Who hasn’t had this thought pop into her head: If only my boyfriend saw a therapist, everything would be different.
I can’t tell you how many times I wished this exact thing. And why did I wish it? Because I believed that after all the self-help books I’d read, therapy was the answer. Not to my problems, of course, but my boyfriend’s. And if my bf would just go to a therapist, said therapists would back me up and convince my guy that he needs to change, (just like I said he should) or he would risk losing a relationship with me.
Looking back over all the men I dated, only two were willing to go to therapy “for me,” my ex husband and G. Both therapy sessions went horribly wrong.
The first time my ex husband and I went to a therapist he lied about his cheating and had no real interest in changing his behavior. He merely did it to appease me, and probably because he felt bullied by me and just gave in. I was desperately trying to save my marriage, singlehandedly, and the only advice we left with was “You two need to date again.” This didn’t exactly resolve anything. But, it did delay the inevitable. And the inevitable came with a flip flop. It was now me who wanted out of the relationship. And so, the second time we went, it was on his instance to save the marriage. But, by the time I got to therapy, I was completely unable to be “convinced” to stay in the marriage and we divorced shortly after.
When I dated G, I was in therapy because I was unable to accept G’s “flaws” and I was trying to figure out why I was always so frustrated and depressed. He always said he loved me, and he called all the time. What was my problem? Well, my problem was he smoked pot and never wanted to have sex with me. So, I thought if I could get him to meet with a therapist, she would convince him these things were interfering in our relationship and he should change his ways to save the relationship.
This didn’t work. He liked smoking pot and he had an extremely low libido (most likely because of the pot), and he had no desire to change.
So what did these men learn from therapy? Probably nothing. What did I learn? That’s more important here. I learned that just because a well-educated relationship specialist understands what it takes to have a healthy relationship, they could not convince someone to love me or to BE what I wanted them to be. Just because my therapist and I agreed that my boyfriend’s behavior was not acceptable, it didn’t mean he also agreed or even cared. And therein lies the problem.
Therapy doesn’t convince anyone to love you, especially if they don’t want to be convinced. And believing in therapy as a way to “fix” a relationship that is founded on neglect, disrespect, avoidance or any other ingrained behavior is wishful, unrealistic thinking.
Therapy ONLY works when two people are committed to each other and when those two people share the same value in working on the relationship. More importantly, what we learn from therapy is often something we don’t particularly want to learn: that we cannot control or convince others to love us. And the “everything will be different” fantasy typically comes when you ditch the guy who clearly doesn’t love you and replace him for one who does. And, surprise! When that happens, you typically find yourself not needing therapy at all!
One of the clearest signs of an unhealthy, addictive relationship is when you invest more time obsessing over your partner than you do focusing healthy attention on your own life. Investing in, analyzing, obsessing, and fantasizing over another person to the point where you are exhausted, suffering and in pain is like investing money in typewriter stock in a computer world. You’re not going to get much return on your investment.
YOU are your biggest and best investment (as well as your children). And when you start to really understand that, your entire life will have more meaning, purpose and worth.
Why do we continue to believe that our partner or love-interest will take us out to dinner or buy us flowers or call when he said he would or make himself available at the spur of the moment, or any of these things when, habitually, he has proven not to do them? Why do we continue to expect a certain level of intimacy when it rarely happens? And why do we continue to make an effort to convince him or her to love us, when we have never yet received the love we so crave?
Sounds like insanity to expect something different when all you get is the same lack of interest over and over again. Right?
Well, you’ve heard the cliche that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. And while this definition doesn’t exactly define true insanity, I think it’s safe to say that for some of us who repeatedly put up with the same situation from the same type of people and never seem to see the results we hope for–but we stay anyway–it surely defines love addiction.
In fact, I think it’s also safe to say that this type of behavior is what separates love addicts from healthier people who refuse to put up with things like avoidance, neglect, apathy, abuse, unavailability, lying or cheating. A love addict puts up with these things. But why?
- She thinks this is the best she’s ever going to get
- She hopes that things will change and eventually he will come around
- She doesn’t know that there is a healthier way to relate to people
- She has become dependent on the relationship, to meet most if not all of her needs
- She is living in fantasy
If you are sick and tired of being sick and tired and want change, you need to stop repeating the same behavioral patterns and stop accepting them from others. You need to step out of habitual actions and do something different if you want different results. One of the best changes we can make toward better health and healthier relationships is to align our words and our actions.
Here’s an example. Often, we say one thing with our words: “If you flirt with her again I will leave.” Then, we don’t back it up with our actions. Time goes by, things are good. And he flirts again with another woman. And yet, you don’t leave. Instead, you create excuses. Well, circumstances were different, or He didn’t flirt with the same girl, or This time he seemed sincere in his apology.
