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Monday, January 30, 2017

Hooked on Love


By Jill Vermeire, MFT, CSAT-S

You might be a Love Addict if:

  • You always fall for toxic or unavailable people
  • You would rather be in a bad 
  • relationship than be alone
  • Your life falls apart after every break up

But who doesn’t want to be in love?
Actually, Love Addiction isn’t about love at all. The term itself can be misleading. It’s a much broader term that embodies several different problematic or ineffective behavior patterns related to intimacy and relationships.
So why do we call it “Love Addiction”?
What it really has to do with is mistaking fantasy for love and using unrealistic expectations (denial) to maintain the fantasy resulting in persistent and escalating consequences when the fantasy is broken. As with all addictions, there are negative consequences that continuously occur and the patterns can’t be stopped despite attempts to try.

Let’s start at the beginning

If you were neglected or abandoned as a child (emotionally, physically, and verbally), an empty space developed where there was supposed to be connection and nurturing from your caregiver. You then unconsciously feared that you could not survive without this connection. Then you began to imagine or fantasize about a different life, usually based on cartoons and movies.
For example, you may have played a lot of make believe or frequently got caught up in daydreaming. Because you didn’t have true, healthy role modeling for intimacy, you made up what it could be like. You were hoping someone would see you, understand you, and take care of you, which are appropriate things to want and need as a kid.

As an adult, you continue to find, and become attracted to, people who are unavailable because that is what’s familiar. Love addicts tend to believe that they have met “The One” and move very quickly into a relationship…over and over and over. It becomes a very problematic pattern. A love addict will twist themselves into whatever they think the object of their desire wants. It’s like a chameleon changing its colors to fit in.

The typical pattern includes ignoring red flags, giving up your personal interests for the relationship, and remaining in denial until something inevitably happens that shatters the fantasy. Once the reality has hit that your partner isn’t the idealized hero you thought they were, you fall into a pit of despair and overwhelming pain…and it’s nothing that ice cream and a sappy movie can fix.

Love addicts experience the end of a relationship as if it’s life threatening because that is what the original trauma of neglect tells them.  

At this point you will medicate and obsess and this is where the consequences of the addiction can become dangerous. It is important to note that the love addiction cycle can be a precursor to other addictions and relapses. When fantasy and denial are shattered, the love addict will attempt to medicate the intolerable feelings that follow. Sex, drugs, and food are common ways people will try and numb themselves. Starting an affair to cope with the painful feelings of betrayal or disappointment is also common and can result in underlying sexual compulsivity getting out of control. Obsession can present in many different ways, but always involves the non-stop, uncontrollable, intrusive thoughts about the other person. Love addicts can get to the point of life threatening consequences, such as cutting or suicide, to try and medicate their pain. Eventually, they either return to the toxic relationship or move quickly into another because being alone can feel like DEATH to a love addict.

To illustrate, let’s look at some famous fictional love addicts. In the Walt Disney movie “Frozen,” the character Anna is abandoned by her parents when they die in a boating accident. Her sister Elsa isolates herself in her room because she can’t control her ice powers. When Anna has her first encounter with a handsome prince, she instantly falls in love and agrees to marry him within that same day. Of course, if you’ve seen the movie, you know that the handsome prince turns out to be anything but charming or wonderful. It’s dramatic, intense, and the perfect example of love addiction. Luckily the moral of that story turns out to be about sisterhood and girl power…not about a damsel in distress being rescued by the prince.
On a newer television show called “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” the character Rebecca Bunch quits her great job in New York City and accepts a lesser job in small town California to be near her object of obsession, Josh. She proceeds to try and sabotage his relationship, tries to spontaneously be where he is (also known as “Stalking”), pours over childhood photos of the two of them at camp, and basically eats, sleeps, and breathes all things Josh. Although her childhood trauma isn’t discussed, it would be safe to assume her upbringing was less than ideal.

Can men be love addicts, too? 

Of course! It is actually a common misconception that love addiction is a women’s issue. Men are abandoned and neglected in childhood just as much as women; therefore they are just as susceptible to love addiction. Look at Aladdin from another classic Disney movie! He was a homeless kid in India, obviously without any parents, and he instantly falls in love with the mysterious, beautiful girl he meets in the market. As it turns out, she’s the princess (the most unavailable girl in all the land), so he uses his wishes to become a prince in order for her to fall in love with him. Of course, with most fantasy cartoons, they end up living happily ever after. Unfortunately, for love addicts, there’s usually no happy at the end of the cycle.

So what do you do if you think you are a love addict? Treatment for Love Addiction is most successful when multiple modalities are used. The love addict needs education, cognitive behavioral interventions, experiential therapies, and trauma treatment. They need help reducing shame and guilt, as well as to begin finding ways to build esteem and confidence. Breaking the cycle of love addiction is no easy task. The addict must go through a period of emotional withdrawal and detox which can take much longer than the average drug detox. Having a supportive, caring, knowledgeable team of people and a safe, nurturing environment are also key components to treating love addiction.

The bottom line…Love Addiction, if left untreated, can result in very serious, damaging consequences…even life threatening. There is hope for happier, long-lasting relationships, but it can’t be done alone. It takes courage to reach out for help, but it can be one of the most important decisions a person can make.

Jill Vermeire, MFT, CSAT-S is the Program Director for Willow House, a treatment program for women struggling with Love, Sex, and Relationships at The Meadows. She received her Masters Degree in Clinical Psychology from Pepperdine University, became licensed as a Marriage and Family Therapist, and in 2000 began her private practice in Los Angeles, specializing in sex, trauma, and addictions. She is a CSAT-S as well as EMDR trained and has worked at various treatment centers and organizations in Southern California and Arizona, including Promises, The Meadows, Clearview, The Sexual Recovery Institute, and Visions Adolescent Treatment Programs. Ms. Vermeire was a contributing author for “Making Advances: A Comprehensive Guide for Treating Female Sex and Love Addicts” with other leaders in the field of Female Sex and Love Addiction. Jill has become recognized in the mental health community as an authority on these subjects and has appeared alongside Dr. Drew Pinksy in VH1’s “Sex Rehab” which she later discussed on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” in 2009. Other media appearances include “Extra,” “Issues with Jane Velasquez” on HLN, NBC News, the TV Guide Network, and KROQ’s “Loveline.”