| LOVE ADDICTION...
WHAT IS IT? WHO GETS IT? And WHY?
by Brenda Schaefer
Real love is not addiction nor is addiction love. Yet, because
of the human condition, these two experiences seem to come together
and result in the incredible pain and suffering we are witness
to or experience directly. We are drawn to the chemical highs
love, sex and romance produce. The neurochemistry of love can
become a drug as difficult to give up as alcohol or cocaine. Words
we often associate with addiction include obsessive, excessive,
destructive, compulsive, habitual, attached, and dependent. And
when you think about it, some of these words are also used to
talk about love. And the similarities do not stop there.
The love addict may understand intellectually that their behavior
is self destructive, but physically and emotionally they are drawn
into it over and over again. The number and variety of out of
control behaviors when love is withdrawn are becoming legion in
the daily news: “Young woman ends abusive love relationship
and is brutally murdered.” “CEO charged with sexual
harassment.” “Coach sued for child support by a former
lover.” “Domestic abuse charges filed by wife of a
professional sports star.” “Public official caught
in scandalous affair.” How is it that we are simultaneously
seeking wellness and love but descending into a well of violence
What is love addiction?
Love addiction is any unhealthy attachment to people, euphoria,
romance or sex in an attempt to get needs met. Psychologically,
love addiction is a reliance on someone external to the self in
an attempt to heal past trauma, get unmet needs fulfilled, avoid
fear or emotional pain, solve problems, fill our loneliness and
maintain balance. The paradox is that love addiction is an attempt
to gain control of our lives, and in so doing; we go out of control
by giving personal power to someone outside ourselves. Addictive
love is an attempt to satisfy our developmental hunger for security,
sensation, power, belonging, and meaning. Love addiction is very
often associated with feelings of “never having enough”
or “not being enough.” None of us got everything we
needed in just the way we needed it in our developmental history.
We literally walk around with holes in our psyche and look for
others to fill those holes.
No matter how it plays out, we unconsciously look to others to
“fix” our fear, pain, and discomfort and tolerate
or inflict abusive behaviors in the process. We use and abuse.
This other can be any important person in our life that we unconsciously
hook up with: a child, a parent, a friend, a boss, a spouse, and
a lover. Or, as in romance or sexual compulsion, it can be someone
we don’t even know personally. In sex addiction it can be
a pornographic image. It can be as mild as a codependent relationship
or as lethal as a fatal attraction.
Why love addiction is so common.
At the base of love addiction is a violation of trust. We have
all had them in some form or another. Because of the betrayal
of trust we both want and yet fear closeness. Our fear is both
biological and psychological and runs deep. Since we are meant
to be in relationship we have no choice but to figure out a way
to be involved with others. Love addiction is the answer. It is
quite clever and often gets passed off as the real thing. Sometimes
you have to look very closely to notice the difference. But we
really do know in our hearts and in our soul’s when we have
been fooled, are fooling our self or just plain fooling around.
We do not become love addicts living in a vacuum. We live in a
culture of image and ownership. We are measured by how good we
look, how much we have, and if we have someone by our side that
supports a good image. We have, sadly, been groomed to look outside
ourselves for happiness and love. Our obsession with love pervades
every aspect of popular culture from romance novels to rock and
pop song lyrics, and even great works of fiction, poetry, drama
and art. Our culture idealizes, dramatizes, and models a dependency
that says we cannot live without another person, sex or romance.
We become dependent almost unconsciously.
Culture and psychology are not the only things directing us towards
love addiction. When it comes to love we are neuro-chemically
vulnerable. Biology provides us naturally with the three sensations
of pleasure--arousal, fantasy, and satiation--as a way to experience
life to its maximum. These three planes are controlled by hundreds
of brain chemicals that we are only at the beginning stages of
understanding. Without these chemicals we would not have the ability
to appreciate our own human nature and the earthly gifts. PEA,
for example, is a neuro-chemical that produces arousal states;
it keeps us alert and motivates us to action. Discomfort states--including
pain--are also identified by the presence of neuro-chemicals,
and help us identify our normal human needs so we seek satiation.
Chemically controlled feelings of satiation then tell us we have
had enough and--hopefully--we stop and experience a feeling of
physical balance. Eating until we are full is a good example.
Still other chemicals are necessary to a rich fantasy life. We
luxuriate in a future of pleasing options. We revel in a piece
of art and feel great passion as we write a song. The biochemistry
of this self-induced trance states allow us to deeply experience
a sunset or envision our beloved.
Contentment, creative passion, fear, and sexual excitation—each
has a neurological analogue. Though these chemicals are meant
to enhance our love life we can become dependent on these “feel
good” chemicals and self medicate our ills with them.
Types of Love Addiction
In my clinical practice I have found it important to distinguish
between three types of love addiction: love, romance and sexual.
