As I mentioned last week, addiction is everywhere.  Some addictions are considered perfectly acceptable by the norms of society.  And some addictions are not.  But those acceptable forms of addiction are not less devastating to our inner peace.  They just happen to be approved by the controller.  But there is an addiction above all addictions.  Actually, it is the foundation of all addictions really.  It is at the basis for everything we do.  And this addiction plays out within the norms of society most of the time.  That makes it stealthy on an individual and societal level.  So awareness is low and the impact is high.  And that addiction is the love addiction.

You might be thinking that you can’t be addicted to something you need.  But that’s not true.  You can be incredibly addicted to something you need.  Food is a great example.  It isn’t an issue that you want it.  It is an issue with how you get it and what you do with it.  It is about the approach and not the thing itself.  Love addiction is very real.  It may be the most pervasive addiction in the world.  It is not just reserved for those with complex trauma.  It is born from the loss of the love we needed in childhood.  Even the best parents failed at this sometimes.  It is fueled by the grief of those losses.  And we will do almost anything to avoid that grief.

It might not seem like it, but this addiction can destroy our lives.  It destroys our lives by keeping us on an endless quest to find an external solution to an internal problem.  We jump through hoop after hoop in the desperation to finally end our pain.  And it takes our focus far away from where it should be.  So let’s look at how a love addiction manifests in our lives.  When we know what it looks like on the outside, we have a chance of bringing awareness to the inner pain driving it.

You don’t know who you are without a relationship.  After years of abuse, you have lost yourself so thoroughly that you can only define yourself through the mirror that relationship provides.  This means that if nobody is there, you are nobody.  You are nothing.  This makes a relationship absolutely imperative at all times.  There is no option but to make something work.  An abusive or unfulfilling relationship is better than being alone.  But being another person is not sustainable.

You are constantly asking yourself what the other person wants to hear.  When you consider answering a question, what is the first thing that goes through your mind?  Do you focus on what feels right to you or what you think the other wants to hear?  If you often choose the later, you are attempting to meet their needs above your own.  But prioritizing another person above your own identity is not going to create a lasting relationship.

You feel unheard, unseen and misunderstood by everyone.  When you erase yourself for others, you are training them how to treat you.  You are unconsciously informing them that you do not prioritize yourself so they don’t have to either.  You are not showing them who you are so they have no chance of actually getting to know who you are.  When you want them to know you, they can’t.  They have never learned who you are.  So unless they can read minds, they cannot possibly understand the real you.  And a masked relationship won’t last.

You make excuses for red flags.  When you come from relational trauma, you have learned that most behaviors from others are excusable.  You may get to the point where you can’t even see the red flags at all.  But if you do, you will be quick to provide excuses for those behaviors.  This stems from your deep need to be in relationship at all costs and the belief that people who will be in relationship with you are scarce.  As the abusive behaviors get bigger, so do the excuses until it implodes.  Abusive relationships will never work.

You believe you can change another person.  You will likely come into adult relationships with the same mentality as childhood relationships.  And in childhood, the only way to fight hopelessness was to believe you were somehow in control.  This was likely accomplished through self-blame.  If it was your fault, it was fixable.  But there was a problem.  It wasn’t your fault.  And it wasn’t fixable.  And with that unresolved problem, you have parts who want to fix it by finally figuring out how to change the next person.  But people cannot be changed.  So the relationship is not sustainable.

Love addiction leads to constant pain in relationships.  So the next time you find yourself mired in desperation and hopelessness about a relationship, ask yourself about its origins.  Did it come from a place of mutual love and respect?  Or is it an attempt to resolve a deep grief from years of losses?  Use these signs to help identify the answer.  Next week, I will write about some steps to stop the love addiction cycle.  And if you want to dive deeper into the nuances of finding and stopping this cycle, join us on Survivor’s Guide for Life in June as we explore the love addiction together.