love sex abuse and the brain love addicted

 

Love goes deep within us and we often think it comes solely from our heart. What many of us don’t know is that our brain actually plays a big part in it too. In this episode, we will be learning about the first of the two major reasons why we are addicted to love. We’ll be diving into the function of brain chemicals that make us feel pleasure and attachment. We’ll also lay out why certain people stick to abusive partners, no matter how hard we might try to persuade them to stop. Learn how to connect your perceptions and actions to your childhood. Get into that neurochemistry and re-align those pieces in the puzzle between how you perceive love, sex and abuse.

If you want more on getting the best out of your life and relationships, check out our new brand The Royal Path where you find everything about personal growth, deep healing and emotional liberation.

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Love, Sex, Abuse And The Brain: Why We Are Addicted, Part 1

This is our eighth episode called Love, Sex, Abuse and the Brain. We will be talking about the first of the two major reasons why we are addicted to love and how our brain plays a big part in it. We will also talk about why someone would stick with an abusive partner and why it seems to be out of our hands to do otherwise. It is so important to create the necessary understanding and do the healing work we need to be able to change our direction. I would appreciate it if after this episode, you can review our show on iTunes. In this way, you can support us by spreading the word so others can benefit from it too.

Every single week, one of you will win a personal love makeover session with me where we’re going to talk about anything that is important to you when it comes to your love and sex life. We all have our own reasons for being addicted to love, but I would never allow myself to assume your reasons and neither should you at this point. We don’t want to go into our headspace to analyze why things are the way they are. Analyzing and rationalizing is often used as a major defense mechanism so we don’t have to feel the underlying pain. However, real conclusions and realizations always happen after we have deeply felt the feelings behind something. We have to explore the feelings first. Then the conclusion will happen automatically and that will create sustainable change.

Feelings precede ideas. Click To Tweet

The reason for that is we feel long before we have ideas and words because feelings precede ideas in evolution and the structure of the brain. It means the parts of the brain where thoughts are formed come long after the parts of the brain where feelings reside. In other words, the part where feelings reside, which is the limbic system, is created before the parts where words, logic and reason take place. This understanding will be vital for our healing. Let’s look at reason number one, how our brain and the neurochemistry of love contribute massively to love addiction. In 2005, Helen Fisher, a recognized biological anthropologist who has written a lot about the neural chemistry of romantic love, conducted a groundbreaking study. This study included 2,500 MRI images of brains of individuals who looked at pictures of people they are romantically involved with.

I talk about the kind that leaves you breathless and euphoric. Looking at these photos caused the participant’s brains to become active in regions rich with dopamine, including primary regions associated with substance addiction such as drugs, alcohol and non-substance addictions such as gambling, for example. Dopamine, just as much as oxytocin and serotonin, are a type of brain chemical called neurotransmitter. Released by neurons, which are brain cells, neurotransmitters control a myriad of body functions. They transmit signals from the brain to the body by passing across small gaps called synapses between each neuron. It is common to refer to them as the feel-good hormones. The accumbens nucleus, which is a region associated with reward detection and expectation, and the ventral segmental area, an area associated with pleasure and the motivation to pursue and acquire rewards, also clearly show activity when we are romantically involved.

ATL 8 | Why We Are Addicted

Mega Brain: New Tools And Techniques For Brain Growth And Mind Expansion

In his book, Mega Brain, Michael Hutchison explains that the rewards system provides us with a rush of pleasure whenever we act in some way that is conducive to our survival as a species. There are also some other structures that contribute to the reward circuit such as the amygdala, the hippocampus, and the prefrontal cortex. These areas are very sensitive too and reinforcing of behavior that motivates pleasure such as sex, drugs and food. Richard Schwartz and Jacqueline Olds, two Harvard Medical School professors, wrote in their article on the brain that when we are falling in love, the chemicals associated with the reward circuit flood our brain and a variety of physical and emotional responses are produced. These include racing hearts, flushed cheeks, feelings of anxiety and passion, as well as sweaty palms. Cortisol levels, distress hormone, also increase during the beginning of romantic love forcing our bodies to cope with the stress. When these levels rise, the neurotransmitter serotonin becomes depleted.

Richard Schwartz says that low levels of serotonin further intrusive, maddeningly, preoccupying thoughts, hopes and terrors of early love and the compulsive obsessive behavior associated with infatuation. Another chemical at work during romantic love is oxytocin. It has an important role in deepening attachment, heightened by skin to skin contact and released during lovemaking. Oxytocin makes couples feel closer to one another after sex. Oxytocin is also called the love hormone as it provokes feelings of security, calmness and contentment. However, love does not only bring positive feelings but also deactivates the neuropathways responsible for negative feelings such as fear and social judgment. Two neurological pathways are involved in these positive and negative feelings. The one linked with positive emotions connects the nucleus accumbens to the prefrontal cortex, while the other, which is linked to negative emotions, connect the nucleus accumbens to the amygdala. When we experience romantic love, the neural machinery responsible for making critical assessments of other people, including assessment of those with whom we are intimately involved with, shuts down.

