I recently joined a Facebook group called Empaths & Survivors of Sociopathy. When I first came across it I was fascinated. Many of you who know me know that my father was a sociopath, so technically, I’m a “survivor” though, honestly, I tend not to think of myself as such. We’re all, in one way or another, survivors of loads of crazy stuff. So, I didn’t think anything of it and never really read further on this group. And then it popped up again. Again, my fascination was peaked, and I wasn’t sure why. Eventually it came to me: the empath-sociopath relationship was identical to the love addict-narcissist relationship, except for one major difference. Empaths describe themselves in a positive light as unwitting victims against a perpetrator ; love addicts describe themselves as people who are obsessed, in love, addicted; not a victim, per se, but a someone who suffers from the pain of a partner who continues to hurt them.
Let’s look at definitions of both:
Being an empath is when you are affected by other people’s energies, and have an innate ability to intuitively feel and perceive others. Your life is unconsciously influenced by others’ desires, wishes, thoughts, and moods. Being an empath is much more than being highly sensitive and it’s not just limited to emotions. Empaths can perceive physical sensitivities and spiritual urges, as well as just knowing the motivations and intentions of other people. You either are an empath or you aren’t. It’s not a trait that is learned. You are always open, so to speak, to process other people’s feelings and energy, which means that you really feel, and in many cases take on the emotions of others. Many empaths experience things like chronic fatigue, environmental sensitivities, or unexplained aches and pains daily. These are all things that are more likely to be contributed to outside influences and not so much yourself at all. Essentially you are walking around in this world with all of the accumulated karma, emotions, and energy from others.–Taken from The Mind Unleashed
Love addicts live in a chaotic world of desperate need and emotional despair. Fearful of being alone or rejected, love addicts endlessly search for that special someone – the person that will make the addict feel whole. Ironically, love addicts oftentimes have had numerous opportunities for the truly intimate experience they think they want. But they are much more strongly attracted to the intense experience of “falling in love” than they are to the peaceful intimacy of healthy relationships. As such, they spend much of their time hunting for “the one.” They base nearly all of their life choices on the desire and search for this perfect relationship – everything from wardrobe choices to endless hours at the gym, to engaging in hobbies and other activities that may or may not interest them, to the ways in which they involve others in conversations and social interactions. Taken from The Ranch
As you can see Empaths define themselves in a spiritual, almost supernatural way, whereas Love Addicts tend to be defined as people who “live in a chaotic world desperate” for love and attention.
But, here’s the deal: Both Empaths and Love Addicts, when in a relationship with a narcissist, are making one heck of a bad choice.
I’m not sure which camp is better. If I am an empath, it’s not my fault. Because of my sensitivity, I have been victimized by the big bad sociopath. If I am a love addict, it’s all my fault. I can’t do anything right and so, the longer I stay, the better chance I have of making it right. This of course is a gross simplification of the two different ways people perceive themselves. But the bottom line is this: if you remain in a relationship with someone who treats you poorly, repeatedly, it’s no longer their fault. It’s yours. And whether you choose to recover from love addiction or “escape” a sociopathic relationship in the end doesn’t matter. What matters is that you take positive action to take care of yourself.
We often think that big change is black and white. That for growth and change to occur, one must become completely different. This isn’t exactly true. I watched some silly Lifetime movie on love addiction the other night and the character who played a counselor says to the love addict, “the addict must die, so that the healthy person inside can live.” I’m not sure I believe that. For years now, my addict has lived side by side with my healthy self. Thing is, my addict changed in order to live in peace and harmony with healthy me. Addict Me now defers to Healthy Me because it knows that Healthy Me makes better choices and there’s less pain than when Addict Me was in charge. So, the addict inside has transformed itself; it has become subservient, tamed. But she’s still there. And while she no longer has the power she once had, she can still poke her head out of the ether and demand attention. Addict Me makes herself know when I long for “longing.” She rears her ugly head when I am ladened with anxiety and panic, or when I allow myself to turn completely co-dependent with my kids. She sometimes keeps me from making adult choices, and is always there when I can’t cope with stress. Most of the time though, she is a shadow self that follows me around dutifully and stays out of Healthy Me’s business.
Anyway, my point in relating this is that change doesn’t have to be so massive that a part of you must die. Unhealthy behavior can act like a shape-shifter. It is malleable. It can be taught to do better. Addict You doesn’t have to die. But it does have to be put in its place and told who’s boss…
1. The biggest and most successful change I made in my life was to grow up. That’s something I never really wanted to do. Being an adult scared the pants off me. It meant being responsible, working, being accountable, taking risks I didn’t want to take and facing fears I didn’t want to face. And while becoming a mom helped me to overcome some of my resistance to growing up ( a lot of it actually), I still remained emotionally anchored to my youth. That all changed in 2008 when the pain of remaining immature finally outweighed the fear of becoming a grown up. And I have news for you, while being a grown up is hard, it’s not that hard!!! The longer you do it, the better at it you become. Stunted growth happens when we AVOID ourselves. Period. We use relationships and sex to avoid (we also use drugs, money, shopping, food…) Once you realize that, it’s over. Your love addict can take a back seat, because you now know that the one thing it can’t have in order to be all-powerful, is self-growth.
2. The second biggest change was facing my fear of intimacy. In the past, I had always dated emotionally avoidant men who tended to be mentally, physically and emotionally unavailable. I did this as way to protect myself. I did this because I was unavailable. As much as I wanted love and a relationship, I was too immature and too afraid of exposing myself to someone who might have high expectations of me, to someone who might demand too much from me in the way of intimacy. I’m not a very intimate person. I can go “deep” every once in a while, but typically, I prefer to have very superficial relationships that don’t tie me down. I am this way because I have entrapment issues. My fear of entrapment ultimately led me to hop into relationships that were overly simplistic, where there was no real communication or intimacy (but lots of intensity). Getting over this meant finding someone who could love, respect, and show kindness to me, but didn’t trap me. Knowing yourself means knowing how much intimacy you are comfortable with. The more you experience intimacy with others and recognize that they will not “trap” you, and that YOU are in control to move about the cabin, so to speak, the safer you feel and the more intimacy you can handle. You also don’t want to confuse intimacy with intensity. Two different things. I could always handle intensity because it was a high that surged temporarily and gave me that feeling of connectivity with someone, but then it was over and I was free to remove myself from the intensity and recover. Many women experience this “roller coaster” of emotions. They experience the intensity of love and sex, then they crash and burn. I believe i subconsciously chose mates I knew would be this way (run away from me or neglect me) because I needed that recovery time to heal from the intensity. Surprisingly, I am still this way. Instead of a partner putting me on this roller coaster, it is my health and workout routine. I become intensely healthy and run and bike and workout to an extreme, and then I crash and desperately need to lie on the sofa and do nothing but recover for three weeks. Very strange!
