Love (again) in the Age of Corona
With our recent days of social isolation, we have looked more and more online and to social media for connection, to work, and stay in touch with family and friends. A lot of us now live in these virtual worlds a good part of the day. What we always must remember is that the founders of social media sites like Facebook and Twitter researched and utilized methods to make these platforms become as addictive as possible to users. They carefully researched the stimulus response design from slot machines and the baiting of time delayed, anticipation-reward, that has been used to have people become highly addicted to gambling.
So, if one already has any propensity for addiction or loneliness or simply too much time on their hands, any of us can fall prey to becoming addicted to the internet namely, any social media platform. I’ve seen friends spend countless hours per day, even myself, online having long discussions with people about political or philosophical things or posting things to become attention seeking. I fear that a lot of our healthy relationships are being traded for wanting these Facebook or Instagram “likes” where we get, a Pavlovian chemical bump of confirmation, in a time where all of us feel estranged and alone. I’m concerned about the healthiness of this trajectory in our society and with our children; we all spend way too much time in social media or on computer games or “working.” I feel that our overall general health flourishing and welfare is affected by these electronic milieus. One of my Facebook friends said “on my deathbed I’m sure I’m going to regret not having spent enough time on Facebook.” So I’d like to consider really looking at the addictiveness of the internet and social media, and how it can exacerbate any propensity that we have for addiction especially attention seeking and love addiction.
The Internet Exacerbates Love Addiction, Codependency and Unhealthy Attachments
It’s natural and healthy to long for intimate connections. Oftentimes, because of unprocessed grief, hurt in past relationships and lingering childhood wounds, many find healthy, sustainable relationships to be a difficult and daunting task. Perhaps we have some kind of deep trauma or betrayal in our past, like parents involved with a traumatic divorce, or neglect, and these wounds are to this day, unresolved. Memory doesn’t really have a time limit, therefore we keep acting out of broken patterns. As adults we can choose individuals who are emotionally unavailable or people that we have to “fix,” a mirror resonant with our own broken hearts. It happens unconsciously, we seek to correct the pain of these unresolved past wounds, that occurred if we were young, often pre-concept, so they are by nature, hard to access. Some of us may even have been abused physically, emotionally or verbally, and therefore have difficulty discriminating. We can choose unreliable people and can not sustain any trust. If we felt undesired, unloved as children and teens, we can recreate a rejection propensity called “trauma reenactment,” and wind up feeling rejected, yet again, by these inaccessible partners.
Painful experiences that are unhealed become repeated pessimistic thoughts, negative emotions and then behaviors, which become the constructs of a poorly functioning self. Abandonment or neglect, early on, can result in codependency and addiction to, well, anything. Love addiction is highly seductive, because we really do flourish in relationship, and long to connect as part of our emotional, human, survival. There are strong chemicals released in the brain that encourages passionate love, like endorphins, oxytocin and phenylethylalanine. When we fall in love, there is a spike of phenylethylalanine, (a.k.a. the ‘love molecule’) you could say we get addicted to our own brain chemistry. The same is triggered in social media when someone “likes” what you post. We can be unconsciously driven into cycles of obsession and pursuing the object of our desire, one person obsessively, or Facebook “friends,” but you see, none of this love is real or healthy. This toxic pattern of love and internet addiction pushes real people, family and healthy relationships away, and we isolate more, and become sadly more lonely, even with tremendous effort to remedy it. Ah, the tragic face of addiction, and this one, internet and social media addiction is rampant and ubiquitous these days.
We can continue this unhealthy cycle over and over again, which generates the exact same painful emotions we may have had in youth: abandonment, fear, anger, pain, emptiness and notably loneliness. Love addicts often exacerbate this, by choosing someone who’s emotionally unavailable. Another facet of love addiction is actually, someone who is love avoidant. Yes, cue the noble Buddhist renunciation “path.” According to Pia Mellody, author of Facing Love Addiction, love avoidance is the systematic use of blocking and escape techniques to prevent intimacy. We can prevent vulnerability and intimacy by creating intensity outside the relationship, normally with a few other unhealthy addictions, like sex, gambling, alcohol or drugs. The term codependency is used so often and many of us don’t really understand what that means. It means basically that people are your drug of choice. We feel broken, unwell and lonely, and we look to someone outside of ourselves to make us feel better and to define our self worth.
