experience all of these feelings. The love addict may be consumed with obsessive thoughts. Friendships may be cast aside, and all energy and attention may be spent focusing on the object of the addict’s desire. A love addict may also experience withdrawals. During these withdrawals, there is a sense of agitation or anxiety, a lower threshold of pain, and sometimes a deep depression can come over the person.
Stalking can occur when the addict is so consumed by the other person, that he or she is no longer using his or her rational mind. Stalking can be thought of as love addiction at one of it’s most destructive levels. The addict is at this point controlled solely by the drive to be near the object of affection. There may be the compulsion to do whatever it takes to keep the relationship going, despite the negative consequences (i.e. such as losing self-respect, an inability to be productive as energy is spent obsessing over the person, feeling ashamed and guilty, and stooping to unthinkable lows).
As you can imagine, this usually does not end well. There is a great deal of suffering, with diminished or no returns. It is pain without pleasure, yet the cravings and withdrawals compel the person to do everything possible to get their lover back. It’s not uncommon for love addicts to find themselves in relationships where the significant other is unavailable emotionally. The more the addict pushes for closeness, the more the other person may feel suffocated and distances. Perhaps absence really does make the heart grow fonder. When the object of affection is either emotionally closed off, or far away physically, the love addict’s preoccupation with their desired one may intensify.
Is a love addict “crazy”?
Being a love addict does not necessarily make a person abnormal or “crazy”. Many people have experienced love addiction at one point or another in their lives. What’s important is to recognize if this is becoming a relationship pattern, and then working on consciously breaking it.
What should you do if you think you may be a love addict?
It may be a good idea to seek help if you find yourself:
– Getting into one destructive relationship after another
– Choosing emotionally unavailable partners
– Not being able to remember the last time you were single and have an intense fear of it
– Constantly craving and seeking out the initial “high” of the courting period
There are many self-help groups out there, and talking with a therapist one on one is beneficial. As uncomfortable as it may be at first, stepping back from the dating scene could be helpful. You can use this time to get to know yourself, journal and reflect on what defines you as a person.
Questions to ask yourself:
How would others describe you? How would you describe yourself? Would the descriptions be the same or would they be different? What are some characteristics that you like about yourself? What would you like to change? What are your hopes and dreams? You can journal about thoughts and feelings that come up, what situations triggered them, and identify and reflect on past relational patterns. Are there certain themes from childhood that are being repeated in adulthood? Was there an insecure attachment style developed during childhood? Were there unresolved traumas, any abandonment issues? Who were your role models when you were growing up? What messages did you receive about what love is or should be? What would happen if you were responsible for your own happiness? What if no one else but you could affect how you felt about yourself?
Some thoughts on Loneliness:
Loneliness is a part of life, we can’t escape it. A love addiction could be a way of filling the “void,” existentialists would argue, resides within every human being.
“Loneliness is and always has been the central and inevitable experience of every man.”-Thomas Wolfe
We all will experience loneliness at some point or another in life. What matters is how well we are able to cope with it. Addiction, regardless of what form it takes, is a way of coping that is self-destructive. It can be a temporary fix, but in the long run will only make the problem worse. The addict is left with a greater “void”, a greater sense of alienation and despair.
I welcome any and all thoughts you may have on the topic of Love Addiction.
Author: Dr. Masha Godkin,Psy.D, MFT is a professor of counseling psychology, a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in the state of Ca. with an Online Therapy Practice, as well as a former child actor. One of her specialties is in addictive behavior and counseling those in the performing art professions. Visit http://www.onlinetherapywith-dr-masha.com to learn about the Online Therapy service options that are available.