This post was updated on Apr 3, 2023
I used to be labeled a “love addict.” That’s why I focused my early behavioral and mental health career on the meaning and treatment of love addiction… to deeply understand it.
However, after working alongside my gifted staff of therapists and healers at PIVOT, I learned the truth. Love itself is not addictive.
In fact, naming a condition “love addiction” is counterintuitive and shameful. Instead, at The Glass House, we use the term attachment dysregulation to refer to love addiction and highlight its severity. Attachment dysregulation results from an attachment laced with abandonment and neglect that drives individuals to attach anxiously, avoidantly, and ambivalently. Resulting in onboarding coping mechanisms that we call survival patterns to help the individual tolerate hurtful feelings.
If you’re told that you have love addiction, and you’ve experienced abandonment wounds from your childhood, then you most likely are craving affection. And that unmet longing is driving every single relationship decision.
When I Was Labeled a “Love Addict”
I remember when I was thirty-seven, I was in a therapist’s office, broken-hearted over another romantic relationship that had fallen apart.
I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. I didn’t want to go on.
That was when I was labeled as a love addict. Someone not capable of giving or receiving love.
However, that definition didn’t make sense to me. Although my relationship didn’t feel loving, what I felt was a constant and intense longing to be loved.
In fact, I was chasing relationships with the hopes of finally experiencing a sense of self worth and belonging. This translated to me being a “stage five cling-on.” I couldn’t be alone and always had to be in a relationship.
So, when I was told I had love addiction, it confused me because the “cure” I was given was to not draw attention to myself, stay out of relationships for one year, and attend a “love addicts” group to listen to others share their stories of abuse.
The prescription seemed totally counterintuitive as I felt more abandoned and alone. What I always wanted was to love and be loved, and now I couldn’t because I was addicted to love. I had to stay away from love, which made me feel like I didn’t deserve to be loved.
It made no sense.
How could I be addicted to something that I had never experienced? This “Love Addiction” term on-boarded so much shame and anxiety.
Read on for more information about what love addiction means, its causes, cycles, signs and symptoms, and how to get help.
What Is Love Addiction Really?
Love Addiction, also referred to as pathological love, is a behavioral pattern that is characterized by an overwhelming and maladaptive preoccupation with one or more romantic partners. This excessive interest often leads to a lack of control, obsessive thoughts and behaviors, and negative consequences on various aspects of one’s life.
The following are examples of how it can manifest:
- Lack of nurturing and attention at a young age.
- Unhealthy attachment to people
- Romance or sex to heal past adult, adolescent, or childhood trauma
- Get unmet needs fulfilled
- Avoid fear or emotional pain
- Fill our loneliness and maintain balance
Love addiction can be a way of coping with emotional distress, pain, or fear and can provide a temporary sense of fulfillment or pleasure.
This attachment is often unhealthy and can lead to negative consequences, such as codependency, obsessive behavior, and difficulty forming and maintaining a healthy relationship.
In addition to the negative consequences mentioned, love addiction can also lead to individuals who may become so focused on their romantic relationships that they neglect other areas of their life, such as work, friendships, and personal goals.
It can also cause individuals to stay in toxic or abusive relationships, as they feel unable to break away from their partner for fear of being alone.
Furthermore, love addiction can also lead to financial problems, as individuals may prioritize their romantic relationships over their financial responsibilities. They may spend excessive amounts of money on gifts, dates, or other gestures to maintain the relationship.
What Causes Love Addiction?
So, how does love addiction start? Early childhood relationship patterns are the first place to look to understand these unhealthy behaviors.
Working with clients, I see that issues in adult relationships often relate to childhood experiences. You’re drawn to what’s familiar, regardless of merit. It is what you know. For example, this means that you can be drawn to people who cause you pain repeatedly.
An Insecure Attachment
Love addiction and attachment disorders can develop when individuals try to fill the void left by an abandonment wound from childhood. When children do not receive the emotional nurturing and healthy attachment they need from caregivers during their formative years, they may develop an insecure attachment style that makes them more prone to love addiction and anxious attachment in adulthood. This could be from a parent who was gone all the time, or couldn’t stay connected with you, or had their own wound and couldn’t nurture you, or perhaps you lost them at a young age.
This can lead to craving attention depending on the circumstance.
People with love addiction tend to resonate with the term “attachment disorder” upon looking at the emotional challenges of neglect and abandonment they experienced in their childhood. They often feel unsafe in relationships when challenged. As their deep unmet longing is hard to tolerate, the individual is often left feeling lifeless and empty.
