Guest Post: How Addiction Leads to Personality Disorders

How Addiction Leads to Personality Disorders
By Sharon Torres

Personality disorders such as narcissism and sociopathy are often blamed upon the nature vs. nurture model. When people’s brains are wired to have these kinds of problems and it is coupled with childhood trauma, these are possible causes of having a psychological disorder.

However, there is another side of the story where personality disorders don’t just come from childhood trauma nor a natural brain wiring–it comes with the development of an addiction. I hope that my experience with being in a relationship with someone who is suffering from both addiction and a personality disorder will provide you with insight into how one caused the other and vice versa.

My story of narcissistic abuse

I was a naive girl in college back in my home country. I always dreamed of having a perfect relationship so I kept myself free from exclusively dating unless I was certain. My cousin then invited me to a social ball at this college, and this is where I met my dashing, charming, ex-boyfriend.

My ex was a senior of my cousin, so he was required to introduce me as his partner in the social ball. This young and handsome bachelor was known among his batch mates and he was known as the heartthrob of his class. This is where it began–after the party, he added me on Facebook which was to my surprise! I wasn’t even able to take a hint that he noticed me.

After hours and days of talking, the friendship quickly grew to something romantic. Looking back, I believe it was the love bombing phase in our relationship. Since he knew that I took the bait, he was eager to win me.

This romantic phase turned sour when we eventually became a couple after 3 months. I started to feel neglected, and I discovered something he had hidden from me throughout that getting-to-know-you phase–he had a drinking problem! Still, my rose-colored glasses stayed on. I was determined to “change” him and make our relationship better.

Little did I know that those hopes were just that–mere hopes. He was deep in denial of his drinking problem, and when he had fits of rage he would say things that he didn’t mean. He would threaten to break up with me, curse me, suddenly stop responding to my calls, blaming me as being too “controlling.” He would even talk to other girls just to show that I was easily dispensable. Being naive as I was, I thought that these were normal relationship conflicts. I took the verbal and emotional abuse as though it was something that I should work on. When he was sober, he would lure me in again through his sweet words and coaxing. The pattern repeated itself again and again, which ultimately tore my self-esteem.

My relationship with my ex was full of heartache and pain, until one day, I chose to free myself from this vicious cycle. It took me one whole year to finally get away from this narcissistic abuse after months of hoovering and questioning my decision. Needless to say, I do not regret my decision. I am happily married now to another man, and the difference was clear as day. Looking back, I realized how one’s personality can change due to having an addiction problem.

Why is addiction linked to personality disorders?

Addiction of any kind, whether it is drugs, alcohol, or other substances, can affect a person’s physical, mental, and emotional state. The addictive component found in these substances changes the brain’s wiring through continued use. In the case of alcoholism, the brain is led to the release of endorphins, which are the natural feel-good hormones of the brain.

The problem with continued, increasing use of these substances is that it quickly escalates from tolerance into dependence. When the brain and body are dependent on drugs and alcohol, functioning without it becomes a disaster–this causes the multitudes of withdrawal symptoms, anxiety, distress, and the dreaded changes in personality.

According to several Colorado addiction resources, a person who is addicted to substances may show one or more of the following traits:

Impatience. When a person suffers from substance use, it is their source of comfort and gratification. Without it, they may often find themselves having an attitude of impatience. They are impatient towards their partners, become unreasonably demanding towards others, or may show fits of rage because of their inability to wait.

Easily aggravated. Anger is another issue that may often appear due to substance use. When the body is largely dependent on drugs or alcohol, it may easily suffer from physical symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, cramping, or fevers. Additionally, it can also affect the person’s mood because of the many discomforts without the substance.

Impulsive. When combined with being easily aggravated, people who suffer from substance abuse and personality disorders tend to say or do things that they may regret later. They are prone to getting in physical fights, reckless driving, having multiple partners, or doing other dangerous acts that could affect them or their loved ones.

