With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, there are hearts everywhere. Cards, chocolates, flowers (red roses of course), and teddy bears proclaiming, “I love you”, filling the shelves of every shop you enter. You could easily believe the whole world was “in lurve”.
Are we a nation of lovers? Are we all looking for that perfect person, the “one”? Or are we more infatuated with the whole idea of being in love? How does it affect us when we don’t meet the right person? What if we become obsessed with finding someone to complete us? Believing another person can fill a void in our lives, or within ourselves?
Being in love is wonderful, finding a connection with another person, someone that gets you, feeling nurtured and cared for. But sometimes actually achieving or experiencing the perfect love, or the pursuit of it, can become unhealthy. It can cause individuals to engage in reckless or dangerous behaviours, and it can become a damaging fixation.
People habitually associate addiction with substances such as alcohol or drugs or a process like gambling. However, being addicted means to obsessively do anything that makes you feel rewarded or happy and continuing to do it despite there being negative consequences, (financially, physically, or emotionally).
Love addiction is an emotional intimacy disorder characterised by the compulsion to be loved. Often love addicts search for something outside of themselves – a person, relationship, or experience – to provide them with something they feel they are missing. They will use romantic experiences to “fix” themselves so they can temporarily feel emotionally whole.
Love addicts can become infatuated with their partner or love interest, sometimes at the detriment of everything else in their lives. They can become unreasonable in their demands for time and affection, overly needy, excessively jealous, or controlling.
In some instances, when the feelings are not shared by the other party, the addict will continue with unsolicited and unwanted advances, going to extremes, acting irrationally, and even illegally, in some cases stalking their love interest. All driven by the overpowering need to have their love recognised and returned.
Someone addicted to love will find it difficult to create and maintain healthy relationships. They will stay in an abusive or toxic relationship because this is preferable to them than being alone. Or they will repeatedly get into relationships that they know are not right for them.
Some love addicts will also struggle with other (non-intimate) relationships, such as those with friends, siblings, children, or parents. Individuals with an emotional intimacy disorder often have unrealistic standards and uncompromising or naïve expectations of love. When these ideals are not met, it drives them further into their addiction, worsening the condition.
In some cases, the addict will crave the feelings found in the early stages of a new relationship, or the “high” that they get from the chase; and will have lots of intense, brief relationships, bouncing from one to another, sometimes juggling multiple partners. This can be classified as relationship addiction, however, in many ways, it is very similar.
As with any disorder, addiction, or emotional health-related condition, there is rarely one cause. It varies on a case-to-case basis. It can manifest quickly due to an isolated incident, such as a traumatic event or series of events; or it can be a combination of factors, such as abuse, neglect, genetics, or upbringing.
Again, like other mental health conditions, love addiction can co-occur with other disorders. Particularly anxiety and depression, especially if relationships are consistently failing; and substance use disorder, as sufferers use alcohol or drugs to self-medicate, as a coping mechanism to deal with emotions related to what they perceive as the lack of a successful relationship or the perfect love, in their lives.
Research is continuously ongoing into love addiction and what triggers it. But some of the common triggers already identified are:
• Low self-worth, self-love, or self-esteem.
• A history of emotional or sexual abuse.
• Childhood trauma.
• Experience of a traumatic, damaging, or toxic relationship.
• Feelings of abandonment.
Love addiction can take on different forms, (and vary in severity) depending on the individual, their history, and how they express their emotions.
Here are some identifiable signs.
• Being overly needy or dependent on your partner.
• Obsessing over your partner, or your relationship, to the point it disrupts your daily living.
• Prioritising the relationship with your significant other over everything else in your life, including other relationships and socialising with friends.
• Making poor decisions because of your relationship. Such as, cutting ties with family/friends or quitting a job/school.
• Feeling lost or low when you are not in a relationship.
• Measuring your personal value by your relationship.
• Staying in a relationship that is unhealthy, toxic, or destructive.
• Becoming depressed and/or obsessed with a love interest that is not reciprocated.
• Returning to a damaging or abusive relationship rather than being alone.
• Continually choosing romantic partners that you recognise aren’t good for you.
• Getting “high” from fantasy, romance, or relationship drama.
• Desiring attention from short-lived, intense relationships. Repeating the same patterns of behaviour continuously.
• Struggling with co-occurring conditions, including anxiety, depression, and substance abuse.
This list is not exhaustive, if you feel you may have an emotional intimacy disorder, or any issue that is negatively affecting your life, then it is best to seek professional advise. A fully trained, licensed therapist will be able to help you identify the root cause of your problem; and advice on the best course of treatment.
Love can be exhilarating, but it can also be terrifying. Humans need connections to survive. We can’t, and don’t want to live in isolation. Therefore, we don’t want to completely avoid love, or cut relationships out from our lives.
However, many of us need to learn how to love ourselves first. Then, how to have healthy, positive relationships. How to recognise destructive or dangerous behaviours (in us and in other people), how to set boundaries, and how to enforce them.
When we have done this, we can fully embrace the true wonder of being in love.
Here at our Addiction Treatment Centre, set on the beautiful Spanish island of Ibiza, we have a highly qualified team experienced in various therapies for treating both process and substance addiction. We also treat anxiety, depression, trauma, and other conditions affecting mental health.
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