3. I learned what it meant to really love myself and have self-esteem. And while I don’t have nearly as much self-esteem and confidence as I would like (believe it or not you don’t need a slew of this to have a successful relationship) I found out that having just a little more than I had before was just enough to create beauty in me to the point of becoming attractive to a healthy partner. How much self-esteem did I find? Well, enough to know these few things: I’m not perfect. No one is. I have a right to a good life. I have a right to be respected and loved. I may not be the most beautiful woman on the planet, or the smartest, but I am the ONLY one on this planet with this particular combination of traits that make me unique in all the world. That means that I am a gift to others and that it is my job to surround myself with people who appreciate my gifts and see me as a gift. Being a “gift” to the world has very little to do with superficial beauty, intelligence, color, class, etc. It has to do with recognizing the importance of that unique combo of traits that only you possess. What do I lack? I don’t think I’m very pretty, or smart. I sometimes feel fat (although I only weigh 125 lbs at 5’4″ and am fairly athletic), I make a ton of mistakes as a mother, friend, wife, sister and daughter…I don’t always believe in my knowledge and experience…I feel shame a lot, and it is still hard for me at times to be intimate with my hubby and kids. Oh well! Like I said, I changed just enough for it to matter.
4. I said goodbye to fantasy and put action in its place. What does that mean? Well, to a love addict, it means that for most of my childhood and adult life I was very fantasy driven. I would dream of becoming a writer but not write. I would dream of falling in love with a Prince, but I wasn’t a princess. I would dream of great careers as a movie star or public speaker, but I would’t go to college. I had zero experience, I built up no wealth of knowledge in any field, but my dreams and fantasies about what I could be were enormous and elaborate. My rich fantasy life comforted me, UNTIL I was about 25, and UNTIL I actually had to socialize. And if anyone remembers back to being 25 what’s the one thing we all talked about? Or, rather, I should ask, what’s the one thing that HEALTHY people talked about? Their education. Their careers. Whether they were going to go on to grad school or if they were trying to find a job. Me? I was waiting tables at a beer and shots joint and trying to hop into bed with the first man that paid me any attention. This was not action. This was stunted growth. This was a refusal to grow up. My marriage was also a refusal to grow up. I felt protected from having to grow up while I was married. My husband would go to work and I could have babies and continue to feed my rich fantasy life. I could AVOID life. Trouble was, since I never did anything or became anything or gained any experience in any particular field (because I never invested in myself), I had a very limited pool of men to choose from who would want me as their wife. Who wants someone with ZERO responsibility and stunted growth and an inability to be intimate and mature? Well, someone who is EQUALLY stunted and immature. It wasn’t until I was about 36 years old that I realized the whole fantasy-world wasn’t sustaining me. And it wasn’t until I was 40 that I finally said goodbye to fantasy and was able to stand on my own. I went back to college, got a degree, even invested one year in graduate school. I rarely, if ever fantasize now. What I do now (duh! I could have been doing this all along) is make goals. Making concrete goals where action is required is the adult’s version of fantasy. You dream it, you plan it, you prepare for it, then you DO IT. Wow. What a difference. Since I gave up fantasy and became goal-oriented instead, I have had many accomplishments. And all these accomplishments are investments I have made in myself.
5. I realized that my failed relationships and the bad boy-avoidants that broke my heart did not CAUSE my love addiction. I did. The bad boys were a symptom of my love addiction. We often think that love addiction is about love. Not getting enough of it, wanting too much, etc. It’s not about love. It’s not even about other people. It is about self-avoidance (torchbearing keeps you from living a realistic life; ambivalence keeps you from making important decisions; straight up love addiction keeps you from growing up). It is about using love and relationships as tools to help you soothe, cope, defend and avoid. Therefore, the object of getting healthy cannot be found in solving the issues of your current relationship. When the torchbearer’s dreams come true and she finally has the object of her fantasy, the reality will never be as rich and she will need to hold a torch for someone else; if the ambivalent love addict ever makes a decision to stay or leave a relationship, more ambivalence will follow, etc.) As I’ve written about before, your unhealthy relationship serves a perfectly functional dysfunctional purpose: to keep you from avoiding yourself and growing up. When you “fix” it (without fixing yourself), the relationship will no longer serve its purpose and the PoA must go and another put in its place. This is why I continued to repeat the same patterns and be attracted to the same character over and over and over.