The truth is, you sent the following message: I SAY that I don’t like you’re behavior at all, but, MY ACTIONS ARE THAT I’m willing to put up with it as long as you stay in my life. Not only does this send mix messages it sends the wrong message! It teaches people that you don’t mean what you say. It teaches people not to trust you. And it teaches people that you are WILLING and TOLERANT of inappropriate behavior, despite being hurt by it.
In order for the insanity to stop, you need to stop repeating the same behavior patterns and stop accepting them from others. When you say, “I no longer accept this behavior,” you need to back that up with appropriate action, or nothing will change. Just yelling at someone, or complaining or crying or shutting them out for a while doesn’t do the trick. Sincere action must take place. And love cannot be more important than safety, security, dignity and respect.
This may or may not mean a break up. But loving yourself and valuing your personal worth demand that you be willing to accept the consequences of your newfound self-respect. If your current partner doesn’t like the “new you” or the new conditions, then you need to find someone else who does.
Having little trust is not such a bad thing. We think we have to immediately begin trusting people as soon as we meet them. Phooey! Being suspicious (especially after what we’ve all experienced) is a way to protect ourselves.
You don’t want to trust people right off the bat. Trust must be BUILT slowly and let me tell you, it’s a very delicate construction. You can start to build trust in someone and you’re going along and everything seems to be building OK, and then, one day, you catch him or her in one little lie and the whole foundation of trust crumbles. Is that you being over-reactive? NO! Should you learn to be more accepting of “little lies”? I think not. You’re in recovery. You need time to heal and grow. If a flower pops out of the ground in early spring, it will die instantly under the effect of one night’s frost. You too may lose something you have worked hard to build if you remain with someone who cannot respect the basic tenets of trustworthiness, reliability, dependability, sincerity. Let’s be honest, in order to be stronger, happier and healthier, we all need honesty from others to thrive.
Before D, I had NEVER met or dated a man who didn’t lie. I thought it went with the territory. I thought every man lied (this is toxic thinking that comes when your trust has been violated most of your life, by the way). So, when I met D, I proudly exclaimed that one of my best talents was that I could sniff out a lie in a matter of seconds. I had become such a pro at this that I was proud of my talent. His response? He looked at me with a rather blank stare. “Um, I’m not sure what you mean. I don’t lie,” he said plainly. And I laughed. “Every man lies” I said.
“Well, think what you want…” he responded.
And I did. I didn’t trust him at all. I remained alert. On the look out. I called him on things that I didn’t understand. I asked him to explain events that in my mind, seemed like perfect opportunities to lie. I kept my eyes wide open. And I was on high alert. Thing is, he never lied. All his stories backed up. His actions matched his words every day, every week, every month, every year. ANd it wasn’t until maybe a year into the relationship when I FINALLY started to believe that maybe he was right. He doesn’t lie. This, in fact, caused me to mourn my marvelous talent for sniffing out lies. It was a talent that had been rendered obsolete. In its place, I finally felt SAFE and able to trust again. Of course, now that we live together, I am still triggered by him staying up late at night (my ex would stay up late at night and chat with other women). But every time I wake up and seek him out, he’s watching TV, or reading, or exercising. It might take a while to begin trusting in this department, and toss out my old triggers. But I am being patient with myself and with D.
Love addicts need to find someone with high morals and ethics. SOmeone who believes in honesty and respect of men and woman. It’s not that we need PERFECT. It’s that we need conscientious. Because our process of recovery is a delicate one. And remember that trust equals intimacy. Without trust there is no intimacy–only intensity.
So don’t rush in and expect yourself to start trusting others right away. Bad idea! Take your time and mistrust everyone. Let them prove their worth and honesty to you by their actions first. Not just a day or a week…but many, many months. And be willing to walk if they don’t meet your high expectations in this department. Here’s a great article in learning to build trust in others AND, equally important, being a trustful person yourself.
Lastly, remember that trust will not come from just you. It is build between two people. It will come at a point in a long relationship (romantic or otherwise) where you finally feel comfortable again based on one fact: that your spidey sense for deceit and your superhero radar to sniff out lies or betrayal has not been used in a very long while. And while nothing is ever certain, you will at least be moderately content knowing with good probability that you are in a safe relationship. :)
Wouldn’t it be great if we could meet this really hot guy, have a few intense, passionate first dates, and then seal the deal with a commitment of love and exclusivity?
It would be great, if we were a love addict, that is. But to a healthy person, this scenario sounds nuts.
When I think back to my earlier days dating D, we actually had a conversation to “define” what this was (i.e. our relationship) and we decided that we were not going to define it and that whatever was going to happen, would happen “organically,” meaning no pushing, no pressure, no lines drawn, and no hoped for outcomes. If it worked it worked; if it didn’t it didn’t.
Well, for a love addict, this scared me to death. Why? Because it meant I would be out of control. It meant I could lose this man. It meant I could not possess or push or manipulate…or be secure. And more importantly, it meant we would not be in a death grip of eternal love with each other and he and I would both be–gasp-– free to date anyone we wanted.
