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Romantic Love and the Survivor of an Abusive Relationship

Romantic Love and the Aftermath of a Pathological Relationship

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Romantic love is a highly “motivated” state of mind (Fischer, Aron, Brown, 2006). It is associated with the reward system of the brain – specifically the mesolimbic dopaminergic pathways.

In ‘new’ love, the neurochemical changes within the brain causes us to feel obsessed with our partner. We often feel butterflies at the sight of them and experience elation when we are near them. We might even want to be with them all the time.

The brain within a state of romantic love is operating with less input from the prefrontal cortex (the regulation, control, reasoning, and rational region of the brain) than usual. Hence, those in love will do or say things that others might find outright strange. “Love is blind” essentially refers to this diminished prefrontal state of mind.

However, when love goes wrong (regardless of the reason) the reward system that once derived pleasure and excitement at the mere thought of our love, can now potentially create significant emotional discomfort. Essentially, the brain goes into state of withdrawal – wanting and yearning to have what it had before. 

The reward system identifies our romantic partner as a source of pleasure and even when they behaved ‘badly’ or shifted to treating us poorly, the brain often continues to hold on to the memory of the pleasure it experienced with that individual. It wants to experience that pleasurable state again and therefore drives you to return to the source (personality disordered partner) to have that desire fulfilled.

For some, they may feel they need that person just to feel ‘normal’ – even though involvement in a relationship with them may have been a living nightmare. This type of inner conflict can be extremely difficult to bear.

A Little Neurobiology

PsychopathyYou may wonder – when it comes to the brain, what are we talking about specifically? From a neurotransmitter standpoint, where talking catecholamines, such as dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin (there is more neurochemistry involved – but for purposes of this article, I will limit the discussion).

Dopamine is the primary neurotransmitter associated with attention, wanting, drive, motivation, and anticipation of reward. Serotonin plays a role as well – especially in association with the regulation of mood. It is the chemistry associated with giving the brain a feeling of calm and stability.

Following a narcissistic or psychopathic relationship, the reward system/ mesolimbic dopamine pathways, play a major role in driving symptoms of discomfort for the survivor.

This is Not a Normal Break Up

Unlike normal or non-psychopathic relationships where there may be conversations regarding the split or simply growing apart and going your separate ways, relationships with individuals with psychopathy or narcisstic personality disorder are rarely ended respectfully. Many consider themselves abandoned or discarded by the pathological individual.  This is difficult for the brain to manage and experience. On top of the abrupt ending, relationships of this type are often laced with one or more of the following:

PsychopathyBetrayal, lies, blaming, abuse, disrespect, complete change in (psychopath’s) character, devaluation, intimidation, violence, infidelity, manipulation, deception, and insistence from the individual with psychopathy that they maintain their image as a good, decent, and moral human being.

These are grave social and moral violations that leaves the non-psychopathic partner in a great deal of pain. Healthy human beings do not take a predator – prey position in relationships. Yet, that is often what happens when involved with a partner with strong psychopathic traits.

The non-psychopathic partner is automatically shifted within the position of one with minimal power or rights, to be abandoned when their boredom becomes intolerable.

This can all be confusing and overwhelming for the non-psychopathic partner. On one hand she recalls his kindness and romantic nature, however on the other hand she is fully aware that a person who loves you would never harm you.

When the individual with psychopathic traits loses interest in their mate, the abandonment (discarding) can be swift and callous. There is usually no regard for their former mate and no assistance is offered to console the pain or take responsibility for their role.

© 2013 NeuroInstincts | All Rights Reserved | No Unauthorized Reproduction Permitted in any form

[Image credit: © 2011 Lemn | Canstock Photo]

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 References

Berridge, K. (2007).  The debate over dopamine’s role in reward: the case for incentive salience. Psychopharmacology 191:391–431.

Fisher HE,  Aron A, & Brown, L. (2006). Romantic love: a mammalian brain system for mate choice. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B (2006) 361, 2173–2186.

Fisher HE, Brown LL, Aron A, Strong G, & Mashek D.J., (2010) Reward, addiction, and emotion regulation systems associated with rejection in love. Neurophysiology. July 104 (1):51-60.

Koob, G and Volkow, N. (2010). Neurocircuitry of Addiction. Neuropsychopharmacology Reviews (2010) 35, 217–238.


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