Anhedonia and Love (the relationship)

In this guide we are going to take a closer look at Anhedonia and how it impacts our ability to love. 

How does the symptom of anhedonia impact our ability to love?

Anhedonia is a symptom that arises in various mental and health disorders. It is the inability or difficulty in experiencing interest, joy, and/or pleasure in activities we once enjoyed.

The impact anhedonia has on our ability to love include:

  • Anhedonia causes emotional detachment from others which might impact our ability to empathize with people.
  • Anhedonia impairs a person’s ability to express their emotions.
  • It can cause social withdrawal from their partners and other people.
  • Anhedonia can cause alienation and isolation from social groups.
  • It can cause change in sexual behaviour. 
  • It can also cause a person to negatively evaluate their partners.
  • The symptom can also cause a person to actively avoid attachment.
  • The symptom might also cause a lot of stress and guilt further pushing partners apart.

At some point in our lives, we all lose interest in some things that once brought us joy and excitement. We might lose interest in a hobby, a task related to your job, a place, or a person. 

It is a normal experience- we might even call it “growing out of” certain things that we cherished, however, there is another kind of phenomenon where people lose interest and feel no joy and it is far from the norm. 

Anhedonia takes the experience of this loss to an extreme; it becomes impossible to enjoy anything that we once might have. Be it food, rest, fun activities, music, sex, or time shared wiht the ones we care about. 

It is so extreme that some people do not feel any emotion at all and in more serious cases, often related to deadly mental diseases such as depression, anhedonia can become a factor that causes death by suicide. 

Let us take a closer look at anhedonia and its causes to understand how it impacts the person with this particular symptom. 

Anhedonia

Anhedonia is a symptom that arises in various mental and health disorders. It is the inability or difficulty in experiencing interest, joy, and/or pleasure in activities we once enjoyed.

This symptom can vary in different levels of intensity and that this may not be an absolute loss of the capacity to experience joy. 

In other words, some people who have this symptoms may feel like they are incapable of experiencing pleasure at all, while others may feel like they have a diminished or have a lowered sense of pleasure

Anhedonia is a symptom that is most related to depression/ Major depressive disorder however it can also be found in other disorders such as schizophrenia, Parkinson’s disease, as well as various eating disorders and substance abuse disorders.

There are Two Types of Anhedonia:

Physical Anhedonia where a person may find Difficulty or inability to experience pleasure from sensory or physical experiences like eating, touching, sex, or movement

Social anhedonia where a person may find Difficulty or inability to experience pleasure from interacting with others or of being in social settings. This particular anhedonia is what causes issues related to love and relationships in an individual.

Social anhedonia has various symptoms that can negatively impact their quality of relationships and their lives such as:

  • social withdrawal- including withdrawl from existing relationships
  • reduced emotional abilities, including having less verbal or nonverbal expressions
  • difficulty adjusting to social situations or avoiding social situations
  • a tendency to show fake emotions, such as pretending you’re happy at a wedding
  • a loss of libido or a lack of interest in physical intimacy

Causes of Anhedonia 

The causes of anhedonia are unclear. While Anhedonia is a symptom of various mental health disorders such as depression it does not mean that everyone who is depressed experiences this symptom. 

People without mental disorders can also experience anhedonia. 

Research on the psychological theory of schizotype posits that there may be personality traits that make social anhedonia likely in mental disorders such as schizophrenia. 

There has been effort to understand the neurobiological causes of anhedonia. One study found that,

“The severity of anhedonia is associated with a deficit of activity of the ventral striatum and an excess of activity of the ventral region of the prefrontal cortex.”

These structures of the brain control the processes of emotions, personality expression, and the reward system that also influences motivation and positive emotions such as pleasure.

Other possible causes of anhedonia can include side effects of antidepressants and antipsychotic medications used to treat depression,

Extreme levels of stress and use of recreational drugs have also been found to be related to anhedonia. 

Impact of anhedonia on Love and relationships

Anhedonia- be it physical or social- can have a profound impact in the way an individual relates to other people. It can decrease an individual’s desire to socialize with others, conversate with them, and in general impair their ability to feel for another human being. 