- a love addict wants exclusivity almost immediately. We want to lock in the deal so we feel safe, validated, loved, secure. And, we’re willing to dive right in to commitment long before we are able to determine if someone is right for us.
- a healthy person, on the other hand, does not want exclusivity in the early part of dating, but rather wants to play the field, or simply, take time to get to know a person. They are not willing to give up their freedom so fast because they recognize that a relationship is a serious commitment and they value the time it takes to be “sure.”
- A love addict does not recognize that a relationship is a serious commitment in a healthy sense, nor does he or she value time; a love addict is looking for a relationship to save her, not compliment her, and so, she has other goals. Taking time to be “sure” if someone is a right choice is not one of them. This is a life or death situation and we love addicts need to think and act fast! That means get the commitment first, ask questions and get to know the person later.
So, when neither of us gave each other the right to exclusivity in the beginning–even though we both liked each other and even though neither of us were, quote-unquote, players, it felt uncomfortable to me. It didn’t feel normal. I was always used to diving in and committing within weeks, days. When you know, you know. Right? Intensity and immediate commitment are good things, right?
In reality, we don’t know anything about people except that which we can vaguely sense or vaguely see with our eyes. And even then we cannot be sure of what might lurk undercover. And so, this arrangement of denying exclusivity in early dating is the best way to protect ourselves. It’s not a liability; it’s an asset. My usual way (to lock in a deal ASAP so as to be in control and have my security) was the unhealthy way. The “organic” way, was THE way.
But I had to fight battles within myself at this phase. I had to make a commitment to the following principles:
1. NO FANTASY: I did not allow myself to dream up scenarios with this man in them. I did not allow myself to think of hoped for outcomes. And I did not allow myself to have dreamy reveries of the future. When we do incorporate fantasy into early dating, we set the tone for an imaginary belief system. We start to hold this virtual stranger accountable to a reality that doesn’t yet exist. For years, I would meet someone and within hours I would start to imagine the two of us on our honeymoon on a deserted beach in Fiji. When we met again I was already “in love” because my brain had reinvented him. I took the parts of him I liked, erased the parts I didn’t, gave him a huge dose of attentiveness, sensitivity and charm, made him a great communicator and lovers, and voila! He was the man of my dreams. And yet, the person I was sitting across from was absolutely not the same guy in my dreams. This is what’s called cognitive dissonance: the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time, or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values. Wikipedia) Remove fantasy. It’s hard, but you gotta do it. Every time you catch yourself in la la land, bring yourself back to now, to work, a hobby, a book, any current distraction. And if you’re anything like me, don’t even let yourself bask in thoughts of sexy scenes from the night before. Militant, I know. But worth it in the end.
2. NO EXPECTATIONS: Not only did I give up fantasy, I gave up the expectations that normally go along with dating, like, “I expect him to call,” or “I expect him to be with only me,” or “I expect flowers,” and even, “I expect not to be ignored.” Nope. Didn’t expect any of those things. And while this may sound hugely contradictory to every How To Date book you’ve ever read, hear me out: WE CANNOT HAVE EXPECTATIONS OF PEOPLE WE DO NOT KNOW. Early dating is not the time to lay down your laws, draw up your demands and institute your rules. He has a right not to call you back. He has a right not to have to buy you flowers. He has a right to ignore you. Of course, if he does those things you have the right to walk away and never look back. But these things cannot be expected. Early dating is simply for getting to know someone and hopefully, enjoying them. When I dated D I only had BASIC expectations in place (I expect to be treated kindly, I expect to be treated with respect, and I expect to feel safe). If these items were not met, I would have moved on abruptly. So, only pull out the bigger, meatier expectations once you have a sense that this person is capable of meeting your expectations–and that may take a while.
3. A NEW DEFINITION OF DATING: Every time I dated in the past I attached to it the same definition: to find out if the person I was dating was The One. At the very least, to find out if he was the one I would have sex/kill time with until I found The One. Not this time. This time, I let go of my usual definition and I changed it to “Whatever this is, my only goal is to ENJOY this person.” If I no longer enjoy this person, or it becomes difficult or a chore, that’s it, it’s over. But more than that, I removed all the previous layers of “purpose” that dating held for me. I tried to maintain a “take it or leave it” mentality. I was done with dating anyway, so this was kind of easy for me at this point. I subscribed to the idea of life (not just dating) being ORGANIC and happening on its own time. No pushing. No controlling. It actually felt freeing. The hardest part was realizing that dating was not meant to be romantic, comforting, loving or even intense (though sometimes it was). Dating was meant to be a mystery. Sometimes clumsy, sometimes quirky, and almost always fun if you have the right perspective. Before, I was burdened with hope of what this person could be for me. Now, I was free to simply be myself, not try to impress anyone, not look for impressing qualities in him and just BE. Ahh.
