Singer Robert Palmer released a a song in 1986 which was entitled “Addicted to Love”. As a 16 year old, this song was regularly on my top 10 list (as it as for most of the country). If we had cell phones back then (yes, I know … these were ancient times), I’m sure the song would have been on the playlist of every teen in the country. “Addicted to Love” hits home a challenge that many people face:
Your lights are on, but you’re not home
Your mind is not your own
Your heart sweats, your body shakes
Another kiss is what it takes
You can’t sleep, you can’t eat
There’s no doubt, you’re in deep
Your throat is tight, you can’t breathe
Another kiss is all you need
Almost all of us can remember feeling totally enthralled with someone special. But what happens when we “can’t live without them”? What happens when our entire life become focused on being with “someone”? “Jennifer” was a 24 year old female with a history of being in one relationship after another, with very little time between relationships. She described herself as being very uncomfortable being alone and feeling inadequate/empty if she wasn’t in a relationship. When she was in a relationship, each one followed a similar pattern. It began with an initial “high”, followed by a period of fun/excitement, then a period of “neediness”, followed by a period of arguments and then break up. She indicated she was exhausted from bouncing from relationship to relationship. She was in tears as she said, “I just want to be loved!” She told me she felt as if she were addicted to love.
“Jennifer”, like so many others, was “looking for love in all the wrong places” (sorry — I’m on a music kick). In part, her “addiction to love”, was more related to her wounded heart. A wound which began long before this intelligent and talented 24 year old showed up in my office. It’s a wound which we traced back to her early experiences in life. What she came to discover was the power that our early forms of attachment have upon our later lives.
What is “attachment”? It is the bond we feel in emotional relationships. John Bowlby developed “attachment theory” by studying the interactions between infants and parents, and identified multiple styles of attachment. He also suggested that attachment behaviors were present “from cradle to grave”, a concept confirmed by later researchers. “Jennifer’s” addiction to love was part of her pattern of attachment which stemmed from her childhood and guided her adult attachment patterns. She came to understand that her persistent pattern of “relationship hopping” was directly related to her childhood feelings of never being good enough, never feeling loved/accepted by her parents, and feeling rejected time and time again from the people who should have provided her with safety and comfort. As she came to learn, that “wounded heart” and her “addiction” could be healed through learning to love herself (think RuPaul — “if you can’t love yourself, how the hell you gonna love someone else?”).
You may know someone like “Jennifer”, or you may be just like “Jennifer”. If either is true, consider doing the following as a way of beginning to heal your wounded heart:
- Step back and take a look at your relationship patterns. Be honest with yourself – as painful as that may be.
- Commit to a period of being in relationship with yourself.
- Learn ways to fill your wounded heart with your own love rather than hoping someone else will fill it for you.
- Consider how life might be different if you took responsibility for your own happiness.
- Learn to appreciate moments of loneliness and to fill it with self-soothing activities.
- Connect with a therapist who is familiar with and works with attachment theory.