Episode 13: Dr. Brenda Schaeffer: Is it love or addiction?
Dr. Brenda Schaeffer: Is it love or addiction?
Announcer: This program is intended for mature audiences only.
Chip August: Welcome to sex, love, and intimacy. I’m your host Chip August: . Today on the show we’re going to be talking about love and romance addiction with Dr. Brenda Schaefer. Dr. Schaefer is an author and a psychologist she’s got a best selling book that will be out in 5 different languages its called heated love or heated addiction and the new book is called love or addiction to the power and peril of sex and romance and dr. Brenda is somewhat of an expert on love, healthy love and unhealthy love and that’s what were going to be talking about today.
Brenda Schaefer: what love is not, its not a dependency its not a feeling its not a mental thought its not a behavior role its not romance, its not a biochemical response , its not sex and its not something we can earn or learn. And What we are learning is that love is a real energy that actually enhances life and and sex can be a part of it.
Chip August: I hear you kind of put ground rules you know is a compulsive behavior that have negative consequences you continue anyway and I imagine some people are listening to this podcast and thinking that’s me, that’s me, you know they’re talking about me great now what do they do what is the part of the romance that you like..
Brenda Schaefer: well I think it’s the initial stage of a relationship that you know the newness of the limerous falling in love stage but it’s a temporary thing that lasts I think about 4 months in adolescence and 6 months in an adult relationship
Chip August: Welcome Dr. Brenda
Brenda Schaefer: thank you
Chip August: today I hope we’re gonna talk about what is love addiction what is sex addiction, what what makes an addiction what how do you differentiate them from normal behavior I hope were gonna talk a little about teens and are there warning signs and are there things you can say or do to help your teen navigate these subjects and I noticed in your credentials there was something about you having a degree in spiritual psychology and having been a grateful member of alanon for a lot of years I know that there is a spiritual component to recovery and would love to talk to you a little about spiritual psychology and what that all means to you. So
Brenda Schaefer: well great
Chip August: well lets just dive right into the beginning right here right into the addiction this word addiction I was talking on an earlier show with Dr. Marty Cline and
Dr. Marty Cline did a moment on his discomfort with people being labeled as sex addicts or love addicts and kind of did a I don’t want to say a rant but he definitely it was definitely who called this addiction and what makes it addiction so I wanna kinda turn that around and now we ask you. So what is it when does love become addiction and how can you tell the difference?
Brenda Schaefer: well let me say to you and your audience that I believe that sex love and romance are delightful aspects of our humanity and our relationship and that’s not what this is about its about when people begin to use or misuse these gifts of life and actually start meditating various ills and start using and abusing these very gifts. And working with recovering sex addicts and their partners I see the other side of it I see a lot of pain and whether you call it dysfunctional sex or an addiction or an compulsive behavior I don’t really care but what I do know about the addiction process and looking at it from a disease model we know that for anything to be called an addiction there needs to be at least three things one it needs to become compulsive or obsessive the second is that there are negative consequences to this behavior and you continue anyway so there’s a lot of self destruct there’s the um the use the them the um the shame and the depression there’s a whole cycle around it so just for starters I wanted to say that
Chip August: so let me focus that a little bit because for me my experience is that what I think is love frequently has negative consequences I pursuing someone we I think everything’s going fine then she breaks up with me I feel hurt I feel abused I feel you know like how could she have done this to me its definitely a negative consequence and I turn around and do it again. Isn’t that what I … That’s sort of where I get confused, I don’t get confused at the person whose life is in ruin because they’ve spent all their money hiding out in porno places looking at peep shows or giving their money to prostitutes but it feels like I cant quite get where the dividing line is.