6. I finally determined that I no longer had to “date daddy.” This was a big change for me as my idea of a perfect mate was wrapped up in who my dad was. Freud was right. A daughter’s first love is her father. And whether that love is reciprocated or not, betrayed or not, healthy or not, it doesn’t matter!!! A daughter will still see the combination of traits in that man as ones she must look for in a man of her own. If she gets along well with her father, respects him, and has a healthy relationship with him (and vice versa), her chances of finding a healthy partner are high. If, on the other hand, he neglects her, abandons her, does drugs, lies, cheats, steals, etc., and she loses respect for him and learns to mistrust him, her chances of finding a healthy partner have been sabotaged. I knew the psychology behind daughters dating their father. But I honestly thought that if I avoided men who did drugs or were alcoholics, I would avoid the problem of being stuck with a man like my dad. Wrong. It didn’t occur to me until much later that I was picking men with much subtler comparisons to my dad. Men that avoided me. Once I learned this lesson, I was able to finally recognize the avoidant and…avoid him 🙂
7. Equal in weight and importance to numero uno, was that I learned what values were and I made them more important than anything, even my relationships. Values are the most important thing in your life. Well, at least they should be. If you want to say goodbye to love addiction learn what your values are and choose them over anything else. When you do that, you change. You become healthy. You become true to yourself. Eight years ago, I could not tell you what a value was if it came up and slapped me in the face. You know how all those self-help books tell you “you won’t ever find the perfect man” and “you need to learn to tolerate a few bad traits” and “no relationship comes without problems”? Well, those books are right. But, they are preaching some very dangerous information without full disclosure. Let me explain: as a woman who learned that info, I never knew which traits were acceptable and which weren’t. Sure, I knew to stay away from big ticket items. I wouldn’t remain in a relationship with a serial killer. But there’s an equation to this information that I had all wrong. I thought that if I “loved” this man, and he, in turn “said” he loved me, and if I could write down more positives about him than negatives, I should stay. And yet, using this equation caused huge amounts of ambivalence. I would see on paper with my very own eyes that this guy only had four problems and about 100 positives. What was wrong with me? What I never in a million years understood until much later in life, was that the groupings of positives and negatives that we all come with are weighted. Picking your teeth at the table might be a negative but it may only hold a weight of one point, compared to smoking pot, also a negative, but that weight might be worth 50 points. This system of weights is not arbitrary. It comes from one source and one source only: your value system. You have a system of values already in place that you either use or don’t use. Either way, it’s there and it’s functional. And it weighs things all the time. For example: every time your PoA cheats on you and you feel like your whole body is on fire? That’s a value speaking directly to you. It’s saying: this is a quality or an action that I do not like and which causes enormous pain. Wether you listen to that value or not is the key. And when you don’t know your values or that you have to choose them over a relationship, you lose. A value you tells you if certain qualities are acceptable or unacceptable. If some traits weights one point or one hundred. If it is, in fact a value, or simply a want (not a must have). It tells you this through your emotions and through your logical brain–if you listen. When I realized what my values were I was no longer ambiguous. I was able to clearly see that while some guy only had four problems, their weight was too enormous for me to bear and they went against my value system. Once I learned this, enormous change occurred. I operated in a different way. My old ways of figuring out if someone was right or wrong for me became outmoded. This new values-based way of determining someone’s staying power in my life was a much healthier approach. It taught me to look for people who SHARED my same values. Once I did that, relationships became less painful.
Our inner love addict may be part of our true self, but it is the part of us that just doesn’t get it. It is the hungry, lonely, tired, angry, scared side of us, that makes unhealthy decisions out of fear and self-protection as opposed to health and happiness. It is the yin to our yang. The Mr. Hyde to our Dr. Jekyll. It is Pygmalion: the bedraggled, vulgar, uncivilized flower girl that I believe we need to educate in order to turn her into a duchess–not just on the outside, but the inside as well. So, no, your Addict doesn’t have to die. But she definitely needs to move over and let Healthy You drive from now on.
Once you have made a commitment to start to depend more on yourself versus the guy or girl you were once heavily depending on, you go through four main phases.
At first the world seems too big, life seems too overwhelming, and your problems seem insurmountable. Because you have turned a blind eye for so long and hid behind your love addiction, finally opening your eyes you often see a mess. And that can be scary as heck.
But the longer you remain recovered, grow and progress in your ability to take care of yourself, the stronger and more adept you become. The mess of your life, when you begin to address it, starts to look more and more manageable. So, in phase two your new found strength gives you a high, a state of feeling empowered and free from the chains of whatever obsession held you in its grip. There might even be feelings of grandeur, or a sense that you’re perfect now and “cured” of love addiction. Perhaps your circumstances can you lead you to believe that you are done with love addiction, especially if you are in a new healthier relationship. That inner strength and belief in yourself is healthy and necessary to propel you forward in recovery. But then there’s a third phase.
Once the high of recovery, or feeling “reborn” is gone, life may overwhelm again, or seem mundane. Reality settles back in and stress increases. It is in this third phase that many love addicts relapse, slip, or even recognize, perhaps, that the previous two phases were not genuine, and what they thought might be real recovery, was instead more avoidance in dealing with life’s issues. It is at this phase that you really need to work hard to manage your life and in particular, stress. And, more importantly, your ability to get through this phase and manage stress is your true determining factor as to whether or not you are successfully healed and on your way to a deeper recovery.
The trouble with phase three is that we have spent so many years managing our stress by essentially running away from it. Love addiction, after all, has always helped us manage stress. That was and is its purpose. And it is a rather immediate and efficient defense mechanism for dealing with stress, despite it being hugely unhealthy. When the bills are piling up, or the husband is ignoring you, or the kids are uncontrollable, or you don’t seem to want to grow up and deal with grown up issues, something in your brain has determined that if you create either a fantasy or a real life situation based on love it takes the edge off and immediately de-stresses you. Love addiction is like Calgon. Remember that old commercial? Calgon take me away!
But, while fantasy and other similar techniques (like massages, zoning out, eating comfort food, exercise and even bubble baths!) are absolutely necessary to de-stress, there is a fine line between using these techniques from time to time to take the edge off, or, in the case of love addiction, to completely avoid and submerse yourself in that avoidance. It, thus, becomes your job in recovery to know three things:
- that your nature (or what you’ve been taught) is most likely to avoid problems,
- that in order to be a successful adult, you have to fight against that nature and face problems,
- but, that you still need to learn acceptable forms of managing stress, because facing all kinds of stress coming at you without having a healthy buffer can also be unhealthy.
What are acceptable forms of managing stress?
Managing stress without the “protection” of love addiction can be daunting. You feel exposed, naked, vulnerable. For many, it will be the first time as an adult that they will face stress in a healthy way, after many years of avoiding it. And so, it’s important to face things at your own pace and not to pile too much on your plate too soon. Just like a runner needs time to heal a serious injury before hitting the road again, so too do you need time and patience with yourself. In my case, I decided, in my “empowered” state (phase two), to pile huge amounts of responsibility on my plate. Too much! I became very ill and rundown. I falsely thought that it was my responsibility to take on every opportunity that came my way (I used love addiction to avoid finding and having a career; what do you use love addiction to avoid?). I had no ability to know what I could and could not handle. And so, buried under the weight of too much pressure and stress, I ended up collapsing and turning inward–once again avoiding life’s stress and avoiding the very thing that love addiction always helped me avoid. Not good. I felt like I was back to square one.
