I used to be labeled a “love addict.” That’s why I focused my early behavioral health career on 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 used the term attachment dysregulation to refer to love addiction and highlight its severity. Attachment dysregulation often seems to result from an attachment style that developed from adopting specific survival patterns that help the individual tolerate the hurtful feelings of neglect and abandonment.
If you’re told you’re a love addict, and you’ve experienced abandonment wounds from your childhood, then you may be craving love. And that unmet longing is driving every single relationship.
However, with this label, you don’t feel like you can show up healthy in any relationship because you go into every relationship wounded.
Why? Because, if you love too much, you feel like “there’s the example of my love addiction.”
I remember when I was thirty-nine, I was in a therapist’s office, broken-hearted over another 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 belonging. This translated to me being a “stage five cling-on.” I couldn’t be alone. I always had to be in a relationship.
So, when I was told I was a love addict, 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.
After all, how could I be addicted to something that I had never experienced? What I was addicted to was chasing unavailable people.
What Is Love Addiction Really?
“Love addiction” is painful, because at the core – it is filling a void caused by a lack of nurturing and attention at a young age.
It’s an unhealthy attachment to people, romance or sex to heal past trauma, get unmet needs fulfilled, avoid fear or emotional pain, fill our loneliness and maintain balance.
Addiction To Affection
Love addiction develops from experiencing an avoidant bond in childhood. This could be from a parent who was gone all the time, or couldn’t connect with you, or had their own wound and couldn’t nurture you.
This then leads to craving love.
Love addicts tend to resonate with the term attachment disorder upon looking at the neglect and abandonment they experienced in their childhood. They often cling on in relationships when challenged with their attachment wounds, all because of a deep-set fear of abandonment. 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 their relational withdrawal.
Understanding Relationship Addiction
Unfortunately, “love addicts” usually pick a love avoider to partner with, which triggers the unhealthy cycle for the love addict, because the love avoider is terrified of anyone get too close, so they push you away. – And, that type of person is familiar.
“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.
This leads them to spending their time hunting for “the one.” 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 for the hope of finding the one person who will fill their void.
How Does Love Addiction Start?
Early childhood relationship patterns are the first place to look when working to break the bonds of love addiction.
Working with clients, I see that issues in adult relationships relate to childhood experiences. You’re drawn to what’s familiar, regardless of how good it is for you. It is what you know.
Addiction or attachment disorder becomes a survival pattern. They happen because you are trying to fill the hole of an abandonment wound from childhood.
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 “love addiction”:
- Your parents got divorced
- One or both of your parents were alcoholic
- 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 afraid of being abandoned
- You didn’t get validation from your parents
When a child grows up and watches their parents go through a bad divorce, their experience complicates their view of attachment in relationships, creating an attachment disorder.
This drives us to either want overly dramatic and intense emotions in relationships (“love addiction”) or to detach completely for fear of neglect and abandonment (“love avoidance”).
In either case, the result is a disconnected and unhealthy relationship.
Common Signs Of Love Addiction
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 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
Facing Love Addiction
If you have an attachment disorder 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. Unfortunately, the pattern is to choose the same kind of person as the parent who was unable to give the genuine love, caring and emotional support.
This leads to a cycle, or addiction.
However, just because you come from a dysfunctional family doesn’t mean you can’t create secure attachments and healthy relationships.
Love Addiction 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 change and 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 ready to create meaningful connections and overcome addictive relationships, then contact PIVOT. Apart from individual and personalized coaching, we also provide 5 day relationship workshops at our love addiction retreat, The Glass House. We’re here to help. Our love addiction intensives are here to help.