4. A WILLINGNESS TO LOSE: Letting go is very difficult for a love addict, but where I had come from I felt as if I had already experienced the greatest loss of my life. How could it get worse (barring death of loved ones) than being told after 8 months of a whirlwind love affair with a man I thought I was on the verge of marrying and spending the rest of my life with, “I don’t love you and I don’t think I ever did…”? So, I approached this new relationship not jaded, but resigned. I submitted to the will of the universe, as some would say. I was Free to expect that I was inevitably going to lose this relationship, so, I might as well just enjoy it while I can. A willingness to lose definitely takes away the pressure to try and hold on. When you know you’re going to lose someone (I mean, REALLY know), you savor them. No pushing, no clinging. You’ve been defeated. You simply let go. You accept. Losing is inevitable. If you have the “Failure is not an option” mentality, you’re on the wrong playing field. Dating is not a game of “winning” or “take no prisoners.” It’s a game of eating humble pie, where you must accept that the universe is in charge, not you.
5. TIME RULES: When we rush to lock in a relationship because we “feel” chemistry or we “feel” that it is right, we are ignoring the almighty educator Time, who sheds light on the world around us and the people in it, slowly, and we thus, undermine our chances of making educated decisions about people. As hard as we try, we can’t beat the clock. We must respect the fact that getting to know the person we are dating takes time. And since that is so, and since we cannot be secure until we know, we might as well find something else to do in the meantime. And so, I approached the issue of time, which I once hated (hurry up already and let this guy ask me to marry him) as a gift. It allowed me, for the first time in my life, to see that time could protect me and wasn’t so bad after all.
6. FAKE IT TILL YOU MAKE IT: This last point is going to seem counter to everything you ever learned about honesty. What? Be fake? Well, yeah.
Once I recognized my unhealthy behavior and I knew I had to keep it under lock and key UNTIL healthy behavior became second nature to me. As Susan Peabody used to say, “fake it till you make it.” I never truly understood what that meant, until I got to this point in my life. And that’s exactly what I did. Early on there were two weeks where D kinda disappeared and didn’t really contact me. It was here that I was tested. In my past life I would have “pushed” (“Where have you been? I miss you…”), but I ignored the unhealthy voice and did not let it slip out. I “pretended” to have it all together, when I knew I really didn’t. It was then that I knew I had joined the ranks of other healthy female single women who date. You see, we all have insecurities. We all want the love-life of our dreams. But, unhealthy people will try to control or manipulate others to get it. Healthy people will sometimes bury their pain and deal with it until they’re called to make a decision in their best interest.
In the end, I learned that D was seeing another woman (good for him. We were not bound at this point), but only to “wrap it up” with her so he could see me. D’s ex wife also wanted him back at another point. Fine. Go. I’m doing great with or without you. Had I jumped to conclusions or made assumptions about what could have happened, I would have acted from an unhealthy place. And worse, my (faulty) assumptions could have brought me to taking actions that I may have regretted.
In the end, as a “dater” your only responsibility is to protect yourself. You do that by listening to your gut and looking out for red flags. And guess what, dating other women at the same time or going back to your ex-wife are NOT red flags. They are normal parts of dating, whether we like them or not. And so, I had no right to assert my will on D simply because I wanted him all to myself (unhealthy). Suppressing these feelings and urges, and faking a smile UNTIL I had a clearer picture of who he was and how things would play out was one of the healthiest choices I could make. Dating takes patience. It is not until after there is an agreed upon commitment in place that we can begin to assert a little more control and expect exclusivity.
SO, remember the healthy approach. Exclusivity too early on is not healthy. Could you imagine signing up for a job before meeting the boss, the team or even finding out what the work entailed? Could you imagine flying off to a foreign country for a vacation knowing nothing about the location? Your experience would be hit or miss. And while some people thrive off the rush of the unknown, in matters of love and dating, it’s best to play it safe and proceed SLOWLY…
Dating is such an enormous challenge for people recovering from love addiction. Because we’ve been hurt so deeply by past relationships many of us try desperately to dodge any future problems by creating a set of dating rules or expectations, just so as not to get burned again. And while a certain amount of protection in the form of rules or boundaries is a good thing, too many will insure that you pretty much never date again. here’s how to cut back on a few of those iron clad rules…
Don’t make assumptions about people before you know them: My mother used to say, Believe none of what you hear and only half of what you see. And that especially goes for dating. Dating between two healthy individuals is tricky, tricky, tricky, but for recovering love addicts, it can seem hopeless. Many of us come from a world where our circle of friends or family members were dysfunctional. We’ve learned to mistrust people, we’ve learned that people can be unreliable, and we’ve learned to protect ourselves from people who might hurt us. So, when we come out of recovery, we tend to bring with us all that mistrust, fear and skepticism about the world, and often, we make blanket assumptions about people that lean toward the negative because that’s all we know. Here are a few examples:
- Assuming all people lie
- Assuming you will be rejected because, “he’s too good” for you
- Assuming he’s not the one because of the way he dresses or looks
- Assuming he/she will be boring because of their [job], [lifestyle], [interests] (fill in the blanks)
- Assuming you should not date someone who has only be single for a few months
- Assuming you should not date someone who has been single for a few years
- Assuming you should not date someone because they don’t “seem” like your type
When we pull information about people from our fantasy-brain, we may or may not be correct about our assumptions, because, like I said, your assumptions come from what you’ve learned in the past.
