April 27, 2015

love junkie

Frequently heard in psychologist offices is some version of the question, "Why am I attracted to losers?"  Losers being a euphemism for hurtful, selfish, deceptive, cheating or otherwise, all-around unloving, abusive partners.

In Love Junkie: A Memoir, Rachel Resnick gives us a powerful, brave, and well written memoir of her pattern of this very kind of relationship.  She tells of partners who have insulted her, degraded her, belittled her, called her names (Spencer yelling, "Hey Tits!" from the kitchen at a dinner party), cheated on her, kept important secrets from her, or coerced her into sexually objectionable behaviors.

Resnick tells about her painful childhood experiences with emotionally abusive and neglecting parents, much in the way someone has flashbacks in the midst of experiencing or recalling unpleasant relationship events. Some people might not like the back and forth between her adult and child experiences.  I found it compelling and consistent with the way many people convey their stories in therapy.

While I don't agree that people are loser-magnets or specifically attracted to losers per se, I do agree there are plenty of unhealthy people to be culled in the dating world.   Love junkies, to borrow Resnick's term, want loving mates as much as anyone but are willing to stay with unhealthy partners longer.  In some cases, years longer.  It may well be that one of the reasons people stay in abusive relationships is that the love-hurt-love-hurt connection is familiar, having been learned from hurtful, neglectful or somehow, emotionally, physically or sexually, abusive parents, caregivers, and or peers (the junior high years can be brutal).

Picture the love junkie encountering a hurtful behavior, early on, from someone they are dating.  Instead of saying, "Hey, that hurt!  If he does that again, I'm out of here!"  they say, like Resnick did, "Hey, that hurt! He must not love me very much.  I need to work harder to get him to love me more." Repeated and sustained abusive relationships may be an attempt to finally triumph this time around; to earn the love of the unloving other.

This need to work harder often gets channeled into sexual desire.  Hurt, in many instances, triggers doubling the effort to be pleasing.  What better way for a woman to be pleasing than to be sexually alluring and adventurous with her partner? Especially in our society with its plethora of media messages which define women as sex-objects.

Resnick talks of her tendency to blame herself and of her shame for being weak.  Love Junkie is loaded with a multitude of specific thoughts that keep her coming back for more: thoughts that interfere with leaving the men who repeatedly and blatantly hurt her and thoughts that fuel her increasing desire.  Resnick's intimate disclosures, I believe, offer therapeutic value, both for therapists who want to more fully understand their clients cognitive distortions and for individuals who feel alienated and ashamed, who fear they alone think in such a disturbed way.  

Resnick's book, in my opinion, is a tremendous contribution to the memoir literature.  It is a valuable resource for insights into some of the specific and very intimate thoughts, feelings and triggers that lead a person to remain in harms way.  I have already suggested it to people who find themselves in repeated hurtful relationships, to people who don't understand why they can't seem to end relationships once hurtful behaviors recur and to people who incorrectly view themselves as attracted to abusive partners.  In short, Love Junkie can illustrate the simple fact that "you are not alone" and that there is a road to recovery.

--Sandy Andrews, PhD 
Clinical Psychologist and CBT expert
Austin, TX 

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