In the last decade, a lot has changed in the world of love addiction. Not that love addiction itself has changed. It is pretty much the same insidious disorder it always has been. What has changed is how the world looks at it. Twenty years ago, our understanding of love addiction was still emerging out of our understanding of codependency. Therefore, love addiction and codependency seemed to be one in the same. However, today we understand that this is not true. Love addiction stands alone, and codependency is only one of several underlying personality disorders. To make it perfectly clear how one love addict differs from another LAA has prepared the following list:
Obsessed Love Addicts (OLAs) cannot let go, even if their partners are:
Unavailable emotionally or sexually; afraid to commit; cannot communicate;unloving;distant; abusive; controlling and dictatorial; ego-centric; selfish; or addicted to something outside the relationship (hobbies, drugs, alcohol, sex, someone else, gambling, shopping etc.)
Codependent Love Addicts (CLAs) are the most widely recognized. They fit a pretty standard profile. Most of them suffer from low self-esteem and have a certain predictable way of thinking, feeling and behaving. This means that from a place of insecurity and low self-esteem, they try desperately to hold on to the people they are addicted to using codependent behavior. This includes enabling, rescuing, caretaking, passive-aggressive controlling, and accepting neglect or abuse. In general, CLAs will do anything to “take care” of their partners in the hope that they will not leave—or that someday they will reciprocate.
Relationship Addicts (RAs), unlike other love addicts, are no longer in love with their partners but they cannot let go. Usually, they are so unhappy that the relationship is usually affecting their health, spirit and emotional well being. Even if their partner batters them, and they are in danger, they cannot let go. They are afraid of being alone. They are afraid of change. They do not want to hurt or abandon their partners. This can be described as “I hate you don’t leave me.”
Narcissistic Love Addicts (NLAs) use dominance, seduction and withholding to control their partners. Unlike codependents, who accept a lot of discomfort, narcissists won’t put up with anything that interferes with their happiness. They are self-absorbed and their low self-esteem is masked by their grandiosity. Furthermore, rather than seeming to obsess about the relationship, NLAs appear aloof and unconcerned. They do not appear to be addicted at all. Rarely do you even know that NLAs are hooked until you try to leave them. Then they will no longer be aloof and uncaring. They will panic and use anything at their disposal to hold on to the relationship—including violence. Many professionals have rejected the idea that narcissists can be love addicts. This may be because they rarely come in for treatment. However, if you have ever seen how some narcissists react to perceived or real abandonment, you will see that they are indeed “hooked.”
Ambivalent Love Addicts (ALAs suffer) from avoidant personality disorder—or what SLAA calls emotional anorexia. They don’t have a hard time letting go, they have a hard time moving forward. They desperately crave love, but at the same time they are terrified of intimacy. This combination is agonizing. ALAs come in different forms too. They are listed below.
Torch Bearers are ALAs who obsess about someone who is unavailable. This can be done without acting out (suffering in silence) or by pursuing the person they are in love with. Some torch bearers are more addicted than others. This kind of addiction feeds on fantasies and illusions. It is also known as unrequited love.
Saboteurs are ALAs who destroy relationships when they start to get serious or at whatever point their fear of intimacy comes up. This can be anytime—before the first date, after the first date, after sex, after the subject of commitment comes up—whenever.
Seductive Withholders are ALAs who always come on to you when they want sex or companionship. When they become frightened, or feel unsafe, they begin withholding companionship, sex, affection—anything that makes them feel anxious. If they leave the relationship when they become frightened, they are just Saboteurs. If they keep repeating the pattern of being available/unavailable, they are seductive withholders.
Romance Addicts are ALA who are addicted to multiple partners. Unlike sex addicts, who are trying to avoid bonding altogether, romance addicts bond with each of their partners—to one degree or another— even if the romantic liaisons are short-lived or happening simultaneously. By “romance” I mean sexual passion and pseudo emotional intimacy. Please note that while romance addicts bond with each of their partners to a degree, their goal (besides getting high off of romance and drama) is to avoid commitment or bonding on a deeper level with one partner. Often romance addicts are confused with sex addicts.
A Note about ALAs: Not all avoidants are love addicts. If you accept your fear of intimacy and social situations, and do not get hooked on unavailable people, or just keep your social circle small and unthreatening you are not necessarily an ALA. But if you eat your heart out over some unavailable person year after year, or sabotage one relationship after another, or have serial romantic affairs, or only feel close when you are with another avoidant, you may be an Ambivalent Love Addict.
Combinations: You may find that you have more than one type of love addiction. Many of these types overlap and combine themselves with other behavioral problems. For instance, you may be a codependent, alcoholic love addict. Or a love/relationship addict. The important thing is to identify your own personal profile so you know what you are dealing with.