Most love addicts who are unable to end a relationship will try to “fix” it to prove to themselves that they are “winning.” They are found in a highly destabilizing position when abandoned, often being unable to function at work or in social circumstances because of a withdrawal from love.
Love Addict Core Wounds
If you’ve experienced any of the following and have not taken the time to heal your wounds, then you are likely to be susceptible to what some call “love addiction”:
- Your parents got divorced
- One or both of your parents had untreated mental illness
- You were adopted
- You lost a sibling or parent at a young age
- You were abused
- Your parents were emotionally unavailable
- You were neglected
- You were abandoned
- You didn’t get validation from your parents
This drives us to either want overly dramatic and intense emotions in relationships or at times, detach completely for fear of neglect and abandonment.
In either case, the result is a disconnected and unhealthy relationship.
It’s important to note that love addiction can have multiple causes, and each person’s experience is unique. Understanding the underlying causes of love addiction is an important step toward recovery and developing healthy coping mechanisms.
The Love Addiction Cycle
Unfortunately, “love addicts” usually pick a love-avoidant to partner with, which triggers the unhealthy cycle, because the love-avoidant is terrified if anyone gets too close, so they push you away. – And that type of person is familiar to the anxious one seeking connection.
Love Addicts live in a chaotic world. They are fearful of being alone or rejected, so they endlessly search for that special someone to make them feel whole.
They become attracted to the intense experience of “falling in love” instead of wanting the peaceful intimacy of healthy relationships.
Their life choices become focused on the search for this perfect relationship – from wardrobe choices to hours at the gym to doing hobbies that may not interest them.
They live in the hope of finding the one person who will fill their void. And their expectations in relationships are often unrealistic.
Furthermore, people with love addiction struggle with setting boundaries and communicating their needs in a relationship. They may prioritize their partner’s needs and wants over their own, which can lead to feelings of resentment and dissatisfaction in the relationship.
Common Signs and Symptoms Of Love Addiction
Love addiction is a condition characterized by an unhealthy and compulsive attachment to people, romance, or sex. Most love addicts will experience some or all of the following symptoms and characteristics:
- Lack of attention and nurturing in childhood
- Feelings of isolation and detachment from family
- Prone to avoid abandonment and rejection at any cost
- Can be controlling and manipulative
- Unrealistic expectations of their relationships
- A tendency to mistake intensity for intimacy
- Trust issues and hidden denial and pain
- Inner rage caused by early abandonment and lack of nurturing
- Craving for positive regard
- A tendency to tolerate high-risk behaviors
- Using relationships and sex to improve mood and relieve pain
- Experiencing other compulsive behaviors and addictive problems
- Confusing love and sexual attraction
- Trading sexual activity for affection or love
- Maintaining a secret “double life”
- Refusing to acknowledge their problems
- Inability to be single, leaving one partner for another
- Obsessive thoughts and/or daydreaming about their partner
- Having feelings of shame and guilt
- Financial problems
- Difficulty maintaining friendships
It’s important to note that each person’s experience with love addiction may be different, and not all individuals will exhibit all of these signs and symptoms.
Facing Love Addiction
If you have attachment wounds or you are a “love addict,” it doesn’t mean you are stuck with this forever.
When I was told I had a love addiction, I dug deeper. I wanted to find out where the pain was coming from. What I discovered was that I felt abandoned, and I didn’t know how to be alone.
I realized that my love addiction was based on getting validation that I’m lovable and a worthy human, which was denied in childhood after my father’s tragic death and my mother’s tragic suicide. Unfortunately, for some, the pattern is to choose the same kind of person as the parent who was unable to give genuine love, caring and emotional support to you as a do-over.
This leads to a cycle, a relational pattern, that some call an addiction.
However, just because you come from a dysfunctional family doesn’t mean you can’t create secure attachments and have healthy relationships.
Intensive Workshop: Break The Pattern Of Love Addiction
If you are committed to change, then you’re not stuck with this forever. Instead, be open to other healthy ways to change and seek professional help – find a therapist to talk about the relationship and the pain that’s inside of you.
Remember, you are worthy of happiness and love, and a healthy relationship. You can have relational freedom.
If you are looking for more mental health resources, create meaningful connections and overcome challenging and toxic relationships, then contact PIVOT. Our team provides evidence-based methods and tools to support your journey toward healing and better self-care. Together with our seasoned coaches, we explore effective approaches for addressing imbalanced, unsatisfactory, and addictive relationships in a healthy manner.
Apart from individual and personalized coaching, we also provide 5-day relationship workshops at our love addiction retreat, The Glass House. We can help you get on the right track toward a healthy relationship. Our love addiction intensives will make a huge shift in your life.