Here are some of the ways anhedonia can impact a person’s ability to love and manage relationships:

  • Anhedonia causes a sort of emotional detachment from others. They might not be able to feel empathy for others nor feel concern and care. They are also unable to form deep emotional connections with others. This lack of empathy might cause miscommunications and tension in the relationships.
  • Anhedonia impairs a person’s ability to express their emotions which might make people around them feel that they do not care, causing tension and distress in their partners
  • It can cause a person to lose the feeling of love they have for others and may even cause social withdrawal from their partners and other people in their life that they cared about. 
  • Anhedonia can cause thought and speech disorders which can cause alienation and isolation from social groups who do not understand or empathize with the person.
  • It can cause risky behaviours including risky sexual behaviours. For example, a person who is expeeicning anhedonia might start having causal unprotected sex with multiple partners, might enegae in infidelity as well. It can also cause a decrease in libido which might cause dissatisfaction within the relationship.
  • It can also cause a person to negatively evaluate their partners or have more negative perceptions of their partners which might cause distress, disdain, and resentment.
  • The symptom can also cause issues related to commitment as a person might actively avoid attachment from the people around them.
  • The symptom might also cause a lot of stress and guilt for a person who is in a long term relationship when they realise that they feel nothing for the person. This guilt might cause them to push their partners away and withdraw from them.

Treatment and management 

Treating anhedonia begins with treatment for the mental disorder that’s causing the symptom, such as depression. The intent of most of these treatment strategies is to improve your overall quality of life in an attempt to manage the symptom of anhedonia. 

Some of the effective treatments for managing anhedonia include:

  • Antidepressants prescribed to treat depression by your physician. While some people may find that these medications alleviate the symptom of anhedonia along with other symptoms of depression, it can even lead to the issue becoming worse because some antidepressant can get the issue to worsen. 

It is important that you reach out to your doctor as soon as problems related to the side effects of the medicationa arise. 

  • Therapy. Your physician might refer you to a licensed professional for you to be able to manage the symptoms of anhedonia or the other symptoms related to your mental health disorder. 

It is important to know that you have a good rapport with the therapist, meaning that it might require some initial sessions with multiple therapists before you find the one that fits for you. 

  • Practice mindfulness

Your therapist might suggest to you various techniques that can help you develop mindful ways of living. This can involve change in lifestyle habits such as eating nutritious food, sleeping well, engaging in exercise, choosing to engage in new activities through mindful attentiveness towards  the activity at hand. 

The overall intent is to reduce the overall symptoms of the mental health that is related to your anhedonia by improving your way of life. 

Exercise can also help your brain release “feel good” chemicals which might help alleviate your mood. 

If you are having relationship challenges caused by anhedonia, practicing mindfulness in the way you engage with others can be a way to help you attend to your needs as well as the needs of others. 

By being mindful, we are mindful of the situation and the emotions you feel or do not feel when you are with other people. By doing this you can choose to express what you struggle with or choose to cope with your lack of interest in a way that does not cause misunderstandings and tension.

  • Reduce stress

Another way you can manage this symptom is to reduce or remove the stressors in your life. Be it a stressful job that does not allow you to be present in your own life, or an unhealthy relationship that seems to be harming your mental and physical health and safety. 

Other stressors can also include your anxious thoughts, taking the time to challenge and rationalize these thoughts through self-therapy or by guided therapy can be one way you can manage and treat your depression related anhedonia.

If the stressor involves minsunderstandign and tensions within the relationship caused by your lack of interest. Take the time to talk to the people involved, set boundaries, and reset expectations of what you can and cannot do. 

Dealing with these stressors with the intent to improve quality of life and your mental health can be one way to deal with anhedonia related problems as it has often been found that treating the mental disorder itself can resolve the symptom.

Conclusion

In this guide we have discussed what anhedonia is and the impact it has on a person, we have also explored the various causes of anhedonia and the impact it has on an individual’s ability to love and their relationships. 

Frequently asked questions related to “Anhedonia and Love”

Can people with anhedonia fall in love?

Anhedonia makes relationships difficult to develop and maintain. With the aspect of interest and feeling of joy removed, the individual may no longer wish to spend time with their friends or family.

This can make it difficult for them to engage- empathize and connect- with other people and develop romantic relationships. 

Does anhedonia ever go away?

Anhedonia usually goes away once depression or the disorder related to this symptom is managed by therapy, medication, and in resistant cases- Electroconvulsive therapy.

What is the best treatment for anhedonia?

A combination of therapy and antidepressant or antipsychotic drugs is usually the most effective treatment for anhedonia and depression. Other Medications that alter the way the brain processes rewards and emotions can be especially helpful with anhedonia. Other treatment strategies such as lifestyle changes can also be considered.

Does exercise help anhedonia?

Working out helps release “feel good” chemicals such as dopamine which relieves anhedonia symptoms.

How long does it take for anhedonia to go away?

Healing takes time. No two people heal at the same speed. When it comes to anhedonia or the mental disorder that is causing the symptom, treatment can also for 6 months to 1-2 years depending on various factors. 

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