In a recent issue of "CNS Spectrums", researchers from Brazil defined a psychiatric syndrome called "pathological love". Pathological love was defined as "providing repetitive and uncontrolled care and attention to the partner in a romantic relationship." Individuals with pathological love were compared to those without it. As far as I could see, the justification for calling this a "pathology" was that it created unhappiness and disturbed the romantic relationships.
They found that individuals who had this disorder had several seemingly conflictual personality characteristics. Their potentially negative attributes were that they were more impulsive, had a "Mania" love style - meaning that they loved in dependent and possessive ways, and their relationships were plagued by anxious and ambivalent attachments. As a result, they were very unhappy with their romantic relationships but continued to maintain them despite knowing that these relationships were damaging to themselves. However, these individuals also had greater levels of selfless benevolent love ("Agape" love style) and they scored higher on a scale that measured self-transcendence. Thus, their unhappiness seemed to be related to being less self-directed.
I thought that the idea of "repetitive and uncontrolled care and attention" was an interesting one, as people who love in this way do seem to be unable to stop delivering love. Research has shown that this may be because the delivery of love in an uncontrolled way may be associated with greater anxiety, and the selfless love is also guiltless thereby decreasing anxiety. Also, by pouring out love in this way, the anxiety can be avoided by replacing it with a focus that is more "deserving" of attention. The authors talked about this syndrome as a type of addiction giving rise to temporary pleasure at the expense of the long-term consequences.
It is sad to me that such benevolence can be associated with suffering, yet this benevolence may be considered an attempt at transcending the ego, which always leads to suffering due to the anxious storm arising when the ego is threatened. The problem with this is that such people usually attract predators with whom they form a symbiotic union.
For the pathological lover, this union is relieving of their anxiety, for they have an endless opportunity to pour love into the shell of the sociopath. For the sociopath, this is an attachment that they need never fear will leave, as the pathological lover is addicted. In fact, the predatory nature of the sociopath is a balm to the pathological lover, as it is an expression of need that justifies this outpouring of love.
At another level though, why is this approach to relationships any worse than relationships with both partners exhibiting "secure attachment". Is the stable ego of the securely attached person a sign of spiritual paralysis? Is the "healthy romance" a delusion about the nature of human need and a hiding place for those who are unwilling to explore their limitations in loving? Is this kind of secure attachment more about being "satisfied" with the implicit contract that neither partner will challenge the other to explore their deepest needs? Is something being lost in this security?
Perhaps the tragedy of selfless love occurs when it is stuck in the quest for romance. Perhaps romance is an entry point to the evolution of other kinds of love, and that the pathological lover is blissfully unaware that in their discovery of the futilities of attachment, they are one step closer to a transcendent consciousness. What if the suffering of the pathological lover was a more advanced state of consciousness that would open the door to life beyond romance?
Even if it were, how does one let go of the ideal of romance and settle for the theory of spiritual bliss? Or does one actually let go? Perhaps the suffering forces one to seek alternatives outside of romance and one has no choice.
I wonder then, if the direction of this research is to eventually empower the pathological lover, and if so, what this will entail. If it is something like "stand up for yourself", then I can see how many jilted lovers will jump at the opportunity to join the empowerment bandwagon. I am suspicious that the self-control that this will result in, will not address the more fundamental issues. What can you do then, to deal with yourself if you are a pathological lover? Here are some suggestions:
(1) Appreciate your own selflessness and transcendence in love; allow yourself to accept this as a gift and ability to love.
(2) Recognize when this outpouring is excessive that it is an expression of your anxiety. Delve deeper into the anxiety. Understand where your anxiety comes from, and talk to your partner about this.
(3) Explain to your partner that your wish to understand and deal with this will not lead to less love, but an opportunity for both of your to explore your anxieties. In all likelihood, you are probably afraid of abandonment, and they are afraid that their empty core will be discovered.
(4) Learn how to meditate so that you can decrease your anxiety and start to understand other things that can hold your attention. If necessary, seek professional help for your anxiety.
(5) Do not aim to change your loving ways to more restricted ways. Instead, understand that your anger exists because your do not feel received by your partner. You are also causing this lack of reception, because you are overwhelming and flooding your partner with affection and they are afraid because of their own incapacities. So, try to break the cycle by figuring this out together rather than separately.
(6) Self-control is a myth. Mind control is not. When you feel anxious and afraid, listen to the narratives that your mind generates. Understand that this is not your self, but that it will take time to understand this difference.
(7) Seek the security you need in the relationship you have while you are progressing spiritually. Invite your partner to join you on this path.
(8) The desperation you feel is also a gift, if you can delve into it with real power. Often, this entails sadness and loneliness. But eventually, you will find that desperation shines a light on the secret window in the cave of this human life.
Love may express itself as a pathology, but this pathology is also an opportunity to understand and experience something about the beauty and mystery of what it means to be human.