Love Addiction is nothing but a misguided dependency on others
in an attempt to fulfill unmet developmental needs. We often choose
people similar to those in the past who did not meet our needs
hoping this time we will end up satisfied. But because they are
similar or we view them as similar, we end up feeling dissatisfied
once more. A key element in identifying dependent love is how
we feel when the person disapproves of us, disagrees with us,
moves away from us, or threatens us. An escalation of behaviors
occurs when the love object threatens to leave us psychologically
or physically. Dependent love is always self-serving. It survives
on psychological myths: “I will take care of your fears
and inadequacies so you will take care of mine.” “If
you fail me, I will do whatever it takes to keep you around.”
“But since I do not know how to be intimate or fear intimacy,
I will allow only so much closeness or push you away.” On
a psychological level love addiction makes perfect sense. Our
attractions are psychological. If I believe men are never there
when you need them most, I will find them. If I need a woman who
won’t support me, I will find her. Dependent love addicts
fear abandonment or betrayal. The most important thing is to be
in a relationship or on the edge of a relationship. They often
hang onto abusive relationships for fear of being alone. They
may or may not have romantic or sexual feeling for the object
of their attention and drama substitutes for intimacy.
Romance Addiction refers to those experiences when the object
of love is also a romantic object. This object/person can be a
romantic partner or live only in the love addict’s fantasies.
The “fix” may be an elaborate fantasy life not unlike
the story line of a romance novel, or the euphoria of a new romance.
In either case, the rush of intoxicating feelings experienced
during the attraction stage of a romance—a state sometimes
referred to as limerance—is the drug that can become a substitute
for real intimacy. The pursuit of this high can become an addiction
in itself. Often, it becomes a dramatic obsession that results
in the stalking of the romantic love object by the obsessed person.
The love addict seeks total immersion in the romantic relationship,
real or imagined. Since the romance-driven high is dependent on
the newness of the relationship or the presence of a person, romance
addiction is often filled with victim/persecutor melodrama and
sadomasochism. Bizarre acting-out behaviors are often a by-product
of romance addiction. When the euphoria of new love wanes, the
romance addict often moves on looking for a new romantic encounter
with its high or obsessions.
The power of sexual love is unequaled in human experience. In
fact, sex may be the only experience that profoundly affects all
three of the pleasure planes (arousal, satiation, and fantasy)
in our neurochemistry. It has the potential to be the pièce
de résistance among life experiences. It is easy to see,
then, how sex can become an addict’s drug of choice.
Sexual addiction is a sickness involving any type of uncontrollable
sexual activity that results in negative consequences. When obsessive-compulsive
sexual behavior is left unattended, it causes distress and despair
for the individual and his or her partner and family. Denial causes
the sexual addict to distort reality, ignore the problem, blame
others, and give numerous justifications for his or her out-of-control
behavior. The addiction progresses until sex becomes the essential
need, more important than family, work, or spiritual integrity.
We live in a culture that promotes sex as the drug of choice.
Perhaps the mounting negative social consequences of sexual compulsion
will motivate society to take this problem more seriously. The
cost of this addiction to our society is more than financial.
The fabric of our spiritual, emotional, and relational lives is
affected as well.
Dependent love may or may not include a romantic or sexual component.
When the object of love is, or has been, the romantic and sexual
partner, the stakes run high. When a person’s object of
dependent love is also the object of his or her romantic and sexual
desires, he or she will experience intense behaviors when the
object of love withdraws or threatens to withdraw.
Most, if not all relationships have elements of unhealthy dependency
as well as healthy interdependency. The difficulty with love
addiction, however, is that we cannot stop loving or relating!
Nor should we! Therefore, we must learn what is love and what
is addiction and build on the best aspects of our love life.
Why get out of love addiction? The biggest reason is that it
limits and stunts our growth as a human and spiritual being.
Seven steps to getting out of love
1. Believe that healthy love is possible.
2. Be willing to assess your love life honestly.
3. Accept that the only person you can change is you.
4. Connect the unhealthy aspects of your love life with your
inner beliefs and past trauma.
5. Change your beliefs to those that encourage healthy love
6. Let go of fear.
7. Experience yourself as unconditional love and live it.
Post Script: if you need help…do yourself
a favor and get it!
In summary, obsessive, dependent, erotic love often is a misplaced
attempt to achieve that fusion we so deeply desire. We want
to end the feelings of isolation caused by our learned restraints
against true intimacy. Aroused by the experience of love, one
often is willing to suspend those restraints in order to merge
with another. If the merger is dependent and immature, the result
is love addiction. Life energy is directed on the pursuit of
gratification rather than growth. If mature, the love will grow
and expand. As Erich Fromm said, “This desire for interpersonal
fusion is the most powerful striving in man. It is the most
fundamental passion, it is the force which keeps the human race
together . . .. Erotic love . . . is the craving for complete
fusion. It is by its very nature exclusive and not universal.”
Without agape, universal love of others, it remains narcissistic.
Sex, love and romance are delightful aspects of our humanity.
Some of the most powerful experiences relate to the meaning
and beauty of love, sex and romance. They can be a sacred form
of connecting or they can be an egoist’s attempt at self-fulfillment.
It is the challenge of the day, is it not? From
Is It Love or Is It Addiction? And