Love Addiction and Avoidance Addiction

Portrait of unhappy young couple who have fallen out over a disagreement sitting on a sofa. Woman in the front and the man in the background.

You have likely heard the old adage, “opposites attract”. In the case of the love addict and avoidance addict, this long-standing axiom could not ring more true.

The love addicted individual strives to completely enmesh herself with another individual, combatting a deep-seated fear of abandonment and emotional neglect with the continuous development of unhealthy and one-sided relationships. Throughout childhood, the parents of the love addict instilled a message of unworthiness – the love addict was either neglected or abandoned, and has learned that all attempts at intimacy will inevitably result in unbearable emotional suffering. Thus she will actively seek out someone who is very good at mimicking intimacy; someone that she can easily delude herself into believing is emotionally available.

The love addicted individual spends a disproportionate amount of time fantasizing about and searching a love that will heal and fulfill – a relationship that will finally lead to a sense of worth and wholeness. Of course, the real trouble is internal and self-contained, and no external force will ever adequately alleviate or resolve the emotional pain that the love addict suffers. Thus the vicious cycle will continue on and continue on, until authentic healing occurs.

Love Addiction and Love Avoidance

The avoidance addict, on the other hand, enters into the relationship because he feels obligated to do so. Throughout his childhood, his parents instilled in him the notion that it is his responsibility to care for those who could not care for themselves. At first, the love avoidant will derive a sense of power and superiority from the obvious neediness of his partner. Over time, however, he will begin to deeply resent her. He will begin to feel suffocated, and do all that he can to successfully distance himself from her. The two will then engage in what Pia Mellody refers to as the ‘Co-Addicted Tango’. The love addict will do everything in her power to regain the attention and affection of the love avoidant – who will continue to resist while pushing further and further away. Eventually, the love addict will grow exhausted of this fruitless pursuit, and turn her attention to someone new.

The ‘Co-Addicted Tango’ Continues

The love addict will feel the brutal pain of rejection and abandonment once again, and will turn to another unhealthy relationship or some other addictive behavior, looking to anesthetize the feelings of inadequacy that arise. The love avoidant will feel the pain of no longer being needed, and the feelings of superiority that he thrives on will begin to waver. What value does the love avoidant have if he cannot care for the needy? Deeply rooted fears of abandonment will be stirred awake (the same kind of fears that lie at the core of the emotional dysfunction of the love addict, incongruously). The love addict, having suffered emotional neglect or abandonment by her primary caregivers, searches tirelessly for a knight in shining armor to provide her with the affection and self-esteem that she was deprived of in youth. The love avoidant was empowered to care for his own parents, and also never got the opportunity to develop a strong sense of inherent worth. Caretaking provides the love avoidant with a false sense of empowerment and grandiosity, and expertly masks the painful truth – that he was never intimately loved by his primary caretakers. The contempt and resentment that the love avoidant feels towards the love addict is truly self-contempt turned outwards. Contempt is shame turned outwards.

At this point, the love avoidant will begin manipulating and seducing the love addict to regain control of the relationship. Over the course of the relationship between the love addict and the love avoidant, one will always be pursuing the other – the chase will continue at all times. Once the two finally get close again, the relationship will erupt into an emotionally intense romantic interlude or a violent and damaging altercation.

The Question of Gender

You may have noticed that the love addict was referred to with a feminine pronoun, and the love avoidant was referred to with a masculine pronoun. Is this merely stereotyping – assuming that the female in the relationship is starved for love and the male in the relationship is dominant and aloof? As it turns out, there is much validity to these gender roles – and much of it stems from the long-standing constructs of our culture. While roles can certainly be reversed, women are far more likely to be love addicted and men are far more likely to be love avoidant. This gender typing can best be explained by the psychological concepts of false empowerment and disempowerment.

Trauma is a result of falsely empowering or disempowering abuse. Abusive parents will either shame their child into silence (disempowering), or assign roles to the child that he or she should not be expected to take on (falsely empowering). In our culture, young women are lead to believe that they are to be ‘taken care of’ by a man – the source of power, provision, and abundance in all male-female relationships. During childhood, the parents of the love addict shamed her into believing that she was inherently dysfunctional, and unworthy of unconditional love or admiration. On the other hand, young men in our culture are typically raised to believe that they are dominant; that it is their job to be the source of power, provision, and abundance. Men learn that they must care for women because women cannot properly care for themselves. In childhood, the roles of the caregiver and child were reversed. Allotting the child with the role of caregiver is a form of enmeshment, and doing so inevitably teaches the child to think of intimacy as a job or chore.

Fear of Abandonment as a Core Issue

In both the love addict and the love avoidant, a deep-seated fear of abandonment lies at the very heart of emotional dysfunction. However, getting to this core issue by means of shame reduction therapy is far more difficult for the love avoidant than it is for the love addict. The disempowering trauma that love addicted individuals undergo keeps them very close to their shame at all times. On the contrary, the love avoidant will be closed off from his shame – the grandiosity that was instilled by traumatic false empowerment during childhood will act as a wall, keeping him and his shame somewhat separated. In order for authentic and lasting healing to occur, however, shame reduction must take place.

Both the love addict and the love avoidant must revisit the traumatic relational patterns they experienced throughout childhood – they must travel back to the scenes of their early wounding. By exposing delusions to reality and reason, shame can be successfully reduced, and individuals can come to recognize that they are far from alone in a world of relational dysfunction. Once an individual is able to rid him or herself of long-carried shame, recovery truly begins. We at Next Chapter have extensive experience working closely with men who underwent relational trauma during childhood, and developed love addictive or love avoidant behavioral patterns as a direct result.

Our upcoming Release Workshop focuses on releasing old hurt and healing past emotional wounds, allowing for healthy, balanced relationships and the reaching of full, untapped potential within preexisting relationships. For more information, please email us at info@nextchapteraddiction.com.