What is love addiction?
Can someone really be addicted to love? The term has created a lot of controversy in the media and literature. Love addiction is one of the most talked about but least recognized addictions.
The biggest misconception is that love addiction is about love. It is not about the addictive pursuit of love, romance and intimacy but rather the opposite. Whether or not someone believes that love addiction exists, it is clear to say that addictive love can describe the way we get into and stay in relationships. It is helpful in understanding women’s relationships. Genuine addiction or not, the concept of “love addiction” or as I like to refer to them love addictions (romance, relationship and sex) provides insight into common and very destructive ways we relate to being single and in a relationship.
Love addiction is not about love. Healthy love is about genuine intimacy and knowing and being known by another person. It is about building intimacy through honesty and sharing of oneself. An addiction, however, is a fear of intimacy; an addiction is driven by behaviors and core beliefs, which push genuine love and intimacy away. The addiction affects both positive and painful feelings and prevents us from knowing oneself. We cannot share what we do not know, and as a result genuine intimacy cannot thrive where an addiction is present. “Love addiction” is about the external, stereotypic appearance of love. It is not about genuine or healthy love. While a love addict may look as if she is pursuing intimacy with a vengeance, she is, in fact, running away from intimacy as fast as she can.
Love addiction is about:
- unhealthy dependency
- poor self- esteem
- fear of abandonment
- an impaired sense of self
It is about holding onto a relationship at all costs. It is not about loving too much. It is about depending on another too much, attaching in an unhealthy way and letting another person be responsible for your life and happiness.
So what is a love addiction and who is a love addict?
A love addict is a person who substitutes an unhealthy and mood altering relationship with a process (i.e. the relationship) for a healthy, intimate relationship with another person. An addict is a person who puts this unhealthy relationship at the center of her life. This relationship with a mood altering process is an addiction. A relationship addict is someone that is addicted to a relationship if being in that relationship had clear negative effects on her life and she continues in the relationship regardless of the effects.
It is important to know that love addiction is not infatuation; it is not the limerence phase of a relationship. Sometimes a love addiction initially looks like an infatuation or the simple act of “falling in love”. The difference is that a woman who is simply “in love” knows she has her own life to live with or without her partner. She retains a sense of her own identity and personal power and does not look solely to her partner for purpose and meaning. This is not true of a woman in an addictive relationship.
What are some of the symptoms of a tendency toward love addiction?
Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA) prints a pamphlet of 40 questions for self diagnosis aimed at possible sex and love addition. Some of these questions are:
- Do you believe that a relationship will make your life unbearable?
- Do you feel that your life would have no meaning without a love relationship?
- Do you find yourself in a relationship you cannot end?
- Do you ever find yourself unable to stop seeing a specific person even though you know that seeing this person is destructive to you?
- Have you ever tried to control how often you would see someone?
- Do you feel your love life affects your spiritual life in a negative way?
- Do you find you have a pattern of repeating bad relationships?
A yes answer to any of the questions indicates the possibility of addictive love.
Love addictions, like all addictions, are about relying upon someone or something external to the self in order to get emotional needs fulfilled, to avoid pain or fear and to maintain emotional balance. Something deep inside “addictive lovers makes them believe that they need to be attached to someone in order to survive and be whole” (Schaef, p.3). These love addicts are terrified of being alone; they can be suicidal when a relationship ends, they cling too long to unhealthy or even dangerous relationships rather than face their fears and pains.
But why call this dependency upon another person or relationship an addiction?
Dr. Charlotte Kasl (author of Women, Sex and Addiction) lists five criteria of an addiction:
- Powerless to stop at will (A person will long to be free of the relationship but cannot stop her involvement by an act of the will);
- Harmful consequences to the addictive behavior (risking job by missing meetings and being occupied by obsessive behavior);
- Unmanageability in other areas of life (personal finances or neglect of family and friends);
- Escalation of use (obsessive thinking leads to needing the relationship more to get through the day);
- Withdrawal when drug is removed (a person will experience intolerable feelings of anxiety, depression and/or loneliness).
When a child’s fundamental needs are not met, she is left feeling angry, terrified, abandoned and sad. The child develops negative thoughts that her feelings are bad since there is no consistent response to them and since they may often be ridiculed or ignored. This child is often shamed for having any needs at all. Eventually this belief that her needs and feelings are bad shifts to the belief that she herself is bad. The outcome is this child becomes a shame-based person who feels defective at the very core of her being. Because her parents abandoned her emotionally, if not physically, she believes she will always be abandoned.
Each of us develops our own set of skills to deal with this chronic fear of abandonment. Survival skills are necessary to counteract anxiety, shame, fear and sadness, all generated by the addicts’ negative core beliefs. Love addicts tend to be people who say to themselves, “If I am just good enough, someone will take care of me”. A love addict seeks to alleviate pain, anxiety, anger through a chronic search for security. “I will die if I am alone”, is the addict’s core belief. “I will find someone to take care of me,” becomes the addict’s core operational belief. The core belief along with the operational belief can easily lead to addiction. If you genuinely believe that you will die if you do not have a partner who loves you best in the world, then having a relationship becomes the most important factor in life, and you will do anything to find a partner and survive. That is addiction.
All of us have been primed to some extent to develop addictive qualities in our love relationships. This is especially true of women. Women are still socialized to value relationships over work or power. Relationships and affiliations appear to be critical for women, in general, to have a sense of personal satisfaction and fulfillment. This is true even when a woman is not a love addict.
The gaining of self-knowledge is fundamental to intimacy. Facing our inner shame and emptiness is essential. Learning healthy ways to deal with this pain and learning new and honest behaviors are priority. Changing the locus of security from an external person to an internal core is our intimate safety. “In order to pursue an addiction, individuals must progressively abandon themselves,” (Schaef, p.101). In order to pursue health, happiness and intimacy in a non-addictive way we must progressively claim and reclaim or own self, our own soul. This is a lifelong task. But when we pursue intimacy with ourself, then we will be successful in our pursuit of intimacy with family, friends, and partners in relationships.
Kasl, C. Women, sex and addiction.
Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous, The Augustine Fellowship
Schaef, A. Escaping from intimacy. Untangling the “love addictions”: sex, romance, relationships.