Writing Workshop II
April 15, 2000
Background: Women with a proclivity for addiction are becoming subject to cyber romantic addiction. Objective: To examine and discuss why this new psychosocial phenomenon is so addictive. Method: Empirical research combined with a review of established theories regarding addictive behavior and neurosis, as well as discussion of current theories on Internet addiction. Results: The alienation from the self and recurring fantasy based interactions that develop when women that have become addicted to cyber romantic relationships in lieu of meat space relationships leads to the inevitable ÒcrashÓ often associated with the addictÕs recognition of an unhealthy behavior. Conclusion: Once the addiction is identified and self Ð recognized, a highly successful approach to treatment of this compulsive behavior is Self Ð examination including insight oriented psychotherapy.
In this paper, I will focus on women and the likelihood of certain women to become involved in cyber romantic addiction. According to the cognitive-behavioral model, Ò abnormal behavior is the result of a predisposed vulnerability and a life eventÓ (Kraut, 1998). In this case, the life event or stressor is the introduction of the Internet.
Although both sexes are susceptible to this experience, just as both sexes are susceptible to alcoholism, statistics in this very new field of study have shown that women are getting hooked on cyber romantic sites and men on cyber pornography. According to the Center for On-Line Addiction, ÒMen tend to seek out dominance and sexual fantasy on-line, while women seek out close friendships, romantic partners it seems to be a natural conclusion that attributes of gender played out in cyberspace parallel the stereo types men and women have in our society.Ó(2000)
Addictive behaviors come in many different forms from compulsive shopping, to gambling, to alcoholism. The common link between all of these behaviors is traumatic experiences and anxiety that the compulsive is attempting to obliterate with compensatory over indulgence. ÒBecause addiction is the psycheÕs way of seeking escape from buried feeling and easing the inner strife, the addictive agent can be most anything Ð alcohol, sex, cigarettesÉanger, depression, eating, not eating or an ever-changing combination of these. The ÒsatisfactionÓ found goes so much deeper than that of a compulsive shopping experience, because it directly addresses core issues in such an apparently fulfilling way, that is the ÒloveÓ, ÒcomfortÓ and ÒacceptanceÓ which are missing from this individualÕs life experiences can now be openly pursued and ÒfoundÓ at least that is the false impression that is being created by this addiction.
The Internet Addict is anyone who is using the Internet in an obsessive way in many cases for prolonged periods throughout the day and night. Additionally other meatspace responsibilities such as housework and relationships with your spouse and/or children are neglected. Sleep is typically sacrificed leading to absenteeism at work. There are several self tests available: one of the criteria for Internet Addiction is setting time limits for your Internet use and continually ignoring the limits you set for yourself and staying on-line for hours more than you intend.
This new affliction is so addictive and difficult to overcome since it creates the illusion of satisfying the deepest of needs for women who become addicted. The ultimate desire for affiliation and acceptance are pursued in a way never before possible. Internet Addicted women have more email messages than the most popular of women ever did before the evolution of the Internet. The difference is that these connections are not based in reality. But isnÕt being the most popular girl in high school also about the pursuit of fantasy? For the popular girl and any who are able to attach themselves to this fantasy. These girls are popular because of the fantasy that their physical attributes provoke for both boys and girls; these fantasies are so desirable because ultimately association with these fantasies leads to acceptance-the same goal that the Internet Addict spends inordinate amounts of time in pursuit of. Graduation will usually put an end to this particular experience for the high schoolers, but which event will end this cycle for the Internet Addict?
