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What’s Love Got To Do With It?

By Jean Collins LCSW, LISAC, CSAT, Executive Director of Rio Retreat Center at The Meadows

What is love addiction and love avoidance and what does it have to do with love anyway? For women who struggle with self-defeating relationship patterns, things can get very muddy in this area. Fortunately for women whose lives have become unmanageable, Willow House at The Meadows offers an intimate inpatient treatment experience to help them regain control.

At Rio Retreat Center at The Meadows, one of our most popular intensives is the Love Addiction/Love Avoidance workshop. The people that attend are often in severe Love Addiction withdrawal—it is real and it is gut-wrenching. Or, for those who are love avoidant, they have found that the pain of enduring loneliness has superseded the fear of being consumed in a relationship.

How Your Love Life Replicates Childhood Dynamics

The Meadows Senior Fellow Pia Mellody, author of Facing Love Addiction, coined the terms “love addict” and “love avoidant” and detected the cyclic dance between the two. Both of these conditions are considered attachment disorders that are borne out of childhood pain. Unintentionally, love addicts and love avoidants attract one another like magnets.

Early in treatment, Willow House at The Meadows therapists are able to identify patterns in the patient’s love life, or lack thereof, which replicate childhood dynamics. The therapists are able to turn the patient’s attention from the most recent relationship disappointment to childhood relational trauma. That is because unconsciously we draw to us people that rupture our old wounding in an effort to heal that wound.

The set up for Love Addiction is neglect and/or abandonment by one or both major caregivers resulting in low self-esteem. In other words, they do not receive appropriate bonding, and therefore, have a disproportionate fear of abandonment in their adult relationships. The love addict may have grown up with one or both parents who were physically and/or emotionally unavailable. Love addicts have a tendency to overvalue their relationships. They ride “one down” relationally. This shows up as behavior that is needy and demanding in relationships, overwhelming others. They enter a relationship in a fantasy with an expectation that this person will make them feel whole, offering unconditional love they did not receive as children. Love addicts are searching for the proverbial “knight in shining armor”, however, they attract what is familiar to them: someone unavailable, what Pia Mellody calls “the back walking away.” The set up for Love Avoidance is enmeshment/engulfment by a major care giver(s). Love avoidants have a disproportionate amount of fear of intimacy; anticipating being drained because their parent(s) were somehow depleting. They may have acted as their parent’s caregiver, confidant, or the object of their obsession or anger. Love avoidants often develop sophisticated distancing techniques. Operationally they are less obvious than the love addict, they appear engaging but they are secretly emotionally unavailable. They have a tendency to ride “one up” relationally. They enter relationships out of duty rather than love because of the familiarity. Love avoidants were raised, at some level, with a sense of duty to meet their parent(s) needs. Neither the love addict nor the love avoidant knows the first thing about love.

Childhood relational trauma comes in all forms. Pia Mellody defines childhood abuse as “anything less than nurturing.” Sometimes the abuse is about what behavior the person received from their caregivers, and sometimes it is about what a person didn’t receive.

Although most parents don’t intend to inflict harm, it’s often unavoidable – it comes with the territory. Parents who use a child to meet their emotional and/or physical needs create enmeshment. Conversely, parents who deny their children basic needs and/or emotional needs such as affirmation, nurturance, and proper limit-setting create neglect and abandonment.

Overcoming Self-Defeating Patterns

At Willow House at The Meadows patients learn to recognize self-defeating relationship patterns that prevent them from having fulfilling intimate relationships. Suggestions are offered on how to create a different dance in relationships in order to get the result for which they are longing. The love addict is provided relief through support in recognizing the only way to fill that void is re-parenting that part of self. We help them connect with the part of themselves that was neglected and meet the needs of that childlike part.

The love avoidant learns how, to be honest, and real with others and develop healthy boundaries so they can safely engage without becoming overwhelmed.

So, what’s love got to do with it? Everything! Learning to love oneself unconditionally and how to be real with and connect with others is well worth the effort. It is truly the greatest gift one can attain and give others.