Because I get so many questions from women on both codependency and love (or relationship) addiction, I want to outline symptoms and behaviors of each. Neither is a designated mental health diagnosis but both cause extreme misery and wreck havoc in many lives. Both are treated by mental health professionals as a set of behaviors in conjunction with other diagnoses. They both seem to share the same foundation of symptoms starting with poor self esteem. So let’s look at some basics that will help us understand:
Symptoms of Codependency
- Difficulty loving the self (self esteem)
- Difficulty protecting oneself by functional boundaries with others.
- Difficulty knowing one’s reality and owning it.
- Difficulty with self-care.
- Difficulty expressing one’s reality in moderation.
Behaviors of Codependency
- Controlling others or allowing others to control them. Both choices cause a codependent to project responsibility on to others for their own inability to be internally comfortable within themselves.
- Blaming others for the inability to protect themselves with healthy boundaries which leads to resentment.
- Impaired spirituality: Makes someone else their Higher Power through hate, fear, or worship. Or tries to be someone else’s Higher Power.
- Addictions, or mental illness or physical illness. This inability to face reality stems from lack of functional internal sense of self and sense of adequacy. There is a desire to be taken care of.
- Difficulty with intimacy. When a codependent has difficulty knowing who s/he is, and what her reality is, s/he cannot share in a healthy way since intimacy means sharing one’s reality. When one does not share, there is no way to check out immature perceptions, so codependent continues to have painful problems in relationship with others. Codependents often try to fix or change a partner, justify themselves, argue about the other person’s reality, and abuse the partner with sarcasm, ridicule, name calling, exaggeration, or so-called “honesty”.
Symptoms of Love Addiction
- Love addicts have difficulty with symptoms of codependency, and then choose addictive behaviors and internal processes to compensate.
- Love addicts seek to enmesh, to blend into another person. Underneath all of this is both a fear of abandonment and a fear of healthy intimacy, even if they pretend to look for it.
- When a codependent corrects his/her behavior, they can manage their life. But the love addict goes through severe withdrawal because like other addictive processes it is an obsessive-compulsive process used to relieve or medicate an intolerable reality.
- Love addicts did not bond well with their original caregivers when they were young children, experiencing a serious sense of abandonment. The message was, “Because you are worthless and unlovable, I will not care for you”. This kind of neglect and early loss creates low self-esteem and exaggerated longing.
- Emotional needs are immense. Love addicts have enormous fear about being able to connect emotionally.
- Love addicts compensated for lack of nurturing as children by immersing themselves in fantasy. Fantasies of being rescued or being the rescuer abound. Knights, dragons, romance novels- getting high from fantasy becomes habit.
- When love addicts play with fantasy, they can get high in about 10 minutes, and stay there for 2-3 hours. Endorphins are released into their system, relieving emotional pain.
- Love addicts begin relationships by trying too hard to please and connect. They are driven to find someone to tell them they are loveable and loved; to find someone who will rescue them from their inability to care for themselves; rescue them from their loneliness, emptiness, lack of self-love, inability to feel safe in the world without someone to protect them. They look for a relationship to make them feel whole.
Behaviors of Love Addiction
- A disproportionate amount of time and attention is spent on relationships. Love addicts obsessively think about, want to be with, touch, talk to, and listen to their partners. They rate this person as superior to themselves, or having more power. They make this person their Higher Power, but rarely know this is happening.
- Unrealistic expectations for unconditional positive regard from other person. Love addicts want to be cared for and treasured by another, and are always disappointed. No one can satisfy their insatiable desires. They will go to great lengths to get partners to fulfill the big fantasy they have been holding in their minds for so long. They get very angry when their fantasy isn’t matched.
- Love addicts neglect to care for or value self while in relationship even if they can fare perfectly well when alone. A common example is a man who never learns to do basic household things, preferring to depend on his partner.
- Love addicts often choose partners who might be considered avoidance “addicts” because they are not available for a relationship even if they pretend to be. They are often focused on addictions such as drug and alcohol use, work, or sexual affairs. How can a love addict expect one who is avoiding intimacy to take care of them?
Repeating Cycle of Love Addicts in Relationship
- At first the love addict is attracted to the power and adulation of the avoidance addict (or another love addict).
- Fantasy is triggered and the love addict feels high. “It’s karma, destiny, fate, we’re soul mates.”
- The love addict feels relief from the pain of loneliness, emptiness and not mattering.
- The love addict begins to enmesh with the partner, showing more neediness. Partner starts to move away, but the love addict denies the reality of being abandoned by partner. This denial protects against the agony of rejection and abandonment.
- Eventually the love addict begins to be aware of the abandonment, and denial crumbles. May rage and get hysterical; may bargain, threaten. Extreme focus on partner; must know or think about what partner is doing at all times. Some will stalk, or obsessively call or text message. Others endure like silent martyrs. May call partner’s boss, announce to others to gain sympathy. May dress more seductively, go on vacation with partner, have affairs, showing extreme neediness to lure partner back. Relationship becomes more and more toxic.
- The love addict enters withdrawal. (Avoidance addict fares better – just leaves). Love addict’s original feelings of childhood are activated along with adult feelings of current abandonment. Pain, fear, anger, jealousy, emptiness, overwhelm, hopelessness. Extremely intense depression and suicidal feelings. Fear becomes anxiety and panic. Anger becomes frustration, rage, or homicidal jealousy. As a result of this loss, the Love addict may also face loss of income, house, being a single parent. Love addict may be so overwhelmed that s/he goes into withdrawal or jumps to next point in cycle, obsession. This behavior shifts them outside of their painful feelings.
- Love addict now obsesses how to get the avoidance addict to return; or dreams about being rescued; or fantasizes about having a better lover; or ruminates how to get even with the avoidance addict partner; or contemplates indulging in another addiction like food or drugs to numb the pain; or plans another sexual encounter with a new partner to avoid being alone.
- The love addict now compulsively acts out the obsessive plans. Get drugs, food at 2am. Burn partner’s clothes. Go and beg partner to return, threaten suicide. Take overdose of pills. Kill partner, children and self. Go get laid.
- Repeat cycle either with the returning partner or the ensnared new partner.
Progressive Stages of Love Addiction
- Increasing tolerance of inappropriate behavior from others
- “Well he only hit me 3 times and I didn’t get many bruises.”
- “She was only out once overnight this week.”
- “I only threw the telephone.”
- Greater Dependence
- Surrender more and more responsibility to the other party.
- Have them handle papers, make appointments, pick up children because “I just can’t remember”
- Decrease in Self Care: Grooming declines, baggy clothes, disheveled look.
- Numbness to Feelings. “I’m ok, fine” But they’re feeling pain, anger, fear, shame, jealously
- Feeling Trapped or Stuck
- Helpless to fix the relationship.
- Helpless to escape pain by ending relationship.
- Lost the ability to care for and value self. Increasing despair, disillusionment, depression.
- Loss of power, Loss of ability to respond. Behavior can become bizarre.
The Final Stages
- Feeling abused and becoming abusive.
- Can only see out of a negative filter, missing the good things in partner.
- Cannot see own immature, irrational, and offensive behavior.
The First Step toward Recovery
The good news is that a mental health professional can help you understand your behavior and help you begin a healthy life style. It is not a quick or easy journey. The risky and destructive behavior involved in love addiction can have serious consequences but love addicts can recover. Codependents can replace their unhealthy beliefs and behaviors and recover. You can change your thinking and change your life. The first step is to reach out and get help.
sources available upon request
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