Wednesday, 11 September 2013
Love Is a Drug; Co-Dependency and Survivors by Lisa Nelson #childabuse #survivors
Love Is a Drug; Co-Dependency and Survivors
The word 'love' is synonymous with many things. Compassion, kindness, mother-love, friendship, romance; all those 'nice' associations. However it can also bring up images of heartbreak, pain, betrayal, loss and other painful emotions that don't feel very loving at all. Love is a multi-faceted word. For those who have survived childhood abuse, the ways the word 'love' can be used as a form of control and emotional dependency is often all too fresh in our minds. Even after years of therapy, support and managing to build a successful life in other ways, our romantic and sexual relationships can still be suffering from misconceptions of what 'love' really is. We've all heard the old adage 'if it hurts, it isn't love' but sadly, particularly when it comes to romantic attachments, we believe the exact opposite, often judging the depth of our emotions by how jealous wefeel over them, how bereft when they are not there, and how despairing we become should the relationship falter or end. Of course unhealthy relationships are not just perpetuated by abuse survivors; cultural and media depictions of love and romance make this is a common association for us all, but for those with a background of fractured relationships and/or sexual abuse it is perhaps particularly potent.
Love as Co-Dependency
A co-dependent relationship is often described as one where partners feel they 'need' each other as opposed to love each other, and interactions may be abusive, unhealthy and destructive. This can range from couples trapped in the cycle of domestic abuse, to the man who is overcome by jealousy every time his partner goes out without him or vice versa, and to those who feel they are weak on their own and 'can't live without each other. There are usually severe control issues present in a co-dependent relationship, usually manifesting as one partner overtly controlling the actions and behaviour of the other. Substance abuse by one or both partners is common in co-dependent relationships. Given that our adult relationships often mirror the effects of treatment received in childhood, it is hardly surprising that survivors of sexual abuse are particularly prone to the trap of co-dependent relationships. Although it is usually assumed that the male co-dependent partner (in a heterosexual relationship) will be the abusive or controlling one, this is not always the case. Particularly with male survivors of sexual abuse, unresolved shame issues and victimisation patterns mean they are often just as likely to be at the receiving end of domestic abuse. Co-dependent relationships consist of a complex web of unhealthy interactions between a couple who will often profess to 'love' each other deeply.
Love as a Drug
Sexual abuse survivors are often at risk of substance abuse issues, and for many 'love' in the guise of an unhealthy romantic relationship can become the drug of choice. The emotional and mental effects of a destructive relationship pattern are in fact similar to the effects of heroin and other drugs. Feelings of euphoria followed by feelings of despair, aggressiveness and changes in eating and sleeping patterns are characteristic of most addictions, whether that addiction be to a substance, person or feeling. Addictions are believed to be linked to the production of dopamine in the brain, and a co-dependent relationship can have a similar effect on the release of dopamine to drugs and alcohol. So, in a very real sense, people in co-dependent relationships really are 'addicted' to each other.
Surviving and Finding Real Love
For sexual abuse survivors it is paramount that support and any recovery programmes are in place before embarking on a serious romantic relationship and ongoing counselling can help both partners be aware of and resolve any unhealthy patterns that may arise as the relationship is formed and continues. There is no need to 'give up on love' but rather to redefine our perceptions and expectations of what a healthy relationship entails. As we have seen the ups and downs of a destructive relationship can be chemically addictive, but when we are in recovery from this we can begin to value a calmer, kinder version of love, so that the very wordregains it's literal meaning. 'Love' is not and should never be synonymous with 'abuse' and one of the ways in which we know we are no longer just survivors but 'thrivers' is when we can allow real love into our lives.
Many thanks to Lisa Nelson for her article.
Lisa in her own words
"After graduating in Art and Design, I began working with an advertising agency before motherhood got in the way. Now I work from home as a freelance writer and cover topics as diverse as the latest exhibitions, reviews of art, books and music, self-help articles for beginners and also a topic close to my heart. Personal experience and work with the Coalition Against Drug Abuse has taught me how useful art and literature can be in helping both addicts and the victims of addiction, so when possible, I write on this positive message, though I know not everyone shares it."
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