Addicted to love? Sounds good, right? After all, love and physical intimacy provide some of the most satisfying experiences in life. But addiction to love or sex can be destructive in ways similar to other types of addiction, reports sex therapist Alexandra Katehakis, in PsychCentral.
A Cycle of Extremes
Love addiction and addiction to sex are both driven by a powerful need to find intimacy and connection with others. At the same time, people struggling with these addictions are profoundly worried about actually becoming close to another person. The inner contradictions are played out relationally as the person becomes trapped in cycles of quick and intense relationship pleasure followed by devastating periods of emptiness and self-reproach. Individuals with these addictions rarely live on the even, middle ground, says Katehakis. Their life is a series of mountaintops and valley events. Life is either thrilling because of a flood of romance-induced chemical reactions at the initial stages of relationship, or it is desolate because without fresh passion life feels like a void.
Endorphins as a Drug
The person addicted to sex or love is actually addicted to the endorphins that intimate connections can stimulate. Those first flutterings of the heart and heightened excitement of discovery are like a drug. Without those rushing endorphins, the person experiences the absence like withdrawal. This is why the addict is attached to the experience of romance rather than the object (a person) of romance. The love or sex addict who acts out while married is not actually in love with someone other than their spouse, they are looking to satisfy a craving for the thrill. As soon as the relationship enters a less exciting phase, the addict becomes bored, walks away and begins looking for a new partner.
Numbing Pain with Pleasure
Sometimes this kind of addiction is born out of an early trauma or overwhelming experience of pain in life. The person finds that they can numb out what feels intolerable by drowning that hurt in a flood of pleasurable romantic emotions. The irony is that even while they are using others to create intense experiences of pleasure, lurking beneath are deep feelings of self-loathing and shame. More romantic excitement is needed to silence the inner voice of condemnation. Eventually the cycle of highs and lows becomes chaotic, and other areas of life are disrupted. Careers are harmed. Marriages are harmed. Educational pursuits are derailed. It’s at this point that the addict may finally be ready to admit their problem and seek help.