But keep in mind that the healthier you become through recovery, the better quality people you will meet and attract. And so, you don’t want to write off someone for the same reasons you wrote off past partners. Why? Because, YOU’VE changed. Because you’re different. And because the process of dating is getting to know someone first, before making decisions about them. Remember, you’re not looking for perfect. Mr. Perfect doesn’t exist. You are looking for shared values, attraction, compatibility, kindness, respect and so on. And because you’re not omniscient, you are unable to know who people are until you actually do the work of getting to know them.
Don’t be a Seinfeld: There’s a great episode of Seinfeld where he breaks up with a woman because he doesn’t like the fact that she eats her peas one at a time. In fact, part of the humor of that show is that all the characters on Seinfeld all suffer from the same neurotic attribute of fault-finding in others. No one is ever good enough for them; and so, they’re eternally stuck with just themselves. Perfect for a sitcom, horrible if it’s your real-life situation.
Extreme pickiness is an unhealthy state. When you find fault in everyone you meet you are either a.) attracted to and pursuing the wrong type of person, or b.) you are unable to accept people and relationships on healthy terms. We all have faults. You do too! And usually, extreme pickiness comes from a place of insecurity within ourselves, and fear of commitment. When we do not accept, tolerate or forgive our own faults, how can we do so in others? When we cannot tolerate little things like the way a person eats, or the way they laugh, or the length of their fingers, we need to ask ourselves if we are creating these barriers to attraction because we’re really not attracted to this person, or, because we are afraid of being available and vulnerable to a relationship. If it happens once in a while–say, you meet someone and they have an unappealing laugh, then, most likely, you’re not picky. It’s them. If it happens all the time, and you always seem to find something wrong with people, then you’re picky. It’s you.
Remember too, that there’s a healthy level of pickiness. We want to have relatively high standards of people, we want to make sure their values are the same as ours. We want to take it slow, get to know people and not dive into something too quickly. And we certainly want to be attracted to our partner and like who they are. But we don’t want to be so extreme that we dump a really great guy simply because he has a crooked smile or a hair out of place. Don’t let pickiness be your way of over-protecting you from a relationship.
Don’t give up too quickly: People are strange. They hold back. They don’t always make good first impressions. A while back, there was a friend of mine who would date a guy and if he didn’t impress her, or say the magic words (who knows what they were!) by the second date, she would not go out with him again. In her mind, she didn’t want to “waste” her time. In retrospect, she was lazy. Dating is work. It takes time. It takes effort. You have to be willing to put in that work, time and effort if you want to successfully find someone right for you, and that means hanging on through a few possibly awkward dates, to see if there’s anything deeper there. If you find yourself breezing through men the way you skim through your Facebook newsfeed, you’re probably doing it wrong. And keep in mind there’s always obvious moments where giving up quickly is a good thing–if you find yourself really turned off by someone, that might be a good sign that you don’t need to give this a second go. But, think of your friendships. I am sure you have friends that you didn’t click with right away, but eventually grew to love. It’s the same with dating. Don’t set your expectations so high that no one can reach them. Dating is absolutely NOT about clicking and falling in love on the first date. It’s a slow, somewhat awkward, but exciting process of getting to know someone. A good rule of thumb is three to five. Three dates aught to tell you whether or not this person is worth investing in. Five dates is usually the amount of time it takes for some of the more glaring red flags to make themselves known.
Just watch out for your own red flags. Don’t let “don’t give up too quickly” turn into “hang on for dear life and don’t let go.” Remember it takes two to date. If he bails out before you’ve determined whether he’s right for you, then, he’s not right for you! You don’t get to go chasing after him in a moment of “Wait, we could be perfect together!” He has his own ability to determine if someone is perfect for him or not, and you need to respect that, just as you would hope he’d respect you. Dating is not a game of trying desperately to hold on or convince someone of your worth. You are worthy! But maybe not for this person. And vice versa.
Likewise, if things to do continue well for a few months, and you become serious, know that you’re never too far along to get out if things go wrong. In this week’s The Break Up Journal, that’s exactly what is happening. Five months into a passionate relationship, I felt too invested to give up and walk away. I continued to think, he’ll change. Or, I can put up with this because I love him.