Brenda Schaefer: well let me just say that I think what you described is more normal human grieving process I mean when someone leaves us or betrays us there’s going to be a grieving process that’s not what I’m really talking about and in the addictive process we now know that many people start medicating life stress depression maybe with alcohol or drugs but then it becomes a biochemical um addiction so to speak or dependency and we have these three neuro pathways in our brains that help us feel aroused sasiated and have a rich fantasy life we need this and we have hundreds of chemicals that actually allow us to have these experiences but what happens in love addiction and I do distinguish between sex romance and love because they do affect different parts of the brain. What happens is that um we begin using these processes to stimulate these chemicals in our bodies in our brains and then the brain is you know in addiction begins to stop producing these chemicals because its getting overloaded and then when a person moves away from these experiences they begin to go into a depression and they’ll start getting urges to have more sex to look for another romance because this these romance chemicals are waning and or a person moves away their not even in love with but they start feeling anxious and scared so what happens is we might start out with a psychological dependency, it becomes it moves to a bio a biological chemical and not a chemical dependency and we now have a lot of studies where they’re able to go into the brain and see how the addicts brain is different from a than a normal person so you know a person like yourself and myself we you know we can say well you know I didn’t like the way they treated me what lessons can I learn and I’ll feel my grief and get on with life but many of the love addicts they perpetuate the same patterns over and over and over
Chip August: yeah, and again I have to tell you its pretty confusing for me because I watch people because I cant see into someone’s brain so I cant see whets going on with the brain chemistry I cant help but notice people have a type you know and they keep pursuing the type even though the type isn’t really good for them and even though the relationship doesn’t work out and they feel lonely when their not either being pursued or in pursuit and they feel happier when they are in pursuit or being pursued so I guess it’s a borderline there that really I guess it must be really confusing for some people
Brenda Schaefer: well let me give you some um examples first of all I’d like to describe what I believe love is you know love is a small word for this illusive phenomenon we all seem to be chasing or wanting and what love is not, its not a dependency its not a feeling its not a mental thought its not a behavior role its not romance, its not a biochemical response, its not sex its not something we can earn or learn and what we are learning is that love is a real energy that actually enhances life and sex can be a part of it but we don’t need to be sexual we can be in love all by ourselves we can have that feeling of deep love for it could be a child it could be for sitting out in nature and just feeling our hearts fill up with that energy and we know that feeling but one of the things about when love becomes an addiction when it crosses that line people start deteriorating whether its physically emotionally mentally or spiritually and you know first of all I want to talk about love addiction because I think my mother actually died of love addiction and we now know from some studies that when in love addiction we actually give ourselves away we give our thoughts away our feelings away our bodies away even though we may not know or we may know inside its not good for us but love addiction is based on fear if I don’t dot his something bad will happen they wont like me they wont approve of me it could be healing a trauma it could be trying to get something we never got as a child and or its trying to fix something in us and so we compromise ourselves or we use other people to fulfill something in us that is missing and I want to say that it doesn’t start out as a conscious plan in fact most people are not aware until they get to the negative consequences and I had a woman who came in yesterday who has 2 beautiful children who is in a good marriage but at the encouragement of a friend she got online married women meeting married men and has had several affairs and she says that she got really high on the romantic fantasy and all the attention that she wasn’t getting now after 15 years of marriage and she said I know where this comes from and I don’t want to do it and I can’t stop myself so you know that constitutes an addiction.
Chip August: yeah that’s the quality of compulsion, I know I don’t want to do this , I know it will have negative consequences and I don’t care.
Brenda Schaefer: and I had a man this just this morning who has been into sexual acting out although he hasn’t been in affairs its been things that have been disturbing to his wife and to himself and they have four children and he has his own business and he said I know I broker her heart and I don’t know why I do this I keep promising myself and her I wont do it again and I cant stop myself the urge comes and it seems to come in a certain time of stress and I just forget everything else and I just feed my senses.
Chip August: Again, its compulsive, it has negative consequences and they continue anyway. We’re gonna take a short break I’m loving this conversation I wanna come back and talk to you a little about so if you recognize if you’re listening to this and you recognizing these signs in you what do you do about it but first I want to take a break and give sponsors a chance to check in and give us a chance to support ourselves.
