The Avoidant Love Addict: Rewiring Patterns

Posted by on 05 01 13 in Love Addiction News | Comments Off on The Avoidant Love Addict: Rewiring Patterns

For the avoidant type (also called “love-averse”), it can be difficult to discern whether love addiction is a problem. Avoidance and aversion seem at cross purposes with “love,” and the behaviors of the avoidant type are not consistently loving or love-seeking. It often takes a lengthy pattern of struggling with relationships or running from relationships to help the avoidant type discover what may be obvious to others looking from the outside.

Addiction might loosely be defined as any harm-producing habit or emotion that causes us to feel out of control, but which we cannot stop. To the degree that emotions are often based in impulsive reaction, these too can be felt as addictive. The love-averse experience the emotion of fearing vulnerability to another person, while repeatedly seeking someone with whom to connect. This fear of vulnerability is recurrent and pervasive, and therefore considered the addict’s underlying emotional motivation for habitual acts. Vulnerability for the love avoidant is experienced as negative, since it is when we are emotionally vulnerable that we can be hurt. Love avoidant types may repeatedly switch relationships, or they may remain in long-term committed relationships that are unhappy.

Characteristics of the Love avoidant Type

According to researchers, love avoidant types are good at keeping partners at a distance by using various “deactivating strategies,” actions characterized by a denial of attachment needs, and a “compulsive self-reliance.”  Someone who is avoidant frequently engages in behaviors designed (consciously or unconsciously) to keep a partner at a distance in order to preserve one’s own autonomy or sense of independence.

Whether single or in a relationship, below are some common traits of the love avoidant addict:

  • Making any of various statements to the effect of: “I’m not ready for commitment,” or “I’m no good at commitment,” even while engaging in monogamous relationship (or agreeing to engage in it).
  • Not saying, “I love you,” while at the same time implying one has feelings for another.
  • Emotionally disengaging when things are going well.
  • Establishing relationships with people who are unavailable, e.g., a married woman.
  • Avoiding proximity or closeness, e.g., not desiring to share the same bed with a partner, not desiring sex with a partner, not desiring shared space with a partner (as in, choosing to sit in a different room or walking ahead of or behind a partner).
  • Focusing on a partner’s flaws and/or criticizing a partner.
  • Feeling a sense of revulsion to traits in a partner one only recently found to be positive.

What Creates Love-Avoidance?

The latest research into what creates relationship styles or patterns culminates in what is called attachment theory. Research has shown that humans are biologically wired to seek love, but that their strategies for attaining it are rooted in infancy and the type of bond they had with their primary caregiver, often the mother. The health of an infant’s attachment to its primary caregiver often predicts the health of the same infant’s attachment to others during adulthood. If an infant’s needs were not consistently met by the primary caregiver, or if the primary caregiver was neglectful, abusive, or highly stressed, insecure attachment styles result. Anxious type and avoidant type are the two insecure attachment styles, avoidant traits resulting from a neglectful or abusive attachment with the primary caregiver.

Anxious attachment style is commonly at the root of what we think of as a “love addiction”; it is frequently codependent, and characterized as needy, fearful and clinging. The avoidant attachment style, on the other hand, is the foundation of someone who regularly acts out deactivating strategies in relationships.

How Can a Love Avoidant Change Her Stripes?

Once a person has discovered that the cause of much of her relationship ills is due to her avoidant pattern, there is something that can be done about it. Actively choosing to remain in a monogamous commitment is an important step, although some time off in order to focus on the self may be required. Once an avoidant type has made a commitment, there are useful strategies for staying attuned to one’s partner, rather than emotionally running away.

Write down a list of avoidant emotions and behaviors you know to be a problem for you. Next, whenever the desire arises to act on these avoidant emotions or behaviors, take the time to become aware of your urges. Allow yourself to feel them fully, but instead of reacting on the emotion consciously, choose to behave as if its opposite were true. For example, if you have a pattern of escaping situations in which emotions are discussed, allow yourself to feel and accept the desire to flee, but choose to lean into your partner instead. For example, instead of leaving the room, embrace or touch your partner gently and simply smile. Allow yourself to feel uncomfortable, but behave as though you are not. This kind of behavioral modification is a way of reconditioning one’s patterned urges and behaviors, and of creating connection with a partner you ultimately do not want to lose.

Another strategy is to frequently engage in gentle touching, kissing, and other acts of affection with your partner. These behaviors stimulate oxytocin, the bonding hormone. Oxytocin is the hormonal response behind mother and infant bonding, and it is the chemical stimulus experienced when falling in love. Oxytocin levels rise dramatically during sex, but fall abruptly after climax, so long, slow, love-making sessions in which orgasm is not the goal is a great way to nurture and increase one’s bond with a partner.

Another way, and an important one, that avoidants can help themselves is to enter therapy, a support group, and/or a 12-step program for love and sex addicts. SLAA, or Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous, is just one of the meetings established by 12-step affiliated groups.

In the available literature on love and sex addiction, the love avoidant type is predominantly described as being male, but women are frequently love avoidant as well. This gender type-casting may be caused by the largely socially constructed gender norms women and men enact – men being socially rewarded less for “clingy” behaviors and rewarded more for “independent,” or avoidant ones. No matter what strategies the avoidant type may employ in order to preserve a sense of independence or to keep a partner at emotional or physical arm’s length, these habitual strategies inhibit one from finding satisfaction in relationships. The research indicates that people in good relationships tend to live longer and to experience better health, so finding ways to heal our attachment styles is important – not just for our partners, but for ourselves.