Love Addiction is a mysterious, painful kind of addiction that affects millions of people. Love Addiction is when someone feels they are actually addicted to another person. What? You can get addicted to a person? Yes, you can. The definition of an addiction is when a substance, activity or person makes your life unmanageable.
Love Addiction was first coined by Pia Melody, a clinician at The Meadows recovery center, and author of Facing Love Addiction. The basic condition of someone afflicted with Love Addiction is an inability to emotionally and or physically separate from another person whom they feel extreme “love” for. The Love Addict mistakenly calls their feelings love when they could be more accurately thought of as obsession or infatuation that is not reciprocated. The obsession runs the thinking of the Love Addict in a painful, debilitating way. For the Love Addict, this is a serious, and sometimes even life-threatening problem. The primary underlying emotional wound of the Love Addict is one of abandonment.
When, as a child, the Love Addict suffers abandonment of their emotional and physical needs for nurturing from one or both parents, a deep, painful wounding to their psyche occurs. For example: The child cries and no one responds. A child comes home to an empty house repeatedly (he is a “latch key kid”). A child is repeatedly shamed or even hit. The child is left to fend for itself around making sure they eat, get to school, or do their homework.
As an adult, the deep well of unmet needs for love and nurturing can be triggered when the Love Addict encounters the same type of person who reflects the character of the parent who abandoned them: “That person is like dad who didn’t give me what I needed. I need to get love from them.” In essence, the programing of the Love Addict’s unconscious is a deep seeded belief that, “If I can get the love of an abandoning person (like dad who abandoned my need for love and attention) I can heal myself.” The hopeless nature of getting love from an abandoning person is self-evident.
The person who is the object of the Love Addict’s infatuation is said to be an “Avoidant Addict” – one who actively avoids intimacy when they sense the deep needs, and even neediness of the Love Addict.
The Avoidant Addict suffers from what is called an engulfment wound. This kind of person usually comes from a childhood where the parents themselves were needy or over involved in the child’s life. This dynamic leaves no room for the child to get the love they crave.
The parents of an Avoidant Addict try to get their unmet emotional needs met through their child. These parents may confide problems in their children or ask for the child’s advice on adult matters. The parent of an Avoidant Addict may not have let the child explore, have many friends, or get too far away from the parent. Such parents may have slept with the child beyond what is considered age appropriate. As a child the Avoidant Addict suffers from emotional incest—and in some extreme cases even physical incest.
The Love Avoidant’s unconscious is programmed to believe, “If I can get the love of an engulfing person (like the parent I didn’t get love from who engulfed me) I can heal.”
Again and again these two types of personalities, the Love Addict and The Love Avoidant, are attracted unconsciously to each other—to the very kind of person who wounded them in early childhood. This is the unconscious’ way of trying to repair itself.
The Love Addicted cycle tends to look like a game of cat and mouse that leads to deeper emotional wounding. After an initial romantic period, a Love Addict will be “triggered” by a lack of response from the Love Avoidant. When the Love Avoidant is “triggered” something happens to signal that they are getting too intimate, too close to the Love Addict and are in danger of being engulfed. They will then start to “act out” their fear of intimacy: a phone call goes unreturned, a text takes five hours to return, a weekend passes without any attempts to get to together. The Love Addict, sensing abandonment, becomes needy or overly demanding for attention—pushing the Love Avoidant’s engulfment “triggers” in a way that causes them to distance even more. As the Love Addict feels more desperate for attention (more abandoned), the Love Avoidant (feeling more engulfed) moves further away. If the Love Addict does eventually give up, the Love Avoidant will often come back and the cycle repeats itself.
Obviously these agendas around intimacy and love are usually doomed to failure. Each time the Love Addict finds a possible partner (invariably a Love Avoidant), they find the person becoming unavailable and eventually “abandoning them.” Conversely, when the Love Avoidant finds a partner (invariably a Love Addict) they quickly start feeling engulfed or smothered and leave in an effort to feel safe. Neither is successful at staying long enough to heal the underlying issues.
