Love addiction is not a psychological diagnosis, but that does not mean people cannot become addicted to being in a relationship. Most people know at least one person that is constantly getting into the same bad relationships with the same abusive, narcissistic, or otherwise emotionally unavailable type of partner.
Why some people develop love addiction can be tied to their early relationships in life. This includes their relationship with their primary caregivers in early childhood. For most children, this is a mother or father, but it can be any member of the family or any caregiver that assumes the role of the caregiver for the child.
Signs of Love Addiction
There are some patterns that are more likely to be present in adults with love addiction. These include:
- An intense need to be in a relationship, even if it is toxic, unhealthy, or abusive
- A tendency to assume responsibility for the relationship and trying to make it work
- An extreme or exaggerated need to have the approval of their partner and others around them
- A need to feel in control of the relationship
- An intensive and debilitating fear of being abandoned or left alone
Anyone may experience some of these feelings in a healthy relationship. For the love addict, these feelings are overwhelming, driving the need to stay in the relationship at all costs.
At the same time, the love addict often feels hurt and unappreciated and may also have significant challenges in identifying what they want in the relationship and how they feel. They may also have challenges in making decisions, which is why they often appear to be stuck and unable to make positive changes.
The Role of Childhood Trauma
There are several ways that childhood trauma can impact the development of a love addiction as an adult. This trauma can include physical, mental, or emotional abuse, and often there will be a history of all three.
Some of the ways trauma impacts the child and adult include:
- Lack of trust – when children cannot trust the caregiver to be emotionally available, they become distrustful of others. This distrust translates into controlling behavior when they are adult relationships.
- Need to please -to gain the attention of distant caregivers, children learn to become perfectionists to attempt to please the parent and earn their love. This same pattern of behavior leaves them vulnerable to partners who want to take from the relationship without giving back.
- Fear of abandonment – unavailable caregivers create a sense of abandonment in a child. In adult relationships, they strive to protect themselves from being alone.
- Low self-esteem – constant need for external reassurance as children creates the same need as adults. If adults cannot get the verbal sense of approval, they see the relationship as the way to show they are accepted.
- Need to control – while children may not have control, as adults, they enter into relationships where they take control and try to create the perfect couple. Unfortunately, the more they try to control the partner, the further the partner retreats.
Tips for Healing
The key to recovery from a love addiction rooted in childhood trauma is to learn to accept yourself through emotional and psychological healing. There are several strategies that can be implemented with support from a trained counselor or therapist.
These strategies include:
- Learn to love yourself – this is a long-term goal with a focus on healing the traumatized inner child to allow the person to become comfortable as an independent person.
- Talk about it – talk therapy or CBT is effective in changing your thoughts around yourself, the past, and your current relationships. By changing how you think about relationships, you will change your behavior.
- Look for the good in you – building self-esteem starts with noticing and acknowledging you for who you are and the gifts, talents, and abilities you have as an individual.
- Become comfortable as a single – breaking out of the cycle of bad relationships is critical in your recovery and the healing process. Find things to do as a single that bring you joy and spend time just focusing on you.
Seek out a therapist with experience in helping people recover from childhood trauma and love addiction. This one thing is perhaps the best gift you can ever give to yourself.
Sherry Gaba, LCSW and Transformation Coach