Love avoidants were frequently enmeshed with a clinging parent of the opposite gender. The love avoidant has an intense fear of being suffocated, overwhelmed or engulfed. They are inclined to stay in relationships usually from obligation or guilt rather than love. The love addict’s neediness, joined together with the love avoidant’s core wound, would cause that relationship to be dysfunctional and break down. There is often a perfect toxic pairing of an addict with a codependent, a push me-pull you, runner, chaser and fixer. Each person is, covertly wounded and unwell, and in need of real self care and healing, independent of the relationship, or even the internet for that matter! This dynamic can repeat again and again, and make having a sustainable connection with another nearly impossible. The problem is, if we are either addicted or avoidant neither one has well-adjusted relationship skills that result in becoming a well functioning, happy person. We can put a huge amount of effort, days, weeks, years or an entire lifetime, into becoming happy through these maladaptive ways, like searching for internet likes and e-connections, and windup having a fragmented, broken, lonely and a fundamentally unsatisfactory life.
Mindfulness tips to assist us to create real, healthy, loving relationships:
1. Health– make a choice to become as happy and healthy as we can be, in mind, body and spirit. That inner and outer shine as well authentic mental and emotional health, is a genuine love magnet! Walk outside, fresh air and sunshine, they say 10,000 steps a day!
2. Conscious Eating– The right foods, exercises and supplements may go a considerable way in promoting the healthful new you! Find out about possible food sensitivities and have your blood sugar checked. Food sensitivities, gluten intolerance, vitamin deficiencies and insulin resistance lead to mood swings and/or nervousness.
3. Feed your Heart and Soul. Limit internet and social media time to no more than 1-2 hours a day! A spiritual practice like mantra, prayer, inspiring reading, poetry or yoga soothes us to be at peace. Silent sitting and mindfulness meditation has been shown to bring calmness and can alter our brain waves and decrease hypertension and heart strain. Healthy, loving relationships provide relaxation, comfort and needed healthy chemicals like oxytocin from touch. Cherish people that care, really listen and want the best for us. Discriminating who is healthy for us and letting go of those who are not, is extremely healing and also an essential step towards being fulfilled and intimate, in a rewarding way with others.
4. Bring light to our Self Doubt. Negative self talk and pessimistic thoughts could be hindering our whole life. These are negative programs which have been running subconsciously since we were young, and can be very deep, and hard to access. Such beliefs as, “I am not lovable, I am not important, or I am unattractive” affect what we will manifest into our lives. Pay honest attention and write down all negative self beliefs and guilt about past actions on a paper. Then, burn that paper with a candle, releasing old patterns that no longer serve. You can use an affirmation, like “I am lovable, I am whole, I forgive myself for all past mistakes.”
5. Lastly and above all, learn to really love yourself. Addiction and maladaptive patterns just can’t survive with the power and efficacy of true self care, warmth and self respect. We cannot expect others to love us if we do not love ourselves, nor can we love anyone in excess of our self love. Hold our heart, hug a pillow and cry, release any old painful “knots.” We may find it necessary to get support. I have sought help many times, and challenge to myself to go as deep as I can, explore some of the hidden patterns from a wounded past and youth. Very deep things can clear like a cloud vanishing, and it doesn’t have to take years.
There are also free, online meet ups and support groups like: CODA, Love Addicts Anonymous, AlAnon, and Adult Children that can help with codependency, love, media or any addiction. We also might consider mindfulness awareness programs. Programs like mindfulness based relapse prevention shows a lot of promise with negative pattern redirection. In addition, web and app based mindfulness recovery programs work well. For instance, the Craving to Quit app provides an excellent mindfulness training which was developed at Yale University, and offers a connection to virtual community where individuals may get peer and expert support. Let’s all take this downtime to unplug more, feel whole, refresh, shine light on shadow patterns and restart life anew, to find real love and healthy, meaningful relationships. That would indeed be, something to “like.”
Warmth and wellness to all, always,
Meditation woman photo: https://pixabay.com/users/leninscape-2892621/