Chip August: were back you’re listening to sex love intimacy I’m your host Chip August: I’m talking with Dr. Brenda Schaefer, Dr. Brenda has been talking about love and romance addiction and I think has been giving us some really clear insight into what makes it addiction versus what just makes it fun or what just makes it interesting or something I hear you kind of these sort of ground rules is it compulsive behavior, does it have negative consequences, do you continue anyway. I imagine some people are listening to this pod cast and thinking that’s me that’s me you know they’re talking about me now what do they do what should they do
Brenda Schaefer: well I think the first thing they should do is find someone who understands it who’s not going to judge them, about this really knows this there are not a lot of specialists in this area. It’s a very new addiction you want people who will guide you will not like I said that know how to do an assessment and say well this is rather normal behavior you’re really not addicted but you’re on the verge of becoming compulsive or yeah you’ve got a serious problem here who also knows how to work with the partner and to educate them and to see that this is a problem that can be resolved you know you can get back to healthy sexual relationships we never stop being sexual and we never stop wanting to love if its you know an um unhealthy dependency so get to someone who really understands this can do a clear assessment on it, for sexual addiction there is a website there is a national organization maybe international now called sash s-a-s-h dot org and they have assessments on there they have a lot of this information and there are groups for people who are sex and love addicts and you can look for those in your community and they can guide you to someone who understands this and again without judgment but can get you to healthy love healthy sex and if you’re not in a relationship to learn about healthy romance. You know and by the way I wanna say this I think romance has gotten bad rap theres a lot of professionals that say romance is an illusion, and its not you know we do have these chemical highs when we’re newly in love and that’s not a bad thing because I think what it does is it allows our virtues to flourish you know we show our best you know we open our hearts even the hearts that have been hurt and promised never to love again so the romance allows us to bond with people to show the best of ourselves and uh
Chip August: That word romance, it has a lot of different meeting and I’d like to spend a little time understanding what you mean by romance because I you know theres this thing it’s a story about when they were arguing prohibition in the senate and one senator accused the other of being someone who supported people drinking whiskey and he the senator who was accused responded with the if by whiskey response which was if by whiskey you mean this golden elixir that’s been around for centuries that man has developed it’s a gift from the gods that’s the ambrosia that makes for a little bit of peace at the end of the day and its been kind of a difficult day then by god I’m in favor of it but if by whiskey you mean that demon rum that the scourge of households and creates alcoholism and destroys families why then I’m deadest against it. You know. And I feel that same way kind of about romance if by romance you mean I’m gonna hide my true nature and only show my only show you those things which I think you wanna see and I’m gonna wine and dine you and try to fool you into being with me why then I don’t think romance is a really good thing. So what do you mean by romance? What is the part of the romance that you like , what do you
Brenda Schaefer: Well, I think it’s the initial stage of the of a relationship that you know the newness of the limerus, the falling in love stage, but it’s a temporary thing that um lasts I think about 4 months in adolescence and 6 months in an adult relationship, that its not humanly possible to sustain because its not even good for us to sustain it that long I mean but it’s the first stage of love that helps us bond but then we need to get into the deeper intimate emotional bonding stage which a lot of people fear because they’ve gotten hurt so when the chemicals wane is when they may leave the relationship or start finding fault but for me I’m saying it’s the first phase that is sometimes necessary to get people going into a long term relationship
Chip August: o okay I’m confused again cuz, now I’m married now for 12 years I’m on my third marriage but this is the one this is the third times the charm um we’ve been together twelve years now and I notice that I still bring her flowers she buys me little gifts like we I travel a lot she gives me little cards that I find in my suitcase I’ve I send her things when I travel I notice when I see her my heart beats a little bit faster and that she can still say things that make me feel like I’ve got a crush on her and it feels to me like that’s all romance and you’re telling me romance goes away in 6 months so I’m a little confused.
Brenda Schaefer: yeah I’m saying that euphoria that high extended euphoria disappears now that doesn’t mean that we can re uh well trigger it so to speak or find ways to recapture it or just set a mood for it you know it’s a more sensual experience and I think that’s what you’re talking about but you also have that deep love for her from your heart so that the romance now comes from the heart you know you went from probably the early romantic stage into a heart bonding and now you can capture you feel safe in that relationship so its safe for you to let down your guard and remember that you have memories of that wonderful romantic feeling and you can conjure it up so um just like we can conjure up bad feelings we can we can create moods or have feelings of positive things I don’t know if that explains it or not.
Chip August: Given that given that I like the feeling of romance and I um I feel like I wanna have romance in my life and I think I wanna perpetuate the romance with my partner Im not quite clear it feels like I am compulsive about romance in the sense that I I’m gonna seek it out as much as I can seek it out and have as much as I can and I’m not quite clear how romance can have negative consequences. When does it become addiction?
