Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Compulsive Love: When Hooked on Intermittent Reinforcement

Compulsive love is not unlike compulsive gambling.  A notable highlight of a gambling addiction is what is called intermittent reinforcement.  There are several ways to support the continuation of a certain behavior.  We can positively reinforce a behavior by continuously acknowledging it.  For example, when a child gets a good grade, he gets praise.  We can also reinforce a negative behavior by consistently giving it attention.  Receiving attention only when you do something wrong, actually encourages that behavior.  Or, we can limit a behavior by giving it a negative consequence.  A "friends are off limits on Friday nights if grades go down,” is an example.  If you change the way you stroke behaviors, the behaviors can be changed somewhat readily. 

The most challenging reinforcement of a behavior is intermittent.  You never know when you will be rewarded or punished.  In gambling, for instance, you might play for an hour and not win anything.  Then just as you play the last quarter, you get ten more.  Now you are likely to stay and see if you can win again.  This is true of highly addictive romantic relationships.  You may put in more than you receive and, just as you are about to end the relationship, you are given just enough for you to feel hopeful about the possibility.  Thus you stay.

Trent’s Story
He told me he had a serious love addiction problem.  He had given up on a dull thirteen year marriage to begin a search for love.  He could not imagine his life without achieving it.  He met Cassie, fell deeply in love both romantically and sexually.  The problem seemed that she both wanted to be in and out of the relationship and continued to give him “come close, go away” messages.  He moved in with her and then was asked to move out.  He would be about ready to face the pain of an ending and she would call and want to see him.  He could not refuse in that she had become the center of his universe. On one day he would know she was not able to meet his needs and the next day he was the center of her world.  As this intermittent reward pattern continued he began to feel an internal desperation for her approval and felt more hooked into the possibility that eventually she would want him all of the time. The good times seemed to negate the bad times. 

His emotions and his health were teetering in response to her actions.  It was as though he had only one leg to his table—Cassie— and if it was not there he would collapse.  I encouraged him to build a four legged table and that all of the legs be his.  He needed to establish consistent reward systems in many places, look for love internally, and even more important, heal from a childhood that gave him a clear message that he was unwanted and unlovable.  Until he did so he would be vulnerable to Cassie’s inability to know what she wanted and remain in despair.  He too, had a come close, go away pattern to deal with.  He did not choose her by accident.
We cannot change others no matter how much we love them. We can invite a partner to change through changing our self. That is what Trent had to do. So what are the four legs of the table Trent had to work on to stop empowering Cassie?

1.   Find a healthy support group such as LAA or SLAA 12 step group or form his   own if he couldn’t find one.   He could not do this alone.
2.  Change his thinking.  Look at ways he rationalized or defended staying or not confronting negative patterns or beliefs about himself. Learn about compulsive or addictive love through reading.
3.  Get back into spiritual integrity.  Compulsive or addictive love pulled him out of balance and personal integrity.  He had made Cassie his God. 
4.  Work through the psychodynamic or trauma that kept him replaying the same relationship patterns over and over. 

If the intermittent reinforcement continues to pull at a person then it is time to let go of the relationship and letting go of someone we want to love and love us back is one of the most difficult tasks we encounter. But with the above in place it is possible. 

From Is It Love or Is It Addictions -3rd edition

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Is Love Addiction Lethal?

One of the messages I convey in my book Is It Love or Is It Addiction? is that a major reason we need to take seriously this relationship disorder—love addiction-- is because it can be lethal.  I don’t know what you have been watching on the news where you live, but on the local news in my area we have a number of pending cases where a break up proved deadly.  One father, distraught over his wife’s leaving him, killed their three daughters.  In another case being investigated, a husband is accused of murdering his young wife because she was asking for a divorce and her body is yet to be found.  I guess the message is don’t you even think about leaving me.  
Homicide and suicide are not uncommon events in third degree love addiction.  Third degree means in the end someone winds up in prison or in a morgue.  Less lethal third degree is doing something crazy such as stalking a person.   Domestic abuse falls in this category too.  Of course, love addiction is not about love at all. Psychologically it is about control and ownership; about self medicating low esteem, depression, anxiety, fear and a myriad of other inflictions, by becoming enmeshed with another person.  It is about getting unmet needs fulfilled and trying to fix something broken inside.  And of course this unhealthy dependency on another is not in our conscious awareness.

There is no question that an ending of a relationship is downright painful.  You don’t need to be pathological to feel the pain of letting go and even doing dumb things when an ending does happen .  It is normal for a person to initially want to hang onto someone when they leave or threaten to leave you.  And if clinging doesn’t work, you get mad at the person.  Those two responses are instinctive, actually.  Research shows that animals do the same thing.  Most animal infants form a passionate attachment to their primary caregiver, usually their mother.  When separated from the caregiver, the infant becomes anxious and then depressed.  Biologically, this makes perfect sense— in the wild, an infant animal is vulnerable and could easily become food for a predator or die of hunger.  And human infants couldn’t make it without a caretaker.  Yet we adult humans don’t need another to survive and act as if we do.

 It is human to want to have relationships and when we have bonded with someone they actually find a place in the neurons and synapses of our emotional brain.  When that person is no longer there, the brain gets disoriented and desperately begins searching for the missing someone.  This overactive searching of our brain uses up our feel good chemicals and can result in depression, loss of appetite, obsessing, and even physical pain.  We are now both a psychological and neurological mess. This is even more of a problem if a person suffers from an undiagnosed or untreated  mental  or emotional illness. 