That being said in order to make it to phase four, which is defined by your ability to manage stress in your life consistently, over long periods of time, here are a few acceptable ways of managing stress:
- Figure out what your love addiction was protecting you from. What was the secret purpose of your love addiction? To figure that out, answer the question, What am I trying to avoid? Is it facing an unhappy marriage? Being alone? Finding a career and taking care of yourself financially? Making friends? Learning to be intimate with others? Growing up and taking on responsibility? Once you figure that out, move toward what you were trying to avoid.
- Educate yourself. If you are trying to avoid facing an unhappy marriage, start by going to therapy, or reading books on marriage therapy or talking with your spouse about the choices you both need to make moving forward or end it. If divorce is something you fear, but remaining in the marriage is painful, then start to learn what you might need to do IF you were working toward a divorce. You don’t have to make any decisions, but you might want to seek out info on important issues like how much it costs to live on your own, or what you need to do to find child support if you go back to work. The more strength you build up through educating yourself, the easier it will be if and when you do face the issue.
- Set goals for yourself. List five small decisions you can make over the course of one year (if you have the luxury of a year to deal with your life’s issues) to face your stress. In my case, I was avoiding taking care of myself financially and thus, finding a career, so, my goals, despite my fears, were to finish college, find an internship to gain experience, apply for a job in my field, and go to work. As I worked my way through each of these goals my addict brain thought up very clever ways that I should bail out. My kids need me, so I should not be away from them. Or, This job doesn’t satisfy me, I should quit. And my all time favorite: OK, I proved that I can get a job, so, now I can go home and never have to work again. Remember, you’ve been taught or it’s your nature to AVOID, so watch out for ways in which you try to run away.
- Monitor and track your behavior. If you are setting goals, and facing your stress but it starts to become unmanageable do you automatically want to call your PoA? Do you find yourself going online to chat with single men every time your tired? Lonely? Stressed? Or do you now use other ways to avoid stress? When you’re overwhelmed do you crawl into a ball and cry? Or do you go to the gym, exercise, work through the stress and then go back to the problem. Your behavior is a clear window that allows you to determine whether you’re facing stress or avoiding it.
- Read about and practice “Coping Strategies.” Learn little (but hugely beneficial) tricks like breathing, meditating, self-soothing, positive self-talk and exercising when under too much stress. Learn to add as many of these strategies to your daily routine until the stressors have quieted down or been addressed.
- Eat well and avoid high stress foods. Did you know that foods can soothe and relax and they can also cause exorbitant amounts of stress, anxiety and physical pain? Foods high in saturated fat, sugar, caffeine, alcohol and even gluten can and do increase stress in the body for multiple reasons (caffeine, for example, is a stimulant that is a known trigger for anxiety and panic attacks; alcohol is a depressants and can increase depression and your brain’s ability to manage stress; saturated fats can leave you sluggish and tired, etc.)
- One thing at a time. Codependant individual especially have to be wary of doing too much too soon, especially for others. In recovery, we need to know what we can handle and the only way to find that out is to start adding responsibility to your plate, and dealing with your stressors as they come. If, for example, you are currently dealing with a divorce and it’s not finalized yet, don’t add any huge projects to your calendar just yet. Wait. Diving into one thing when another isn’t wrapped up doesn’t signals that you might be avoiding facing one thing and trying to cover it up with another. Recognize this and try to deal with one big issue at a time.
- Take time to avoid your problems. Yes, I said it. Avoid your problems. Not 100 percent. Not half the time. Just a fraction of the time. Just for a little while each day, perhaps. One of the worst things we can do in between setting goals, taking action toward managing our stress and tackling problems is worry and ruminate. So, release yourself from the obsession of worrying about your problems by positive self-talk, or, dare I say it, slipping into fantasy for a little while until you can face stress again. Despite wanting to take on the world, we still need to protect ourselves from too much stress. And avoidance is, after all a safe way to do it–if only for a little while and in a very controlled setting. Set a timer for 20 minutes and allow your brain to go anywhere it wants. This freedom to wander and ignore life’s troubles can actually have a healing affect and renew you. When the timer goes off though, it’s time to refocus on life’s more unpleasant issues.
I write about this a lot, but it’s so important, so, here it is again.
You know this relationship is no good for you, and you know you shouldn’t keep calling him. Your brain gets it. By why don’t you stop? Why can you understand something on an intellectual level but not follow through and make intellectual decisions about it?
Well, here’s my take.
You have two brains (actually three, but we’re only going to focus on two): your logical (adult) brain and your emotional (child within) brain. The part of you that does not operate on an intellectual level is your emotional brain. It is the animal in you, or more euphemistically, the child within you. Your emotions think and feel with no rhyme or reason, and when you’re healthy, your emotions tend to be balanced and not too demanding. The child is satisfied. And so you begin to trust them, listen to them, ignore them when necessary, or allow them to guide SOME (not all) of the decisions you make in your life, all the while using your head as well.
When you’re a love addict, however, you are guided by your emotional brain. And that wouldn’t exactly be a problem, except that your emotions are pure chaos. Untrained emotions, running rampant, demanding immediate gratification are not the best guide when it comes to managing your life. They can’t be trusted. They tend to lead you down paths that are fine if you’re a toddler (insert hand in dog’s mouth; cry, kick and scream for attention; spit food out if you don’t like it, etc.), but, as an adult, they lead you down a rather frustrating, inappropriate path. Why? Because your emotions, though once designed to help you survive in the wild and become human have really become obsolete except when used for purposes of instinct. Psychology Today, in fact, writes that, “The old fight-or-flight system is inadequate to the modern threats. You can fight a tiger; but you have to work hard, for a long time, to fight a financial crisis or the threat of terrorism.” How does that apply to you incessantly calling a man who doesn’t treat you well or love you back the way you’d like to be loved? Well, your emotional brain perceived your situation as a threat and so, you try to deal with that threat on a rather animalistic level. To obsess over it. To chase. To hunt. Your emotional brain forces you to kick and scream and demand IMMEDIATE GRATIFICATION (I’m hungry; I need food), but, your logical brain pulls you back, or at least allows you to be aware that this doesn’t make sense, or that it’s wrong. Rationally you know your PoA is no good, and rationally, you know your behavior (obsessing over someone) is futile, but your emotions don’t care. They are greedy, hungry and want to be fed.