Manipulative
Manipulation is one of the hallmarks of personality disorders such as sociopathy and psychopathy. People who are highly manipulative will do anything to get what they want–without a sense of morality of their means to get there. In the same way, people with addictions can use other people and situations to their advantage, and this is because they need the immediate pleasure of consuming the substances they need.

Abusive. Abuse is not just through physical means. They can also involve verbal and emotional abuse, which are hard to determine especially if you are blindsided in your relationships. Most people who suffer from personality disorders along with substance abuse will use rudeness, cursing, and other forms of hurtful words at their peak of anger. A steady, loving relationship ensues respect from one another–and although conflicts are bound to happen, it does not involve hurting each other physically or through words. If you are a victim of abuse, seek help right away.

It is important to understand that people suffer from personality disorders due to their genetic or familial predisposition to them, from an abusive or neglectful early childhood, or from other early trauma. They learn that using substances make them feel “in control” of their disorder. In the same way, people also develop personality disorders due to continued substance use. It is a two-way cycle that exacerbates and increases the risk for both.

If you feel like a loved one is suffering from a personality disorder coupled with substance abuse, there are addiction resources to help them out. They offer medical treatment, counseling, and lifestyle rehabilitation to help them take a shot at recovery and to manage their personality disorders.

*****
Sharon Torres is a freelance writer who is chronicling her experiences through this thing called life. She believes that if you always move forward in life then there is no need to look back. Her favorite writer is Phillip K. Dick.

Visit Sharon’s blog at: http://sharontorreswriter.blogspot.com/

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A Beachside Affair (guest post).

Here is another guest post by the same writer who contributed “The Narc from Costa Rica.” Again she has asked to remain anonymous, but I think this story does a better job of describing the narcissism of a man who seemed to be extremely romantic. Talk about a whirlwind romance!

It’s common for narcissists (especially somatic ones) to act very romantic in the beginning of relationships. But the problem is, it’s an ACT. They can sweep you off your feet with their charm, declarations of undying love (which are lies), seemingly endless desire to make love to you, and gifts of wine, candy and roses. They also can move in very fast, and it’s not uncommon for one to propose marriage very soon into the relationship. (There are other narcs who are relationship-phobic, usually the cerebral type.). My ex proposed only three months after we met. He was cerebral though, so not all “romantic,” fast-moving narcissists are somatics.

The man in this story, Michael, seems to be a covert or “vulnerable” narcissist. They can seem to have very deep emotions and be quick to express their insecurities and vulnerabilities, but they’re still dishonest and manipulative, and they still have no empathy and will leave you in a heartbeat if a better source of supply comes along. Covert narcissists can be more dangerous than aggressive (classic) narcissists because you never see what’s coming. They can completely fool you because they seem to need you so much.

A Beachside Affair
By Anonymous

summer_love

My whirlwind relationship with Michael lasted for only 3 months. It was a summer love, like something out of the movies. Our affair ended abruptly, leaving me completely gutted emotionally and even physically. It was as if he’d ripped my heart out and taken it with him, leaving me with a huge hole inside my soul.

I met Michael on the beach. We quickly became obsessed with each other. He was like an addiction to me. I went to work during the day and all I could think about was Michael. I’d go home and polish myself from head to toe, making sure I looked and felt as beautiful as possible. Before I met Michael I just didn’t feel good. I was in a failing marriage to another narcissist. My husband ignored me. He never talked to me and I was dying inside. I remember that I’d go home and get drunk on wine, just to blur out the feelings of emptiness I felt from my husband’s coldness, on top of having suffered an empty childhood and adolescence due to having been raised by a narcissistic father and a borderline mother who wasn’t much better.

I knew having an affair was wrong, but at that point I no longer cared. I needed to feel loved and needed. Michael fit the bill perfectly, at first. I remember the day I met Michael. He was beautiful, his tanned muscles shimmering and rippling in the sun. We talked for a little while and before long he started to kiss me and held me for 4 hours straight, as the sun went down over the ocean.

After that heady experience I made a decision to leave my husband because I no longer could stand being with him. There was just no comparison.

