You know the cycle: things are bad and they never seem to get better. The fights are getting worse, the insults are getting deeper and more personal, and the manipulation is more pronounced. You feel powerless and helpless, yet you can’t leave.
Why is all of this so difficult, when it seems so easy for everyone else?
While many of these relationships are blamed on trauma bonding, or the strong emotional connection that occurs between an abused person and their abuser, the truth may be that love addiction is to blame.
But what is the difference between the two, and how do you know which one applies to you?
Love addiction is a complex and foggy condition that manifests differently in everyone. Particularly common in people suffering at the hands of a person with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) or victims of narcissistic abuse, love addiction commonly appears as a deep fear of being rejected by the abuser, even though the relationship is deeply toxic.
Neurologically, love addiction is similar to drug or alcohol addiction, in that the addicted person feels unable to quit the habit of loving the abusive person, even though the relationship has disastrous effects on your health, wealth, and happiness. It’s considered a “process addiction”, which is a set of behaviors that is considered obsessive or compulsive.
Unlike other forms of addiction, though, love addiction is often difficult to see from the outside and may even go unnoticed by the person suffering from the addiction.
While they seem very similar, trauma bonding and love addiction are two distinct things. Trauma bonding is common, but doesn’t require people to stay in a relationship with their abuser. In many cases, children, partners, or adults who have walked away and severed communication with their abuser still feel trauma bonded to the person, meaning they may think of them fondly or find ways to make excuses for their inappropriate or cruel behavior.
Love addiction, however, manifests slightly differently. Here are some common signs:
Have you ever found yourself sharing deeply personal information with near strangers? Maybe you become attached to people you’ve just met or bestow upon people virtues they aren’t proven to have. These are signs of toxic love addiction, and they indicate a deep need for love and connection. Usually, these behaviors indicate the fact that those needs aren’t being fulfilled by your partner.
If you’ve ever felt “needy,” that’s a sign of love addiction. People who are enmeshed in toxic relationships don’t get the reassurance or stability they need from a partner, which leads them to frequently seek out emotional comfort, especially from their abuser.
This is one of the key differences between trauma bonding and love addiction. While people who are trauma bonded to an abuser can leave the abuser and feel fulfilled and happy outside of the relationship, people who are addicted to toxic love feel a constant sense of desperation. They believe someone must come along and show them that they matter, that they’re worthy of love, or that they’re not alone.
This desperation comes from a deep well of abuse and neglect.
While this isn’t a pretty thing to admit, people who are addicted to toxic love are often so desperate for love and attention that they will manufacture situations to get it. If you’ve ever waited outside a partner’s home, classroom, or workspace and then pretended to randomly “run into them,” pretended that someone else is interested in you to make your partner jealous, or played games like “hard to get” to encourage interest, you may be suffering from toxic love addiction.
While people on the outside often ask love addicts why they don’t leave an abusive relationship, a person who is addicted to toxic love will tolerate virtually any level of emotional, mental, verbal, physical, and sexual abuse or infidelity to remain in a partnership, believing that losing their abusive partner is the worst thing that could happen.
Following are additional examples of toxic love addiction:
Toxic love addiction often feels like a mammoth mountain that’s far too tall, jagged, and brutal to climb. This is understandable — if you’re suffering from toxic love addiction, you’ve been profoundly abused in your relationships. Chances are, you’ve had your needs ripped away from you time and time again. Chances are, you’ve spent years, or maybe even decades, doing anything in your power to be loved by a narcissist or an abuser who is incapable of authentic love, and only knows how to manipulate, shame, and harm you.
Fortunately, there is hope for toxic love addiction. As with most forms of addiction, the first step is acknowledgement. Just like you can’t recover from a cocaine addiction while still using cocaine, you can’t recover from a toxic love addiction while still in a toxic relationship.
As such, it’s essential to acknowledge this fact and abandon the relationship.
From there, you can move on to the difficult, but possible, work of healing your heart and mind. Finding a Codependents Anonymous group in your area or an online resource that specializes in Narcissistic Abuse Support help, as can starting sessions with a therapist who specializes in the intricacy of narcissistic abuse.
While recognizing the difference between trauma bonding and toxic love addiction is hard, and recovering from toxic love addiction can be even harder, this is hope for you if you fall into this category.
While it’s a long road, recovering from toxic love addiction, learning to live a healthy fulfilling life, and enjoy normal, healthy, respectful relationships is possible and realistic. The first step is simply finding your support system and committing to your recovery. As with all forms of pattern-breaking, taking the first step is always the hardest. From there, things begin to fall into place, slowly but surely.
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