That’s the neural basis for the ancient wisdom, “Love is blind.” No wonder we love being in love and we do everything we can to bathe in these wonderful feelings. By now, we know that some people literally get high from being in love, that they do not want this initial but temporary phase to be over. After about six months to two years, when the relationship loses the initial excitement and is supposed to evolve from passionate love to compassionate love, they keep haunting the passion and the excitement. For this reason, they either leave the relationship in hope of finding the next person that they can experience these feelings with or they cheat in order to keep feeling high.

Analyzing and rationalizing is often used as major defense mechanisms so we don’t feel the pain. Click To Tweet

I’m finding it also relevant to discuss, why some of us tend to stay with abusive partners and look at the brain chemicals involved.
When researching more about this phenomenon, I found the work of Shahida Arabi, extremely valuable. She’s a number one Amazon bestseller in personality disorders, abuse and sexual abuse. In her article, The Addiction to Bonding with Our Abusers, she talks about the involved brain chemicals in more details. She confirms that recovering from an abusive relationship can be quite similar to withdrawing from drugs. Exactly due to the biochemical bonds, we might have developed with our malignant ex-partners. For one, she says that oxytocin, the cuddle love hormone, is the same hormone released by the hypothalamus that enables bonding between the mother and child. Abusers usually keep reinforcing positive behaviors such as bringing gifts, flowers, compliments, and sex that will keep releasing oxytocin even after experiencing incidents of abuse. This is why the bonding persists and can even get stronger. Sex is a very strong way used by abusers to manipulate their victims. They are able to mirror our deepest sexual and emotional desires which lead to a very strong sexual bond that keeps releasing oxytocin. It then promotes even more trust and attachment.

If you want more on getting the best out of your life and relationships, check out our new brand The Royal Path where you find everything about personal growth, deep healing and emotional liberation.

Women are much more at risk here because estrogen promotes the effects of oxytocin bonding, whereas testosterone discourages it. That explains why women are quickly hooked after making love and why guys can often easily move on without being emotionally invested too much. On the other hand, just as much as dopamine is responsible for cocaine addiction, it is also responsible for dangerous romantic partners. Harvard Health describes that dopamine gets triggered by both drugs and intense pleasurable memories, telling the brain in essence to do it again. Even if there was abuse, dopamine makes sure to have you feel to wanting to do it again. Our brain not only releases dopamine for pleasurable events but also events linked to survival. Samantha Smithstein explains it in the sense that it also tells the brain what is important and what to pay attention to in order to survive.

The more powerful the experience, the stronger the message is to the brain to repeat it. Click To Tweet

The more powerful the experience, the stronger the message is to the brain to repeat the activity for survival. In other words, abuse survivors are hijacked by dopamine. What’s even more fascinating is that abuse tactics such as intermittent reinforcement works in favor of our dopamine system because studies show that dopamine flows more readily when rewards happen on an unpredictable schedule. Abusive partners are often very unpredictable and can switch from being the sweetest lover to a malignant narcissist in an instant, which plays right into that. Shahida says it so well, “The random sweet nothings whispered to us after an incident of emotional abuse, the apologies, the pity ploys, the rare displays of tenderness during the devaluation phase right before another incident of abuse helps cement this type of reward circuit rather than deter it. Abusive situations put our brain under alert into fight or flight mode, making us pay attention combined that with the pleasurable memories we experienced over and over. You quickly have a biochemical bond from hell.”

ATL 8 | Why We Are Addicted

Handbook for Treatment of Attachment – Trauma Problems in Children

To conclude, an excerpt from The Handbook for Treatment of Attachment-Trauma says, the key to understanding behavior found in abusive relationships is to look at the very early years of childhood. Relational trauma is at the root. There are several features these kinds of relationships have in common. The first is they’re deeply ambivalent, reflective of the trauma bond, fear, dependency need, fear of abandonment, despair, the realization of helplessness and rage. This is an amalgam of very powerful emotions which drive and make the relationships so unstable. The second feature of this kind of relationship is that it is a compulsive reenactment. Allan Schore, an attachment expert put it this way. “A further complication of unresolved trauma is a narrative re-enactment of the trauma wherein the victim unconsciously recreates the original traumatic event over and over.” That is exactly what we will be talking about next when I’ll be sharing the second, even more important, reason for love addiction.

I simply call it the consequences of the early absence of love in childhood. This is such important information that enables us to dive deeper into the understanding of why we do what we do and that will help us to make different choices. I find it so important that we don’t judge those who have troubles leaving an abusive or a dysfunctional relationship. I was there. It took me a lot of hard work to be able to break free from that. Mostly, I had to work on strengthening myself by working on my fears of abandonment, rejection, and isolation as well as my self-worth. Before that, it was impossible to do the right thing even if I knew that it didn’t do me any good. I hope that this episode has given you more understanding and please reach out if you would like help in any way. We don’t have to do this alone. We can always get help. Thank you so much for reading and sharing the work!

If you want more on getting the best out of your life and relationships, check out our new brand The Royal Path where you find everything about personal growth, deep healing and emotional liberation.

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