Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Is Love Addiction Lethal?

One of the messages I convey in my book Is It Love or Is It Addiction? is that a major reason we need to take seriously this relationship disorder—love addiction-- is because it can be lethal.  I don’t know what you have been watching on the news where you live, but on the local news in my area we have a number of pending cases where a break up proved deadly.  One father, distraught over his wife’s leaving him, killed their three daughters.  In another case being investigated, a husband is accused of murdering his young wife because she was asking for a divorce and her body is yet to be found.  I guess the message is don’t you even think about leaving me.  
Homicide and suicide are not uncommon events in third degree love addiction.  Third degree means in the end someone winds up in prison or in a morgue.  Less lethal third degree is doing something crazy such as stalking a person.   Domestic abuse falls in this category too.  Of course, love addiction is not about love at all. Psychologically it is about control and ownership; about self medicating low esteem, depression, anxiety, fear and a myriad of other inflictions, by becoming enmeshed with another person.  It is about getting unmet needs fulfilled and trying to fix something broken inside.  And of course this unhealthy dependency on another is not in our conscious awareness.

There is no question that an ending of a relationship is downright painful.  You don’t need to be pathological to feel the pain of letting go and even doing dumb things when an ending does happen .  It is normal for a person to initially want to hang onto someone when they leave or threaten to leave you.  And if clinging doesn’t work, you get mad at the person.  Those two responses are instinctive, actually.  Research shows that animals do the same thing.  Most animal infants form a passionate attachment to their primary caregiver, usually their mother.  When separated from the caregiver, the infant becomes anxious and then depressed.  Biologically, this makes perfect sense— in the wild, an infant animal is vulnerable and could easily become food for a predator or die of hunger.  And human infants couldn’t make it without a caretaker.  Yet we adult humans don’t need another to survive and act as if we do.

 It is human to want to have relationships and when we have bonded with someone they actually find a place in the neurons and synapses of our emotional brain.  When that person is no longer there, the brain gets disoriented and desperately begins searching for the missing someone.  This overactive searching of our brain uses up our feel good chemicals and can result in depression, loss of appetite, obsessing, and even physical pain.  We are now both a psychological and neurological mess. This is even more of a problem if a person suffers from an undiagnosed or untreated  mental  or emotional illness. 

 But why is it some can get through the grief without causing harm to self or to others and some do harm?  Although humans have sophisticated mechanisms to control impulses, we also carry within us a ‘fatal reflex’.  A normal person may want to cling or get mad at someone who leaves them but has the ability to control those impulses and grieve the loss.  Those who harm, let the fatal reflex take over. The obsessed person goes on a primal hunt in their mind or in reality.  He/she wants to know what the lost person is up to, where they are going, and if there is anyone else in the person’s life.  Obsessing about the one who has left them intensifies the pain of rejection, sexual desire, territoriality, aggression, jealousy and a need to control. And if what they discover is not to their liking and they cannot stop it, fatality occurs.

What are your thoughts?

 *More on this can be found in chapter two and chapter six of third edition of Is it Love or Is It Addiction?



  1. Thanks for highlighting the dangerous behavior and sometimes tragic consequences of love addiction. For me, love addiction cuts close to the core of who I am. Unlike alcohol, drugs or even food, love needs are an intrinsic part of my basic spiritual, social, and psychological developmental needs. Love nourishes my natural desire for security, belonging, and significance. An obsessed person who resorts to physical violence during a separation may be experiencing a trauma of neglect or abuse from the first few years of their lives. This has been the case for me. In my experience, it has taken a lot of grief and shame work to recover the ability to let go of unhealthy romantic relationships without resorting to physical, emotional, or verbal abuse.

  2. My beautiful daughter was a victim of this. She committed suicide over someone. I didn't realize till it was to late how this relationship she was in was affecting her. I wish I would have gotten her in to see you. I believe she would still be here right now if I had. She could see she was not alone and gotten support from those of us who have and are walking a similar path. That it's possible to gain strength and self worth and make better choices that are in our best interest instead of giving away our power and being manipulated by others.

  3. This is highly valuable insight and information. For the person who recognizes that what they feel is truly an addiction and gets professional help, perhaps they could disconnect that 'fatal reflex' and avoid horrific consequences. And for a person who is in a relationship with someone that is addictive but feels the need to end that relationship, this knowledge can help to prepare and arm them for the potential results of breaking up. Extricating oneself from a relationship like this can be very difficult.