But who doesn’t want to be in love?
Actually, Love Addiction isn’t about love at all. The term itself can be misleading. It’s a much broader term that embodies several different problematic or ineffective behavioral patterns related to intimacy and relationships.
So why do we call it “Love Addiction”?
What it really has to do with is mistaking fantasy for love and using unrealistic expectations (denial) to maintain the fantasy resulting in persistent and escalating consequences when the fantasy is broken. As with all addictions, there are negative consequences that continuously occur and the patterns can’t be stopped despite attempts to try.
Let’s start at the beginning.
If you were neglected or abused as a child (emotionally, physically, and verbally), an empty space developed where there was supposed to be connection and nurturing from your caregiver. You then unconsciously feared that you could not survive without this connection. Then you began to imagine or fantasize about a different life, usually based on cartoons and movies.
For example, you may have played a lot of make believe or frequently got caught up in daydreaming. Because you didn’t have true, healthy role modeling for intimacy, you made up what it could be like. You were hoping someone would see you, understand you, and take care of you, which are appropriate things to want and need as a kid.
As an adult, you continue to find, and become attracted to, people who are unavailable because that is what’s familiar. Love addicts tend to believe that they have met “The One” and move very quickly into a relationship…over and over and over. It becomes a very problematic pattern.
A love addict will twist themselves into whatever they think the object of their desire wants. It’s like a chameleon changing its colors to fit in.
The typical pattern includes…
- ignoring red flags,
- giving up your personal interests for the relationship,
- and remaining in denial until something inevitably happens that shatters the fantasy.
Once the reality has hit that your partner isn’t the idealized hero you thought they were, you fall into a pit of despair and overwhelming pain…and it’s nothing that ice cream and a sappy movie can fix.
Love addicts experience the end of a relationship as if it’s life threatening because that is what the original trauma of neglect tells them. At this point you will medicate and obsess and this is where the consequences of the addiction can become dangerous.
The love addiction cycle can be a precursor to other addictions and relapses. When fantasy and denial are shattered, the love addict will attempt to medicate the intolerable feelings that follow. Sex, drugs, and food are common ways people will try and numb themselves. Starting an affair to cope with the painful feelings of betrayal or disappointment is also common and can result in underlying sexual compulsivity getting out of control.
Obsession can present in many different ways, but always involves the non-stop, uncontrollable, intrusive thoughts about the other person. Love addicts can get to the point of life threatening consequences, such as cutting or suicide, to try and medicate their pain. Eventually, they either return to the toxic relationship or move quickly into another because being alone can feel like DEATH to a love addict.
To illustrate, let’s look at some famous fictional love addicts. In the Walt Disney movie “Frozen,” the character Anna is abandoned by her parents when they die in a boating accident. Her sister Elsa isolates herself in her room because she can’t control her ice powers. When Anna has her first encounter with a handsome prince, she instantly falls in love and agrees to marry him within that same day.
Of course, if you’ve seen the movie, you know that the handsome prince turns out to be anything but charming or wonderful. It’s dramatic, intense, and the perfect example of love addiction. Luckily the moral of that story turns out to be about sisterhood and girl power…not about a damsel in distress being rescued by the prince.
On a newer television show called “Crazy Ex- Girlfriend,” the character Rebecca Bunch quits her great job in New York City and accepts a lesser job in small town California to be near her object of obsession, Josh. She proceeds to try and sabotage his relationship, tries to spontaneously be where he is (also known as “Stalking”), pours over childhood photos of the two of them at camp, and basically eats, sleeps, and breathes all things Josh.
Although her childhood trauma isn’t discussed, it would be safe to assume her upbringing was less than ideal.
Can men be love addicts, too?
Of course! It is actually a common misconception that love addiction is a women’s issue. Men are abandoned and neglected in childhood just as much as women; therefore, they are just as susceptible to love addiction.
Look at Aladdin from another classic Disney movie! He was a homeless kid in India, obviously without any parents, and he instantly falls in love with the mysterious, beautiful girl he meets in the market. As it turns out, she’s the princess (the most unavailable girl in all the land), so he uses his wishes to become a prince in order for her to fall in love with him.
Of course, with most fantasy cartoons, they end up living happily ever after. Unfortunately, for love addicts, there’s usually no happy at the end of the cycle.
So what do you do if you think you are a love addict? Treatment for Love Addiction is most successful when multiple modalities are used. The love addict needs education, cognitive behavioral interventions, experiential therapies, and trauma treatment. They need help reducing shame and guilt, as well as to begin finding ways to build esteem and confidence. Breaking the cycle of love addiction is no easy task. The addict must go through a period of emotional withdrawal and detox which can take much longer than t the average drug detox. Having a supportive, caring, knowledgeable team of people and a safe, nurturing environment are also key components to treating love addiction.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Love Addiction, if left untreated, can result in very serious, damaging consequences. It can even be life-threatening. There is hope for happier, long-lasting relationships, but it can’t be done alone. It takes courage to reach out for help, but it can be one of the most important decisions a person can make.
About Jill Vermeire and Willow House at The Meadows
Jill Vermeire, MFT, CSAT-S is the Program Director for Willow House at The Meadows, a treatment program for women struggling with Love, Sex, and Relationships at The Meadows. She has become recognized in the mental health community as an authority on these subjects and has appeared alongside Dr. Drew Pinksy in VH1’s “Sex Rehab” which she later discussed on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” in 2009. Other media appearances include “Extra,” “Issues with Jane Velasquez” on HLN, NBC News, the TV Guide Network, and KROQ’s “Loveline.”
Willow House at The Meadows located in Wickenburg, Arizona, provides an intensive, 45-day treatment program for women with the complex issues of intimacy disorders, love addiction, and relational trauma. In a safe and nurturing community composed of their peers, women are guided on their journey of recovery by examining the underlying causes their mental health struggles and self-destructive behaviors. The goal is for these individuals to gain the courage to face difficult issues including grief and loss, heal from emotional trauma, and become accountable for their own feelings, behaviors, and recovery. To learn more call 800-244-4949.
Love Addiction and Love Avoidance Workshop
The Rio Retreat Center at The Meadows offers one-of-a-kind workshops for healing and empowerment to individuals in various stages of their recovery. Workshops address the needs of those who have just begun a recovery process as well as those who have been on a recovery path and may have hit a plateau or want to deepen their experience.
The Love Addiction / Love Avoidance Workshop is based on Pia Mellody’s ground-breaking work from her book, Facing Love Addiction. Love addicts can be addicted to anyone: lover, spouse, friend, parent, or child. This workshop intervenes on the destructive cycles of both the love addict and the love avoidant, offering them intimacy with healthy boundaries. Register by contacting the Workshop Coordinator at 800-244-4949. Visit www.rioretreatcenter.com for workshop dates.
Note: This article originally appeared in the February 2017 edition of Together AZ (Togetheraz.com). It has been republished here with their permission.