Love uses the language of addiction — it’s a drug, it’s intoxicating. And there’s a reason for that. When we fall in love, our brains release a cocktail of pleasure chemicals and hormones. The result is the same sense of euphoria that cocaine delivers, studies show. Who can blame us for wanting more?
A few months into a relationship, this “high” generally mellows as attachment hormones kick in — the ones that allow us to maintain the deep bonds necessary for true intimacy. For some, however, that initial euphoria proves addictive, leading to a compulsive search for this feeling of “true love.” Instead, what’s usually found is disappointment as failed relationships mount.
What causes someone to experience love addiction rather than love? Researchers who have studied the phenomenon point to past trauma or a lack of positive attention or nurturing in childhood — experiences that lead to low self-esteem and a deep-seated fear of rejection. In other words, the love addict is attempting to fill an inner emptiness in self-destructive ways, and they are often not aware they are doing so.
If you’ve despaired at the hopeless tangle of your own relationships, see if any of these descriptions fit you or someone you’ve been involved with. All are mindsets common to those struggling with love addiction.
- You have to be in a relationship. True love is when two halves come together to make a whole, right? So you’re always looking for someone to complete you. Alone, you feel empty and unimportant.
- Being yourself is not an option. You know in your heart that if they knew the real you, they’d dump you in a heartbeat. Instead, you spend your energy trying to appear to be the person you think they want.
- Your relationships are full of drama. When you do connect with someone, it quickly becomes intense and fraught with suspicion and game-playing. You often mistake this sound and fury for emotional depth.
- You fall in love fast — and often. You idolize the object of your attention. He or she is the only one who can bring you true happiness. But then, the relationship evaporates just as quickly as it began. It’s then on to the next.
- You’re always looking for “the one.” Love is such a strong emotion that it has the power to eliminate all the negative feelings in your life — the insecurity, the loneliness, the sadness. When you find true love, your perfect someone, you know you’ll be “fixed.”
- You find yourself drawn to the same type of person — one who ultimately proves incapable of giving you the love you crave. You sense your choices are hurting you but explain away your actions with expressions such as “The heart wants what the heart wants.”
- You go overboard. Too many phone calls, too many texts, too many gifts, too many demands to spend time together. In short, you’re obsessed. It feels like a way to show you care, but you know it’s also a way of ensuring they pay attention. To be ignored is to not exist.
- You seek constant reassurance. You’re clingy and you know it, but you just can’t seem to stop yourself. You’re really only at peace when they are looking in your eyes, telling you how wonderful you are.
- You mistake sex for love. To be desired physically means you are truly wanted on the most intimate of levels. How can it not be love?
- You overreact. You read significance into every action and expression. You spend hours analyzing your latest conversation for its true meaning. And if something seems the least bit off-kilter, you’re convinced it spells doom.
- You put your love interest before everyone and everything else in your life, including yourself. Nothing compares to the ecstatic rush of your relationship, so friends, family, other interests, work, and even your own needs often fall by the wayside.
- Break-ups devastate you. When the relationship ends, you enter a state of withdrawal. Life seems to be going on where they are, not where you are. You suffer deeply, feeling shame, depression and debilitating loneliness. You may even become self-destructive, or turn to violence against yourself or others. The break-up seems to be proof of what you knew in your heart all along — you aren’t worthy of love.
Healing From Love Addiction
There’s no magic number as to how many of the above you must check to equal love addiction, and even the healthiest relationships have likely experienced one or more at some point. But if you see yourself reflected in these and it’s a pattern that repeats itself despite your good intentions, it’s time to reach out for help.
You can find it from many sources — a therapist or a support group, for example. Some rehab facilities also offer programs for love addiction, which often goes hand-in-hand with substance abuse and behavioral addictions. Each can help you identify and move beyond your insecurities and fears as you learn to love yourself — the first step to genuine love for others.