Dating and Mate Selection — 23 January 2005
What is ‘love addiction’?

Love addiction is included with other forms of addiction, such as alcohol, drugs, gambling, sex, work, exercise and more. A twelve-step program and other treatments are available for people who are love addicted. However, “love” and “addiction” are actually incompatible and “love addiction” is a misnomer.

What is often referred to as “love addiction” is a mental obsession with the love of another person. This intense need and preoccupation with receiving attention from a specific individual, does exist. It, indeed, has many elements of addiction, but this is not about love.

Pia Mellody, in her book Facing Love Addiction describes the three characteristics of Love Addicts. She says they “assign inappropriate amount of time and attention and value ‘above themselves’ to the person to whom they are addicted, they have unrealistic expectations for unconditional positive regards from the other person and they neglect to care for or value themselves while in a relationship”. None of these characteristics are consistent with love. Authentic love is between individuals who respect each other, have realistic expectations about their shared love, and continue to value themselves as they deepen their intimacy with their partners.

Regardless of the terminology, obsessive love does exist and is a serious, though not a frequent behavior. In the extreme form, love addiction may lead to stalking, rape, suicide, murder and other crimes of passion. In its less extreme form, obsessive thoughts and intrusive behaviors are used that are offensive, annoying and unwelcome by the love object.

Dr. Susan Forward describes this behavior as ‘obsessive love’. In her book by that title, she uses four categories to identify people who experience obsessive love: “ they must have a painful, all-consuming preoccupation with a real or wished –for lover, they must have an insatiable longing to possess or be possessed by the target of their obsession, their target is unavailable….which drives them to behave in self-defeating ways.”

You may have witnessed in your life people who, when rebuffed by a lover or hoped-for lover, are non-yielding in their pursuit. They often develop erroneous ideas, such as falsely believing that their love object really loves them, but doesn’t know it, or that they and their rejector are “meant to be together”. They spend most of their hours thinking about the magical qualities of the beloved and fantasizing about the ideal union they may have with this individual.

‘Love addicts’ do not take “no” for an answer. They take a disinterested party comment such as: “you are a nice person but I am not interested in a relationship with you”, as affirmation of love, rather than a kind rejection.

In addition to their mental preoccupations, obsessive lovers engage in inappropriate behaviors that violate the boundaries of their love interest, make nuisances of themselves, and may even frighten their target. They may send unwelcome gifts, flowers, notes, e mail, phone frequently, drive by the pursued person’s home or office, create ‘accidental meetings’, beg, plead and insist on being accepted. Some of these behaviors may last weeks to years.

In situations of a terminated relationship, an obsessive lover may become so angered by the loss of connection that he or she may resort to vindictive acts. Examples of this would be of obsessed lovers calling their former partner’s employer or new partner maligning their target, using a formerly mutual credit card to amass debt, reporting the target to the IRS with accusations of fraud, or threatening suicide.

Clearly none of the above behaviors is about love. It is about unhealthy dependency by the obsessed person seeking to be cared for and fulfilled by the “perfect” one. Often the childhood of love addicts is fraught with neglect, abandonment, unmet needs and shame. The child feels unworthy and alone, fearing that he or she will never be appropriately affirmed. This young person also fails to develop an appropriate internal sense of self- esteem and continues to seek it from others. Getting the attention of someone whom the love addict idolizes affirms his or her self-worth and lovability. It feels essential for the love addict to be in this relationship for his or her survival.

It appears that “love addiction” or “obsessive love” can be more aptly termed “affirmation addiction”, the need to be accepted, esteemed and defined by the attention of an idealized other. It entails inappropriate neediness, deep fear of abandonment, an impaired sense of self, as well as obsessive thoughts and destructive behaviors. The actions of the “affirmation addict” only defeat gaining an improved sense of identity and health.

“Love addiction”, “Obsessive Love”, or “Affirmation Addiction” fits the nature of addiction as a compelling conduct intended to quell intolerable feelings about oneself. Though the addictive substance or activity may temporarily distract the person from his or her pain, it often further compromises his or her personal, work or social life.

If you become a pursued individual by an “affirmation addict”

• Say “No” firmly.
• Avoid a kind and sensitive rejection statement to spare the affirmation addict’s hurt feelings. These will only be seen as words of encouragement.
• The repeated attempts to coerce you to relate must be taken seriously and viewed as stalking.
• Send back all gifts, flowers, and unopened letters.

• Hang up the phone immediately. Avoid exchanging words after the first time of saying: “do not call –I will not speak with you”. Change your phone number if calls persist.
• If encountered at work or home, answer no questions, avoid eye contact, and firmly ask the person to leave or else you will call the police.
• Do report this person to the authorities and seek protection if you feel threatened.
• Avoid being alone and be vigilant about your safety.
• Eventually, the love addict will get the message and the nightmare will end.

January 23, 2005

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life.

Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions.

Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column “Relationship Matters” for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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