Beliefnet
The Celebrity Therapist

narcissismI’ve blogged about narcissists before, but just to get us all on the same page, the Mayo Clinic research group defines narcissistic personality disorder as “a mental condition in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others.” In other words, a narcissist is a person who cares only about themselves.

There are three stages to most narcissistic relationships. In the first stage, the narcissist chooses someone to pursue. That decision is based on what the person can do for them. Narcissists sometimes choose very successful and/or very attractive people, because that makes them look good. They’re looking for a kind of “arm candy.” Or they might choose someone with poor self-esteem who doesn’t know how to set boundaries, because that person will do whatever the narcissist wants.

In that first stage, the chase, a narcissist can be extremely charming and attentive. They become the kind of person anyone might fall for. But relationship addicts are especially vulnerable here, because all that lavish attention meets their insatiable need for acceptance and validation.

But when the narcissist has conquered the object of their affection, the second stage begins. Narcissists are actually terrified of real emotional involvement—all they care about is the chase and the triumph. So as soon as they are in a relationship, they start sabotaging it. They become moody and unpredictable. They are unreasonably critical. They pick fights and always blame the other person.

Their partner, the one they treated with such loving adoration, is now dazed and confused. They’re wondering what just happened and how they can get back to the stage where they were being worshipped and adored. It’s easy for a relationship junkie to become addicted to the highs of this kind of relationship, and just deny the lows. They believe if they just try a little harder, act a little better, things will change.

Finally, during the third stage, the relationship junkie keeps obsessively giving, demeaning, and denying themselves. They’re desperately trying reclaim the positive attention they once got. But this is the last stage of a relationship with a narcissist; they don’t bond with people—they just move on.

This is a dangerous dance for the relationship addict—who already feels empty inside. They will do anything to get love. But for the narcissist, their partners are only objects who exist to gratify their needs. Ironically, these are two sides of the same coin: Each needs the other to fill them up. The relationship junkie has a constant need to be adored and the narcissist has a constant need to be revered. But neither will ever get what they need, because their needs are, literally, insatiable.

This situation is more dangerous for the relationship junkie than it is for the narcissist, because the relationship addict gives their partner the power to determine their worth. The narcissist ends up attacking, demeaning, and criticizing the relationship addict—throwing onto their partner all the negative qualities they are unwilling to acknowledge in themselves.

Meanwhile, the relationship addict, with their weak boundaries, will tolerate behaviors they never thought they would—lying, cheating, stealing. Again and again they will try to prove their love and devotion to the narcissist. The narcissist knows the more the relationship addict focuses on them, the more dependent and powerless that person will become. And the more they can be manipulated.

The relationship addict doesn’t know how to set limits—or to distinguish between what they are responsible for and what their partner is responsible for. The narcissist says, “I cheat on you because you drive me to it.” And so often, the relationship junkie believes it.

But the truth is, we are responsible only for ourselves. You are not responsible for the behavior of others. Everyone must own their actions. A narcissist will try to convince you otherwise. But their problems are their own. Don’t let a narcissist project their problems onto you.

Sherry Gaba, LCSW is a Certified Transformation and Recovery Coach and the leading Psychotherapist on VH1’s Celebrity Rehab and Sex Addiction. She is also the author of Marriage Junkie: Kicking your Obsession on Amazon. Take her quiz to find out if you are a love addict or sign up for a 30-minute strategy session. Sherry maintains a private practice in Westlake Village, CA as well as facilitating skype and phone appointments. For more information visit www.sherrygaba.com.

ringsIn a new book “The Marriage and Relationship Junkie,” I  explores the various complexities of relationship addiction. As a guideline to a working definition and a greater understanding, keep in mind that any type of addiction is something that causes a negative occurrence in the individual’s life.

