In recent years, there has been an increasing degree of awareness and understanding of many mental illnesses, but some compulsive disorders are still shrouded in rumours and misinformation.
Sex addiction, love addiction ad co-dependency are probably the three most misunderstood mental illnesses. People who suffer from these afflictions are often seen as weak, deviant and may even be seen as some sort of amoral monster. This could not be further from the truth. Most people living with sex addiction, love addiction or co-dependency are perfectly nice people struggling with a real mental illness.
To better understand these three illnesses, it is best to start with their definitions. The National Council on Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity has defined sex addiction as:
“engaging in persistent and escalating patterns of sexual behaviour acted out despite increasing negative consequences to self and others.”
This may sound as though a sex addict will stop at nothing to achieve sexual gratification but the reality for most sex addicts takes a much less sinister form.
Many sex addicts are actually addicted to pornography or masturbation. That means they have a compulsive need to watch porn and or masturbate. These people may feel the need to feed their addiction at home, at work or in any number of inappropriate places. This puts a strain on their work and their personal lives. A good analogy is that, for these people, their sex addiction is like having to lead a dairy cow with them at all times. It will be inconvenient, some people won’t like it and it has the potential to cause a lot of trouble. That being said, these people are harmless and their addiction is just a negative feature not a reason to fear them.
Then there are the sex addicts that feel the need to sleep with as many women as possible. These addicts pose a greater danger than those previously mentioned. This is not because they will go about raping people any time they get the chance but because they are more likely to contract and spread sexually transmitted diseases. These sex addicts can often be married or in long term committed relationships. Their drive to sleep with as many people as possible can wreak havoc on their relationships. These people care deeply about their families but their addiction drives them to put their relationships with their spouse and often their children at risk. Many of these sex addicts also resort to hiring prostitutes to feed their addiction. But once again, these people are not amoral monsters. They are not rapists, they are people with a problem that requires professional help.
The tiny fraction of sex addicts who do commit rape are not simply dealing with a sexual addiction. These sex addicts often have a variety of other problems that they are dealing with. They may be psychopaths, lacking empathy and remorse. They may also have sever anger issues. Either way, a sex addiction is not the sole cause of their crimes.
Moving on to love addiction we see a very different disorder. While some people see love addiction and sex addiction as the same thing, this could not be further from the truth. While sex addicts are looking for sexual gratification, love addicts will go to any lengths to get the feeling of being in love. For them sex or sexual gratification is not the ultimate goal. Love addicts have often been described as needing the feeling of new love. The feeling of a new relationship sometimes called the honeymoon phase is what the love addict craves. Once this initial excitement and novelty has worn off, the love addict will often move on.
This leads to a person having a string of relationships and still feeling unfulfilled. Often love addicts make the mistake of assuming the honeymoon period of a relationship is what love should always be like. When they become too comfortable in a relationship and the initial sparkle starts to wear off they start to feel resentful or assume the love they share with a partner is no longer there. They still crave that new romance feeling which drives them to break off their current relationship and find a new one.
Many people mistake this behaviour as someone being picky or think that they are simply looking for someone who does not exist but in reality, they are stuck in a self-perpetuating cycle. They want to love and have a partner but they only want what is new and exciting. As soon as a relationship becomes comfortable and understood they feel the need to move on.
Another common form of love addiction is for a love addict to form an emotional bond with an emotionally unavailable partner. Basically the love addict starts out trying to fill an emotional need with love and eventually becomes so obsessed with this that they lose who they are and become what their partner wants. When a love addict meets someone who is emotionally unavailable, they often become the victims of abuse or suffer depression.
This leads me to co-dependency, the third and final mental illness I mentioned previously. Co-dependents are often mistakenly assumed to be needy or followers without a will of their own. The actual definition of co-dependency is,
“a psychological condition or a relationship in which a person is controlled or manipulated by another who is affected with a pathological condition like narcissism or drug addiction.”
This type of relationship is possible because a co-dependent person places little to no value on their wants or needs. They often have low self-esteem and as such they gravitate to people they hope to please.
A good example of co-dependency is the partner of an alcoholic. The alcoholic will come home drunk make a mess and then fall asleep. The co-dependent partner will clean up after the alcoholic, make their excuses to work and help the alcoholic get through their hangover the next day. In a sense, they are enabling the alcoholic to lead a destructive lifestyle because without the help of the co-dependent, the alcoholic’s life would become unmanageable.
Love addicts in relationships with someone who is emotionally unavailable are a prime example of co-dependency. They stay in a negative and often abusive relationship because they desperately want to be loved but they have such a negative view of themselves that they cannot imagine anyone else being able to love them.
Another good example of a co-dependent would be many of the people drawn to stay in a relationship with a sex addict. These people often ignore infidelity and emotional distance to be with someone. In fact, sex addicts are quite possibly the most attractive partner to someone who is co-dependent. This is because co-dependents are attracted to narcissism which fits many sex addicts down to the ground.
The important thing to remember about people with co-dependency is that they do not choose to be with someone who is a negative influence on their life. Their low self-esteem and tendency to place low value on their own needs often forces them into unhealthy situations.
These people, like sex addicts and love addicts, need help not scorn or pity. They suffer with a mental illness that compels them to make decisions that negatively affect their lives and their health. By better understanding this we can offer help and maybe even recognize any unhealthy tendencies in ourselves.