Love addiction? Me? Never.
But when I learned about the signs, symptoms, issues and relationship patterns, I couldn’t help but agree. Though the term, love addiction has been around since the 80s, it is still new to many people and lots of my clients. It sounds silly to some people or like a made up term that really doesn’t have a serious impact on people’s lives. But it can be quite serious and devastating. I see clients who struggle with thoughts about suicide, deep, dark feelings of low self-worth, lots of addictions – from food to sex to drugs and alcohol — and at the heart of their issues was a profound love addiction.
What is love addiction?
Love addiction, like any addiction, is a way to fill up an emptiness inside. A way to lose oneself. For some, it is an eternal hunger for the love of a mother or father. Any parent’s love is imperfect. However, when children do not get their emotional needs met, they hunger for that love as adults. If you struggle with self-esteem issues and find yourself in toxic patterns with intimate partners, becoming joyful in the beginning stages, then stirring up conflict at the slightest hint of abandonment and crestfallen as things progress, maybe even 3-4 weeks in, then you might suffer from Love Addiction.
Alanis Morisette does a good job of explaining her own struggles with this addiction: Click Here to Read The Article
Pia Mellody was one of the first experts on this topic. She describes it this way: “I was drawn to the back walking away.” So, if you find yourself attracted to partners who show love intermittently, what we typically refer to as “hot and cold”, pulling back and then coming closer when you retreat, you may be a love addict.
I work with people who find themselves stuck in these patterns and cycles, re-playing the same scenario with different partners, hoping to find love and even desperate for it, but ultimately failing.
How does the cycle go?
Typically, there is a sense of excitement, a thrill, a high, even when writing to a stranger on an on-line dating site. The cycle goes like this: he likes me, I really like him, he is funny and thoughtful, we get each other, I am excited to meet him.
Phone calls, emails, texts, lots of contact. Maybe even meeting friends and family, all very quickly.
A love addict will experience highs not unlike a cocaine addict. Throw sex into the mix and it’s even more intense. Some love addicts specifically enjoy the seduction process. Other love addicts meet their romantic partners and want more and more contact, becoming more desperate. They may truly experience feelings of being in love and their brain chemistry will reflect that. MRI scanners show that brains in love are not unlike addict brains (Helen Fisher has some excellent TED talks on the topic). Until their partner decides to end it or the love addict fears and believes an end is near…and they go into severed attachment mode, known as freaking out. Some feel as if they are dying because their main source of love and affection has been removed, just like a baby will despair when losing her mother. We need our adult partners in the same way that we needed our caretakers when we were infants. The adult love addict may not be able to eat, sleep, go to work or function at all. This can blossom into a major depressive episode and can even end in suicide.
It is important in therapy to figure out what is being triggered or sparked here. Why are you picking an emotionally unavailable person? Is it an unresolved issue about being lovable? What need went unmet by a parent?
Other clients tell me that they have cheated on every partner they have ever had and they simply do not know why. This is where family of origin counseling comes into play. What needs were not met in childhood and what needs are not met currently? How does a current partner remind you of either parent? Needs such as:
- To feel important
- To feel worthy
I do detective work with you to ask questions you have not thought of on your own so that you can find an available partner in the future. Lots of people with healthy childhoods with loving parents, still become love addicts. No parent is perfect and parents aren’t the only influence on children. There are siblings, peers, cultural norms, teachers and other experiences. They all shape who we are as adults.
What needs are not being met in your life? Why do you drop everything for the new love interest? How interesting is the rest of your life? Do you have a passion and a purpose? Other areas that bring meaning?
Love addiction is serious. It’s real. Love addicts often pair up with love avoidants and in particular, sex addicts. If you are interested in this topic and haven’t seen the movie, Don Jon, I highly recommend it. Remember, no matter how appealing a new partner, he or she is still technically a stranger. It takes years of being in an intimate relationship together to climb through the layers we all have.