Billi Gordon Ph.D.

Obesely Speaking

Addicted to Romantic Suspicion

A life sentence without the possibility of love

Posted Apr 30, 2016

Shutterstock Purchase by UCLA for Dr. Gordon
Source: Shutterstock Purchase by UCLA for Dr. Gordon

Meet Mario and Kristin, who are socio-economically very different. Yet, in their relationships, they are identical in 5 ways: 1) both are convinced their spouse is cheating, 2) both excessively try to prove it 3) both always fail because their spouses are not cheating, but 4) no amount of evidence will convince them of that and 5) each will relentlessly pursue proving the non existing infidelities to the detriment of their relationships and themselves.Mario and Kristin are not unique.  According to a veteran private investigator that has several decades of experience handling infidelity cases, this is common.

Many still think only extreme full blown psychiatric disorders like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder are “real brain disorders.”  Therefore, substance dependencies, eating disorders, and behavioral dependencies like Mario and Kristin’s are choices and thus character flaws rather than legitimate brain disorders despite the clearly aberrant nature of Mario and Kristin’s emotional responses.

Shutterstock Purchased by UCLA for Dr. Gordon
Source: Shutterstock Purchased by UCLA for Dr. Gordon

All emotional responses have behavioral, autonomic and hormonal components. In the case of Mario and Kristin’s behavior, which is a type of adrenaline addiction, the emotion is fear. The sympathetic nervous system controls the adrenomedullary response and the hormone released is epinephrine.[1-12] Studies have shown that there are learned associations between epinephrine levels and negative feelings and that epinephrine causes higher levels of fear arousal[13]

In other words the fear that his or her spouse may be cheating arouses Mario and Kristin in a similar way that a Central Nervous System stimulant, such as cocaine or amphetamines would. [1, 4, 5, 14, 15] So, the issue is not really whether their spouses are cheating or not.  The issue is the prospect of catching their spouses cheating opens the neurochemical cookie jar and it feels good.   Furthermore, rat studies have demonstrated that this heightened arousal is encoded in memory.[16-20] So the more Mario and Kristin experience the euphoric rewards of adrenaline, the more they remember how good it feels. 

Shuttterstock Purchased for Dr. Gordon By UCLA for his artistic purposes
Source: Shuttterstock Purchased for Dr. Gordon By UCLA for his artistic purposes

Mario and Kristin, and other like behavioral adrenaline addicts, often come from patterns of abuse that have affected the architecture and functionality of their brains.  Sometimes it happens in utero, when the mother experiences stress and chemicals cross the placenta that change the structural and functional dynamics of the fetus’s Hypothalamic-Pituitary Axis, which determine how the child will perceive and process fearful stimuli throughout his or her life. [21-24]

Other times, people who behave like Mario and Kristin grew up in families where infidelity was a painful problem. The developing brain observes the world around it in determining how the world is going to be and wires its structures accordingly. Witnessing the collateral damages of infidelity was frightening for them.  Children are affected in various ways depending on the developmental status of key brain structures.[25-33] Therefore, two kids could witness the same events and only one be affected to the point of becoming like Mario and Kristin, or at all, or worse. 

Shutterstock purchased by UCLA for Dr. Gordon's artistic purposes
Source: Shutterstock purchased by UCLA for Dr. Gordon's artistic purposes

Ultimately, Mario and Kristin’s behavior began as a goal-directed behavior that became a stimulus response behavior – like walking in the room where one knows the light is out but flips the switch anyway out of habit.  People don’t become drug addicts, food addicts, alcoholics or behavioral dependent adrenaline junkies like Mario and Kristin because they want to appear crazy or deconstruct their lives and relationships.  They do it because they are in pain, and it is the only way they know how to fix it. 

Mario and Kristin have a serious condition that makes them incapable of intimate trust, which sentences them to a life without the possibility of love. How can you truly be in love with anyone if you are incapable of trusting?  You cannot.  If Mario had erectile dysfunction or Kristin had a large nose, they would receive more empathy, even though their behavioral adrenaline dependency is far worse. Mario and Kristin are just trying to survive by playing the cards life dealt them. Sadly, they are among the sorts least likely to be understood, or receive empathy and proper treatment.

Shutterstock Purchased for Dr. Gordon by UCLA CNS
Source: Shutterstock Purchased for Dr. Gordon by UCLA CNS

That said, Mario and Kristin represent a category of individuals in our society who suffer in silence because their illness is not publicly painful, so it is dismissed as someone choosing to “act crazy,” which is a euphemism for “we don’t understand your condition, so it is easier to marginalize you for having it, than take and energy to understand it.”  

However, tolerance and awareness are a must in a social species, so a change in attitudes must come... .Remain fabulous and phenomenal.    

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