Why Do Women Stay in Abusive Relationships?
My boyfriend (whom we'll call Xavier) and I hadn't made love in a month.
That's because exactly one month earlier -- at approximately 11:58 and 30 seconds p.m. -- I walked into his apartment to discover another woman there. Still clothed, thankfully, but Xavier kicked me out.
I slunk home in despair, vowing never, never, never to go back to him, as I'd done for less egregious offenses in the past.
But over the course of our abstinent month, Xavier pursued me like the hound does the hare.
He'd "done some soul-searching" and tried to convince me that losing me had changed him forever.
He wrote me notes that said things like, "I'm ready now to give you everything you've asked for. Just take my hand babe, and we can soar!"
Riveting stuff. Just what my wounded ego wanted to hear. So I chose to believe him, and after my month of painful resistance and withdrawal, I flew into his arms again.
Best! Sex! Ever!
I never felt so desired, treasured, connected. Finally I was HOME!
Without delving too deeply into the Freudian trope, Xavier was my first stepdad. Tall. Dark. Handsome. And incapable of commitment and fidelity.
But time and again our incredible make-up sex brainwashed me into thinking he had to be THE ONE!
The sex simply had to mean something!
The man I dated before Xavier -- you know, the committed conscientious guy -- well that sex had been just "okay." Not like sex with my current beau, where we'd:
"[...] burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes "Awww!"― Jack Kerouac
It took me years working 12-step recovery to understand that Sex is not Love. And that often Sex Lies.
Passionate Sex! It Must Be Love! (Or mayhaps, Love Addiction?)
Recent forays into study of the brain have helped us make huge strides in understanding addiction; giving more credence to the fact that addiction is a type of mental illness, rather than the behavior of an undisciplined person.
This includes Sex & Love Addiction, which is defined by a recent Psychology Today article as "a compulsive, chronic craving and/or pursuit of romantic love."
Not every woman is susceptible to Sex & Love Addiction, but those of us who are usually have suffered from "childhood neglect or abandonment, rejection, emotional or sexual abuse."
For women like us, it's important to note that:
"Sex is a gateway drug to becoming addicted to a toxic, emotionally tumultuous man." -- Shannon Colleary aka Yours Truly
How Sex Brainwashes Women
Oxytocin has been described as the "cuddle" or "love hormone" and it's released during sex. This hormone is powerful because when it's released we automatically begin to attach to and trust the man responsible for triggering it.
And oxytocin is more an issue for women than men, because estrogen promotes oxytocin, while testosterone inhibits it.
Dopamine is also released during sex and initiates a reward circuit in the brain which creates lasting memories of it as a pleasurable experience.
In her Psychology Today article, Samantha Smithstein Psy.D writes:
"Dopamine changes the brain on a cellular level, commanding the brain to 'do it again,' which heightens the possibility of relapse even long after the behavior has stopped.
"Dopamine helps to explain why intense experiences can be just as addictive as drugs."
And guess what? The more volatile and unpredictable our sex life is with a toxic guy, the hotter the sex.
In her article, "Your Brain on Love, Sex and the Narcissist," Shahida Arabi writes:
"Abusive tactics like intermittent reinforcement work well with our dopamine system, because studies show that dopamine flows more readily when the rewards are given out on an unpredictable schedule rather than predictably conditioned ones."
We're not done yet!
Adrenaline is considered the "stress/anxiety hormone" and is what triggers fight-or-flight in stressful circumstances.
When we're involved in a volatile, unpredictable love relationship we're frequently drowning in adrenaline, which in turn releases dopamine ... perpetuating our addiction to our toxic guy.
If you're in a relationship with incendiary sex, but painful emotional abuse there are a few things to know:
- Be kind to yourself. You're not an idiot. You have an addiction.
- Don't let your shame keep you isolated. Reach out for help. There are plenty of options for Love and Sex Addiction. Google away! (I prefer the 12-step programs, but they aren't the only option).
- If you normally end up in toxic relationships, but you're single again, it's helpful to read Asshat detection and repulsion article.
Shannon will be pre-releasing her book, "Ditch That Asshat! 14 life-altering exercises to lose your uncontrollable guy, gain control of your life & invite real love" soon.
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