 But why is it some can get through the grief without causing harm to self or to others and some do harm?  Although humans have sophisticated mechanisms to control impulses, we also carry within us a ‘fatal reflex’.  A normal person may want to cling or get mad at someone who leaves them but has the ability to control those impulses and grieve the loss.  Those who harm, let the fatal reflex take over. The obsessed person goes on a primal hunt in their mind or in reality.  He/she wants to know what the lost person is up to, where they are going, and if there is anyone else in the person’s life.  Obsessing about the one who has left them intensifies the pain of rejection, sexual desire, territoriality, aggression, jealousy and a need to control. And if what they discover is not to their liking and they cannot stop it, fatality occurs.

What are your thoughts?

 *More on this can be found in chapter two and chapter six of third edition of Is it Love or Is It Addiction?


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

LOVE - Noun or Verb?

LOVEA small word for such a spacious and elusive phenomenon.  Of all the mysteries that enchant us, love may be the one most sought after.  Love, of course is a huge topic every day in my therapy practice.  Clients ask me:   "How can I love myself more?"  "How can we have a more loving relationship?" “Why do I want and fear love?”  "How can I heal from this failed love affair?"  "Am I in love or am I in an addiction?  When asked outright, “What is love?”  many clients stop dead in their tracks.  Though it seems to be something they desire, they seem to have difficulty describing the very thing they are looking for. “Well, I don’t really know, but I think I know what it is when it’s there.” They often respond to me.  Love may be the most haunting of life experiences and the most used word in the world, but what in the world is it?

Recently a student asked me if I considered love a noun or a verb.  I posed the probability that it is both.  In my book, Love’s Way, I describe love as the ‘Big Something’, a measureable energy that is as distinct as mental energy.  It is an amorphous, intangible state of being, a mysterious something we seem to keep searching for.  It is a power. That makes it a noun.  But unless we do something with the energy of love that is everywhere, including in us and around us, it goes idle.  Though love is not a relationship, it’s in our human relationships we get to energize love or withhold it.  It is up to us.  We get to take the noun love and make it a verb. Love put into action improves the immune system, increases life expectancy, wards off colds, lessens depression, and creates zest in children.   Love is the cheapest medicine there is and there is no end to its supply.

So, I throw the question out to you.  Do you consider love a noun or a verb and why? 

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Valentine's Day: Saying I Love You without Breaking the Bank

Valentine’s Day is the one day of the year dedicated to love.  And as one first grade child was quoted as saying:  “Love is that thing in the room at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen”.  Yes, love is bigger than presents.  It is that “big something” we should be giving to loved ones all year long and get too busy to do.  So how can we acknowledge those we love on this special day? 
  • Start the day by going to your heart and think of people in your life you love.
  • Think of what about them you are grateful for.
  • Feel that gratitude.  That is an expression of love.
  • From that feeling of gratitude, call or email them and express your gratitude.
  • For those in your immediate life, make a special meal they would like, set the table, light the candles, put on the music, celebrate them.
  • Put work aside and offer your precious time doing something special of their choice.
  • Give them a hand made card.
And remember, giving is good for our health.  Research shows it improves the immune system, conquers depression, and just plain feels good!


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Creatures of Habit

Did you ever find yourself saying or doing something you promised yourself as a kid that you would never say or do when you grew up because you did not like what you heard or saw?  You are not alone.  Most everyone I meet admits to it. People often find themselves out of the character they hoped to become—a loving person.  Why is this so? The answer is both psychological and biological.

When we were children we did not have strong boundaries.  Those developed only gradually and in the meantime we absorbed words and actions into our psyche which of course is housed in a body that is filled with memories and impressions.  If your role-model dealt with stress by having another drink or striking out in anger that is the nonverbal ‘how to’ lying quietly, and unconsciously I might add, in your psyche.  Thus, in a similar situation you are apt to do what was modeled.
Here is an example.  Rachel, at heart a loving person, came into therapy with depression.  She disliked how she reacted to her husband and children with criticism and anger when she was under stress. Then, laden with guilt, she would use alcohol to self medicate. When I asked her how her dad would handle the same problem she answered with “He did have the same problem and he became an alcoholic and lashed out at his kids and wife.”  When I asked her how her mother might solve the problem if she had it, she answered:  “She would get critical, withdraw and get depressed.”  It was not a coincidence that Rachel was spinning her wheels in her relationships and gravitating towards addiction and a deeper depression.  An ‘aha’ moment came to her.  “I get it. I took myself as far as I could go. I did what I saw and heard.  I am in therapy to learn healthier solutions to deal with life and relationship stress.”

Here are things a person can do.

1.     Think of a relationship problem that keeps you stuck or frustrated. 

2.     Answer honestly: 
      a.     If your mother had this same problem how might she solve it? 
      b.    If your father had this same problem how might he solve it. 
      c.      Are their solutions healthy?
      d.    If unhealthy, did you follow in their footsteps?
4. If you followed in someone’s unhealthy footsteps, forgive yourself   as it is what you knew.

5.     Find healthier role models or create your own.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Is It Love or Is It Addiction 1 Day Workshop!

Announcing: One Day Workshop Febraury 16th, 2013 9 - 5 in St. Louis Park "Is It Love or Is It Addiction".  This workshop is based on my best selling book of the same name.  For more information and to register,  visit my website.    Please spread the word!