By Caroline Becker, LISAC, LAC
Therapist, The Meadows Outpatient Center
What is Love Addiction?
Pia Mellody defines love addiction as: “A condition in which individuals…are attracted to somebody who will neglect the relationship.” This creates a co-dependent love dance that is unhealthy, frustrating, and debilitating to the love addict, yet they remain entrenched in a fantasy of what was or might be.
Because concerned others around the love-addicted person see things differently than she sees them, they may offer opinions and advice about ending a dysfunctional, highly stressful relationship. It seems simple to a friend, co-worker, or relative who cares about the love addict and wants their difficult feelings (anger, fear, grief, shame) and obsession (repetitive thinking, talking, and actions involving the object of their addiction) to go away.
At the height of withdrawal, the love addict will have difficulty working, taking care of family responsibilities, maintaining a social life or hobbies, or connecting with others. Isolation, depression, anxiety seep into his/her existence and, just as with chemical addiction, denial is the primary obstacle to finding help. People believe they should be able to fix their problems alone.
Myths Commonly Associated with Love Addiction
Myth: Love Addiction happens to people who are too sensitive or who read too many romance novels.
Reality: Love Addiction is a feature of something much deeper than “having one’s head in the clouds” or getting caught up in romance. The love addict’s behavior comes from an unconscious place of pain due to trauma from abuse (emotional, physical, or sexual) and/or neglect that occurred early in life. By focusing on someone else, the pain of trauma and/or neglect is avoided, remaining unconscious.
Myth: Love addiction is something a person should snap out of or grow out of.
Reality: Love addiction develops when the reality is too painful for the conscious mind to manage, and so a fantasy version of a loved one and of life with that person develops.
Myth: If I love him/her enough (or if I explain myself in the right way, or if I’m smarter, better looking, more generous or strict, funnier or have more money), I will be loved in the same way I love him/her and our lives will be perfect.
Reality: Those suffering from Love Addiction are attracted to people who will not meet their needs. Realistic thinking is skewed, and the above myth illustrates a split from reality and an escape into fantasy.
Myth: Talking about the problem or finding an intellectual solution to change another person will fix the problem.
Reality: The way out of Love Addiction usually comes when withdrawal sets in, pain becomes unbearable, denial and fantasy become less entrenched. With lowered defenses (particularly denial), the fantasy bubble bursts, and the individual becomes open to receiving help. Awareness is the first step of change.
If you or someone you know is experiencing love addiction, it is important to seek the help of a mental health professional, especially if conversation or behavior becomes erratic or dangerous.
If the situation is not acute, you can find more information about love addiction, and how to break the cycle by reading Facing Love Addiction…Giving Yourself the Power to Change the Way You Love (by Pia Mellody, Andrea Wells Miller and J. Keith Miller).