Bottom line: dating is all about using your brain. You need to be able to negotiate your way through the dating world by using your logic brain first and foremost, then your heart, and quite often your gut. But sometimes, love addicts use only their emotions (never a good idea), or haven’t yet learned how to trust their “gut” or their emotions. So, we need to give people time and not make quick assumptions about them either for good or bad. We also need to remove the “fantasy” idea that dating is all about love and sex. It’s not. It’s about learning. Having fun. Experiencing the world with this one particular person. No quick investment. And no quick write off. And lastly, you need to take a look at your own behavior and your own level of pickiness about people. If you’re finding fault in every potential partner, you’re doing so for a reason: to protect you from a deeper, more intimate connection with someone for fear of getting hurt. If that’s the case, it’s time to do a little more work on yourself before heading out into the world of dating. It’s rough out there!
On the LAA boards today, someone posted the following cry for help: HOW exactly do I change, get well? HOW?
I have answers and solutions, but you probably won’t like them. They are more difficult to do than choosing to remain a love addict. You see, being a love addict is EASY. The pain and suffering comes second nature to people like us, so, because that’s familiar, we just settle for it. The alternative–facing ourselves, facing our fears, actually taking actions and GROWING UP is far scarier and far more a risk–at least from our perspective, we think it is. But essentially that’s what you must do.
1. Face yourself and accept yourself, as is. Not who you’d like to be, or who you envision yourself to be. Or even who your parents envisioned you to be. Or who the last or next PoA wishes you’d be! Just you, as you are now. Possibly broken, still alive, scrappy, but human, and beautiful in your own right. And perfectly able to grow and change.
2. Face your fears. Love addiction or alcohol addiction (as you well know with your great insight) is not about addiction to the substance or the person, it’s about AVOIDANCE OF THE SELF. We avoid ourselves because there’s something scary there that we don’t want to see, or there’s a really scary task we desperately want to avoid–scary tasks we want to avoid can be anything from living alone, growing up and taking care of yourself, becoming financially secure, giving up a long held fantasy or belief, feeling uncomfortable or doing something you’re not good at, etc. Find out what you are most afraid of. It’s usually something right in front of your face, and most likely it’s what you are avoiding right now. Once you figure it out, DEAL WITH IT. FACE IT. ADDRESS IT. No matter how scary.
3. Know that there are two energies at work inside you: your emotional energy (the child within you) who you are most likely giving all the power to, and shouldn’t, and your logical energy (the adult within you) who wants to become healthier and brought you here. These two energies are battling for power over you. Let LOGIC win, for now. Force yourself or teach yourself about both energies and how to turn off your emotional energy, at least until you can balance out the two energies, and at least until your emotional energy knows its place. Right now, my guess is, your emotional energy is ruling your brain. It shouldn’t be. Emotions don’t make logical decisions and as adult grown ups, we really, really, really need to make logic decisions. What this means is, stop making decisions based on “what feels good now.” What most likely feels good now is no pain, and so, to dull the pain, we run back to a PoA, or pick up the bottle. Or “zone” out. Stop making choices on what feels good. Make logical, rational choices. I am in pain, but the garbage needs to be taken out. Or, I don’t feel well, but I need to go to work. Or, I am lonely, so, I will find something all by myself to do, etc.
4. All your great “insight” is just a start. You actually have to change your behavior and that means physically taking different actions. I too had great insight. Most love addicts, believe it or not, do. I knew everything about love addiction and still nothing changed. It’s because I never put all that knowledge into action. I knew what to do, I just didn’t DO IT. You know the expression “practice what you preach.” Start preaching healthy and then start practicing it. What do healthy people do? Well, they most likely don’t accept unhealthy people into their lives. They don’t sit around all day fantasizing about a better life. When they detect red flags they are not afraid to acknowledge them and if need be, leave a relationship because of them. They also have a set of personal values that outweigh the need for a relationship. Love addicts have values, but the relationship outweighs their values and becomes more important. Many healthy people do not see the world the way addicts see the world: a place where people and substances are available to take the edge off a painful existence. This is how I perceived the world for many years. Until I didn’t anymore. Find healthy people and start to surround yourself by them. Copy their behavior. Learn from them. Chances are you didn’t have healthy models of love growing up. Neither did many of us. BUT, you’re an adult now. You are free to find healthy teachers in this world and learn new ways of coping and managing your life. Also, learn your VALUES and stick to them. Make them more important than the relationship.