Women are going to chat rooms and seeking out and apparently finding the emotional nurturance that they so deeply crave. ÒThe people you encounter in the chat rooms appear to offer not only companionship, but also the kind of caring, support and encouragement that often takes years to cultivate in a real-life friendship.Ó(Young, p.25). This is the beginning of a cycle wherein you are willing or even compelled to divulge and discuss deep emotional scars that otherwise might never have been revealed; much like writing in a virtual diary. Except that this intensely private information is now shared between yourself and one other person in a private email relationship, perhaps hundreds, even thousands in a chat room. ÒSoon youÕre typing words you wouldnÕt dream of saying in your real life, where you may be inhibited by how people might react. In the safe haven of cyberspace, you share your deepest feelings, É and reach out to people much faster and more openly than you would in real life.Ó (Young, p.21) The comfort and acceptance of sharing this information and having its recipients not judge you will create a sense of belonging and intimacy that may not be found otherwise. The intimacy of this exchange can be profoundly gratifying, the deceptive pleasure created an especially dangerous euphoria. Additionally, the fear of rejection loses its meaning when no real bond is ever formed, and there are hundreds of other shallow bonds to form; prolonging the need for recovery. You can Òe-dumpÓ or be Òe-dumpedÓ and never have to deal with that painful ending because the opportunities to form new bonds are practically endless. This is a high you can maintain for almost infinite periods of time. This experience for the addict is not about the individual you form a connection with, but with the number of possibilities for this experience to take place because this behavior is about the perpetuation of fantasy, switching from one ÒidealÓ mate to another is possible.
Fundamental to the Addictive personalityÕs choice of behaviors is the need for distraction or stimulation, on the Internet there is the continual action of surfing and searching for whatever you imagine will obliterate your present state of misery; like your brain on a virtual Las Vegas strip at night, action is available nonstop and a feeding frenzy is begun. Unfortunately, the thrill is short lived ÒÉEscaping our buried feelings is a project not for the faint of heart, as the addict knowsÉ because soon the cycle takes on its own momentum and leads to a vast new array of feelingsÑmost of which are complete misery.Ó(Quinlan, 2000) A fact that creates an even more dangerous let down once the ÒhighÓ is gone.
Finally they can discuss difficult subjects and believe they are achieving some sense of relief, but the temporary and elusive nature of these relationships is soon revealed when as a natural progression of a stimulating and satisfying interchange between individuals one of the parties involved, usually the one who believes she is being honest about her feelings wants to take the relationship a step further. This is when many untruths are revealed and the addictive personality learns that her new best friend is not a single, handsome athletic professional with money to burn. Many times, these fictionally characters will disappear completely once the other less fictional character attempts to bring the relationship to meatspace, creating a disastrous ending to a relationship based not in reality, but in fantasy for both members.
Women are more likely to form their self - image through others as opposed to deciding for themselves, according to psychologist Nancy Chodorow, Òin any given society, feminine personality comes to define itself in relation and connection to other people more than masculine personality doesÓ(pp.43-44).
From the time women first understand the most basic elements of the male to female relationship, itÕs all about fantasy; from CinderellaÕs Prince Charming, to Scarlett OÕHaraÕs Rhett, your life is not complete until you have that idealized Swashbuckler to call your own. Immediately we are taught that the only way to achieve these dizzying heights of fancy is to cater to the whims of and make ourselves irresistible to men. Regardless of if you grew up in a household with Daddy or not, with Mommy or not, this conditioning is so embedded in the human psyche that you canÕt pick up a magazine or any other form of mass media and not get this message. Most girlsÕ favorite toy is the impossibly proportioned Barbie; itÕs a setup for disaster. I will point out that prepubescent girls of this generation and those to follow may not be as boxed in by this ritual. Even Barbie has evolved to the point where she not only has a drop dead wardrobe, but she can also be seen as a Medical Doctor and Marine Biologist. In this paper, I am focusing on women of my generation women born in the mid to late sixties.
At the core of the cyber romantic relationships that women succumb to are fantasies; those they find initially appealing via an individuals idealized description of oneself, combined with the fantasy that oneÕs perception of this description creates in the mind. Which are often accompanied by unrealistic expectations that have no connection to reality. Internet acquaintances, especially romantic ones use a backwards approach, you donÕt get to know someone by reading a description which is usually created for mass - market appeal. We are people, not fast food customers we make up catchy titles and screen names as though they are the Òvalue mealsÓ which represent our inner selves. Once you put your best picture up from 5 maybe 10 years ago, youÕve got your
mouth - watering photography.
