Due to recent allegations in the news, everyone is trying to understand the concept of behavioral addictions such as sex or pornography. Did you know that love addiction falls within the same category? All three addictions—sex, pornography, and love—are intimacy disorders.
An intimacy disorder is a condition that makes it difficult for an individual to establish a close relationship. Those who suffer seek satisfaction outside of themselves by repetitively using other people, relationships or experiences in order to achieve fulfillment.
Love addiction can be defined as the compulsive pursuit of passion-related behavior involving the euphoric sensation of being in love. This euphoric feeling can provide a sense of protection for the addict such as emotional or physical security. The addict lacks emotional security within so they are in constant search of it from others.
Typically, the relationships of love addicts do not last long. If they do last, the relationship is generally unhealthy or dysfunctional. The relationship is built on codependency and neediness rather than a true understanding of and respect for the other person, including appropriate boundaries.
Once the addicts are in what they perceive to be a stable relationship, they can become unhappy and detached because the emotional excitement has begun to dwindle. Desperation can set in, along with a compulsion to move on to a new relationship. Because love addiction is an intimacy disorder, these individuals lack the awareness that when the newness of a relationship wears off, true intimacy exchange can begin. Love addicts mistake the euphoric high for intimacy.
As with any form of addiction, love addicts are in denial about their behavior and the problems it may be causing in their lives. Rather than exploring their contribution to failed relationships, they often blame the partner or the relationship. This is a predictable way that addicts avoid addressing their own problematic behavior.
As a counselor and hypnotherapist certified in the field of sex, pornography, and love counseling, I consistently see addicts suffering from this within my practice. Behavioral addiction is an unconscious decision based on lack of self-worth and self-confidence.
Some of the warning signs can include:
- Finding it emotionally intolerable to be alone
- Constantly seeking a romantic relationship
- Choosing a partner who does not meet your personal needs
- Feeling desperate to please and fearful of rejection
- Pleasing a partner by going against your own values
- Ridding yourself of important people or interests to please a partner
- Finding it difficult to leave an unhealthy or dysfunctional relationship
- Returning to an unhealthy or dysfunctional relationship
- Confusing new sexual excitement for love
- Using sex as manipulation to attract or keep a partner
Andrea, a 42-year-old single mother of two daughters, came to my office because she was unable to find a stable relationship and was suffering from low self-esteem due to what she identified as rejection. My approach to her treatment began by exploring her relationship history.
Andrea was adopted at birth. She has struggled with being placed for adoption her entire life, often perceiving it as rejection and abandonment. Her adopted mother suffered from severe depression, which kept Andrea from bonding with her.
Andrea became detached in order to protect herself, thus setting the stage for intimacy-related issues. She also experienced a sexual trauma at an early age. She became promiscuous as a teenager due to the psychological abuse endured as a child. She has had many adult relationships, one right after the other, often overlapping.
The longest relationships were with each of her daughter’s fathers, and both were unhealthy and dysfunctional. Throughout her life she used sex to manipulate her partners, often mistaking attention gained from sexual experiences for love. Her desire for love was so intense that she repeatedly put her physical well being at jeopardy by having unprotected sex.
The plan of action established for Andrea was first 90-day sobriety from any trigger, which included flirting, sensual communication or dating, and no sexual encounters of any kind. My goal for her was self-awareness, the discovery that the love she sought from men was a misguided attempt to heal a lack of self-love stemming from the attachment issues of childhood.
As with any initial experience of sobriety, emotions ran high. She no longer had a way of suppressing or denying her pain through love addiction. She was instructed to keep a journal of her emotions as they surfaced: what was happening to her and how she felt within the moment.
Where had she felt this pain before in her life? She brought her emotional journal to her therapy sessions for processing. I helped her heal by guiding her present unconscious emotions and connecting them to individuals, relationships, and experiences from her past.
I also used clinical hypnosis to create visualizations, both of the past and the present, and connect them with a new healthy emotional attachment. Her progress has been tremendous. She is currently involved in a healthy, loving relationship that is indicative of her internal therapeutic work.
For a love addict like Andrea, sex is typically an important tool within the relationship. In fact, they often partner with sex addicts. Sex addiction and love addiction are very similar in motive. Love addicts often use sex to manipulate their partners to receive emotional fulfillment.
Sex addicts will typically provide the comfort of nurture, love, and support to the love addict. What the partners do not realize is they are both codependent and unconsciously manipulating their partner to receive what they feel they need.
The cause for any addiction is typically what the child perceives to be emotional, physical or sexual abuse in early childhood, as we can see with Andrea. The reason this is such an important factor is that the unconscious mind is developed in early childhood, beginning with the bond between mother or caretaker and infant.
The infant is utterly helpless; only the love and nurture of the mother or caretaker preserves her life, so whatever lesson or relational style she learns from this person shapes her understanding of reality and literally shapes her mind. Society, culture, religion and holidays, especially Valentine’s Day, can be a contributing factor in reinforcing the trauma throughout her lifetime.
The unconscious mind is where emotions, feelings, fears, habits, and beliefs are stored. Whatever the child perceives to be true sets the stage for life to play out. While physical and sexual abuse are self-explanatory, emotional abuse, consisting of neglect, abandonment, rejection or even confusion (such as inconsistent responses from the caretaker), can be devastating.
In my practice, there is never blame, only accountability and responsibility. If you hold yourself accountable for your life’s decisions and accept responsibility for your behavior, the healing has already begun.
If you feel you suffer from any of these warning signs, please reach out to a professional. There are also anonymous recovery groups and sponsors available to help you. Love addicts are encouraged to work step by step creating self-awareness. Combining a comprehensive treatment plan along with a 12-step recovery program ensures the only compulsion you have is to love and respect yourself!
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