The concept of love addiction comes out of the addictions treatment community, thus the name addiction and there’s this understanding or it was previously thought that love addiction was rooted in what would be called an addiction process or a process addiction. Therefore, the treatment, the thinking, the approach to working with love addiction was similar to working with other addictions.
Attachment styles, or a system that’s built into our brain and is connected to our nervous system and this attachment system being how we bond and connect with people, which in turn comes from our family, from our parents. Another phrase used is called primary caregivers. So, if we had a close person that was our significant caregiver, we developed an attachment style that really allows us to use that template in our mind for how we create and recreate adult relationships in our life.
Now there’s a challenge to this attachment system if there were insecure attachments within your family or with the primary caregiver, often times if we have some kind of history of being abandoned or neglected or ignored and for some people that also includes being abused. Regardless of where you fall in that spectrum when there is an insecure attachment, we seem to bring that into our adult lives and we then create an insecure attached relationship. This is not conscious, it has to do with the part of the brain called the limbic brain and the limbic brain is not the thinking brain or the conscious brain. It’s the part of the brain that operates from a very primal, emotional place that experiences trust and safety and knows how to interact and relate with another person.
If the limbic brain gets triggered or activated in such a way out of an emergency, a sense of separation, feeling like the relationship is not full of trust and safety, what’s going to release are a number of hormones. Hormones will get released into your body, certain chemical processes, and it’s going to activate anxiety. And how we manage this anxiety really determines or will evidence the number of symptoms that we call love addiction. So, what love addiction is all about is developmental, emotional trauma that is rooted in attachment injuries. That’s a little bit of a different focus than channeling our thinking through an addiction lens or an addictions model for how we would work with these symptoms and characteristics referred to as love addiction.
To seek out a relationship with another person is to say will you show up, will you listen, will you bring a level of responsibility, a level of seriousness to this conversatio, to be able to witness the part of the me that I need to share; part of my humanity. A way to capture the importance of relationships and a reason why love addiction begins in the first place, is due to our personal history. For love addicts that were not seen, known, heard or understood. When they are seen, known, heard and understood, there’s an exchange. There’s this emotional attunement, there’s an emotional connection that’s made between two people and our bodies are nervous system functioning in our brain actually activates and we sync up with another person and this allows us to calm down and to feel a sense of peace. Life will have a sense of possibility when we derive strength and support from other people.
This is what we all want deep down on a very fundamental basis, we want to experience that level of connection, of being seen, known, heard and understood. When a person is struggling with an attachment injury and you have a lot of anxiety or you have the symptoms showing up that get referred to as ‘love addiction’, it’s impossible to think yourself out of the activation of that anxiety. The reason is there are different parts of the brain that are working when this emotional trauma is activated or triggered. It’s not thinking based, you’re not just going to be able to think yourself out of it. For that reason, phrases like, ‘just let it go, just get over it, calm down’, etc. are essentially unhelpful because they appeal to reason & not emotion.