I have talked to many women who have been enmeshed in destructive relationships. They are often bright, attractive, talented people who do not understand the weird power that some men seem to be able to exert.
The narcissistic continuum
Most sex addicts are narcissistic. At times many appear to be sociopathic. Leaving aside the official DSM diagnostic criteria, it appears that there is a continuum of narcissistic personalities that goes from self centered at one end to totally sociopathic at the other end.
At the milder end, the person is lacking concern for others, and has a brittle facade of self-importance. At the sociopathic end of the continuum the person is totally self centered, amoral and opportunistic.
Sex addicts may be anywhere along the continuum, including being more like sociopaths. Their way of conducting a relationship tends to fit in with their addictive acting out behavior.
“How did I give up so much power to this guy?”
The things that make a woman (or man, for that matter) vulnerable to sociopaths are things like: having very controlling parents, having a history of emotional abuse or neglect, or growing up with inadequate supports. These experiences leave people feeling needy and fearful about ever finding love. Even very powerful women can be very insecure in relationships.
These traits in a woman are the very things that attract men who are looking to exploit and control. By the same token, these traits tend to discourage potential partners who are healthier.
The sex addict who is highly narcissistic or sociopathic has no trouble taking over control. He will likely start out seeming to be wonderful but after a while, without realizing how it happened, the woman will have given up a great deal of power in the relationship.
Think of the charismatic dictator or cult leader who gets people to give him control over their lives. In somewhat the same way, the sociopathic lover gradually conditions the woman to feel that in order to please him she must be more and more attentive to his feelings and opinions. The longer she is around him the more she is manipulated into feeling that he is uniquely important and that she will never find anyone to take his place.
The sexual hold
Many women are very vulnerable to being sexually rejected. We are trained from an early age to pay attention to our attractiveness, and women can be “held hostage” through their own fear of feeling sexually inadequate.
This vulnerability can lead to the woman partner accepting various aspects of the addict’s sexuality which go against her core values and her sexual preferences. The woman may tolerate his secret sexual activities, or she may become a participant in sexual situations that she is not comfortable with.
Take a rat and reward it whenever it pushes a lever and don’t reward it when it doesn’t. Then stop all rewards. The rat very quickly realizes the party is over and stops pushing the lever. But give the rat a reward only some of the times he pushes the lever and not others, and then after a while stop all rewards. At that point it will take the rat a long, long time to give up and stop pushing the lever.
Sociopathic sex addicts are often giving their partners intermittent reinforcement. They loving and committed for a while and then they are gone. They are devoted and then they are disloyal. They worship her above all others, then they go off with someone else. The partner is then in the position of the rat who stays in a dreadful situation in the hope of getting the reward eventually.
If a woman finds herself in this situation, she may catch on and never be fooled again. If this is a pattern in several relationships then it is time to get some help; it is not something to be ashamed of. We are all human and we can all be manipulated. Find Dr. Hatch on Facebook at Sex Addictions Counseling or Twitter @SAResource.
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Last reviewed: 1 Jul 2013