LOVE AND THE PARTNERS THEY CHOOSE
Love obsession, therefore, is an obsession that often becomes visible to the co-dependent only after some work has been done on the core symptoms of co-dependence. Addressing love obsession can be emotionally very destabilizing because the resistance to facing the denial and delusion around this condition is particularly strong.
The painful patterns of difficulty I have encountered in love obsession are exhibited in relationships made up of two people each of whom has certain distinct characteristics. One party is focused on the partner and the relationship; and the other tries to avoid intimate connection within the relationship, usually through some obsession. I call the former a Love Addict and the latter an Avoidance obsessor. The relationship they form I call a co-addicted relationship.
Codependency is often a husband-wife relationships but the problems can exist within almost any real or fantasized two-part relationship: parent-child, friend-friend, counsellor-client, boss-employee, or a fantasized relationship between an individual and a public figure or popular idol such as Elvis Presley (whom the Love Addict may never have met personally).
A co-addicted relationship is not based on healthy love, but on extreme positive and negative intensity. The Love Addict in particular may experience obsessive and compulsive feelings, thinking, and behaviour with regard to the relationship, along with intense emotions including anger, fear, hate and lust, and so-called love for the other person. In the next chapter we’ll examine the characteristics of the Love Addict in more detail.
THE CHARACTERISTICS OF THE LOVE ADDICT
The characteristics sum up the major behavioural symptoms of a Love Addict.
Love Addicts assign a disproportionate amount of time, attention, and “value above themselves” to the person to whom they are addicted and this focus often has an obsessive quality about it.
Love Addicts have unrealistic expectations for unconditional positive regard from the other person in the relationship.
Love Addicts neglect to care for or value themselves while they’re in the relationship.
Although I see love obsession most often in female partners of sexual-romantic relationships, it is also possible for males to be Love Addicts. A person can also relate as a Love Addict in other kinds of relationships, such as with a parent, one’s children, a mother-in-law, a counsellor, a close friend, a religious leader, a Twelve-Step sponsor, a guru or a movie star.
TWO FEARS: ONE CONSCIOUS, THE OTHER UNCONSCIOUS
In addition to these three characteristics, Love Addicts are often in the grips of two principal fears. The most conscious fear is the fear of abandonment. Love Addicts will tolerate almost anything to avoid being abandoned, the fear of which comes from the sorts of childhood experiences described later in this chapter.
The irony is that while Love Addicts want to avoid abandonment and be connected to someone in a secure way, the close, demanding connection they try to establish is actually enmeshment rather than healthy intimacy – which they also fear, at least unconsciously. This denied fear also comes from the childhood experience of either physical or emotional abandonment, or both. Love Addicts did not experience enough intimacy from their abandoning caregivers to know how to be intimate in a healthy was.
So in adulthood, while Love Addicts often think they are intimate and are seeking an intimate relationship, they are in fact frightened by offers of healthy intimacy because they don’t know what to do. When they reach a certain level of closeness, they often panic and do something to create distance between themselves and their partners again.
These two fears – of abandonment and intimacy – bring up the agonizing and self-defeating dilemma of the Love Addict. Love Addicts consciously want intimacy but can’t tolerate healthy closeness, so they must unconsciously choose a partner who cannot be intimate in a healthy way.
When as recovering co-dependants we come out of denial about being addicted to a substance or a compulsive behaviour, we often realize that our obsession has acquired a control over us that is greater than our own willpower. Whatever we’re addicted to initially made us feel better but eventually begins to make us feel worse. Perhaps the pain of harmful consequences or a confrontation by someone forces us to take a look at what we are doing. We may decide we want to stop the substance or doing the compulsive behaviour, only to find that we cannot. At that point we may painfully realise that we are in the grip of something bigger than we can control, something that has surprisingly strong power over us. In this sense we can say we have, in effect, made this addictive process a Higher Power.
Recovery can begin when we are finally able to say we are powerless over the addictive process and over ourselves in regard to it, and that our lives have become unmanageable. Recognizing and admitting this is the significance of the First Step in any Twelve-Step programme.
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