This post was updated on Mar 29, 2023
Idealization is an inevitable part of falling in love. During the initial relationship phases, when passion is at its peak, you are bound to see your partner in an exaggerated, idealized light. Unfortunately, this perfect image always fades, and the less pleasant aspects of the relationship rise up to the surface.
But do some people tend to idealize more than others? Why do we idealize, anyway? How do you stop idealizing your partner if you are going through a love addiction withdrawal? In this article, we will focus on the concept of idealization and shed light on its purpose, causes, and effect in relationships.
Why Do We Idealize?
Idealization is a psychological and biochemical process that happens when we create positive illusions about another person, exaggerating their virtues and ignoring their flaws. When we begin to fall in love, we tend to feel a strong tendency to idealize, seeing the love interest as a little bit more talented, beautiful, and charming than they may actually be.
There are many reasons why we do this – some people idealize out of fear, not ready to face the fact that the person they’re obsessed with is not perfect. Others may idealize a past relationship because they want to validate their past decisions and strong feelings.
What Happens To Your Brain When You Are In Love
When we go through an infatuation stage in a relationship, a biochemical process happens in our brains. This process is quite similar to addiction and we can do very little in terms of controlling it. As different chemical substances are altered and generated in your brain, such as phenylethylamine, norepinephrine, and dopamine, you may experience some of the following symptoms during the infatuation stage:
- Increased nervous excitement, followed by cold sweats and flushing
- Stomach tingling, shivers, palpitations
- Extreme focus on the loved one
- Increased feelings of dependency
- A strong desire to be one with your partner
- Heightened feelings of anxiety and euphoria
Is Idealization A Defense Mechanism?
Exaggerating the virtues and minimizing the flaws of a person you’re interested in is perfectly normal at the start of a relationship. But did you know that you may be protecting yourself from ambivalent feelings towards the person? In psychoanalytic theory, idealization is seen as a defense mechanism that helps us navigate our confusing feelings and maintain a positive image of the people that matter to us.
Idealization as a defense mechanism is often mentioned in relation to splitting. We tend to “split” when we fail to bring together both the negative and positive qualities of a person into a realistic whole – they are either all bad or all good, there is no middle ground. This black and white thinking process tends to start in childhood, when a child is unable to combine the bad and the good aspects of their parental figures, instead seeing them as either one or the other.
What Is The Idealization And Devaluation Cycle?
Throughout childhood and adolescence, idealization is a natural part of growing up. We tend to start with idealizing our parents, then our friends and partners as part of the separation process in our teenage and adolescent years. In adulthood, our tendency to idealize should start to wane, transforming into a more balanced and integrated sense of others and the self.
But when it doesn’t get appropriately integrated during adulthood, idealization is often followed by a pattern of devaluation. This combination is known as the idealization and devaluation cycle and can be characteristic of different personality disorders and behavioral conditions, such as borderline personality disorder, codependency and pathological narcissism.
How Is Idealization Related To Splitting?
Individuals prone to idealization and devaluation are often also prone to splitting. They may view people in their life as either all good or all bad, idealizing them at first and then devaluing them by attributing exaggerated negative traits to them.
For instance, if you were a target of a narcissist, they may subject you to excessive love bombing in the early stages of the relationship, and then devalue you using different manipulation tactics such as stonewalling, gaslighting, minimization, and so on.
How Do I Stop Idealizing My Partners?
Whether you are putting an ex-partner on a pedestal or tend to see each new relationship as something more special than it actually is, there is a likelihood that you may still be dealing with past hurt and trauma. If you’ve noticed that you have a strong tendency to idealize your romantic relationships, try the following tips:
- Look into the past
You may be idealizing your relationships because you have unresolved trauma from childhood or adolescence, and exploring your past hurt may give you a new perspective.
- Learn to love yourself
Invest some time in taking care of and accepting yourself for who you are, flaws and all. Self-love and care is the first step to integrating the conflicting parts of your personality.
- Understand that nobody is perfect
The key to overcoming your tendency to idealize is to accept the fact that people are complex beings, with both positive and negative attributes that can all coexist within a person at the same time.
- Work on healing your core wound
In order to be at peace with the complexity of yourself and others, you should work on understanding and healing your core emotional wound.
- Seek help from professionals
The best way to integrate difficult feelings and create healthier relationships is to reach out to qualified professionals who will give you the resources you need to live a happier life.
Find The Balance You Seek At Our Relationship Intensive Workshop
Whether you are struggling with letting your guard down or need help dealing with past trauma, don’t be afraid to reach out and find the help you need and deserve. At PIVOT, we work with experienced relationship coaches who love helping couples and individuals find happiness and balance in their lives.
We offer a great number of carefully crafted relationship workshops and retreats, as well as individual coaching designed to help you heal and better understand yourself and others. Get in touch with a PIVOT Advocate today!