Brenda Schaefer: well, um I think in the context that you’re talking about it is um it’s a good thing and it regenerates your love relationship and your partnership but when it becomes you know obsessive when the relationships are filled with more melodrama than love and when theres that longing and melancholy and you begin to need that or live for that future of perfected love so these are the romance addicts you know the people that compromise their values when they’re in love they need that high or that rush of intoxicated feelings to stay in love with someone, I don’t hear you saying that I hear you saying what I encourage people that that maybe are in love and that may be getting a little bored is to conjure up some of that create that romantic mood, pleasure the senses you know I I’ve seen people recapture that but you have to be mindful and intentional about it in a long term relationship
Chip August: it does kind of sound like you’re saying that you think Romeo and Juliet were addicts,
Brenda Schaefer: well uh
Chip August: I mean that’s kind of what it sounds like
Brenda Schaefer: yeah uh in that they died for love in that obsessive love and many stories are based on that mythology right and you know I talk a little bit about that in my book and teens that that we look for this happily ever after but happily ever after isn’t in the six months it’s a long term process its about maturing its about you know living through the hardships and the hard times and having enough heart in the relationship to go through those tough times
Chip August: well this seems like a perfect segway into talking about teens but first I wanna take a short break so we’re gonna take a break give a chance to support our sponsors your listening to sex love and intimacy I’m your host Chip August: and well be back in one moment.
Chip August: Welcome back to sex love and intimacy I’m your host Chip August: we’re talking to Dr. Brenda Schaefer, Dr. Schaefer’s been talking about love addiction and romance addiction and we were just for a moment kind of drifting into the subject of love and romance and teens and uh I notice you have a new book out about love or addiction the power and peril of teen sex and romance how as a parent I have two teenage children I have two 14 year old teenagers both of them are well they’re in slightly different stages but theyre both just starting to explore you know falling in love that that whole thing what should I be on the lookout for what do I need to what do I need to worry about as a parent?
Brenda Schaefer: Well I think um today theres a couple of things that you may well be aware of that our young people are physically maturing younger and we’re not sure why that’s happening is it uh stimulation of what they’re seeing is it the hormones that they’re getting in their food we don’t really know but they’re maturing younger physically but they’re emotionally or psychologically maturing later so were not fully developed to take care of ourselves to set good boundaries around our behavior until we’re in our early twenties so there’s this time where the bodies developed its ready to mate and yet developmentally we’re not ready to take good care of ourselves I think for parents is to really be aware of whats going on just like in the area of drugs theres a lot of use of sex and love relationships again to self medicate there was one girl that I worked with she had very low self esteem so she went on the internet and started meeting people and started getting a lot of good feelings from meeting these people and she um she developed relationships with three different guys now she didn’t even know if they were perpetrators or not but she had three love relationships going online and felt really powerful that one didn’t know about the other and it got to the point that she was just obsessed with these aspects of her life so her schoolwork went down and her friendships were being affected so there were a lot of things that started changing so parents need to look for changes mood changes they need to take a look at their children isolating are they will they stop talking to you so you know there are a lot of warning signs do they become depressed or moody
Chip August: aren’t those all symptoms of adolescence?
Brenda Schaefer: well this is the tricky part a lot of these are symptoms but as one parent said you know I knew my child was going through some normal developmental changes but she finally admitted to me that she was feeling really depressed or she wouldn’t get out of bed in the morning and I couldn’t get her to go to school so um you know there’s I think parent have to use their intuition they know their children and I think then that they can open a conversation not a lecture you know so often parents will lecture their children you know talk down to the them its important to have young people develop their thinking and problem solving and self care programs in their own psyche so you ask you know you ask them questions like um you know are you aware that your moods have changed or you know to you know to get them to dialogue with you to the best of your ability
Chip August: Yeah and I have to say that I get nervous around all this because I hear so many parents I talk to a lot of adults and I mean I mean 50-100 adults every weekend so I um my experience is that there are a lot of adults that want to control their children’s sexuality adults who’ve decided that their children aren’t ready for sex whether the children have decided or not and it feel like by you casting such a broad net you’re kind of giving those adults the right to assume their child is sick because their child wants something that they don’t want for their child. Right if my daughter starts getting moody well my daughter did start getting moody when she was 12 or 13 but not you know like just adolescent moodiness you know but like just adolescent moodiness my daughter sleeps until noon if I let her but in the way that adolescents sleep till noon you know but if I was looking for evidence because she were doing things that I didn’t personally approve of I could certainly turn all of the circumstances of her life into evidence and so I just I get worried when I listen to such a broad you know like all the symptoms you describe seem to me to be symptoms of teenage right the mood swings the moodiness the wanting to stay in bed the sometimes antisocial behavior the falling in love the falling in love repeatedly the you know all of that seems to be teenage
