We all want the approval of others – gaining approval means that we fit in, and fitting in is an innate human desire. However, when we require constant approval in order to feel okay, we may be struggling with some variation of love addiction. Individuals who are addicted to love allow their lives to be dictated by their ability to gain approval from others; controlled by their efforts to acquire the approval that they have come to emotionally rely on. They eventually give up their choices, opinions, likes, dislikes… even personal values.
When we allow our thoughts or feelings to be dictated by others, we will inevitably begin to lose touch with our true selves – we will slowly transform into who we believe others want us to be, and lose a solid sense of who we authentically are. We may allow ourselves to be readily manipulated or coerced by others, going along with whatever those around us are doing or saying (simply for fear of being rejected if we disagree, or choose to formulate our own opinions on a matter). The truth is, whenever we ignore or deny our own wants and needs in order to make someone else happy – or to gain their approval – we are hurting ourselves.
Addicted to Approval
Most of the behaviors and attitudes we adopt, we initially learn from our parents or primary caregivers. If we struggle with love addiction, we ay have been taught the importance of seeking approval from an early age. Perhaps we were raised in households in which ‘looking good’ and keeping up outward appearances was the top priority – households in which authentic self-expression was frowned upon, or even punished. If this was the case, we undoubtedly learned that our self-worth was solely determined by the way others perceived us. We may have also learned that in order to please and live up to the expectations of others, we had to deny a major part of our true selves. As children, we adapt to the family system as best we can. Many of the damaging behavioral patterns we learn throughout childhood and early adolescence must be unlearned later on in life – and this is no small task.
On the other hand, we may have grown up in households that lacked emotional nurturing and support. We may have constantly strived to gain the approval of our parents early on in life, to no avail. Thus, we may still be seeking the approval we never received in early childhood – desperately searching for it in our adult relationships. Constantly seeking the approval of others is emotionally draining and psychologically taxing, and doing so will only continue to fuel unhealthy patterns within relationships – not only with others, but also with self. For the love addict, the approval that is obtained will never be enough. No matter how hard we try, we will never truly feel loved or appreciated – not until we genuinely learn to love and appreciate ourselves, that is.
Healing from Early Relational Trauma
How do we begin learning to love ourselves? Healing from love addiction is a complex and long-term process, and it surely will not happen overnight. The first thing we must do is recognize that our inherent worth as human beings is not derived from an outside source. Seeking the approval of others will never hold a candle to believing, deep down, that we are authentically valuable, lovable, and worthy of love. We can spend the entirety of our lives attempting to placate others; struggling to earn love, prove worthiness, and abandoning ourselves in the process. Or, we can truly learn the concept-reality that we were born with an innate lovability and worthiness – it has always been within us, and will always be within us.
Learning to Love Ourselves
Because unlearning the detrimental and self-destructive relational patterns that were instilled in us at a young age is so difficult, long-term therapeutic care comes highly recommended for the individual who struggles with love addiction. Many love addicted individuals simultaneously struggle with co-occurring disorders – if this is the case, inpatient care is an ideal option. At Next Chapter, we specialize in treating men who struggle with all forms of love addiction, as well as a host of dual diagnosis and co-occurring disorders. We focus on such addictions and disorders through the lens of relational trauma and attachment, helping our patients identify and work through damaging childhood experiences. For more information on love addiction, the vicious cycle of approval-seeking, or our comprehensive program of recovery for men, please feel free to contact us today.