Robert was a love addict, relationship addict, romance addict and sex addict. He was married but did not want to divorce his wife of twenty years even though he was not in love with her (relationship addiction) His hobby was masturbating to pornography when his wife was not home (sex addiction). He had affairs with several other women simultaneously without his wife finding out. He really cared about each of these women (romance addict). One day he met Jennifer and fell in love with her. It did not take long before he was obsessed with her. She did not want to be with him because he was married, so he began stalking and harassing her (love addict). Robert finally got into recovery, divorced his wife, gave up the pornography and affairs and married the woman he was obsessed with. At first his jealousy was out of control, but after a few years of therapy and 12-Step meetings he began to trust his new wife. Because she was mature, well-grounded and had high self esteem, the relationship began to normalize. Today, all of Robert’s addictions are in remission.
Narcissists and Codependents: It is very common for love addicts to end up in relationships with other love addicts. The most common kind of love-addicted couple is, as you might have guessed, the codependent and the narcissist. In the beginning, narcissists are often seductive. After they have hooked their codependent partners, however, they change. Here is an example of a narcissist/codependent relationship.
Nancy and James met at a bar and were instantly attracted to one another. Within days, Nancy (the codependent) had fallen madly in love with James (the narcissist). From the beginning, she was helpful, nurturing, attentive and went out of her way to make him happy. James, on the other hand, appeared to be able to take or leave the relationship after they made love. He canceled dates, neglected to return phone calls, saw other women, became very domineering and for the most part seemed aloof and detached. Still, six months later, Nancy married James because she was in love with him and secretly hoped that he would change.
After Nancy and James were married, the pattern of neglect continued—especially his affairs with other women. When Nancy objected, James bullied her until she stopped nagging him about it. This went on for years. Nancy tried to save her marriage by placating James in every way she could think of, but he continued to do what he wanted. Eventually, Nancy stopped loving James and thought about leaving him, but she just couldn't bring herself to face the loneliness of being single again. This was better than nothing she thought. So she continued her codependent behavior, always trying to keep James happy and comfortable even if it meant sacrificing her own happiness in the process. Eventually, Nancy sought counseling and within a year she felt strong enough to leave James. He had other ideas. The first time Nancy brought up the subject of divorce he laughed at her. Then he threatened her verbally. The day she presented him with divorce papers, he beat her so badly she had to go to the hospital. It seems that despite his lack of love and respect for Nancy, James was addicted to her and the relationship they shared. He also felt that if he couldn't have her, nobody else could.
Eventually, Nancy got away from James even though he stalked her for months—threatening to kill her if she didn't come back. Thankfully, he eventually let go. However, you only have to read the newspapers to realize that such a lethal combination of codependency and narcissism can lead to homicide.
Switch-hitting: Many love addicts switch-hit because they have more than one underlying personality disorder. For instance, a relationship addict may play the role of a codependent for years, then finally get out of the relationship and fall in love with someone who is unavailable. Suddenly, our relationship addict is an obsessed love addict or a torchbearer. Even narcissists switch-hit—believe it or not. For years they be in one relationship after another playing the role of the dominant, uncaring partner. However, if they ever fall hard, they can easily turn into a torchbearer or obsessed love addict. If they fall in love with another narcissist then they have no choice but to become the codependent love addict in the relationship because the narcissist will not stand for anything else. Even ambivalent love addicts will start obsessing instead of running away when they are addicted.
Love addicts switch-hit because of separation anxiety. If another form of behavior is necessary to placate a partner and to hold on the him or her, the love addict will adopt that behavior. Is it an act? Sometimes . . . but if the love addict has weak personality boundaries, they may actually become the other person while under the spell of the addiction.. The point here is not to identify all the kinds of switch-hitting going on, or to even explain it, but o point it out and learn from it.
Conclusion: The Importance of All This: If all this seems complicated it is. And, to be honest, the only reason it is important is because it makes a difference when it comes to treatment. Codependent love addicts, for instance, need a boost in self-esteem and self-acceptance. They must learn to think better of themselves. Narcissistic love addicts, on the other hand, use grandiosity to bolster their low self-esteem and need to come down to earth. They need to learn some humility and how to become “unselfish.” Ambivalent Love Addicts need to find a healthy relationship and stay engaged it even when their fear threatens to overwhelm them. Most of all, understanding as much as you can about love addiction will form the basis of your Fourth Step Inventory in LAA or lay the groundwork for professional therapy.
Susan Peabody is the author of Addiction to Love: Overcoming Obsession and Dependency in Relationships.