The experiences that Addictive women are having while on their favorite cyber romantic sites on the Internet are so dangerous and easily adaptable to the unconscious mind because they are so familiar to the unconscious mind; it is the further perpetuation of fantasy. The further we all fall into this cyber romantic fantasy the further away or alienated from ourselves we become. Which is often the neurotic progression of compulsive behavior. ÒIt is in part the consequences of the whole neurotic development, especially of all that is compulsive in neurosis. Of all that impliesÓ I am driven instead of being the driver.Ó It does not matter what the particular compulsive factors are.Ó (Horney, p. 159)
A deeply troubling cycle has been created; the question is how and where does it end? When does the ÒcrashÓ come? This whole process is addressing such an intense need, how does the victim overcome this failure and recover from its destructive aspects?
I interviewed several women who belong to a cyber romantic site and asked them about their on line experiences. The pattern was the same for each of the women: initial excitement at the prospect of meeting new men; followed by overwhelming responses from unusually large numbers of men; eventual let down when which leaves you feeling even worse than when you began (BBWdate.com, 2000) Which leads to the perpetuation of this cycle for most women. How many of the millions of women who are so desperately seeking what they think is love will ever find it? Few to none, after all this is not even what they are looking for, but it is what society has always told every woman they need to have a complete life. How can you find anything if you donÕt even know what you are looking for?
It is not my contention that all men deceptively predetermine to manipulate and victimize women although there is no doubt that this is sometimes the case, but in the majority of cases, both parties are at guilty of some degree of role playing and fantasy which would be fine if both parties were aware of this but, whatÕs really happening is the unnaturalness of having someone Òfall in loveÓ with a description or projection of yourself is very far removed from having a person fall in love with you despite what you donÕt wish to project and the weaknesses or flaws that you wish to hide; which is a more like what happens when people Òfall in loveÓ.
There is a model of communication used in Industrial Psychology called the ÒJohari WindowÓ the essence of this model is that ÒMutual understanding improves perceptual accuracy and communicationÓ the Johari Window classifies an individualÕs tendencies to facilitate or hinder interpersonal communication along two dimensions: exposure and feedback. These dimensions translate into four windows, open, blind hidden and unknown. The open is information known to you as well as others. The blind window encompasses certain things about you that are apparent to others but not to yourself. The hidden window is information known by you and unknown by others.
The unknown window includes feelings, experience and information that neither you or others are aware of. The theory is that with open and honest communication including the ability and willingness of both parties to discuss and divulge other than flattering information; self disclosure encourages similar feedback, therefore opening of the ÒhiddenÓ and ÒblindÓ windows would prove to be most productive in achieving honest communication. In cyber romantic relationships only one of these windows is even partially open, the ÒopenÓ window. That is the information that is ÒknownÓ by both parties. This is only true to the extent that the giver of information is willing to be forth coming, the recipient does not have the advantage of looking into lying eyes if in fact they are lying. ÒWhen it comes to online communication, our culture is still clueless. We have not yet established patterns to deal with the emotional impact of dealing with faceless individuals. (Gwinnell, p. 68) Cyber communication in itself is so fundamentally different from real time communication; in a cyber relationship once exchanges become ÒmeaningfulÓ it is not unusual to exchange twenty emails daily, but if this person were calling you twenty times a day, wouldnÕt that be a red flag indicating an individualÕs obsessive nature? ÒBut in email relationships these issues are not significant. There is no problem with intrusion or call-backs--each person checks their emails when they choose and replies when it is convenient.Ó (Gwinnell, p.76) Thereby eliminating another barometer for acceptable behavior.
The cyber approach to romance is doomed to failure, because of the inherently dishonest foundation created by the pressure to sell yourself to strangers, combined with the inaccurate perceptions that the recipients of this information project on to you from your tantalizing descriptions.
