have no right to picture love as blind; its blindfold must be removed
so that it can have the use of eyes." Pascal, as quoted by
Jose Ortega y Gasset in On Love
The following letter was written to one of my readers in response
to his letter of April 13, 2004. He has given me permission to excerpt
his letter so that others might benefit from my advice.
Thank you for sharing your story with me. I have excerpted some
of your thoughts and made the following comments. I hope they are
helpful. (Your original words are in quotes.)
“I had the arousal of intense feelings . . .” Love addiction
is triggered by intense emotion which becomes projected on to the
object of our desire. Because we did not get our needs met as children,
we are very vulnerable when these feelings come up. We have what
Howard Halpern calls an “attachment hunger.” We are
like starving men and women ready to devour love. In your particular
case, since you spent so much time during your adolescence suppressing
your sexual feelings, you are vulnerable when you feel desire. In
other words, your personal history has pre-disposed you to being
a love addict.
“Soon, I began thinking about him everyday . . .” Once
the mood-altering experience (desire, arousal, passion) comes up,
the addiction moves forward. In recovery you will learn to nip this
in the bud at this stage so that attraction will not become addiction.
“We did everything together . . .” Contact with the
object of our desire pushes the addiction to the next level. It
does not have to be sexual contact. You have had sex with this man
many times—in your head—so you are sexually involved.
I have discovered from my own experience, and my work with other
love addicts, that when our feelings are sexual we are even more
powerless than if the relationship were romantic or platonic..
“I have stalked him, followed him, checked up on him, broken
into his house searching for anything that could give me information
about him . . .” Addictive behavior is just our desperation
being manifested. Even if we control the behavior, we cannot control
“He was in recovery for sexual addiction . . .” Many
people have analyzed the nature ofattraction. My theory is that
we gravitate toward someone who expresses openly what we suppress.
This man would certainly be attractive to you because of your history
of trying to suppress your sexuality. Your attraction to this person
might fade when you become more like him. This does not mean you
should become a sex addict yourself. But certainly you must find
a healthy sexual relationship if you are to recover and “be
yourself.” Love addiction feeds on isolation and fantasy.
One warning however: One of my clients is married and still very
addicted to his high school sweetheart. This is because he does
not engage in his marriage. He just shows up like a robot. I suggest
you look for a healthy, invigorating relationship to channel your
human need for sexual expression and companionship. This relationship
will not be as exciting as the one you are engaged in now. Come
to accept that once you have a history of love addiction, intense
desire triggers your addiction.
“Every person that he has been with has caused a major pain
in my heart. I view his affairs as a rejection of myself . . .”
This is what keeps us hooked. Love addicts will do ANYTHING to avoid
feeling rejected. We will hold on to our addictive love, way past
its time, just hoping that the person we love will come around and
want us as much as we want him or her. We are afraid that if we
let go we will miss this reunion—a reunion for which we live.
I say reunion because the object of our desire is really a manifestation
of our lost selves. We are split off from ourselves because of shame.
If we unite with the loved one, we symbolically reunite with our
lost selves. We crave this badly. As you consciously and unconsciously
integrate with yourself, your obsession to unite with this man may
fade. He may also remind you of someone you loved in the past and
“I fear abandonment from him . . .” The operative word
here is fear. The objects of our desire not only represent our lost
selves, they represent the lost parent. Since all children fear
abandonment, our “inner child” fears abandonment even
after we become adults. The problem with love addicts is that because
we were actually abandoned or neglected as children, we cannot process
our fear. It takes on a life of its own. It becomes terror. It is
life and death for us. When I was 3 years old, I had to go into
the hospital for 3 months. I was terrified. Something broke inside
of me when my mother left me there everyday—alone with my
terror. In 12-Step programs people process their fear by initiating
a relationship with a Higher Power. I use imagery to help me. I
imagine myself being held, comforted and taken care of by God.
“I cannot go a week without hearing his voice, although he
lives several states away from me. I fantasize about him daily .
. .” The mood-altering experience of sexual feelings is prolonged
by fantasies. You might say we get high off of the fantasies. They
become our “drug of choice.” We do not feel our anger,
sadness, depression, confusion or loneliness when we get high. Curtailing
the fantasies is important—but an arduous task. You should
begin by controlling your behavior and then look for ways to distract
yourself from fantasizing.
“I have fantasies of us being together one day in happiness
. . .” This particular fantasy begins in childhood. We are
“stuck” in our childhood. We are unhappy, frightened
and lonely. Like people trapped in prison, we dream about happiness
in the future. When we get out of prison we don’t realize
we have been released, so we keep feeding this fantasy about living
happily ever after “someday.” To keep this fantasy alive,
we gravitate toward “unavailable” people."
“I have an urgent longing in my heart and am afraid to let
go, afraid to tell him my truth. It has been almost fifteen years
of hidden passion, hidden truth, hidden love. I have tried several
times of slowly letting go, I do not make calls to him anymore.
He calls me at least twice a week. Some calls I will ignore. When
the anxiety gets too great, I need to relieve the pressure and make
contact. He is my addiction, my addict . . .” Yes! I've been
there . . . done that. This is an insidious disease. Please note,
however, that there is no secret here. Believe me, he knows how
“He is in a relationship that has lasted five years He has
been having an affair with another man for about a year. Neither
of them know of each other . . .” This is what sex addicts
do. It does not sound like he is in recovery.
“He tells me what I want to hear but does not tell me more
for fear of hurting me . . .” He does not withhold information
to avoid hurting you. He does this to control you. He is addicted
to your affection. It bolsters his ego. It abates his fear of abandonment.
He is a love addict too—just of another type. He will never
let you go willingly. That is why he calls you when you do not call
him. He is what Pia Mellody calls an “avoidance addict.”
Her whole book, Facing Love Addiction, is about the relationship
between the love addict and the avoidance addict.
“Therefore, I have initiated other forms of investigation
to get to the truth of his affairs . . .” This is typical
love addict behavior. We rarely suffer without trying to relieve
our pain which is abated momentarily by contact of any kind (fantasies,
phone calls, spying, drive-bys, letters, emotions—anything).
WITHDRAWAL for the love addict is loss of contact. Just like the
heroin addict in the later stages, we need a constant “fix”
to avoid withdrawal.
“I know I need to stop . . .”You are powerless over
your feelings, but you are not powerless over your behavior. If
you align yourself with God and join a support group you will get
“It is like having a wound that will not heal, and every time
I investigate I cut my wound deeper . . .” I am a “cutter”
in recovery. I began by carving the initials of a boy I had a crush
on in the 6th grade on my hand. Self-mutilation is a common expression
of shame, self-loathing, and depression. Whether we cut up our bodies,
or rip our hearts and souls to shreds with shame, we must learn
to love ourselves and respect our bodies. There is a lot on the
internet about cutting. If you substitute “emotional self-mutilation”
for the word “cutting” you may be able to understand
what you are doing to yourself. There is also a good book about
the borderline personality disorder that discusses this. It is I
Hate You Don’t Leave Me by Jerold Kreisman. I cut myself to
transfer my emotional heartache to physical pain. I call this: “Nail
me the cross, but don’t hurt my feelings.”
“I am emotionally weak . . .” The emotional development
of most love addicts was interrupted at some point in their lives
due to stress and trauma. Once we get into recovery we must re-activate
the maturation process. We must grow up. This is a painful process
that take years. It is our only hope. I was not able to do this
on my own or with therapy alone. I have found the 12 Steps of recovery
very helpful with regard to this “growing up” process."
See this as your metamorphoses. Break free from the cocoon of love
addiction and become your real self.
“I am afraid of dying . . .” For love addicts, love
is LIFE and DEATH. All infants are intuitively aware that they will
die without care. As we get older we substitute the word “love”
for “care” and we feel we will die without it.
“I am afraid of being alone . . .” The fear of loneliness
is right up there with the fear of abandonment. Adults, who got
consistent love and attention while they were growing up, can process
their fear of being alone. Love addicts cannot. So we hold on to
whoever we can get our hands on (sometimes we take people hostage)
no matter how toxic she or he might be.
“I am afraid of going insane . . .” If the addiction
is not aborted, you may very well go insane. Fortunately, for me,
I “came to believe” that a power greater than myself
could restore me to sanity. (Step 2 in a 12-Step program)
“I am single and cannot have a relationship with anyone, for
no one measures up to my addict . . .” Love addicts are often
addicted to drama and excitement. We don’t want love, we want
to get high. Romantic love sends certain chemicals flowing through
our bloodstream that are very similar to anti-depressants. Romantic
love abates our depression. I can understand that a healthier kind
of love would be less enticing, but you are an addict and your addiction
is killing you. If you end contact with this man (he will not make
it easy) and go through withdrawal, then try and accept the fact
that “real” love will always be less exciting than addiction.
Intense desire—which abates your depression—has turned
on you. The cure is worse than the disease. Find another way to
treat your depression or live with it. I do both.
People often ask me “When does desire turn into addiction?”
It is at the moment you let your mind believe that only one particular
person can satisfy your needs. This is an erroneous idea fed to
you by your “dis-ease.” When you become fixated on this
one man who “has to love your or you will die,” you
became a full-blown love addict.
I encourage you to reverse this process. First, remind yourself
as often as you can that there is never just one person in the world
to love. There is ALWAYS someone new to love if we are open to this.
Keep telling yourself this until the day comes when you really understand
and believe it. Your obsession will not make this easy. The addicted
mind wants to stay addicted. It is the soul that aches to be free.
Once your fixation on one particular person is broken, begin telling
yourself the truth about other things. For instance, if you have
been “broken” by your childhood or your addiction, no
other person can fix you. We all fix ourselves with the help of
a Higher Power. Others can satisfy us, love us, enhance our life,
bring us happiness—but they cannot fix us.
Of course, there are other “truths” and you will find
them on the road to recovery. Books will reveal the truth to you.
Experienced and wise people will reveal the truth to you. That small,
clear voice within (once you are in recovery) will reveal the truth
to you. So search out the truth, tell yourself the truth, remind
yourself of the truth, believe the truth, and then pass it on.
In conclusion, I recommend that you enter into recovery. Recovery
means change, as well as investigation. When you understand your
disease, the next step is to write about it, talk about it, find
a support group to supplement your recovery and then change. I will
keep you in my prayers Tom.
• Counseling •