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 the feelings.
“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 lost.
“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
“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”
“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 you feel.
“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
“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
“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 •