Brenda Schaefer: well um you know in the book I have a lot of warning signs and I think what parents need to do is to take a look I mean if there are one or two of these warning signs its one thing but if there are twenty in the romantic area then you might need to be more concerned or if the in the area of warning signs for sexual addiction you know becoming obsessive spending long hours on the internet visiting porn sites we now know through research that people spend ten hours on the internet watching pornography that they can become biochemically dependent on pornography in six weeks and that’s the research so you know its um
Chip August: yeah Id kinda like to see that research, I I’m sure that’s what the researchers found but that’s certainly not widely you you’re the first person I heard say that
Brenda Schaefer: well it’s a rather uh recent research and that we know that children are being exposed to pornography at six years of age and the thing is their mind the thing about the adolescent mind is whatever goes in gets programmed in their more vulnerable at any other time of our life in terms of sex love and romance their minds are wide open but its their goal is autonomy their goal is to become their own person, to get the tools to have healthy sex love and romance in their life by their twenties so if their getting cross wired messages and they can get that in their families sex is bad or sex is dirty or I mean or I mean or you cant date until your 16 I mean these are all pretty negative messages so whatever their getting whether it from the internet from their families culture or religion that’s being wired into their brain and its going to be with them for a very long time
Chip August: yeah its just the assumption that looking at pornographic images is wiring something negative I’m not clear that looking at pornographic images is wiring in sex is good and sex is okay and a positive thing its just a positive thing that many members of society don’t like so I’m just kinda lost in the thought that pornography is bad
Brenda Schaefer: that’s not what I said, what I said is that the research shows that if people consistently watch pornography for ten hours a week for six weeks they may some those that are prone to sexual addiction can become addicted in that period of time not everyone is prone to that
Chip August: in the same way that some people can be occasional drinkers and some people doing occasional drinking will turn into alcoholics
Brenda Schaefer: that’s right that’s right, right and then you know their behavior will start to change they’ll do the use and crash cycle there will be the mood changes therell be the symptoms that will continue to escalate you know the moods generally when young people hit 16 or 17 their moods start leveling off and then there’s more maturing process happening but if its not happening I think parents need to pay attention and I have found that adolescents open up to me and talk to me about things that they don’t feel free to talk to their parents about. You may notice this
Chip August: yeah I find the same thing true
Brenda Schaefer: so if they find someone who likes adolescents and I do you know I really I think they’re adults in process and it’s a very difficult time they’re expected to adapt to a world that’s constantly changing and um they have the peer pressure and trying to find their own Identity and separate and it’s an incredibly important time and to find someone that has healthy attitudes about sex love and romance and you know I don’t know about you but when I talked to my children you know I really presented it that these are really precious gifts the things that are happening to their body and their interest in relationships and that and that it was such a precious gift that they needed to learn about it and they had to protect it and to share themselves where they felt safe and where they felt like it was a good experience and that there were people out there that would want to use them or abuse them and they might not always find that out at the front side but that I hope they had good boundaries and good respect for themselves and could take good care of these gifts
Chip August: when I talk to my when I talk to my own teens and when I go and talk to teens either in my office or at the high school which I do I like to talk about and teens always want to know how do they know when they’re ready for sex I like to make it simple and I just basically say there’s these c’s its really easy you’re looking for caring youre looking for commitment you’re looking for concern your looking for uh talks about contraception and you’re looking to see if there’s any coersion for consent you know and I and we just kinda talk about all those things and its really clear to me the bazillion reasons why people have sex but that if theres caring if theres concern if theres commitment if theres an honest agreement about contraception if theres no coersion going on and its clearly consensual and both partners feel like its what they want to do probably something healthy is happening and if any if any of those are off there’s a high likelihood their probably doing it for the wrong reason I wanna take a short break and then I wanna come back and do one more section with you here but we’re gonna take a break and give a chance to support our sponsors I’m Chip August: I’m talking to Dr.
Brenda Schaefer: and we’ll be back in just a moment.