So what’s the cure? Recovery from Love Addiction can be a long process. The person in recovery should initially refrain from dating or relationships while in recovery if possible. In therapy the Love Addict can learn how to hold boundaries in dating, how to self contain and self soothe when triggered with feelings of abandonment. They can repair attachment issues with a qualified therapist who can remain present and safe for the Love Addict to feel accepted and loved by in a way that helps them get their unmet emotional (not physical) needs met. When the therapist doesn’t leave the Love Addict during times of turmoil, their fears of abandonment can heal and they can move past the development wounding of early childhood that may have been trying to heal in a dysfunctional way their entire adult life.
Further, the Love Addict can join SLAA- Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous. (https://slaaswfs.org) It is common for both the Love Addict and Love Avoidant to turn to sex in a useless effort to make connection to others, relieve loneliness, and even start relationships. This twelve step program can help the addict work the twelve steps around their addiction, turn their life and will over to a higher power of their own understanding, identify triggers, create dating plans, become aware of signs that they are getting in an addicted relationship, and develop a support group with others where understanding and relationship healing can happen together.
Love Addicts are more commonly found in recovery than Love Avoidants. There is yet to be a “Love Avoidants Anonymous” program – but both are equally in need of healing and recovery. The Love Avoidants work is similar in that with a qualified therapist they can learn to slowly attach in a safe way. They can allow themselves to be vulnerable and learn that they will not be smothered or overtaken in the process. They can also join the support community of Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous. Their work is to learn to stay in relationship and work through the terror that arises around engulfment, ultimately healing their unmet needs for love and learning that intimacy is safe.
Love Addicts and Love Avoidants tend to be very intelligent people. Intelligent people often believe if they can figure out their problems they will change. This is a mistake. If you are suffering from these problems please remember that the issues occurred through toxic relationships to other people. They also heal in healthy relationships to other people in recovery. John Bradshaw, a clinician and author in the field of addiction, often didn’t let addicts read in recovery. He knew they needed to get out from behind books and in front of others in a vulnerable way to heal.
That said, it’s still important to gain insight into the problems we face. Good books on the subject are:
Facing Love Addiction, by Pia Mellody
Codependent No More, by Melody Beattie
If you have this problem, be careful, our cultural media is in love with Love Addiction. Songs and movies are continually churned out espousing the wonders of Love Addiction in dangerous ways. “Some day my prince will come and save me” – this is a big one in movies: Pretty Woman – Julia Roberts as a prostitute who is saved by Richard Gere as the wealthy businessman taken by the hooker’s charm (uh, yeah right). Snow White – the prince kisses her and brings her back to life so they can live “happily ever after.” Jerry McGuire – the now infamous line, “You complete me.” (lesson – I’ll never be complete without my special, soul mate lover – I’ll always be a lost, half kind of incomplete loser until they come along– yuck), Love Story – the infamous line, “Love never means having to say you’re sorry.” (huh? – the lesson— you can mess with me all you want and never take responsibility for it.)
Songs are equally destructive in their romancing of the Love Addiction cycle: Unbreak My Heart– the Toni Braxton sap song of the lost, broken Love Addict only healed by the magic touch of the returning Love Avoidant – “Don’t leave me in all this pain. Don’t leave me in the rain . . . Unbreak my heart. Say you’ll love me again. Undo this hurt you caused. . . Uncry these tears. I cried so many nights.” (good luck with that, desperation is so attractive). Love is the Drug – the Smokey Robinson heart tugger with lyrics like: "I don't like you, but I love you; seems like I'm always thinking of you. You treat me badly, I can't help but love you madly; You've really got a hold on me." – ah, yeah – not so healthy. And of course the famous Addicted to Love – the Robert Palmer song— a man who sings with 4 expressionless, identical, cold as ice women – “You can’t be saved. Oblivion is all you crave. . . You’re gonna have to face it you’re addicted to love.” (yikes)
Below is a good talk on the Love Addict / Love Avoidant Cycle. Check it out: