People are the ultimate designer drug: What is your poison?

The [addictive] process of abusive relationships is complicated. Here I discuss the reasoning behind why some get addicted to the highs and lows of unhealthy partnerships and the powerful impact that actions and words can have.

We all know the mind-altering effects of drugs and alcohol, but have you ever stopped to consider the mind-altering effects that the people in your life have on you?

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Think about it. Anytime you meet someone, there are definite biological components at play. Research suggests that when a person falls in love, there is an increase in dopamine and a desire to be with that person—the “I can’t get enough of you feeling” that is all too common in the initial stages of dating.

Like taking a drug, however, after meeting someone and beginning to have them in your life consistently (i.e. you are in a relationship), that “shiny penny” excess-dopamine phenomenon begins to plateau and you begin to develop a tolerance of sorts. You’re left at the same place you were before you met the person. The “high” is gone.

Perhaps this is the reason why so many friendships and romantic relationships fade. After the dopamine levels out, the tolerance builds, the excitement or newness dwindles—the decision to separate from that person becomes more attractive. So what could be the reason behind a person deciding to remain in a relationship that is unhealthy or causes the proverbial hangover that seems to linger on and on?

Love addiction.

Two powerful little words that are quite prevalent in our society.

The “rule of thumb” to knowing if you have an addiction is evaluating whether or not the person, place, or thing is causing you significant distress and impairing your ability to carry out activities and functions of daily living. We typically think of male-female romantic relationships when we consider domestic violence, however, emotional and physical abuse comes in the form of many different familial and even platonic relationships.

Take for example a relationship between mother and son. The mother constantly tells her son that he is failure, will never amount to anything, and he is a disappointment to all. As a result, the son feels worthless and no good. However, as in most abusive relationships, there are periods of “sobriety” where the abuser refrains from the abuse and the relationship appears hunky dory. It is during these times that a very critical part of the cycle of abuse occurs:

The honeymoon stage.

Or the part where you fall back in love with your abuser because he or she is acting the way that you had always hoped or “knew they could”! Your abuser may apologize and profess their undying love for you, vowing to “never do that again”. Your love for them becomes even more reinforced, thus the cycle is able to continue and you hold on to that honeymoon period thinking that “I know he/she will get back to the person that I fell in love with again”.

With each revolution of the cycle of abuse, we become more desensitized to the abuse, and our emotional states start to become dependent on that other being—or as I believe—the emotional aftermath we’re left experiencing, until our tolerance builds up and we are but a shell of who we once were.

People experience emotional highs and lows throughout the course of a relationship—romantic or platonic. And I believe that the addiction becomes not to the person, but the feeling that the person elicits within you. Feelings and thoughts carry a very high amount of weight in a relationship. And the rollercoaster of highs and lows can at times, become what people become addicted to, or in some strange way, comforted by.

 

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The joy, the passion, the fighting, the making up…one big blur of experiences that can make you feel like you’re riding the cyclone (but not having fun).

 

Take the woman that is being abused by her partner. She knows deep down the signs that the explosive and destructive emotional outburst is about to occur. On the opposite end of the spectrum, however, she also knows that there will be the making up and “best behavior from the abuser” parts to the cycle that she so desperately craves. Thus, there begins the pattern, and because human beings—whether you want to believe it or not—are patterned creatures, a sort of comfort or acceptance of the situation is derived.

Human beings have flaws and certain people in our lives know how to bring out parts of you that are the best and alternately, the absolute worst. One of the best things you can do for yourself is to decide how you are going to allow another person to treat you, when enough is enough, and realize that your self-worth is more important than accepting abuse.

How much another human being can affect another human is an amazing phenomenon that truly makes the world go ‘round; or with regards to the darker side of human kind, causes a person to start to lose sight of who they are and how they feel about themselves.

Think about it…The pretty girl smiles at you and your morning is made. You receive a sweet text from your partner and your bad morning turns to good. Your parent calls to tell you how proud they are of you and for once, you start to feel proud of yourself.

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Alternately, your spouse comes home from work and wordlessly flings their belongings on the floor, instilling a sense of fear in you. Your girlfriend slaps you across the face because you asked what time the movie starts, causing you to feel idiotic, embarrassed, and angry.

Humans and our word and action choices are very powerful forces in this world. Our ability to cause a stir is palpable and ever-present. Consider the recent Trump/Kathy Griffin debacle. One decision probably forever (negatively) changed that comedian’s career. The actions of people have very serious consequences. Much like choosing to drink too much, deciding to infringe on another person’s boundaries and taking the joke too far can have very serious implications in life.

Tying it all together…

We are beings that have millions of neurons interacting together, thrive in relationships, hurt each other’s feelings, and inadvertently and sometimes consciously choose to cause harm. The only person that you can ever truly control is yourself.

I challenge you to make healthy choices and treat others with kindness. You never know how you will affect someone else…what joke will push someone over the edge (think bullying) or conversely, what kind word will cause someone to want to remain a part of this world.

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Choose the people in your life that give you a healthy “high”. A high where you feel good because you are cherished and respected. The high that comes after a shared experience of laughing and talking with your partner or friend. Not the emotional high that comes during the honeymoon stage in the cycle of abuse. Pick your poison carefully…every person has the ability to affect others in a positive or negative way.

Be the positive light and force that others desire to be around. And most importantly, be someone that YOU want to be around.

Wishing you positive interactions and healthy choices today and everyday,

Rachel Ann