Evelyn Ryan, Yourlifelifter
I would like to share some profound information on trauma bonding and the biochemical changes that take place in the brain that enhance our “addiction” to pain and attraction to abusers.
This is life changing information, folks, so read this carefully. We can easily mistake emotional addiction with love. I guarantee you. It is not!
Here is a fascinating article interestingly enough from a criminal profiler who studied love/relationship/trauma addiction. This should help educate you more of the importance of no contact and why the attraction to your abusers is as strong as it is, why you are wounded and not crazy and why you CAN heal and live a happy and healthy life with loving and rewarding relationships!
Phases of Love and Love/Relationship Addiction
by Anthony J. Iantosca, BCFE, IAFEI (as modified by Evelyn Ryan)
Over the last year and a half I have spent a great deal of time in research on Addiction. I have worked with two psychologists and a psychiatrist trying to find a logical explanation for “Love or Relationship Addiction” and why people are drawn to the same types of personalities over and over again.
- What causes people to stay in abusive relationships with people who abuse them Emotionally, Sexually and Physically?
- What causes people to long for those who abused them?
- What causes the intense anxiety to be away from them?
I was taught in my early profiling years, “Tony, we are profilers and investigators. It is not enough to explain to our client when we have detected, identified and analyzed a trait but also what that trait means, what may have caused it and what we can do to help the client to understand it.” Please understand I am not a psychologist nor am I trying to act like one. I am a profiler. I hope this article will help you understand this very complex behavior pattern called, “Love/Relationship Addiction.”
Love and Brain Chemicals
When in love, chemicals in the brain such as dopamine (One of the reasons drugs are called dope) and norepinephrine spark feelings of happiness and excitement within our brain and bodies. Oxytocin levels increase. Cortisol a stress hormone goes down. Kissing, touching, hugging and increased sexual contact keeps dopamine and oxytocin flowing within the brain. It has been noted people who are in love have low levels of serotonin. Interestingly enough, people who have OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) are also insensitive to serotonin. So the emotions associated with love can be obsessive as well.
Betrayal, Brain Chemicals, and Pain
When someone is betrayed or rejected, this obsession intensifies as memories of the lost love overwhelms the brain. Betrayal keeps serotonin levels low which fuels the “obsession” and stimulates production of dopamine which intensifies the passion. The rejection is also very stressful which increases the production of norepinephrine, a stress hormone.
As far as the brain is concerned physical pain and the pain of rejection are the same thing, activating the same areas of the brain. Love “hurts” as much as any physical wound. Most people after a period of time realize they will not get the love or love interest back. Levels of dopamine and serotonin return to normal levels.
We are hard wired to protect ourselves from danger and pain. The Limbic System (Our Emotional Brain) has a very simple protocol called the Freeze, Flight, Fight response that protects us from danger and unpleasant/painful situations. If this is true, then why would we stay in painful and sometimes dangerous relationships? The answer lies in the cellular peptide addiction.
Love and addictions are activated in the emotional limbic system, not the neocortex (logical thinking) part of the brain, hence “There is no logic to emotion.” Within our limbic (emotional) system resides a chemical manufacturing plant called the “hypothalamus” that assembles small amino-acid chain sequences called peptides. Peptides are chemical formations with an exact match to every good or bad emotion we experience in the rational world. It is very important to understand that peptides are highly addictive to our cells.
The cells in our body are not selective. The cells have no preference over “nice emotion” chemicals such as love, joy, bliss or “bad emotion” chemicals such as fear, trauma, shame, guilt, or pain. The cells never judge a peptide as good or bad, the cells simply become addicted based on the peptide’s intensity. The stronger the emotion, positive or negative, the stronger the addiction. It is the largest rush of peptides that get our cells’ attention.
Now this is the crazy part. If the cells do not receive their addicted peptide of choice (such as when you are away from your abuser and not being abused), a little of the peptide is held back by the cell and secreted back into the blood stream. It then travels to our brain neurons which then send messages to our frontal lobes calling up images from the past (Emotional Memories), we start thinking the same thoughts in order to create more of the same peptide that were connected to that positive or negative emotion.
If our brains become accustomed to on and off cycles of periods of abuse followed with “good” moments, our brain are rhythmically conditioned to intermittently make good and bad peptides. So if we start to heal and feel better, the brain releases more of the negative trauma peptides and we feel fear, trauma, shame and longing for the abuser to make it all better again. This is how we become trauma bonded to our abusers and are tricked into thinking our love for them is so so strong and we can’t live without them.
As a heroin or cocaine junkie is addicted to their drug of choice and the high that it produces in the brain, so is the trauma and relationship addict unknowingly and innocently hooked to the cyclical release of addicting peptides and the painful and harmful emotions it produces. This is the how trauma bonds and post traumatic stress are perpetuated. We stay and are attracted to harmful situations and people are unaware it is a natural product of invisible “cellular peptide addiction.” This is why dealing with these emotions in the rational mind can appear fruitless and why it is so hard to leave and maintain no contact with our abusers.
We must and will in recovery learn to deal with the pain as well as “trick” the brain to make more of the feel good peptides based on improving our own self-worth and accomplishments so we can break these cyclical trauma peptide addictions and replace them with chemically balanced emotionally healthy ones and emotions. We do this by replacing the intense painful peptides with intense happy and feel good peptides and eliminate the ongoing on and off cycles of abuse interspersed with intermittent and small moments of feeling good.
This is why no contact, self-care and self-compassion, and surrounding ourselves with kind compassionate people and understanding how the abuse affected us are vital to our healing and recovery.
Learn more about healing from abuse and taking your power back in my book, Take Your Power Back: Healing Lessons, Tips, and Tools for Abuse Survivors.