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Are You Addicted to Love?

It’s February and love is in the air, for this is a month dedicated to lovers. Long before Valentine’s Day – February 14 – arrives, advertisements for candy, flowers and cards abound. Red and white hearts dress storefronts and everywhere you look there are reminders of romance and an implicit suggestion that you “should” be a part of it all.

It’s nice to be in love, and it’s especially nice to be in love in February – if you and your beloved share the same expectations about the significance of the Valentine’s Day holiday. Sadly, sometimes one partner is super-romantic and the other is purely pragmatic. Why pay big bucks for a bunch of flowers that will just wilt in a few days? Or worse, for those not currently in a relationship, you feel left out, deprived, lonely and frustrated. Why is everyone else so happily connected and you are alone?

Facing such painful situations is hard for anyone at this time of year, but it is especially hard for those who are addicted to love.

What is Love Addiction?

…the same parts of the brain that are associated with cocaine and nicotine addiction are also stimulated when memories and images of intense feelings for a loved one are induced.-Rita MiliosWe all appreciate experiencing the positive emotions that come with being in love. When we intensely bond with another person, certain brain chemicals, such as endorphins and dopamine, and especially oxytocin, the “love chemical,” are released in response.

Recent studies using brain imaging show that the same parts of the brain that are associated with cocaine and nicotine addiction are also stimulated when memories and images of intense feelings for a loved one are induced.

Love addiction shares common characteristics with other addictive processes. A love-addicted person seeks out the source of their high in some intensely focused ways that often become obsessive. They spend an inordinate amount of time and energy on behaviors related to the relationship, such as pursuing and attaining the desired love object; and they may neglect or abandon other interests to do so.

They use the love “high” as an emotional escape and experience panic, depression and despair if it is lost.

Differences Between Love Addiction and Healthy Love

Jeb Diamond, PhD, LCSW, a love addition expert and author of Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places: Overcoming Romantic and Sexual Addictions (1989, Avon Books) highlights the differences between loves addiction and healthy love:

  • Healthy love comes when one is self-secure and has self-love. Addictive love is an attempt to fill an inner void and create a false sense of security by getting the approval of someone “out there.”
  • Healthy love does not have to be searched for or sought out; it appears when the time and person are right. Addictive love is compulsively sought after.
  • Healthy love is unique and grows as partners learn to appreciate one another over time. Addictive love is often “instantaneous” or quickly escalates. There is often a “type” of personality the love-addicted are drawn to.
  • Healthy love is comfortable. Addicted love is tense and combative.

Root Causes of Love Addiction

What causes a person to become addicted to love in the first place? Why do some people develop an obsession about finding a love relationship and become unable to function normally if this need is not met?

According to most love addiction experts, love addicts are driven by low self-esteem, a fear of abandonment, and deep, unmet emotional needs.-Rita MiliosAccording to most love addiction experts, love addicts are driven by low self-esteem, a fear of abandonment, and deep, unmet emotional needs.

Love addicts are looking for security, belonging, identity, validation and purpose. They believe that being in a love relationship will eliminate their emotional pain and allow them to be whole and happy. Of course, these are unrealistic expectations that are bound to end in disappointment.

The core issue is that love addiction is not real love, but is instead a substitute “pseudo-love” where fantasy invokes the intoxicating brain chemicals that produce a false love high; yet the true intimacy and authenticity of real love is missing.

Negative Consequences of Love Addiction

Potential complications and consequences of love addiction include:

  • Relationship problems (romantic partners, children, family, others)
  • Poor school and / or job performance (due to obsessions and lack of focus)
  • Damage to reputation
  • Anxiety and / or depression
  • Stress-related health issues
  • Financial troubles (due to giving too much; excessive caretaking)
  • Legal troubles (claims of stalking, harassment, property damage, abuse etc.)

Overcoming Love Addiction

If you find the warning signs of love addiction to be hitting a little too close to home, don’t panic. Everyone is at risk of getting too intense in a relationship at one time or another.

If, however, you see a pattern in your behavior that has been repeated in multiple relationships, you should seriously consider the steps below – they can help you move toward more healthy relationships, develop a healthier image of yourself and display your worth to others.

  • Like with any addiction, learn everything you can about love addiction so that you can develop a self-help plan.
  • Recognize that it’s okay to desire the “perfect” mate. But making this your highest priority or putting your life on hold while you’re looking is not healthy and would not be perceived as an attractive personality trait by many potential partners.
  • No matter how low you feel, never put yourself down. We all have doubts, fears and worries about ourselves at our deepest level. But you, like everyone, need to be your own best friend and treat yourself with the same respect you would treat any good friend.
  • Don’t try to manipulate someone in an attempt to make them stay with you.
  • Don’t dwell on past mistakes or regrets. Accept that you can’t change the past, forgive yourself, and focus on the present and the future.
  • Don’t make perfection a goal; it is not attainable. Instead, strive to be the best you can be at the time.
  • Surround yourself with trustworthy people who will support you while treating you with the respect you deserve.
  • Be realistic about your expectations and take responsibility for your decisions and actions.
  • Imagine your life free from addiction. Regularly picture yourself living that life right now, and allow yourself to fully experience the positive feelings that this imagery invokes.
  • Make time in your life to focus on something you are passionate about or that gives you a strong sense of purpose.

Image Courtesy of iStock

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