My suggestion: begin to listen to the two “dictators” inside you. Allow your logical brain (the adult in you) the opportunity to take the lead every once in a while. That means following a logical path and listening to reason from time to time (today, I’m choosing to not call him because, let’s be honest, he doesn’t call me). Also, pay close attention to when your emotional brain (the child in you) takes over, or makes decisions for you (reaching out to a PoA when you “know” it’s not a good idea.) When you are able to see and feel the distinctly different decision-makers inside you, you have a better chance at allocating which one gets to make the decisions and which one doesn’t. And here’s the deal: the more you exercise your logical brain, the stronger it gets! That being said, in early recovery you want to bring yourself to a point where your logical brain is making more than 70% of the decisions. Why not 50/50? Well, if you’re anything like me, when you are in love addict mode you are completely off balance, ruled by emotions. In order to bring the balance back you have to tip the scales in the opposite direction for a while. Your logical brain will guide you to safety. Eventually, when you are in a healthy place, you can give your emotional brain a little of her power back. But by then, hopefully she will have calmed down
It occurred to me after five years of a rather successful, peaceful recovery, that recovery and change were not going to be the pieces of cake I thought they would be. When I started to slip back into a bit of a mess that I will now call My Life, I noticed that all I had learned five years prior, seemed to have, poof! disappeared and become unlearned. For those five years, as I went around, resting on my laurels, insisting that love addiction can, in fact, be cured (and don’t get me wrong, I definitely do still believe that new, healthier behaviors and thinking patterns can replace unhealthy ones, permanently), I forgot three maddening facts:
1. Time, and therefore life, is not linear. You don’t just move in a straight line up or down or left or right. You don’t just choose to recover and when you do, you move in a straight line upward, and just keep getting more and more perfect. It’s not that easy. Sometimes life is circular. Sometimes you make the same mistakes over and over again. Sometimes you take two steps forward and five steps back. You fall. You get up. You standstill. You roll over. You play dead. There is no simple movement forward or special force that acts as a lubricant to ease you up and out of the mess you’re in. Sure, there are shoots and ladders available, that propel you in one direction or another with speed and effortlessness. But, the reality is that Life, and being human is complicated, disorganized and sometimes you get sidetracked. And that fact alone, should tell you that in order to be successful at it, you might have to let go of your preconceived notions of what success is. Because it’s certainly not linear.
2. If I am to be realistic, I have limitations. All that made me the person I am today, all the pain, suffering, goodness and beauty that flowed through me and taught me how to “be” is all still there–good and bad. And many of those traits and behaviors and shortcomings and strengths that now make me who I am, much like my eyeball or my elbow, are here to stay. Sure, I can tweak my behavior here and there. And I can work damn hard to force my brain to think more positive thoughts. But, I cannot ignore the fact that my brain is prone to anxiety and worry, that I have a tendency to be a control freak, that I have trouble retaining new vocabulary words, that I just don’t like being away from my family for too long, and that I am totally OCD when it comes to food, house-cleaning and my coffee intake. I can’t just ignore these things that, like it or not, can often get in the way of progress, just as I cannot ignore the head on my shoulders or the caps on my knees. They are there. For better or worse. The question is, how to work around them.
3. Life is a surprise. Expect the unexpected. The moment you think you have it all figured out and everything is under your control, you get bitten by a rabbid dog. Or you lose your job. Or your 16-year-old son gets his girlfriend pregnant. Or your parent dies. Or you come down with the bubonic plague (suggestion: get on antibiotics quick for this one). The list goes on and on. The world is unpredictable and filled with good surprises and not so good surprises and whole lot of chaos. And while, sure, you can stop adding to the chaos by not creating drama yourself. But you can never fully protect yourself against the ebb and flow of the unknown. You only have a finite amount of control. Thinking you’re in total control is an illusion you have when everything just happens to be going right. And so the trick, at this point in my life, is not only to figure out how to live my life (that was my very first lesson as a love addict, by the way, –to figure out what kind of life I wanted because I never really knew), but to also figure out how to maneuver my way through The Fun House without being too surprised when something jumps out at me from behind a corner. There’s only so much I can be prepared for without driving myself crazy.
Perhaps all that I have learned has not disappeared, but rather, perhaps, new lessons and challenges are now upon me. These three are toughies. They are not lessons I ever really wanted to learn. I don’t really like change as much as I thought I did! But, the responsibility of recovery, and ultimately growing up, is to face life, not run away from it. And to never give up. And while I may have taken a few steps back this past winter, this post is proof that I am working hard at leaping forward. In the past, I would have believed that leaping forward meant “Make no mistakes.” Now, I think it means, “Embrace what you’ve got (unless you’ve got a really bad situation that YOU can actively get out of), expect the unexpected, and let go of hanging on so tightly.” Easier said than done. But I’m going to give it my best.
Despite my own issues with enmeshment (fear of becoming trapped in a relationship), there’s another issue far more popular–abandonment (fear of being abandoned). These two lovely dichotemies are the yin and the yang of childhood trauma. One is brought on by co-dependent, love-addict-like, emotionally involved parenting, and the other is brought on by neglectful, avoidant parenting. Depending on which one you exhibit more, depends on who parented you and how.
If a love addict parented you, you might have enmeshment issues and grow up to become an avoidant.
If an avoidant parented you, you might have abandonment issues and grow up to be a love addict.
If you’re lucky, like me, you had the best of both worlds (and many of us do because a love addict woman, for example, is typically attracted to, and thus marries, an avoidant man (and vice versa). In that case, you tend to exhibit both qualities of love addiction and avoidance, better known as ambivalence, which further means that you have both fear of enmeshment and fear of abandonment.
OK, then let’s not get too deep into analyzing where our fear of [fill in the blank] came from, and instead, let’s talk about what to do about it.
