lovesicklove.com, used with permission
Source: lovesicklove.com, used with permission

A subgroup of men with an avoidant attachment style suffer from a condition known as the Madonna-whore complex. The avoidant attachment style is characterized by an inability to form long-term committed relationships and is grounded in fear of intimacy, rejection and abandonment that arose in early childhood (or in some cases later in life).

The Madonna-whore complex was first discussed by Sigmund Freud. On one interpretation of Freud, the complex occurs as a result of maltreatment by the mother and fear of incest. When a mother abandons, neglects, verbally, emotionally or physically abuses or is emotionally distant from her infant or young child, the child feels so hurt that he will eventually repress many of the memories associated with the mother’s behavior. To cope with the pain, fear and anger, the avoidant child will stay away from intimacy and situations that can cause the memories and the negative emotions to reappear. Subconsciously, the child will be looking for something to fulfill his emotional needs. At the age at which he starts looking for a romantic partner, he will be looking for someone who reminds him of his mother.

However, in early childhood men develop a fear of incest in relation to their mother, a fear that will last for the rest of their life (women develop something similar with respect to their father). So if the avoidant man finally finds someone who both resembles his mother and can fulfill his emotional needs in a way his mother could not, his fear of incest kicks in, and he rejects the partner or gets involved with her only at a Platonic level. This woman is subconsciously assigned Madonna status. The avoidant person with a Madonna-whore complex can love her on some level that resembles that of parent and child but because of his fear of incest he cannot have sex with her and will consequently exhibit a kind of primal fear if he does.

The anger that formed in early childhood leads the avoidant man with a Madonna-whore complex to seek revenge. This revenge will consist in seeking out women he can have sex with and throw away afterward. He will treat these women either explicitly or implicitly as dirty and slutty. He will have no respect for them and will be unable to admire them or love them. These women are subconscious assigned whore status.

The avoidant man with a Madonna-whore complex may become partially addicted to finding women who can play this role because his explicit or implicit maltreatment of the women gives him temporary pleasure. Some men with this complex become sex addicts.

Berit "Brit" Brogaard is the author of On Romantic Love

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