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What is Love Addiction?

On Love Addiction
by Lorna Hochstein, Ph.D.

Love 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 in partnership.

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 again.

Please understand 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. They are:

  1. 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);
  2. harmful consequences to the additive behavior (Susan risked her job by missing her meeting and by snooping around Mary's office);
  3. unmanageability 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 form);
  4. escalation of use (the more she say Mary the more she felt she needed to see her to get through the day); and
  5. withdrawal when drug is removed (Susan became seriously depressed when she finally lost all contact with Mary).

Finally, Susan 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 God.

Read more about love addiction at: Dream 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!

Article published by Tigress Luv & Glass Slipper publishing, the Breakup Gurus. For more breakup advice and forums please join us at the Lifted Hearts Breakup Support Forums & Community at http://liftedhearts.com.

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