This week I received a letter from a woman asking, ”What is wrong with me, why would I feel bad and believe his twisted stories? I am really sick, aren’t I? I fell for him 2 times! After almost losing everything, including my life with the first one?”
I have answered this question before but the issues raised by these questions are so important that I’ll discuss them again.
The real question here is, what exactly is love? Love is the glue that binds us together as a social species. Without love, we would all live solitary lives, husbands and wives would not stay together, parents would not care for children and none of us would have any friends. Scientists have found that the social glue we call love has at lease four different ingredients.
Attachment is the first ingredient of love. Attachment is defined as a compulsion to seek proximity to a specific special other. Seeking proximity means trying to get near the other person, i.e., calling him/her on the phone, driving by his/her house, sending emails. A compulsion is something a person feels he has to do. It is an unconscious force that drives behavior. Typically, once a compulsion starts, it will produce a great deal of anxiety/fear until it is acted upon. For example, people with obsessive compulsive disorder, OCD, have urges to do things and will feel overwhelmingly anxious until they do what those urges tell them to do.
Having sex with someone, sharing emotional intimacy and time, create attachment. This attachment means a compulsion to be with that person. Typically, people with an underlying tendency to have anxiety have stronger attachments because they experience a compulsion to be near the other that causes anxiety until it is acted upon. People who already have anxiety, have anxiety on top of anxiety, and feel more compelled to give in to the compulsion.
Generally speaking, it is good to be unconsciously compelled to be near loved ones. These compulsions remind me not to get too busy to call my dear parents. They also remind me to keep track of my teenaged daughter, even though she is more independent now. Problems only arise when one has the compulsion to be with a person with sociopathic personality traits. There is nothing worse than a compulsion to be near a psychopath!
Sociopaths and psychopaths are con artists. They entice others to form attachments to them through deception and trickery. The problem is that our unconscious minds do not distinguish between attachments made after deception and those made legitimately. Furthermore, the anxiety psychopaths create in their victims only serves to strengthen attachment!
The woman who wrote me asked, “What is wrong with me, why would I feel bad and believe his twisted stories?” When a person is under the influence of a compulsion, he has to adjust his view of reality to fit that compulsion. For example, people who feel a compulsion to repeatedly wash their hands see germs everywhere. If we feel the compulsion to seek proximity to someone, we automatically believe that person is good. In these instances our beliefs are caused by our actions, not the other way around. We may think we love someone because he/she is beautiful, when in reality he/she is beautiful because we love them. (There is a song from the musical Cinderella, Do I love you because you’re wonderful or are you wonderful because I love you?).
What I have written explains why attachment/love is like addiction. Really, it is addiction that highjacks the attachment pathways in the brain. All this explanation is of little value unless it can help us deal with ourselves better. So the real problem is, what does a person do when he/she discovers a compulsion to be with a sociopath/psychopath?
It is very important to recognize the role that anxiety plays in compulsions. Combat anxiety and you combat compulsions. Start by not drinking alcohol and avoiding excessive caffeine. Alcohol temporarily relieves anxiety, but the anxiety intensifies when the alcohol wears off. Next, get enough sleep. Will power is required to fight a compulsion; lack of sleep impairs will power. Fight anxiety by exercising and cultivating quality friendships. At least, have a dog to take walks with! (Louise Gallagher’s dog has helped her to recover; she wrote about this in Dandelion Spirit.)
Many people who are fighting compulsions to maintain proximity to a sociopath/psychopath become so self-absorbed that they fail to honor important obligations to self, work, friends and family. This reaction only magnifies the attachment compulsion, because guilt only increases anxiety. Furthermore, neglect of children makes genetically predisposed behavior worse, and children who behave badly are a source of stress/anxiety.
To all of you who are parents, your relationships with your children can either hurt you or help you when it comes to recovery. If you focus on loving your child and spending quality time with him/her, your anxiety will go down for three reasons. First, if you are emotionally distant from your child, your own unconscious mind knows this and makes you anxious. Second, quality time with your child will make your child easier to live with over time. Third, real intimacy with your child will relieve your anxiety. This is healthy, not unhealthy, you and your child need each other, especially during times of stress. Intimacy is what family is all about.
I bring up this issue of our children because what I find is that many parents, especially mothers, become preoccupied with their relationship anxiety and withdraw from their kids. This response only makes them more anxious. It only serves to create a more dysfunctional family for the children.
We are challenged in life to do the right thing for ourselves and our families in spite of anxiety and compulsions. Start today to get well by seeking your own true well-being.
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