On Love Addiction
by Lorna Hochstein, Ph.D.
addiction? What is love addiction? How can I be addicted to love? Perhaps
this is what some of you are thinking as you read the title of this essay.
Others of you might well be moaning, "Not another addiction. . .! Please
God, not another 12 Step program." I understand. There have been moments
when I have thought all these things myself. But while I am not unalterably
convinced that such an entity as "love addiction" actually exists, it is
true that I also find the idea quite helpful when I think about women's
relationships and the way we get into and remain in relationships. Genuine
addiction or not, the concept of "love addiction" certainly provides insights
into common, if unsatisfying ways we relate to both being single and being
Let me begin
by saying that the phrase "love addiction" is a misnomer. Genuine love is
knowing and being known by another person. It is about building intimacy
through honesty and sharing of oneself. An addiction, however, is antithetical
to intimacy; an addiction necessarily involved behaviors and mental sets
which push genuine love and intimacy away. An addiction dulls both positive
and painful feeling sand prevents us from knowing ourself. We cannot share
what we do no know, and thus genuine intimacy cannot thrive where an addiction
is present. Thus, a "love addiction" is about pseudo love, about the external,
stereotypic appearance of love. It is not about 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 and about poor self esteem. It is about a fear of abandonment
and about an impaired sense of identify. It is about holding on to a relationship
at all costs. It is not about loving too much. We are able to depend on another
too much, we are able to cling to another too much, we are able to give another
women too much responsibility for our life and happiness. We cannot love
too much; genuine love is never bad and can never harm us.
So what is a
love or relationship addiction and who is a love addict? A love addict is
a woman who substitutes an unhealthy and mood altering relationship with
a process (i.e. relationship) for a healthy, life giving relationship with
another person. An addict is a person who puts this unhealthy relationship
at center of her life. This relationship with a mood altering process is
an addiction. My own rule of thumb is that a person 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.
There seem to
be two basic types of love addicts. The first type of addict is a woman who
addicted to the ideal of simply being in any relationship any relationship
at all. This addict is hooked on the idea of being part of a couple regardless
of who her partner actually is. The second type of love addict is the woman
who is addicted to a particular relationship or a particular partner. This
woman is able to function well when she is not romantically involved, but
gets hooked on a certain woman and becomes less functional when involved
with that woman. Let me give you an example of the second type.
Susan came to
therapy to "end" a relationship which had, in fact, ended months before.
Susan had dated a co worker, Mary, for several weeks when Mary decided she
no longer wanted to pursue a relationship with Susan. Mary was clear with
Susan that for her, it was over. Although Susan had dated Mary for only a
month, she was devastated. She needed Mary. For the next year Susan followed
Mary in her car. Once she skipped work to follow Mary to an out of town trip,
and received a reprimand, her first, for missing an important meeting without
even notifying her boss. Susan drove by Mary's house frequently and hung
around her office at work just to catch a glimpse of her. Once she snuck
into Mary's office and went through Mary's appointment calendar looking for
possible "date." Once Susan met Mary on the street after Mary had been drinking.
Mary threatened Susan and scared her a great deal. But Susan still could
not stop her behavior. When Mary changed jobs and moved away, Susan felt
lost. She became depressed. A year later, she still finds it hard to put
thoughts of Mary out of her mind. Susan was addicted to Mary. Once she managed
to break her addiction to Mary, she functioned well at home and at work.
She did not feel desperate for a relationship. But she knows it can happen
that Susan is not crazy. She is a fine, intelligent, decent woman. She genuinely
longs for intimacy. She genuinely longs for intimacy. While her behavior
may seem a bit extreme, there are too many of us who, like Susan, violate
our values and disrupt our lives in order to be in romantic relationship;
there are too many of us who, like Susan, depend on another woman for the
source of self esteem, self value, purpose and meaning in life. It's all
a matter of degree.
It is important
to know that love addiction is not infatuation; it is not the limerance 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 beloved for a 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 questions indicates the possibly of addiction love.
Love or relationship
addiction, like all addictions, a reliance 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 woman or relationship an addiction?
Charlotte Kasl (Women, Sex and Addiction) lists five criteria of an addiction.
- powerless to
stop at will (Susan longed to be free of Mary, but she couldn't stop her
continuing involvement by an act of the will);
- harmful consequences
to the additive behavior (Susan risked her job by missing her meeting and
by snooping around Mary's office);
in other areas of life (Susan was nearly asked to leave her group living
situation because she didn't follow through on her share of the chores. She
also stopped paying her bills on time and forgot to file her income tax
- escalation of
use (the more she say Mary the more she felt she needed to see her to get
through the day); and
- withdrawal when
drug is removed (Susan became seriously depressed when she finally lost all
contact with Mary).
found herself violating her own values and ignoring her personal
responsibilities. This, too, is an indicator of addiction. Anyone who holds
onto something at the risk of losing or damaging her own physical or spiritual
life is an addict. I believe that most love addictions have their root in
survival skills adopted to cope with childhood neglect, abuse, victimization
involves any form of neglect, abuse or betrayal which leave a child's basic
needs for love, security and safely unmet. Such victimization and neglect
leaves a child with an inner core of emptiness. It leaves her with a longing
for love and security that becomes the driving force which underlies this
addiction. Susan's father was an alcoholic and was physically abusive to
her and her mother. Her mother was unable to protect herself or Susan from
this violence. Susan was victimized by this violence.
When a child's
fundamental needs are not met, she is left feeling angry, terrified, abandoned
and sad. Such a child comes to believe 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. And thus 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.
After all, who would stay with a truly defective person?
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 which
the addicts' negative core beliefs generate. 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," then become the addict's core
operational belief. The core belief along with the operational belief can
easily lead to a full blown 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
partnerships. 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. I wonder if lesbians are more or less prone to love addiction than
are straight women. Certainly a fear of being alone and defective can be
reinforced by society's attitude toward us. Often we are abandoned by family
and friends when they learn about our lesbian orientation. Many, many of
us do have a history of early victimization. Then again, we lesbians also
learn to be independent at an early age. We learn we do not have to be in
relationship (with men) in order to survive in the world. Some of us really
do learn that we do not need to be attached to any one person or in any one
relationship in order to survive and survive well.
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 a must. 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, lovers and
Read more about love addiction
Chasers: The CP Addiction (Falling in Love and Dealing
with a Commitmentphobic Person). You can be reading this insightful
information, written especially for those who are in love with a commitmentphobic
person, in less than two minutes!
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