5. Change your perspective immediately. When I was at the very beginning of recovery, I felt overwhelmingly frustrated. I had no idea where to begin to get better. I was finally sick and tired of being sick and tired. Yet, I kept imagining that someone would come to my rescue and teach me, or do it for me, or give me the answers. But because this never happened (well, I received many answers, but they weren’t good enough), I then imagined taking pills to dull the pain. And then, at some point, I gave up these FANTASIES. And little by little I started to work on some RANDOM problem I was having. And then I worked on another. And another. And after five years of chipping away at my problems, I built a new me. And some of my learning came easy, and some didn’t. And I fell on my face MANY times in the process. But the one thing I think I had through it all was a sense of determination to succeed. I WILL get better, I said. You can’t read a 50,000 page self-help book and not come away without learning SOMETHING. And you cannot unlearn all you’ve learned about being healthy. What you can do (and what I did for many years) is refuse to practice a healthy life. Give up trying. And the only thing that causes you to give up is that you’ve lost your positive perspective. So…don’t do that. It’s hard to always remain positive. But it’s all you’ve got. It’s the ONLY thing standing between a love addict and a healthy person. Perspective.
6. Give up. Yes, I said it. Give up. Give up the neediness for a romantic relationship. Give up the EXPECTATION of a romantic relationship. Give up the fantasy that you deserve a romantic relationship and that it is owed to you. It’s not. You need love and companionship in this world for a more humane existence. And you definitely need sex to procreate. But you do not NEED a romantic relationship. This is a cultural construct of western civilization and once you stop watching love stories and reading romance novels and take a good look at human history and anthropology you will come to understand that human beings don’t need romantic love. They simply need closeness to people to survive AND to thrive (yes, can you believe it? You can thrive without romance–most people do). You can get closeness and thrive through family, friends, pets, a satisfying career, etc. And because the world doesn’t owe you a romantic relationship, and there’s no knowing whether you’re destined for one or not, REFOCUS YOUR LIFE’S PURPOSE ON YOU AND WHAT YOU CAN CONTROL. Here’s an exercise for you: imagine you are living in a world with NO CHANCE OF ROMANTIC LOVE. What would you do? What would you look for? What would your goals be? Who would you befriend? As a love addict, we all must imagine ourselves as individuals separate from any romantic notions. When we are truly able to do that and we can focus our attentions on other things, we have won half the battle. And while love addiction is not about love or romance at all, but rather, about avoidance of the self, we (as love addicts) still need to deconstruct the fantasy that we’ve built around the notion that we are DEFINED by whatever partner or romantic relationship we happen to be in.
7. Learn better coping strategies through better management of your life. In my opinion, it is not the addiction that needs to be dealt with, it’s the addictive personality. The rest of your life, you may most likely want to turn to SOMETHING (who knows what) to dull your pain. And you will most likely do it obsessively, unless you understand what drives your addiction. If it’s not alcohol or men it might be shopping. Or gambling. Or whatever! There’s no sense in going to AA, then switching to LAA, then switching FAA or SLAA, or NA, etc. It’s all the same. Whatever you are addicted to is irrelevant. It’s your WAY to protect yourself. Once you build yourself up, learn how to cope with stress and manage your life like an adult and suddenly, poof! the need to run away is gone, or lessened. So, how do you learn to manage your life better? You live it. Stop running away from things. Practice, practice, practice. One of the things in life that scared me to death was working. At a job. Well, it stressed me out so much because I had zero experience, zero confidence, and being in situations that I didn’t feel comfortable or confident in stressed me out. So…I would avoid working by hopping in to a relationship. And then of course, I would be broke and need money and the vicious cycle would begin. So….go to school. Learn a trade. Get good at something. And allow yourself TEN TIMES to practice a hobby before giving up. Learn about better communication, how to create boundaries, when to talk, when to shut up. Learn how to manage your money, your free time, your living space, your stress. Yes, learn to manage stress in healthier ways. The more control you take over managing your life, the more confidence you will have in your life and the less you will need to depend on men or booze or whatever other object we can shove in the perceived “void.”
Shall I go on? Because I’m really not finished yet! Bottom line: you are in the right place. You are beginning a journey that has MANY MANY opportunities for growth. I’m glad you’re here. Keep reading.Keep posting. Become part of this community. Read my blog thelovelyaddict.com. And whatever you do, DO NOT GIVE UP ON YOURSELF. You, not anything or anyone else (except maybe your kids if you have them), are your best investment. Really try to understand that. YOU are your biggest and best investment. The more you learn about better health, and the more you do to work towards better health, the more of an investment you are making in yourself. It’s that easy.
There’s a reason love addicts are attracted to sex addicts, avoidants and narcissistic types. What do all these types all have in common? They offer very little in the way of true intimacy, and that, my friends, is something a love addict cannot handle either.
Instead of focusing on the sex addict, the avoidant and the narcissist, focus on yourself. Ask yourself this very difficult question: if I crave the intimacy of a relationship so desperately, why is it that I keep going after people who cannot give that to me? If I crave an ice cream cone, why on earth would I go to find it at the hardware store????
Love addiction is a paradox. It is not about love. It is about avoiding the self and avoiding true intimacy (with yourself and with others). At least sex addicts and avoidants can recognize their intimacy disorder. It seems that many of us can’t. And yet, we are the same. We are opposite sides of the same coin.