For individuals who suffer from fear of enmeshment, our typical reaction to intimacy is to run, or push away. Intimacy scares us. It’s not something we learned to accept or deal with in a healthy way because, chances are, we were smothered by it–not real intimacy, mind you, but neediness disguised as love and attentiveness. So, we learned that intimacy means loss of freedom, emotional incest, crossed boundaries, and too much of the wrong kind of attention. In order for us to learn how to deal with our fear of enmeshment we need to:
- trust that we can set our own boundaries, and that others do not determine what level of intimacy we can handle, we do
- believe in our own sense of autonomy and that love does not have to feel overwhelming or claustrophobic
- date people who don’t smother us, demand too much attention from us, or make us feel closed-in, over-analyzed or overwhelmed. When that happens, we are more apt to not be so afraid, and thus, can open up and get a little closer to those we ulitmately want to become intimate with
- surround ourselves with people who allow us our alone time. When we are with people who recognize our need for alone-time, it sets a safe boundary for us. WHen we feel safe, we are able to come out of our “shell” so to speak, and feel rejuvenated and clear-headed
- avoid love addicts. People who suffer from feelings of enmeshment are attracted to love addicts (the parent who raised them???) but need to date someone who has a far greater understanding and tolerance for space. Love addicts do not.
- explore healthy levels of deeper intimacy with someone who does not threaten our freedom. WHat that means is that even though you may be scared of deeper intimacy, getting closer, and more involvement, try to take baby steps to closeness with someone you feel comfortable with. If you feel safe with someone–generally, speaking–but an argument or an intimate moment makes you want to run, sit with it for a bit. Go into a separate room. Get some breathing time to think and be alone. Ask yourself if it is a real or imagined threat. When we give ourselves time to be alone and figure things out, we are able to deal more healthy in situations.
For individuals who suffer from fear of abandonment, our typical reaction to real or perceived intimacy is to latch on for dear life and never let go. Intimacy also scares us, but for different reasons: we do not trust that it will last, so the more doubt we have, the tighter we hold on. We were raised by an avoidant mother or father (or both) who may have neglected us, or at least, did not do a very good job making us feel as though we could depend on their presence and love. We learned that intimacy is something that feels physically and emotionally wonderful when you have it, but that it’s something we can’t rely on. In order for us to learn how to deal with our fear of abandonment we need to:
- trust that we are loved and important and valid, if for no other reason than we exist
- learn that we have control over ourselves, but not others and that we cannot force love upon someone else
- understand that fear of abandonment is an illusion. Children can be abandoned, but adults cannot. The reason we think we can be abandoned is because we are still “thinking” like a child who has not yet grown up to learn that he or she can take care of her himself or herself, and thus, feel secure.
- date people who live close, have a reputation for being stable, reliable and trustworthy, and do not trigger feelings of abandonment (i.e., avoid people who tend to go out and party all night, with friends of the opposite sex, and don’t feel as though they should have to check in)
- avoid avoidants. People who suffer from feelings of abandonment are attracted to avoidants (the parent who raised them???) but need to date someone who has a far greater understanding and tolerance for closeness. Avoidants do not. (Read: How to Avoid the Avoidant)
- explore healthy levels of autonomy with someone who doesn’t threaten to leave the second we stand on our own or do something alone. What this means is learn to enjoy time alone without feeling threatened by it. Baby steps. Take walks in the park alone, take a class. Learn to build trust moment to moment with a new partner who is willing to allow for your personal growth. More importantly, start to build trust by refraining from love addict behavior (in other words, checking text message or emails constantly). If however, you start to feel threatened or the feeling of abandonment creeps in, self-talk “If this is meant to be, it will be. I cannot control it. I can only watch it unfold. Everything will be revealed whether I look for it or not.”
Originally published January, 21 2009
I’ve been talking to someone new. We are clicking mentally, that’s for sure. But there’s a flag waving in the distance and I cannot tell if it’s red or white. We’ve discussed his alcohol consumption, which comes up from time to time in that he tends to talk about it more than usual sometimes. I told him I thought he drank too much and he quickly defended himself and said that he enjoyed a good scotch here and there, but otherwise, all his talk is just that- talk. And yet, I don’t believe him. At least not yet. He could be telling the truth, or he could be doing exactly what my ex did- saying virtually anything to keep me in his life.
Keep in mind that I am hugely sensitive to alcohol consumption as my father was an alcoholic who died basically drinking himself to death. I mean, there are people whose drinking does not bother me in the least- others, not so. But I’m hard-wired to detect it. I can sense the slightest nuance or change in behavior when someone is drinking (or doing drugs for that matter). I can even tell when you are about to drink or smoke or that you had something within the last three days. This is both a blessing and a curse. It makes me at once super-humanly perceptive and horribly annoying-but annoying only if you’re the kind of person that’d like to drink in peace and not be told “I think you’ve had too much.” It’s definitely part of my father’s legacy- and something in me which is probably here to stay.
My last two bfs started off this same way. They were both cured of the desire to smoke weed when I met them. They were done with it. And I believed them. But, things changed and as is so often the case, they both went back to it.
But the issue is this: when you are raised by at least one alcoholic and you go through all the ups and downs with that parent and watch him struggle through interventions and AA and rehab centers, you always BELIEVE, number one, that once he goes through the 12-step program he will be cured. And number two, that you will never have to deal with it again. Poof! Problem solved.
When you grow up, you carry that same belief with you. You are time and time again, willing to accept an alcoholic or drug addict in your life because you’re convinced that they will change, recover, be cured.
Sadly, this is false. But no one ever teaches you this. Instead, programs like Al-anon and Al-ateen teach and instill hope in the program, convincing you that it works. This isn’t to say that 100% recovery isn’t possible or that it doesn’t happen. But the disease and/or the recovery that ensues is no easy road. Ever.
I have to come to terms with this as a grown woman. And believe me, that in itself is not easy. Think how people must have felt when they learned the earth was round! It’s a shock to the system. I too am just learning that I must look at things as they are, not as I wish them to be. And most importantly, I must know when to stay away from the fire even if it’s just smoke.
