Frequent Co-Occurring Issues in Love Addiction

Posted by on 10 14 11 in Co-Occurring Issues | Comments Off on Frequent Co-Occurring Issues in Love Addiction

By Dr. Cheryl Lane

While each person with love addiction has his or her own unique story, there are many common themes, or co-occurring issues with love addiction. These issues often make the person more vulnerable to developing an addiction to love. Keep in mind that there are many overlapping aspects of the issues described below. For example, most individuals with borderline personality disorder experienced trauma and / or abandonment in their childhood. Both narcissists and borderlines have low-self-esteem (although narcissists usually hide it extremely well), and borderlines are often also very codependent.

If you think you are a love addict, you will likely identify with some of the issues listed here. The goal here is not to encourage a sense that you’re a “victim”, and hence blame your love addiction on your childhood or other factors. Rather, the goal is to give you some insight as to the patterns and dynamics that may have made you vulnerable to becoming a love addict. This insight is invaluable when it comes to recovering from love addiction.

History of Childhood Trauma or Abandonment

Many people who struggle with love addiction have childhood backgrounds that include trauma and / or abandonment. Traumatic experiences often involve some type of abuse – sexual abuse, physical abuse, and / or emotional abuse. When children are abused it gives them the powerful message that they are not worthy of love. They often grow up believing that the abuse was somehow their fault, even though don’t understand it. Of course, a child is never responsible for being abused, but that belief goes very deep. If nothing changes that belief as they grow up, it inevitably impacts their relationships in adulthood.

When people experience trauma at an early age, particularly abuse, it creates painful feelings and memories, and typically leads to very low self-esteem. All of these things can make someone very vulnerable to addictive behavior if they never learn healthy ways to cope with them. All addictions provide a temporary escape from pain. Also, for love addicts, a relationship gives them a false sense of self-worth and validation. But, when the relationship ends, it painfully reinforces that deeply ingrained belief that they aren’t lovable. So, in order to “fix” it, they desperately seek a new love object to make them feel whole again.

The same dynamics are true with love addicts who were experienced abandonment in some form or another. Often, the abandonment occurs when a parent or other significant person leaves, is frequently absent, or dies when the love addict is a child. The pain and fear of abandonment – if never resolved – carries with them into adulthood. It’s difficult to have healthy relationships when a person constantly fears rejection or loss. This tends to create a vicious pattern because the very fear of losing love causes many love addicts to be needy, clingy, and / or manipulative – traits that often destroy relationships. So, the love addict goes from one relationship to the next, fearing abandonment but unable to stand being alone.

Low Self-Esteem

Low self-esteem is a very common issue with love addiction. Low self-esteem typically starts in childhood. While it may be associated with trauma or abandonment, it can also develop when neither of those occurred. Children who grow up with parents who are not nurturing, who are overly punitive, or who inadvertently convey to them that they are deficient, bad, or flawed in some way, usually have a difficult time developing a healthy self-esteem. As adults, their low self-esteem makes it difficult for them to establish healthy relationships. Since they don’t believe they are truly worthy of love, they constantly seek this validation from others. This intense longing makes them vulnerable to love addiction because the “high” from each new relationship can be quite powerful. Like any addict, they are constantly seeking another fix as soon as the high wears off or a relationship ends in disappointment.


Many love addicts have strong codependent tendencies in their relationships. The term “codependency” is often used in different ways. The term was originally used to describe relationships in which a person had a deep-seated need to rescue, help, care for, and fix his or her partner, who suffers from an addiction (usually alcoholism or drug addiction). While some codependent individuals are love addicts, not all are. However, it is a common dynamic.

Love addicts who are also codependent have low self-esteem. Their deep insecurity causes them to use codependent behaviors such as rescuing, controlling, and enabling in a desperate attempt to avoid abandonment by the object of their love. They are addicted to the other person in the sense that they feel they can’t function or cope without them.