The Damage of Addiction

Just like being addicted to work, to sex or to dieting can create physical and mental health negative impacts, so can being addicted to being in a relationship. Of course, most people on earth are in a relationship at any given period in time, but these relationships are healthy and non-problematic for the individual. When they cross the line to being emotionally or physically abusive, or when one partner sees his or her identity only as being in a relationship, it becomes a toxic situation.

The challenge in relationship and marriage that a person with this type of addiction loves the falling in love component of the relationship. They want to be swept off their feet, and are prepared to do whatever it takes to not just experience that feeling in the initial part of the relationship, but to continue to expect the “other” in the relationship to become their other half, completing themselves and filling in an eternal void in their emotional state.

At the same time, the person addicted to the marriage or the relationship sees and feels the gap. They recognize there is a lack of this satisfaction and feeling of being complete through the partner, but they cannot let go as being alone is just too impossible to consider.

The End Game

For those with relationship and marriage addiction, stopping and considering what is going wrong in the multitude of failed relationships is not an option. It is the search for the feeling of being in love, for the perfect partner, and for the next promising relationships that drive them forward.

People with love addiction tend to jump immediately from one relationship to another. Every new partner is Mr. or Ms. Right. The love addict fails to recognize the repeating pattern in partner personalities, which leads them to copies of a doomed relationship time and time again. This is a direct result of being so interested in being in a relationship that time spent on straightening their own priorities and exploring the root causes of trauma that create this ongoing cycle.

Relationship and marriage addicts have to be a relationship or a marriage. It is not an option to take the time to be on their own and become comfortable with themselves as a person on their own. Instead, they are constantly in rebound relationships, often cycling in a downward spiral of choosing partners that also have emotional and relationship issues.

For these people, being an individual on their own is not a sign of strength or a positive goal. They only see being in a relationship as the way they want to spend their life, and they are willing to exert all of their energy into achieving that goal, no matter how destructive and even dangerous it may become.

Sherry Gaba, LCSW is a Certified Transformation and Recovery Coach and the leading Psychotherapist on VH1’s Celebrity Rehab and Sex Addiction. She is also the author of Marriage Junkie: Kicking your Obsession on Amazon. Take her quiz to find out if you are a love addict or sign up for a 30-minute strategy session. Sherry maintains a private practice in Westlake Village, CA as well as facilitating skype and phone appointments. For more information visit www.sherrygaba.com.

wineThe expanding body of research into brain-based responses to different types of stimuli has provided greater insight into how humans become addicted. In fact, there is actually a pleasure center in the brain, which is the nucleus accumbens. This is part of the brain that  responds to specific triggers, including romance and sexual desire, and releases two chemicals. These two chemicals are dopamine and serotonin, which produce the intense feelings of pleasure throughout the body.

At the same time another area of the brain, the insula, is stimulated by romantic interludes. When this part of the brain is activated, it assigns a positive value that is paired with the release of the dopamine and serotonin and the associated responses. The result is a positive association between feelings of romance and sexual desire and feelings of pleasure the body and the brain craves.

This is identical to the types of responses that researchers find in the brain when an individual uses addictive types of drugs. Heroin, cocaine, methamphetamines, crack, and opioids all stimulate the same regions of the brain, creating that same highly positive sensation. Not surprisingly, when people with love addiction experience the breakup of a relationship, they have the same physical and brain response patterns as a person withdrawing from addictive drugs.

The Transfer of Addictions

I have written several articles on the issue of the transfer of addictions, and I cover it in my book, “The Marriage and Relationship Junkie.” In thinking of the discussion above, it is easy to see how a person using addictive substances, which may also include alcohol, has primed those areas of the brain to seek high levels of rewards and pleasure.

Combining this with a background of trauma, loss, and dysfunction in the family creates the perfect storm for feeling that pleasurable rush of emotions and physical sensations at the beginning of a relationship and immediately becoming hooked on the sensations.

This drives the relationship and marriage addiction to continue to try to recapture that feeling, just as using drugs again and again in larger quantities or with a higher frequency is an attempt to create the first high experience.