Chip August: Welcome back, I’m Chip August: this is Sex love and intimacy we’re talking to Dr. Brenda Schaefer: and Dr. Schaefer you’ve been a great guest I’ve really been enjoying talking to you here I cant I cant help but noticing in your bio that you uh you have a degree in spiritual psychology could you tell me a little bit about what that is I’m just intrigued
Brenda Schaefer: Well Um Yes I first of all I’ll say that I look at therapy holistically body mind and spirit and when I talk about spiritual I’m not speaking about a particular religion but I do believe in a spiritual dimension however people define that they if that’s living by higher values uh if it’s a certain religion if its um communing with nature that’s that is up to them but I do think we’re um we have this uh spiritual brain as well which um relates to other people you know I think that we’re doing all this work not just for ourselves or to have healthier relationships but I think that what we do impacts everyone and kind of has a trick effect and it its about becoming more spiritually conscious more sensitive more tolerant more compassionate towards ourselves and other people. And in order to even talk about spiritual matters its important to have I learned some kind of a degree in it and so to have a freedom to talk about this because I really think that when people have a lot of deep trauma sometimes it reaches their heart and soul and also when we were talking about love addiction I think sometimes people sell out sell their souls so to speak to um and they need a spiritual healing so um spiritual psychology really doesn’t look at so much the illness as it does the possibility that sees this as a part of a persons journey to becoming a more spiritually conscious being if that makes any sense
Chip August: Is this the same thing as when people talk about transpersonal psychology or is it something different
Brenda Schaefer: well um transpersonal psychology you know is a part of it um maybe even yungian psychology is a part of it but it says that every light be bent can be a teacher that our souls are on a journey and it doesn’t judge it just says okay you know and it wants to look at every part of life this is my perspective maybe not others but you know we need to explore life maybe like little kids I kinda see the soul as the spirits inner child and we want to explore everything but our gantha light and I think there are lessons in all of it and we need wise parents and we need to become wise parents to ourselves to let us know what is good for us and what is not and I think spiritual psychology really you know speaks to that
Chip August: well thank you very very much Dr. Brenda its really been great talking to you and we are almost out of time and I’d like to ask you just one final question I like my listeners to have an exercise or something that they can do that comes out of our conversation and each week either I present something or one of my or my guest presents something and I was wondering do you have an exercise or something that my listeners can do at home that might help them in their romance in their love and in their intimacy
Brenda Schaefer: well I think getting to healthy love is an inside job and rather than looking outside of ourselves to satisfy our hunger for security sensation power identity belonging we need to be able to um become a really loving compassionate parent to ourselves and there is an exercise I do its usually a guided imagery but to adapt it to your audience I would encourage people to find a baby picture of themselves a very young one that they really identify with and put it someplace special and everyday you know you look at it and feel that warmth in your heart and really tell yourself and that represents your innocence your possibilities and tell that part of you that you love it that youre gonna take good care of it today and you’re going to share it with people who will treat it with respect and if they don’t you’re going to speak up on its behalf and when I’ve done that especially with adolescents who are becoming their own wife father mother its really helped them respect their selves their bodies and do the things that you talked about earlier you know to really evaluate the people they’re involving their selves with and its really helped in relationships
Chip August: that is a really really sweet exit and I really enjoyed that thank you very much I wanna thank you for making yourself available for this interview
Brenda Schaefer: okay, its been great and uh you’ve been great too and I hope that with your questions and my answers people will really get I think we’re on the same team here you know that
Chip August: absolutely
Brenda Schaefer: that we want people to have a rich wonderful rewarding love life
Chip August: and I do think you’ve given some really good insights into helping people in that and also some help maybe for some people who are struggling with not really understanding why their not happy so I do really appreciate it thank I do think we’re on the same side. That brings us to the end of the show and I want to thank those of you who are listening um if you would like to give me some feedback you can address your email to [email protected] that’s personal life media all as one word I’d love to hear from you one of my sponsors I frogs dot com has given me some ipod accessories to give away and so I’m offering a ipod accessory to anyone any of my listeners who sends me an idea for a show that I use so if you’ve got an idea for a future show for me why please send it in and you might get yourself a nice little gift from ifrogs.com for texts and transcripts of this show and any other of the shows on personal life media network please visit our website at personal life media dot com and I’m looking forward to having you listen to me again next time until then your host Chip August, thanks for listening!
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