Borderline Personality Disorder

Most love addicts have several borderline traits, and many meet the criteria for a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder (BPD). Individuals with BPD exhibit consistent patterns of behavior and emotion that include at least five or more of the following (from the DSM-IV*):

  • Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment
  • A pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships that are characterized by alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation
  • A markedly and persistently unstable self-image or sense of self
  • Impulsivity in at least two areas that is potentially self-damaging (such as gambling, sex, substance abuse)
  • Recurrent suicidal behavior, gestures, or threats; or self-mutilating behavior (such as cutting on themselves)
  • Affective instability due to a marked reactivity of mood (e.g. severe mood swings over a short period of time)
  • Chronic feelings of emptiness
  • Inappropriate, intense anger or difficulty controlling anger
  • Transient (fleeting or short-lived) stress-related paranoid ideation or severe dissociative symptoms

u read through the above list, it should come as no surprise that many love addicts exhibit some or many of these traits. Individuals with BPD are highly sensitive to rejection and abandonment. Combined with a chronic sense of emptiness, it’s no wonder that many become love addicts. When they start a new relationship it provides temporary relief from the painful, empty feelings they often experience. It also gives them a false sense of security and, for a while, fills the void that inevitably occurs after each relationship ends.

Individuals with BPD are notorious for becoming quickly attached to new partners. Their relationships are almost always very intense, and the borderline will typically idealize her partner. Their relationships tend to be full of drama, conflict, and emotional highs and lows. Of course, these types of relationships generally burn out very quickly.

Even the slightest threat (whether real or imagined) of abandonment by the object of her love, and the individual with BPD quickly becomes frantic. She will often go to great lengths to keep the other person from pulling away or leaving. Her manipulative ploys may include things like getting pregnant (or pretending to be), threatening suicide, cutting on herself to get attention and also to relieve feelings of distress, begging and pleading, or blackmailing the other person in some way. Sadly, while these ploys may temporarily work, they often backfire in the long run, perpetuating the cycle of one failed relationship after another.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Individuals with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) may also develop love addiction as part of the psychopathology. Like borderlines, they also tend to idealize and devalue the other person, although the dynamics are a bit different. While borderlines look to others for validation and a sense of security to alleviate their intense fear of abandonment, narcissists use others to “mirror” and reinforce their sense of superiority and specialness.

This is one of the reasons why narcissists often demand perfection from their partners and other close relationships. They typically choose romantic partners who are very attractive, successful, and / or hold a high level of social status. This helps boost their own grandiose self-perception (which is really a façade for their very low self-esteem). Of course, no one can live up to a narcissist’s expectations, and in time their partners are devalued and discarded.

For narcissists, the love addiction develops from the high they experience when an exciting new partner stimulates their sense of superiority and grandiosity. Sadly, the thrill typically wears off quickly. Like borderline individuals, narcissists cannot handle real or perceived abandonment. It is a huge threat to their fragile self-esteem, and they will often react with rage or icy aloofness to the person who dares start to pull away or leave.

Individuals with BPD and NPD are both very vulnerable to becoming very depressed when a relationship ends. One of the primary differences between the two, however, is that many borderlines will seek help (or act out to get attention so help will come), whereas the majority of narcissistic individuals will not seek help for their depression. Both, however, will quickly move on to the next relationship in order to fill the emptiness and assuage the painful feelings of loss, rejection, or abandonment.

Overcoming these Issues is Crucial to Recovery

As you can see from the above issues, a common theme in each is low self-esteem, fear of abandonment, and the need for external validation. Each of these makes healthy relationships almost impossible for any individual. This is why psychotherapy or counseling is often a vital part of the treatment for love addiction. A skilled therapist can help you identify and work through these underlying issues. In therapy you can learn healthy ways to build your self-esteem and validate yourself. Also, once you understand that loss is an inevitable part of life and learn healthy ways of coping with it when it does occur, the fear of abandonment and rejection will no longer drive your behaviors or have so much power in your life.

Recovery from love addiction is possible, but you must take the first step and reach out for help. It will require commitment, and a willingness to do the necessary work. While some issues may never be completely resolved, learning to love yourself, and understand that you are worthy no matter what, will finally free you to have healthy relationships that are truly fulfilling.