I’m not sure why Michael had me under such a powerful spell. I’m not sure if it was inverted or covert narcissism or codependency on my part that made me so attracted to him. I know he mirrored my own narcissism and I think that was part of the attraction. Or (in my thinking at the time) maybe it was just that we were both artists that craved something more and we needed attention and had a burning desire to express our vision of life through our art. All I know is that when the two of us got together we melted together like butter. All the love that I never got, all the love I craved and all my neediness was being filled by Michael and I couldn’t get enough of him. He was everything to me.

beachside_romance

Michael had an apartment in a very famous town in coastal New Jersey that was known for its rock n roll legacy, especially Bruce Springsteen. Famous bands played in a place called The Stone Pony in Asbury Park. Back then, over 30 years ago, the town was run down and almost abandoned. The Stone Pony was the only thing that held the weak fabric of this town together. But I loved it there. This run down seaside town was always beautiful to me because I always felt like this was my home. I still do. I knew that one day I’d play up on the same stage where other famous artists had played. There was fire in my belly. A void that needed to be filled with a whole lot more than a man’s love. If there was an Angel on Ocean Avenue, she was certainly watching over me.

Micheal was an art student who had nude sketches of himself all over his wall. He played the guitar too and we often played music together and I would sing. I use to stay at Michael’s house every night. We went to parties at the homes of mutual friends we had met out on the beach. The bonfires were wonderful and we would all sit around and sing songs. We sang Beatles songs and Bowie songs and I felt like a reincarnated hippie. My favorite song we sang was David Bowie’s “Space Oddity.”

“Tell my wife I love her very much…she knows.
I’m here and I’m floating in my tin can.
Far above the world. Planet earth is blue and there’s nothing I can do.”

beachside_romance2

There was magic and presence and energy and the love in all the people we met at these parties and on the beach. People liked to watch Michael and I, because they were intrigued by our obsession and need for each other. We vicariously fulfilled their need for romance. I felt so validated, loved, sexy and happy. It seemed too good to be true and it was. This couldn’t be real life. It was too perfect.

We were a study in contrasts physically, and I think that’s another reason for the fascination our friends had for us. Michael had beautiful blue eyes and long blonde silky hair, and a great body. I had long black hair and lots of curves. People liked to photograph us together. We use to sit down in front of a long mirror in his room and stare at the contrast. We made each other feel beautiful. And together, we were. At that time it seemed we were good for each other’s self-esteem. At the county college Michael was studying for an Associates degree in graphic arts we were both asked to pose nude for $10 dollars an hour for the students who sketched still lifes in the human anatomy drawing class.

Michael’s background was sad. He told me that he was beaten by his father with a belt consistently during his infancy and his dad was also an alcoholic. Michael was depressed and he had to take psychiatric medication to fight his depression from the abuse he endured as a child. I remember watching him go into this weird state where sometimes seemed almost frozen and off in some other universe (dissociation is a common symptom in people with NPD and BPD). When in these near-catatonic states, he’d punch the floor or the wall over and over again, sometimes lasting for up to 20 minutes. It was sad and very scary. He was not mean or malignant though. He seemed like a gentle, artistic soul who just couldn’t take care of himself. He was never controlling, but seemed very needy for my constant attention and love. I think he was a covert narcissist.

Our affair came to an abrupt end at the end of that summer, because Michael left me for another women who said she was in love with him. She was willing to pay the rent on his apartment. So in the end, he chose money and security over me. I was devastated because the drug of my addiction to him filled me all summer and was suddenly ripped out of my heart in an instant and the devastation and grief was almost too much to bear.

But if I’d known about narcissism, I would have known Idealize and Devalue is all part of their game. They can’t help it. Even covert narcissists are at heart predators out to use you and throw you away when you’re no longer of use to them.

