Are you a love addict? It’s estimated that 3% — 6% of adults are, which can cause them to slip into toxic relationship patterns that cause a lot of emotional destruction. Being a love addict isn’t easy. It feeds on unrealistic expectations of connection and can make it hard for those suffering to function (even to the point that they lose their job and all their friendships).
If you’re someone who is dealing with an addiction to love, to your romantic partners, then it’s important to take it seriously. Like any other addiction, this desperate chase for something beyond the self can result in absolute disaster and a loss of meaning, fulfillment, and peace.
Love is just as addicting as anything else.
Most think of addiction in terms of chemicals. When someone mentions an “addict” the image of a frail person, reliant on illicit drugs, comes to mind. That’s not the reality of all addiction, as we are learning. People can also be addicted to gambling, to their jobs, and even to the stress created by their trauma. Even romantic relationships fall into this realm. It’s possible to become addicted to strange ideas of love and the partnerships we build around those ideas.
In the simplest of terms, when someone has a “love addiction” they actually have an addiction to the intense emotional states that romantic relationships create. It’s not so much about finding someone to share their lives with. A person who is truly addicted to “love” makes their decisions from fear more than anything else.
They fear being abandoned by someone they are attached to. Some even fear being rejected by someone they’re just getting interested in. This fear is rooted in their self-worth. Because the love addict is a person who sees their worth as being directly tied to their romantic partners. If they aren’t in a relationship, then they aren’t lovable or worthy enough in their minds.
These beliefs create behaviors that can become highly addictive in different ways. According to Sherry Gaba — an LCSW and psychotherapist with a specialty in love addiction — when someone is addicted to love they are more obsessed with the behavioral elements of those relationships.
“…You’re not addicted to the substance. You’re addicted to the behavior,” Gaba told Psych Central. “Someone with a love addiction has a feeling of emptiness or nothingness. They almost feel like unless they are in a relationship, there’s nothing to be happy about.”
That can be clearly seen in the patterns that love addicts become trapped in. Desperate though they claim to be for a fair and supportive love, they often trap themselves in treacherous connections with people who aren’t capable of meeting their needs or helping them heal the pain that they’re in.
Are you addicted to romantic love?
It’s not an easy pill to swallow, admitting that you are addicted to romantic relationships and the feelings they create. Everyone, on some level, wants to connect with others. But when it becomes a desperate aspect of your personality, there are big risks.
An addiction to love can corner you into chasing unattainable people, becoming codependent, or completely destroying your life. That’s why it’s so important, to be honest about the behaviors you see in yourself. Feeling like love addiction may be taking over your relationships? Look out for these red flags:
- Chasing the unattainable: It’s incredibly common for people with a love addiction to pursue people who are emotionally unavailable people. Why? They most often pursue those intense early feelings of attraction which they associate with love.
- Need for constant contact: Those with love addiction are fundamentally insecure and gain their self-worth through validation from their lover. To get this, many need a constant (and irrational) level of contact and positive reinforcement.
- Codependency and lack of identity: Codependent people lose themselves in their relationships. They lack identity. The same happens when someone has a love addiction. They can become entirely defined by their partners. They become what they believe will get them the most safety or affection (even if it’s not authentic).
- Zero interest outside the love: Because love addicts are getting their sense of self and confidence from their relationships, they often form very little interest in things outside of that relationship. It can leave them feeling hollow.
- Fear of rejection or abandonment: There is a big fear of rejection in love addicts. They see their worth as dependent on a relationship, so if someone rejects them by leaving a relationship — they have no worth. Sadly, this can create highly destructive behavioral loops.
- Love-linked self-esteem: A true love addict only has high self-esteem when they have a partner in their life. They think along the lines of, “If I were a good, lovable person, I would have romantic love.” This isn’t true.
- Relationship obsession: Addicts become obsessed with the thing they are addicted to. It consumes all the space in their lives. That applies to love addiction as well. When someone has a love addiction, their entire focus becomes their partners and romantic connections.
The above traits come to create an incredibly insecure person who gets caught up in a race they can never win. They become stuck chasing feelings and relationships that don’t exist, with partners who value them more for their desperation than anything else.
Love addiction leaves those dealing with it at a serious disadvantage. They can become sitting ducks for abusive people. Their desperate craving for outward love, combined with their low or non-existent sense of self, makes them vulnerable to those who desire to control them or to take advantage of them.
Where does love addiction come from?
How does this love addiction arise? Does it come out of nowhere? Not really. It’s generally thought that love addiction happens in one of two ways. Someone’s addiction to love and romantic entanglements can be rooted in trauma, or the conditioning someone has received.
A traumatic history
While there is not a great deal of research that has gone into the informal explanation of “love addiction” there is some general consensus among professionals. Namely, there is an understanding that love addiction can be created early on when a child is raised in a toxic, dysfunctional, abusive, or otherwise emotionally neglectful home. Children need safe early connections, otherwise, their view of relationships is twisted.
People with a history of trauma (especially childhood trauma) are more likely to develop relationship addiction. Their sense of self and their confidence can be so greatly wounded that they spend the rest of their lives chasing people who can create the feelings of safety and affection they didn’t receive at key developmental moments.
Many victims of trauma can also make a false association between romantic love and salvation. They imagine that being loved by someone else will end the pain they’re in, but nothing has that power. As a result, they can be found flitting from relationship to relationship looking for someone who will take away the pain they are further compounding.
As with anything in this life, trauma cannot always be blamed. Sometimes, people develop unhealthy beliefs and behaviors not on the back of a dysfunctional past. The dysfunction can actually be conditioned into them by society itself. We’re social creatures. We do what we watch others do and mimic behaviors we see as “mainstream” or popular in our friends, family, celebrities, and wider media.