The appearance of women who have succumbed to this stealth disease is sure to skyrocket in the near future. Unfortunately before any of its victims acknowledges this dysfunction there will have to be devastating tolls on family and professional lives such as dissolution of marriages and loss of jobs and deterioration of businesses. But the depressing after effects of these consequences should lead at least some individuals to examine their behavior, and with the help of a therapist, get to the root of their problem.
Not only the Internet addiction, that after all is just a symptom of their disorder. The exploration of usually life long patterns with the encouragement of a professional therapist who is trained to ask the sort of thought provoking questions that make Òlight bulbsÓ go off in your head is key to the resolution of this any other self destructive activities one may be involved in. Eventually you will see that what you have been doing is running away from anxiety. Unearthing that anxiety is an excruciating process, but true change cannot take place without it. Once the motivating factor or factors are named, a healthier lifestyle and the discontinuation of compulsive Òacting outÓ in reaction to repressed rage/anxiety is no longer necessary. This process can and usually does take years, but can lead to eventual freedom from a lifetime of pain and fear.
Another helpful idea would be to move your computer to a different area in the home. Part of the perpetuation of compulsive behavior is conditioned through familiar environments consistently creating the same outcome. Every time you sit facing the corner of your living room where you so many intense experiences, may stir up negative tendencies to want to recreate those experiences. The definition of an addict is someone who will always have a propensity for (a) particular behavior(s); why not decrease the likelihood of recurrence in any way possible. Getting out into the sunlight and taking a walk through the park is one experience that cannot be replicated on line. I do not propose that overcoming addiction is something that can be resolved by adapting a new
sun-shiny attitude towards life, but certainly the benefits of exercise and fresh air can contribute to a more positive self - image and approach to daily living.
If you find yourself repeatedly disappointed by the experiences you are having on line and your family life and career and or school is suffering because of the excessive amounts of time that you dedicate to this pursuit, ask yourself these questions, ÒWhat am I gaining from this experience? Is my time being wasted? Am I hurting the people who really matter in my life? Am I giving equal time to all of my responsibilities? If you answer truthfully and donÕt feel good about any of the responses, take control of your life, before cyberspace takes control of you.
Davis, R.S. (1999) Internet Addiction: Is it real? Catalyst. Retrieved online March 25, 2000
Kraut, R., Patterson, M., Lundmark, V., Kiesler,S., Mikoophadhyay, T.,Schleris, W.(1998) Internet paradox: Asocial technology that reduces social involvement and psychological well being? American Psychologist. 53(9): 1017-1031
Quinlan, A. ÒAlternative WisdomÓ Women.com 10th April 2000: retrieved online 12th April 2000
Balint, K ÒTangled in the net/Addiction makes some computer users virtual prisoners to their Web habitÓ San Diego Union-Tribune 12th March 2000
Retrieved on line March 28, 2000 The Center for Internet Studies
Center for On-Line Addiction Home page. 1998 Netaddiction.com retrieved on line 1st April 2000 <http://www.netaddiction.com>
Gwinnell, Esther, M.D. Online Seductions New York, : Kodansha America, 1998
Young, Kimberly, Ph.D. Caught in the Net How to Recognize the Signs of Internet Addiction and a Winning Strategy for Recovery. New York: John Wiley and Sons Inc. 1998
Chodorow, Nancy, Ph.D. Family Structure and Feminine Personality In M.Z. Rosaldo and L. Lamphere, eds., Woman Culture and Society. Stanford: Stanford University Press 1974
Horney, Karen, M. D. Neurosis and Human Growth The Struggle Toward Self Realization. New York: W.W. Norton and Company 1950
Robbins, Stephen. Organizational Behavior. Ed. Luft, Joseph, Ingram Harry Group Processes 3rd ed. Palo Alto, CA Mayfield Publishing 1984
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In order to create a logical argument regarding Pathological Internet Use, I will first describe those who are most susceptible to this affliction
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