Update 1/20/2013: I absolutely love looking back and re-reading some of these old blog entries when I had first met D. I was so mistrusting, and I am very proud of being that way. When you live your entire life in abusive relationships, it takes months, even years to start trusting people again, and only then, do those people have to be FULLY worthy of your trust. I remember Susan Peabody telling me once, “You can heal and you can trust again within a relationship, but only if your partner NEVER lies, or NEVER does anything to lose your trust.” I thought, Are you kidding me? That is an impossible standard for any man. All men lie, I thought. I will most likely never heal. But I was wrong. I have been with D for 4 years now and he has NEVER, EVER, EVER, EVER broken my trust or lied, and when he said he really doesn’t have a drinking problem, and that it was “all talk,” he was right. But it took many months, even years to believe him. Not only did he never lie, he allowed me to be suspicious. Not overly suspicious, of course. But he was patient with me, and understood that for me to fall in love with him, he would have to prove, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that he was worthy of me. Because he believed I was worth that kind of effort. Anyway, if I had known then what I know now I may have been far more trusting. And yet…I pride myself on being so cautious. No one knows a person’s character in the first few months of dating. It takes years to know someone. Be patient and keep mistrusting! And look at things as they are, not as you wish them to be.
My son has been spiraling out of control over the past several months. He’s a smart thirteen-year-old, who scored high on all the state tests, but because of his chronic forgetfulness and disorganization, he’s failing nearly every class. Part of my frustration is that we sit together and do homework almost every night. I see it getting done. I check it. And I make sure it gets in his bag. From there, who knows what happens! Some how, some way, it never gets turned in and he gets a big fat F. Sure, all eighth-graders are forgetful and disorganized. It’s a normal stage of development. But multiply that scenario by 50, and throw in inattentiveness, lack of motivation, easily distracted and chronically bored unless something phenomenal is happening. Mix. Stir. It’s a recipe for ADD. ANd yet, I have been avoiding labeling him for so long. I didn’t want to fall into what I considered the ADD trap–diagnosing my son with a “disorder” only to have him carry that burden around with him for the rest of his life. But I knew something had to be done.
Along with a slew of other things that I put in place to help my son, one was reading a book about ADD. Sure, we all know the obvious, stereotypical traits of ADD and ADHD, but I wanted a deeper perspective. That’s when I started reading Edward Hallowell’s book Delivered from Distraction and–are you still with me–that’s when I learned that ADD and Love Addiction are intertwined.
Hallowell states that statistically, ADDers have the highest ratio of addicts. That includes alcoholics, drug addicts, love addicts, overeaters, and so on. Why? Part of the reason, he explains, is that ADDers have an “itch” they need to scratch. That a typical trait of someone with attention deficit disorder is not only impulsivity (jumping into to bed with someone way before it’s reasonable, falling in love fast, etc.) but boredom– a sense that getting into a little trouble (or getting high off love) is the perfect remedy for a massive desire to feel ALIVE.
This concept nearly blew me away. I was chronically “bored” as a kid. I was always in need of something or someone to make me feel alive. I was withdrawn and inattentive in class, got F’s all the time in high school (later in life I went on to graduate college Magna cum laude, but it took years to finally hunker down and finish school), and I would constantly start something and never finish it (I hate to say it, but this post almost didn’t make it. I am still the same way). And yet, I was never disorganized or hyperactive or forgetful, so I never considered myself ADD. But the truth is, whether I am or not, I know I have some of the characteristics of ADD and it is a great direction to go in to learn more about myself.
I felt it was important to share this with you all as well. I’m certainly not suggesting that all love addicts have ADD. But, if you are a love addict, take a look at your history. Question whether or not there may be a correlation. Can you relate to feeling the overwhelming need to scratch an unidentifiable “itch”? If anything, read the chapter in Delivered from Distraction called “The Itch at the Core of ADD” I have a gut feeling this will resonate with many! And by all means, let me know your thoughts!!!
There’s is an underlying, core belief that needs to shift in order for you to stop chasing after someone who no longer wants to date you, someone who has moved on. And the belief is very hard for me to describe here, but I’ll try via a story:
When I was younger I fell in love with this kid named B. I chased after him and chased after him, until finally, we hooked up. I was in bliss. One night of bliss that is. Because the next day, when I saw him, he ignored me. This hot and cold behavior went on and on over the course of a year. He mostly ignored me and then when he was bored or lonely and wanted a hook up, he’d call and I’d run out the door to meet him.
Then one day, I went over his house after school, and I had with me my backpack with all my books. In one of my star-crossed moments I told him I was a writer and wrote stories about “us.” He laughed at me, but wanted to read my journal and so I showed him, thinking he would love me more if he knew I had written about him.
After he finished reading my journal, he placed the book down on the coffee table. In an extremely rare, uncharacteristic moment, he looked at me and said, “you’re a really good writer.” I was flushed with joy! Finally a compliment where usually there was an insult. Within seconds I started to have hope. But two seconds later, he flicked me from my pedestal. He asked me a question that would change my life. He said, “LJ, why don’t you chase after someone who really likes you?”
I was crushed. How dare he tell me who to chase after, or how to feel. How dare he reject me. I quickly left his house crying, only to continue crying for him even more when he started to date another girl, who, in my opinion, was total trash. How could he date someone so yucky, classless and trashy when there was ME. I was good, wholesome, funny, pretty, SMART and available! I didn’t understand. I was so confused. And soon enough, not only did I become jealous of this other girl, but I wanted to be more like her.
Here I was trying to be someone I was not, and I was trying to erase all my good wonderful qualities. I falsely believed that if B was ever to love me, I had to be more like this girl. And I was in no way shape or form like this girl. She was missing a tooth, she did drugs, she had quit high school, and she hung out with bad people who got into trouble with the law. Nothing like me. There was however two things about her that I envied: (aside from her missing tooth, she was a very pretty blond, AND she had B).
I couldn’t for the life of me understand why he would go for her and not me. And then it HIT me like a brick wall. His preference in women had NOTHING to do with how smart I was, kind I was, pretty I was or available I was. His preference in women was simply his own weird, quirky preference and nothing more (maybe a bit of his own insecurity for smart, bold women). Sure, he liked me. He tolerated me. I’m sure it boosted his ego to have someone chase after him like I did. But when it came down to it, he did not have feelings for me like I had for him. And it had nothing to do with me being a “loser” or a “failure.” It had to do with normal, natural, healthy personal preference. Period.