Other Factors to Consider

It is critical to consider the issues that may have been driving the initial addiction. As mentioned above, it is highly likely that relationship and marriage addictions start with neglect, loss, dysfunctional parenting, family abuse and trauma and even abandonment at a very young age.

These situations in life create a void in the individual. This void creates a greater risk for anxiety, depression and further trauma, which in turn creates profound challenges for remaining mentally healthy.

Self-medication through the use and abuse of alcohol and drugs becomes a way to deal with these feelings of being anxious, depressed, alone, isolated and unhappy at a deeply personal level. Without addressing these issues, self-medication can quickly become substance addiction, and substance addiction can prime the conditions for developing a relationship and marriage addiction. Addressing the root causes through therapy, counseling, and learning to be happy and content as a single person are the first steps required on a path to recovery.

Sherry Gaba, LCSW is a Certified Transformation and Recovery Coach and the leading Psychotherapist on VH1’s Celebrity Rehab and Sex Addiction. She is also the author of Marriage Junkie: Kicking your Obsession on Amazon. Take her quiz to find out if you are a love addict or sign up for a 30-minute strategy session. Sherry maintains a private practice in Westlake Village, CA as well as facilitating skype and phone appointments. For more information visit www.sherrygaba.com.

aloneIn my new book “The Marriage and Relationship Junkie,” I explore the various complexities of relationship addiction. As a guideline to a working definition and a greater understanding, keep in mind that any type of addiction is something that causes a negative occurrence in the individual’s life.

The Damage of Addiction

Just like being addicted to work, to sex or to dieting can create physical and mental health negative impacts, so can being addicted to being in a relationship. Of course, most people on earth are in a relationship at any given period in time, but these relationships are healthy and non-problematic for the individual. When they cross the line to being emotionally or physically abusive, or when one partner sees his or her identity only as being in a relationship, it becomes a toxic situation.

The challenge in relationship and marriage that a person with this type of addiction loves the falling in love component of the relationship. They want to be swept off their feet, and are prepared to do whatever it takes to not just experience that feeling in the initial part of the relationship, but to continue to expect the “other” in the relationship to become their other half, completing themselves and filling in an eternal void in their emotional state.

At the same time, the person addicted to the marriage or the relationship sees and feels the gap. They recognize there is a lack of this satisfaction and feeling of being complete through the partner, but they cannot let go as being alone is just too impossible to consider.

The End Game

For those with relationship and marriage addiction, stopping and considering what is going wrong in the multitude of failed relationships is not an option. It is the search for the feeling of being in love, for the perfect partner, and for the next promising relationships that drive them forward.

People with love addiction tend to jump immediately from one relationship to another. Every new partner is Mr. or Ms. Right. The love addict fails to recognize the repeating pattern in partner personalities, which leads them to copies of a doomed relationship time and time again. This is a direct result of being so interested in being in a relationship that time spent on straightening their own priorities and exploring the root causes of trauma that create this ongoing cycle.

Relationship and marriage addicts have to be in  a relationship or a marriage. It is not an option to take the time to be on their own and become comfortable with themselves as a person on their own. Instead, they are constantly in rebound relationships, often cycling in a downward spiral of choosing partners that also have emotional and relationship issues.

For these people, being an individual on their own is not a sign of strength or a positive goal. They only see being in a relationship as the way they want to spend their life, and they are willing to exert all of their energy into achieving that goal, no matter how destructive and even dangerous it may become.

Sherry Gaba, LCSW is a Certified Transformation and Recovery Coach and the leading Psychotherapist on VH1’s Celebrity Rehab and Sex Addiction. She is also the author of Marriage Junkie: Kicking your Obsession on Amazon. Take her quiz to find out if you are a love addict or sign up for a 30-minute strategy session. Sherry maintains a private practice in Westlake Village, CA as well as facilitating skype and phone appointments. For more information visit www.sherrygaba.com.