The Meadows Logo

FE9D29B3-F346-4682-8D3C-A2B9B0FB6D7D Created with sketchtool.

Distorted Love: Adult Attachment Styles and Love Addiction

March 6, 2018

By Alexandra Katehakis, Ph.D.(c), MFT, CST-S, CSAT-S, Former Senior Fellow at The Meadows

For decades, researchers have struggled to define the unconscious processes of irrational love paramount in myths and fairy tales. Lovers in these stories are portrayed as love-struck, driven to tantrums or immature behavior, wholly bewitched by the spell of the beloved. The psychologically tormented, the unstable duo is incapable of secure, mature love, rendering them unable to function until they are driven to insanity and, at times, even to death.

Cinderella is every female love addict’s quintessential fantasy because, like Cinderella, she was abandoned or abused in early childhood. Thus, she dreams of the day when her prince or princess will arrive to deliver her from the unrelenting pain and loneliness of the emotionally barren landscape she lives in.

Embedded in her adult psyche, this fantasy plays out in real-time with real people, over and over again to no avail. However, this fictional love resides in well-worn, dissociative patterns in the brain and body, which, over time, become more tenacious until she feels powerless over her very own life.

Love addicts, through no fault of their own, use distorted love scenarios as a faulty means of managing painful emotions. This automatic, dissociative process is an adaptive strategy unconsciously honed in childhood to create the much-needed comfort she never received from a trusted other.

Understanding Adult Attachment Patterns

As with other addictive and compulsive behaviors, these issues consistently indicate a dysfunction in the woman’s implicitly learned attachment patterns: that is, in her very ability to regulate herself, her personality structure, and her ability to seek comfort from appropriate others. These problematic attachment patterns are at the core of why many females act out in obsessive love relationships.

Attachment patterns develop from infancy between the baby and her primary caregivers and become solidified later as she grows into toddlerhood. For example, when an infant is upset or dysregulated, the “good enough” mother soothes the infant, down-regulating her nervous system into a regulated state where she can rest, digest, and play.

Consistent tending and soothing assist the developing brain in forming its structures and regulatory capacities and encodes, or patterns, the nervous system to respond appropriately under stress. If a baby is soothed under duress, that baby grows into a resilient toddler, then child until she grows into a secure, functional adult who can soothe herself while under stress. This ability to self-soothe is the hallmark of a securely attached adult.

On the other hand, if the mother is chronically dysregulated due to depression or anxiety, she will imbue her infant’s system with those same vegetative or agitated patterns. This less than favorable scenario will hobble the infant’s brain and nervous system structures, rendering her unable to regulate or self-soothe herself as an adult properly. As a result, the depressed or anxious traits of the mother become insecure states and, therefore, attachment patterns in the adult person. Moderately to severely dysregulated nervous systems then can lead to addictive behaviors in adulthood.

Like all addicts, love addicts are chronically dysregulated. They seek relief from underlying mood problems such as depression or anxiety using the dissociative strategies of fantasy and serial relationships to mitigate their pain. But only temporary relief comes from their internal dysregulation through the relentless pursuit of obsessive love.

The simplest way to think about adult insecure attachment patterns is:

The Anxious-Avoidant type is both anxious and avoidant of intimate relationships. She appears commitment-phobic, unable to choose wisely or stay in a healthy relationship.

The Preoccupied personality is ambivalent in her attachment style. Her mixed messages of “come here, go away” make it difficult for her to sustain a long-term commitment.

The Disorganized type is simultaneously terrified of engulfment and abandonment. She fears closeness because the relationship struggles with telegraph abandonment, and closeness makes her feel suffocated.

Help for Love Addiction

With solid psychological work directed specifically at treating love addiction, dysfunctional patterns can change over time. By closely examining the underlying mechanisms that drive the love addiction, women can make profound changes in their body/mind/brain toward optimum mental health leading to the integrated experience of self-regulation. In time, the insecure, love-addicted female can grow into a secure, mature adult woman who can tolerate a close intimate relationship with a significant other to experience the love she deserves finally.

About Willow House at The Meadows

Willow House at The Meadows, located in Wickenburg, Arizona, provides an intensive, 45-day treatment program for women with complex intimacy disorders, love addiction, and relational trauma. In a safe and nurturing community composed of their peers, women are guided on their recovery journey by examining the underlying causes of their mental health struggles and self-destructive behaviors. The goal is for these individuals to gain the courage to face difficult issues, including grief and loss, heal from emotional trauma, and become accountable for their own feelings, behaviors, and recovery. To learn more, call 877-472-6760 today.