The cultures we live in, without a doubt, affect the way we relate to one another and the way we build romantic relationships. Love addiction is no different. Many of the behaviors we see in love addiction are praised by society and encouraged by it. Just look at any Taylor Swift album.
We are a people obsessed with the chase of love. People are bombarded day in and day out with advertising, music, movies, and books that tell them the most important thing they can do is find a romantic partner. Women are judged by their ability to “keep a man” and men are judged by their ability to conquer as many women as possible.
Where would relationship addiction not be encouraged in that? Society, by and large, treats romantic love as transactional. Partners are to be used like luxury luggage, to help create a fantasy or to manifest desired pleasures and masks. It’s a messy game that lands a lot of people in superficial and one-sided partnerships they get stuck in.
What is the cost of love addiction?
The costs of having a love addiction are incredibly high. It’s not only a matter of repeated heartbreaks and off-balance relationships. When someone is truly addicted to having a romantic partner, when they are defined by it, problems can arise in every other corner of their life.
It’s not uncommon to find love addicts struggling with:
- Escalating behavior (like stalking)
- A loss of interest in fulfilling experiences
- Inability to maintain stable employment
- Isolation from friends and family
- Impaired emotional and mental health
When emotions run high, love addicts get pushed into increasingly extreme places. The desperation they feel to hold on to that external validation they get from romance can encourage them to take part in increasingly irrational or threatening behavior. The escalation can result in cyber stalking and dangerous confrontations.
Even the ability to hold down a job and stable friendships is impacted. For those truly addicted to the chase of love, to the attention of their partners, the world becomes a horrendously small place. There is only them and the focus of their affection. That’s a lonely place to be when they finally come up for air and realize everyone else they love is gone.
What you can do to stop chasing the wrong relationships.
Is there any way to break the terrifying loops that love addiction pushes some into? Of course. There is always a way to improve our dysfunctional relationship behaviors, love addiction is no different. Those who want to stop the frantic chase, they can do so by increasing their self-esteem, getting professional help, and finding security in their own company.
1. Give yourself a backbone
Many love addicts lack the backbone they need to heal. They exist in a place of low self-esteem and low self-worth. It’s a toxic combination. Not only do these combined shortcomings push them into relationships that are rushed and ill-considered. Love addicts can also find themselves choosing toxic and abusive partners who reinforce their low opinion of themselves.
The pursuit of self-love must be a necessary first step in healing love addiction. These addicts must learn how to embrace themselves fully as they are, and love all facets of themselves — whether those things are good or bad.
This is a must early on in the journey, and it’s a part that takes a lot of patience to achieve. Love addicts won’t get there over time. Self-esteem must be rebuilt day by day. First, by doing things that make that person feel accomplished and capable. Next, by intentionally embracing the inner and outer parts of themselves they’ve always hidden.
Working to resolve past traumas helps here too. For the love addict who has been shaped by the painful rejections of their past, finding peace within the mind (and the nervous system) can result in serious mental peace that increases confidence and vision.
2. Spend serious time alone
Breaking addiction, necessarily, means breaking ties with the thing that is the center of that addiction. For example, you don’t send a heroin addict into a trap house and expect them to get clean and stay sober. It’s a similar dynamic for the love addict who is bouncing from relationship to relationship, seeing dysfunction and regret everywhere they go.
Sound familiar? Someone who has a love addiction has to spend significant time alone in order to break that addiction. That fear of being rejected, of being alone, cannot disappear when one is still wearing the safety blanket of another person they have chosen out of desperation.
Does this mean that the love addict has to break off their relationship and trek into the mountains alone? Of course not. It simply means that one of the priorities that all love addicts must address is the reality of getting comfortable in their own skin, with their own thoughts, inside of their own heightened self-worth.
3. Get professional help
For those who have a love addiction rooted in trauma, professional help is often a necessary step in the recovery journey. Developmental trauma and dysfunction change us in ways we can’t always realize from our inside-out perspective. A professional hand can guide survivors in the right direction and teach them healthier ways to relate to themselves and others.
That’s precisely what is needed for love addicts. Rather than doing all the heavy lifting on their own, they can benefit greatly from the healing support of a knowledgeable and experienced professional. More than that, they can be empowered by someone who can give them realistic treatment for any mental or emotional health issues they are dealing with.
4. Elevate your socials
The majority of our romantic relationships come from our social circles. We meet people at work or through mutual friends and we build a connection with them. The same can be said about a lot of our relationship standards and behaviors. We reflect the type of people we keep close to in our lives. That’s why elevating social circles is such a necessary part of healing a love addiction.
If you’re someone who is trying to put their love addiction to an end, then take the next logical step. Surround yourself with higher quality people that encourage more intentionally aligned behavior out of you. This won’t just give you a support net, it will increase your chances of finding a healthy partner (if that’s what you’re searching for).
We are a reflection of the people we surround ourselves with. If all of your girlfriends, all of your buddies, are exhibiting obsessive or unhealthy behavior you’re more likely to do the same. Make your healing journey easier on yourself by elevating the quality of people you invest in romantically or otherwise.
Love addiction may not yet inhabit a spot in the DSM-V, but that doesn’t make it any less dangerous or debilitating. The pursuit of validation from someone else can lead to a world of low self-worth and unhappiness. It’s o way to live, and it’s not a path you’ll find happiness on. To do that, you must do what all other addicts do — break up with your addiction.
Be patient with yourself. Be kind and compassionate. Most of all, fall in love with yourself in a way that no one outside of you can. Embrace all of who you are and know that, without doing or being anything other than you are right now in this moment, you deserve happiness and are able to give yourself that happiness any time you choose to.