My next phantom lover was a drummer named Karl. I was so needy that I of course fell into the hands of another narcissistic man. And so it goes on…

Infatuation and transference

infatuation
I was just reading about infatuation on Wikipedia (everyone should know why by now) and found this:

In transference
In psychoanalysis, a sign that the method is taking hold is ‘the initial infatuation to be observed at the beginning of treatment’,[16] the beginning of transference. The patient, in Freud’s words, ‘develops a special interest in the person of the doctor…never tires in his home of praising the doctor and of extolling ever new qualities in him’.[17] What occurs, ‘it is usually maintained…is a sort of false love, a shadow of love’, replicating in its course the infatuations of ‘what is called true love’.[18]

Freudian theory holds that when a person enters psychoanalysis, they will develop strong feelings toward the therapist, usually in the form of a powerful crush, but it can take other forms too. It happened to me with one of my therapists many years ago. I had to quit because it became so intense. He kept telling me it was normal and to work through it (he was a Freudian psychoanalyst) but I just couldn’t deal with it anymore.

I think what happened to me these past few weeks was really a form of transference, even though the person in question is someone I never met. I looked up to him as an authority on mental health and found (well, still find) his writings therapeutic and powerfully written. This man is also a person who I’ve been told has this spell-like effect on many women (and probably some men too) who have been victims of narcissistic abuse and look to him as an authority. But he is also a narcissist and he proved to me today he’s exactly what he says he is. My idealization of him came crashing down to reality. I had hoped he was “different.” He wasn’t.

I don’t think transference is really beneficial to the therapist-patient relationship. I think it’s a distraction that keeps the patient from focusing on themselves. I noticed during the time I’ve had this ridiculous infatuation I haven’t been focusing on ME as much as I should be. I think developing a “pleasant diversion” (at least pleasant until your fantasies are shattered by hard, cold reality) in one’s mind by forming an obsession over another person might be a way to not have to focus on painful emotions that might be coming up.

Infatuation has also been called “limerence” in Dorothy Tennov’s excellent 1979 book, “Love and Limerence,” which I highly recommend (and have provided the link if anyone wants to order a copy). Tennov gives the best description of the experience I’ve ever read. I don’t know why that word hasn’t really caught on because it’s a good one. In later chapters, she also writes about the phenomenon of transference in psychotherapy.

Infatuation is not love. Many people confuse the two, and it can feel like “love” to those entering a new relationship and finding themselves obsessed with the other person. It can lead to real love over time. But infatuation is shortlived unless it’s continually fed and has little to do with genuine love. You can be infatuated over someone you don’t even know–such as a celebrity, and how can that be love?

Infatuation involves increased levels of dopamine in the brain similar to a cocaine or opioid high, which is why it feels so good and why it must be “fed” to be kept alive. When it can’t be fed anymore, the infatuated person, like a person withdrawing from drugs, may “crash” or experience depression. I wonder if people with addictive personalities are more likely to develop this condition.

dopamine

Real love isn’t drug addiction or a “condition.” It involves commitment, genuine caring about the other person, willingness to compromise and sometimes sacrifice, and mutual understanding. Genuine love must include true friendship and mutual give and take. It also requires an ability to empathize with another person you care about. Real love may or may not include infatuation. They are two different things, although one can lead to the other. A mother’s love for her child certainly doesn’t involve infatuation, but it’s love in one of its highest forms.

Infatuation includes none of these things, only an unrealistic idealization and obsession with another person. The idealized image the infatuated person has of their object of obsession may or may not be accurate at all. Most likely it isn’t. That’s why crushes tend to be shortlived. Tennov calls limerence/infatuation “cognitive obsession,” and that pretty much sums up what it is. Sure, it can be a lot of fun (like a drug high), and an interesting diversion if not taken to extremes, but it’s not “love.”

I’ve always wondered too why crushes are so embarrassing for people to talk about, since they’re so common and normal. I hesitated a LOT about discussing this on a public blog, especially knowing the person in question is most likely going to see all this, but you know what? I don’t care, because I’m not going to lie about anything in this blog. It’s my therapy, and I made a commitment to never lie about anything, so there you go.