About the Author
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
It has been ten years since the first publication of Is It Love or Is It Addiction?. Its phenomenal success was a gift in many ways. It provided me with the opportunity to speak to an international audience. It allowed me to hear relationship stories from many people of diverse cultural backgrounds. Mostly, it confirmed that what I had written about is a universal theme. People everywhere are struggling to have more meaningful relationships. I have met men struggling to change those cultural habits that shame them for being vulnerable, or tell them it is healthy and macho to act in sexually addictive ways. I have met women struggling to call attention to our cultural endorsement of unhealthy dependencies and romantic illusions. Everywhere, I have met women and men confused about what is healthy, mature, interdependent love and what is compulsive, dependent, addictive, immature love. I have been reminded how many people hold back their love because of being wounded by a parent, friend, partner, society, or cultural group. People both desperately want and yet fear intimate relationships. The result is loneliness, isolation, pain, violence, and more betrayal.
So, is it love, or is it addiction? The answer is that it is probably a little of both. In that regard, this book is for anyone wanting to improve important love relationships, whether they are with children, parents, friends, peers, siblings, partners, or lovers. In my frame of reference, love addiction is an inclusive term in that it includes men and women, both heterosexual and homosexual, who have been referred to as "addicts" and "co-addicts," "codependents," and "love avoidant." It is for the single and the coupled. Love addiction may or may not include a romantic high or sexual addiction.
Sometimes love feels good and sometimes it feels bad. Often a person does not understand why. In spite of the proliferation of self-help books on the subject, love relationships remain a profound mystery. Why do we have certain attractions? Why do we continue to want relationships even after a devastating loss? What is it about a relationship that is so powerful that we fear commitment? Am I staying in a relationship for the right or wrong reason? Why is transforming our love life so important? Am I in love or in addiction? These questions are universal and deserve answers.
As a psychotherapist, I'm asked to help others ease their emotional pain. I'm reminded over and over again how basic is the need for love. In spite of the bereavement we feel when a loved one dies or a relationship ends, we seem determined to keep loving. Why? Is it because we are compelled to fill some mysterious inner need? Are we using it to avoid the bombardment of stress that contemporary life produces? Are we responding to a deeper need to connect soul-to-soul? Or is it because we believe at some level that true, deep love is the only constant we can count on in this somewhat perilous life?
The problems in love relationships stem not from the nature of love. True love is life-giving. It is an expansive, nourishing energy that knows no limits. It does not injure, it heals. Problems arise from the fear that originates in a violation of trust. Such violations make it difficult to be vulnerable to love again. In the wake of such violations we become guarded. The result is relationships that have more drama than intimacy.
Being in a relationship that is floundering can be like having a pain in the neck or an aggravating headache. And, when we are sick, we lose ourselves. Our capacity for creative living gets sapped as we instead focus on our pain. We become driven to find relief from that pain, seeking quick fixes in the form of substances, people, and processes outside of ourselves. Obsessive illnesses and addictions often result. When the attachment is to a person, it can become a love addiction.
We live in a unique period of time, one fraught with contradictions. Many people seek a life of wellness. Many feel the soul's yearning for a deeper level of living. There is an explosion of knowledge on addiction, love relationships, and self-help. Yet we hear in the news that when a twenty-four-year-old woman ends an abusive relationship with her twenty-nine-year-old boyfriend, she is murdered, shot in the face, and her family fears for their lives. The Secretary of Defense acknowledges that 61 percent of women in the military have been sexually harassed. Incidents of domestic violence seem to be on the increase. How is it that as a culture we are simultaneously seeking wellness and descending into a well of violence?
The fields of addiction treatment and mental health care are under attack from the media and cultural critics and from within their own ranks. The addiction model has been too broadly applied, some claim, and has thereby lost its usefulness as a tool for understanding and treating human dysfunction. The idea of the inner child as a metaphor with profound therapeutic value becomes fodder for stand-up comedians and the vitriol of talk radio. Victims of abuse are told their memories are fantasies. Our society continues to expend far more money on feeding and expanding our addictions than it spends on treating them. While there is concern for treating the victims of sexual abuse, we continue to let the perpetrators go untreated. Professionals in various fields still argue whether an addiction is a sin, a crime, or a disease. Some addiction specialists question whether a process, such as sex or love relationships (as opposed to a substance, such as cocaine or nicotine), can be addicting at all.
It is time to stop arguing about our meaning and methods. The reality is that we have a problem of massive proportions that requires all of us to transcend our fears and differences. We must all help transform a world that is crying out for knowledge of a healthier way of living.
The events of the past ten years have only served to reinforce what I wrote in the first edition of this book. Almost everyone has addictive tendencies. We know that we can become addicted to alcohol and other drugs and that we have excellent programs to treat those addictions. There are other addictions that can hamper our lives as well, but they are not always recognized or addressed. This list includes food, exercise, consumerism, religious cults, spiritual highs, nicotine, sugar, caffeine, sex, gambling, work, computers, television, parenting, love objects, romance, pain, and illness. Perhaps you recognize an obsession of your own among them. If you do, be kind to yourself. We live in a world that provides hundreds more experiences than our parents had. We are constantly bombarded with more information than we can possibly take in and process. We have more demands on our time. We hear threatening news each day. And in the midst of this we are expected to live our love relationships well, if not perfectly. I used to say that life is like a thousand-piece puzzle and we are lucky if we have 30 percent of the pieces. Now, with the barrage of information, images, and ideas we encounter daily, that percentage is going down.
The focus of this book is to foster an understanding of love addiction—what it is and is not, how to identify it, and even more important, how to get out of it. It is intended to be a hopeful book that helps you identify the characteristics of healthy love and frees you to live life more abundantly. As you will learn, real love is not addiction, nor is addiction love. Yet, because of the human condition, these two experiences can come together and result in tremendous pain and suffering. We must be wise in the ways we express love. My hope is that you will find at least one piece of wisdom here that impacts your love life in a meaningful way. This book is not intended to cure specific problems. However, with increased awareness, we can begin to solve relationship problems with more compassion and with lasting effect.
My hope is that this book gives you a few more pieces to life's puzzle.
The Power of Love
In The Art of Loving, Erich Fromm, the German-born American psychoanalyst, says most efforts to love fail unless a person has actively tried to develop his or her individual potential and personality. Fromm defines love as "the expression of productiveness [which] implies care, respect, responsibility, and knowledge; a striving towards growth and happiness of the loved person, rooted in one's own capacity to love." Concepts we often associate with healthy human loving include affection, caring, valuing, trust, acceptance, giving, joy, and vulnerability. Love is a state of being that emanates from within us and extends outward. It is energy, it is unconditional, it is expansive, and it needs no specific object.
Some have described love as the ultimate religious experience. It revels in the perpetual goodness that being in a relationship offers. Love is doing everything with a joyful heart and without trying to escape our pain. In deep love there is awe, mystery, gratitude, sorrow, rapture, ecstasy, grace, luminosity, and sacredness. The flood of emotions runs deeper than deep and more expansive than whole. Love knows no limits. The love-inspired person displays a nobility of character, and his or her virtues flourish! Witness a mother's love for her newborn, lovers in love, a person grieving the death of a beloved friend, a child reveling in the birth of kittens. When people belong, everything seems to fall in place, even in times of chaos and doubt. When intimacy is profound something inside of us says, "This is it." True love defies all words. It is indescribable. When it is there, no words are necessary.
Hints of the idea of deep-partnership love appeared at the beginning of the twelfth century, when courtly or passionate love for another, rather than being considered sinful, was viewed as love emanating from the soul. Passion...