7 Common Patterns in Love Addiction
By Jennifer Payne Guarino, LMFT, CSAT, Primary Therapist at The Ranch
Popular songs have been telling us for a very long time that love can be like a drug.
Love and/or sexual fantasies create a surge in the brain chemical dopamine. The rush of dopamine results in natural, neurochemically based, feelings of pleasure. When any pleasurable behavior, feeling or fantasy is engaged in over and over ― especially for the purpose of avoiding unpleasant feelings ― the brain will naturally seek more pleasurable experiences, more often and with more intensity.
This is how the compulsion to seek out love through many relationships or via fantasy can become so intoxicating. The afflicted person can become as mentally unstable or irrational as if they were under the influence of an addictive chemical.
If left untreated, love addiction can cause unhealthy patterns of behavior as destructive as the maladaptive behaviors associated with abuse of drugs and alcohol.
Although love addiction can occur in men, women are more likely to reach out for help in this area. Here are some of the common situations in the lives of people with love addiction.
- Always hunting for love. There is a need to find love and to be loved. A love addict feels like nothing without a partner and will go to great lengths to engage someone in a relationship. Romances typically occur quickly and with intensity. They become serious, fast. Securing the relationship is of utmost importance for the love addict. But the hunt, and the compulsion to find that person, can also be addictive. Longing intensifies, and if one person is unavailable, there may be a quick shift to another. Love addicts are often addicted to a variety of emotional states ― shame, resentment and depression ― and the hunt keeps the intensity of emotion going.
- Often seeking partners who help reenact trauma. Love addiction is a way to self-soothe, forget troubling memories, and to avoid feelings and real life. It is also a way to act out or reenact unresolved childhood trauma. People become used to feeling certain things, such as disappointment, abandonment, rejection, neglect and abuse, and they subconsciously try to maintain the feelings they’re used to. This leads them to seek out partners who help activate the conflicts that were experienced in childhood. For example, a person who had an unavailable or critical parent will seek unavailable and critical partners.
- Can’t stop clinging on for dear life. Once they find love, the fear of losing that person becomes overwhelming. A person terrified of losing love will do anything within their power to try to make sure their partner is happy. The fear of being abandoned can cause hypervigilance that leads to smothering behavior. The intensity of their desire to hold on to love often pushes love away when partners get fed up and leave.
- More about fantasy than a love that can endure. Though genuinely looking for love, the love addict is also searching for a connection that is based on unrealistic and inauthentic fantasy, an ideal not easily found outside of books and movies. Relationships that are one-sided quickly become dysfunctional. The love-addicted individual is constantly catering to a partner or on the lookout for someone to love, and they lose themselves in the process.
- Damages already low self-esteem. Love addicts lack healthy boundaries because they lack self-esteem. They may not think they deserve or need boundaries. I’ll let the guy do anything he wants with me, hoping he will love me. Cognitive distortion clouds their ability to see the relationship is one-sided and that they deserve more.
- Hearts can easily be broken. Broken hearts are frequent for love addicts because the object of their love does not return the love, or does not return it with the same intensity. Love addicts may find themselves with partners who are not responsive to the addict’s needs. Often, the love addict will attempt to find love with another addict or someone who has emotional problems of their own. A love addict finds people who never really fulfill their needs or return their affection. This keeps them on a constant hunt for love that is intoxicating, but unfulfilling and heartbreaking.
- Longing can turn to stalking behavior. Not every person with love addiction gets that far into the compulsion, but the need to be validated by the love of another person and related jealousy can lead to obsessive behaviors. It starts with a fantasy, but they just can’t let go. Fantasizing fuels euphoria and this creates the impetus to keep the feeling going. Stalking can also be related to compulsive jealousy and other disorders.
Love Addiction Recovery
Recovery takes a great deal of focus on looking more deeply at childhood trauma, attachment disorders and family relationships that may have led to the behavior. There is also a strong component of trying to help women see who they are aside from a relationship and outside of a relationship. This can be frightening for many but the rewards of getting to know oneself are a great step toward healing.
Choose a better life. Choose recovery.