To further support this, I compared this same idea to celebrities. My friends used to make fun of me because I was madly in love with Prince, while they were all in love with Bono from U2 (I’m dating myself now!). But when I thought of Bono, I cringed. I thought he was ugly and I simply wasn’t attracted to him. But he was a star! Millions of women loved him. Millions of women would have died to sleep with him. But not me. And the truth, even if I ran into him in a night club and he tried to pick me up, I would have probably told him to take a walk. Not interested!
Think about it. WHat did Bono do wrong? What was he lacking? Was he a loser? The answers: he did nothing wrong. He wasn’t lacking anything. And he was not a loser. But I simply had no feeling for him like I had for Prince. Prince was a totally different story!
So…do you get my point? You are not doing anything wrong except one thing: you are denying yourself the opportunity to be loved FOR YOU, by someone who deeply appreciates you, just the way you are. If your ex has moved on and is dating someone new, it means his PREFERENCE has changed. Period. It does not mean YOU are no good in the eyes of the entire world. Bah! It means it’s time for you to stop feeling sorry for yourself, and stop trying to be someone or something you’re not. It means it’s time for you to deeply understand what B told me years ago: “chase after someone who really likes you?” (OK, well maybe “chase” is the wrong word, but you get my point).
Before you can stop the stalking and end the jealousy, I believe you have to have a deep understanding of this concept. That other people do not validate us. When they leave our lives or reject us, it is not because we are losers. It is because their preferences have changed. I am a dark-haired 43-year-old Italian woman. I am 5’3″ fairly well-educated, funny and a little bossy sometimes. I have two kids. I am divorced. If meet someone who prefers young blonds, with a PhD, no kids and a jet set life, then I am denying myself the opportunity to be loved by someone who prefers MY qualities and what I have to offer. Understand?
The very basic point I am trying to make is LOVE YOURSELF. Respect yourself. When you love and respect yourself, you want nothing to do with people who ignore you or no longer want to date you. Your core belief in you and your own self worth becomes more important and more crucial than your need to be loved and validated by someone who is only offering scraps.
With the new documentary on love addiction out today in Denmark (congrats Pernille!) it brought me back to remembering that uncomfortable place of trying to force a relationship. Mind you, I never thought of it as “force.” That would mean holding a gun to someone’s head. And I never did that. But what I did do was wrack my brain trying to figure out how to make my relationship work, and I expended a huge, imbalanced amount of energy trying to convince G that we were perfect for each other…if only he’d change just a little.
I spent hours writing in my journal trying to understand what I was doing wrong. I nagged G to “grow up” and recognize that I was the best thing that ever came his way. I put myself in compromisng situations all for the sake of “saving” the relationship. I gave up the possibility of healthy love and settled for meh. And, I hate to admit it, I lost a little dignity accepting and allowing his neglect and avoidance of me, all the while telling myself, “he just needs his space,” or “he really wants to be with me but he has emotional barriers he needs to overcome.”
Looking back, that was pure silliness. He did have emotional barriers and he had no desire of overcoming them. He was, by nature, avoidant, and he liked it that way. And he didn’t want to grow up (why grow up when you can smoke pot all day and have little to no responsibility?) Instead of accepting these traits for what they were and accepting the fact that there was nothing I could do to change them, I tried to force a square peg into a round hole and I did it over and over and over, as if I were mentally challenged. What do you mean this square won’t fit into this round hole? Like hell. I’ll make it fit if it’s the last thing I do. But it never fit, my friends. Never.
Was it Einstein who realized that insanity is when we do the same thing over and over, expecting a different result? Well, that’s what you are doing when you try to force something to be something it’s not. We cannot tug at the roots of our flowers in the winter to make them grow. We cannot capture a bullfrog and expect it to be a bluebird. And we cannot force a relationship to be something it’s not.
So, here are several situations to consider if you think you might be forcing a relationship, or if you think that maybe, it’s time to let go.
- You find yourself giving 80-100% most of the time to get your relationship to work.
- You’re frustrated with your partner and feel as though he or she isn’t “giving” enough.
- You meet with constant resistance or rejection from your partner— for example, if you ask him or her to go out with you (on a date, to the store, to see a friend, to come over, etc.) and “No” (or even, “Oh, I would love to, but I can’t”) is the usual response, then you are probably forcing the relationship and it’s time to step back.
- You are carrying the weight, making all the arrangements, doing all the talking, and generally “controlling” the relationship because he “can’t” or won’t.
- You find yourself begging or constantly trying to convince your partner to spend time with you: “Oh, come on. Let’s go away for the weekend. Please! It’s just two days. You can be back to work in no time. I sware I’ll let you have some time alone if you just come with me.”
- The effort is all on you in communication: you’re the one who calls, writes, texts, emails, and you’re the one who is first to engage (with little to no response from his end).
- You constantly wait for change: You believe if he/she will just change this one aspect then the two of you will have the perfect relationship.
- You find yourself alone more often than not.
- You push your partner even when you notice your partner retreating or shutting down and you continue to push him or her to be involved.
- You spend most or all of your time trying to make the relationship work: Relationships should be an enjoyment. They do take some work, but if you feel constantly stressed out, frustrated, sad, in pain, angry or apathetic, something is wrong.
When you have tried everything there is to get your partner to respond to you and take part in the relationship and it’s still not working, it’s time to accept that the relationship might not be working. Period. Further, ask yourself why you’re so unwilling to give up and move on. Do you not think you’re worth better treatment? Do you not know that relationships are supposed to be more peaceful, mutual and balanced? Figure out what’s holding you back and try to address any internal insecurities you may have. You may love someone truly, madly, deeply, and that someone may love you back. But if they don’t step up to the plate and put as much action and effort into the relationship, their words of love are meaningless. Their behavior is a sign that they do not want the same kind of mutual relationship you do. In recovery, you need to be willing to accept that and if necessary, move on.