Don’t be fooled by the “love” in love addiction. There’s not much love in a love addicted relationship. What is there instead? Fear (of abandonment), need, desperation, drama, pain…
So, I’ve created a new body of work called The Break-Up Journal. Many of you, throughout the years, have asked me how I recovered and what happened, and so, instead of “telling” I am showing.
The Break-Up Journal is an actual account of my last love-addicted relationship, the break-up that ensued, the withdrawal and my ultimate struggle into recovery. Because this is an actual account, transcribed from hand-written journals, nothing is held back. But, because of that, reading can often be cringe-worthy. There are ridiculously stupid lapses in judgment on my part, huge slips, relapses, and several stellar losses of dignity. At times, reading is painful. And trust me, when I re-read this journal, I want to whack this girl over the head and say, What are you an idiot? Don’t you see?!
Fortunately that girl is long gone, but her story remains, and hopefully it can and will add insight into your own struggle with love addiction.
I am planning on posting five entries per week. It is meant to be read chronologically, so that means starting with May 31 (on bottom) and reading up.
Be sure to check out the About the blog page and the Cast of Characters, so you have better insight into the story line. And while names and dates have changed to protect identities, if you are familiar with my blog, you will probably be able to figure out who’s who.
My guess is, if you’re a love addict, the concept of “discipline” either makes no sense to you (that’s only something the military needs to practice, right?), or you recoil from the mere mention of it (sex dungeons, disciplinary parents and hard work, oh my!). Either way, love addicts have virtually zero self-discipline. At least when it comes to relationships.
How and why we tend to be less disciplined people is a mystery. From my own experience, I was raised in a somewhat unruly environment. I would certainly get into trouble if I did something wrong (I used to sneak into my mother’s closet, pull out a dress of hers, and then take scissors and cut it up into pieces so that it fit me. Needless to say, I got into trouble from time to time). But on the whole, I would have to say my parents were not disciplinarians, nor was their parenting very consistent. I grew up, in fact, believing that discipline was a bad thing for creative individuals and that people “like us” should be without boundaries or rules, simply living free so as to express themselves…
Those beliefs, as idealistic and freeing as they seemed at the time, were not very realistic. They translated into a rather directionless, undisciplined adult who ended up not really knowing the benefit of boundaries, rules, self-discipline and deferred gratification. And who certainly never had the self-discipline to make many of her creative ideas come to fruition.
Only now, after years of recovery, do I truly understand how faulty and self-sabotaging those beliefs were. And they were all based on a lack of understanding about the idea of discipline. To me, it was “bad.” Discipline was for non-creative, military-types. Period.
I was so wrong.
Setting the record straight, here are three powerful definition of discipline, taken from Wikipedia:
- Discipline is the assertion over more base desires, and is usually understood to be synonymous with self control. Self-discipline is to some extent a substitute for Motivation.
- Discipline is when one uses reason to determine the best course of action that opposes one’s desires, which is the opposite of Fun.
- Self-discipline—what many people call “will-power”—refers to the ability to persist at difficult or unpleasant tasks until they are completed. People who possess high self-discipline are able to overcome reluctance to begin tasks and stay on track despite distractions. Those with low self-discipline procrastinate and show poor follow-through, often failing to complete tasks—even tasks they want very much to complete.
For a love addict wanting and needing to become healthier, self-discipline is a must. We must learn to overcome obsessive thoughts, stop reaching out to our PoAs, change our current behavior, and change the way we think about certain big ticket items like love, relationships and who we are. All this takes loads of self-discipline.
So, how do you become more disciplined? There are a few resources on the internet to help. Forbes magazine gives a leadership version here. And then there’s Pick the Brain that offers tips for self-discipline when it comes to things like getting to the gym. Both set of tips can be applied to love addiction. But my personal favorite resource on self-discipline comes from Uncommon Help, a site designed for self-help and awareness. Read the 7 Self-Discipline Techniques. Then, print it out. Read it daily. Repeat.
Discipline is not scary. It’s the internal force that allows you to choose the apple over the donut, get up and go to the gym when you don’t feel like it or make decisions based on reason and logic, rather than emotion. Discipline is often a trait you’re born with, but it can be a learned behavior. But it is one concept that many love addicts fear. Why? Because discipline means change. It means giving up something in the short term to get to something far greater and far more rewarding in the long term. It means kissing the safety blanket of your addiction (i.e. your person of addiction and your addictive behavior) goodbye by stepping up to the plate and taking control of your life. It means having the willingness to take the risk to be a better person.
If you need a motivating mantra to start being more self-disciplined, use this: Enough already. I need to grow up. I need to stop being a little child, acting out, getting what he/she wants and crying when I don’t. I need to see value in disciplined behavior. Especially if it means living a more authentic, happy life.
Now, go get ’em!