Category Archives: boundaries

Relationship Addiction

Hi.

My name is Amy and I am a relationship addict.

Yes, it is a thing. A very real and very debilitating thing.

From Ann Smith via Psychology Today:

The relationship addict experiences intense “abandonment anxiety”. This anxiety triggers panic, low self worth, feelings of emptiness, isolation, and possibly depression. The addict may believe they are worthless without their partner. They almost always feel unbearable emptiness. Love addiction is a compulsive, chronic craving and/or pursuit of romantic love in an effort to get our sense of security and worth from another person. The causes of love addiction are fairly easy to identify: inadequate or inconsistent nurturing, low self esteem, absence of positive role models for committed relationships, and indoctrination with cultural images of perfect romantic love and happily ever after endings.

It dawned on me as I said goodbye to the last relationship I was in, just a week or so ago, that something wasn’t right with the way I was reacting to the loss. Something felt off, so I did what I do best, I did some investigative work on myself and my behavior. I took a look back at my actions with this person, within the relationship, and found myself kind of disgusted. I wasn’t necessarily shocked to discover that nothing about my behavior had been healthy or ‘normal’, just kind of disappointed. It was a realization that I didn’t want to make or admit.

But deep down, I knew that it was time to deal with it.

Finally.

I am addicted to love.

I was a rollercoaster of emotion and anxiety during my last relationship (something I thought was just me, in addition to my current grief over the divorce). I thought my explosive (head-over-heels love) and intense emotion was fueled by love and my big, huge heart. But, my anxiety would be more pronounced when I wouldn’t hear from him for longer than a few hours or, god forbid, an entire day. I would feel nothing short of despondent; panicky. And when his feelings didn’t seem to match my own in intensity or explosiveness, I got even more anxious and more emotional. It was exhausting. I have no idea why he put up with me.

Since we have said our respective goodbyes, I have been an anxious wreck. Mornings seem to be the hardest. I wake up, and without that good morning check-in fix, I feel anxious, undone, and completely alone.

To be perfectly honest, I feel terrified. But of what, I have no idea (a fact that is really pissing me off). I am home alone right now and literally just screamed to no one: “What the fuck are you so afraid of?!” And promptly burst into tears. Sigh.

I have a feeling that this is going to be a long, hard, uphill battle.

I have been this way for as long as I can remember. Ever since boys noticed me in the 8th grade (and I noticed them back). I suspect that the behavior took root because I grew up in a home without a father and had an emotionally distant mother who I didn’t easily connect with. I watched my father die and never had a male role model. After his death, my mother relied on me to be the other parent in the household. I was 9. Perhaps, as a result, I was left with a void, a hole, severely low self-esteem, and a debilitating fear of abandonment.

From http://www.loveaddictiontreatment.com:

Love (and relationship) addicts are terrified of abandonment. They rely on others to fulfill them, and to make them feel happy and whole. Without their love object, they feel worthless and incomplete. This is often due to a lack of love and nurturing from their primary caregivers while growing up. The abandonment they experienced may have been emotional (i.e. – their parents were physically present but emotionally detached), or physical – one or both of their parents left, died, was ill, or absent much of the time.

Perhaps my childhood ended at age 9? I am almost 43. That is 34 years of emptiness. Holy crap.

*shudder*

From what I have read, true love addiction is less about the search for love and more about finding a way to control tough emotions. Going from one relationship to another without any room for grieving, mourning, or processing through a previous loss means getting to avoid feeling those tough emotions. I thought I had a failsafe way to avoid dealing with my father’s death and subsequent abandonment shit when I married my first husband.

But that relationship didn’t satisfy me, so I found another more exciting guy and married him. We lasted 16 years. I thought I would be safe forever; we had 2 kids! That meant commitment – a guarantee, a promise, right?

Holy shit. NO.

When my second marriage failed, I had no choice but to deal with the grief from my father’s death (finally) which came back in one giant terrifying matzoh ball of horror. When that train wreck came, in addition to grieving my marriage and my family, it is no surprise that I ended up in the hospital.

But wait, I didn’t I really have to deal with any of it, did I? After I got out of the hospital, my subconscious knew just what to do. I did what I had always done when a relationship ended or seemed unsatisfying. I jumped right back into online dating and I hopped right into a new romance. Surely this new and exciting person would save me and help me feel better and I would be happy?!

Again, holy shit. NO.

Since the split a year ago, I have had 3 relatively serious, sexually intimate relationships. When each one ended, I broke all over again. They were unhealthy relationships (though I didn’t think so or realize it at the time) as they were a means of getting that love ‘fix’ and avoiding the big, huge, debilitating emotions that accompany being alone (for me). I was still hiding from my demons; my inability to feel whole, complete, or satisfied with who I am as a person without that constant need for external validation. Seeking internal validation from external sources for most of my life has done so much damage I really don’t know where to begin picking up the pieces.

For me, being alone feels like I am dying. And right now, in this moment, I feel like I am dying. The longest I have ever been single was a mere few weeks when I was 19 years old. It was during that time period that I had a suicide attempt. That is how scary it felt then. It feels just as scary now but thankfully, I am 42 and have 2 beautiful children that anchor me to this world.

I know that this realization/admission is huge. I know I am on the right path and acknowledging my underlying behaviors and motivations has felt very scary but also very empowering.

Life and love feel like this big ball of tangled up shit that I have to finally sit down with, examine, and sort through. On my own. My goal is to be single for 6 months.

That is not until April. Gulp.

Am I scared? Hell yes. I am completely terrified.

I have been leaking out my power and my essence and my very self all over the damn place. It stops now.

It is time for me to go and find all of my missing pieces. And put myself back together.

I am Rebuilding Amy.

 

 

Resources on love and relationship addiction for you:

http://www.loveaddictiontreatment.com/the-roots-of-love-addiction/

http://loveaddicts.org/40questions.html

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L.O.V.E.

I have been having some of the most beautiful and poignant discussions around love lately. What it looks like, what it feels like, how it grows or fades, what it needs to blossom, and what it takes to make it go away.

Because let’s be honest, sometimes we do need to make it go away.

*this post might be super abstract for many of you. I have a very visual mind and will do my best to paint you a good picture with my words*

In my mind, love is a linear spectrum. It is all pink-hued and soft at the beginning; gentle, bubbly and quiet. As it progresses from left to right, the colors subtly shift from pinks to deeper pinks, (I would say mauve, but I abhor that color), to fiery reds, and deep blood-colored burgundies.

After careful consideration and lots of processing with friends, it is my opinion that this love-line, if you will, works something like this:

Everyone has their own love-line for every relationship they enter into (I am really only speaking about romantic love here). You have one whenever your heart finds someone – regardless of whether or not that love is reciprocated. It progresses from left to right and, for some people, it can start off explosive and fast. For others, it might be a slow and steady progression or perhaps a slow and steady surprise. It begins as infatuation, then perhaps a crush, then you might be struck dumb when you realize you have some serious feelings brewing for someone.

But here is the catch; new love can only progress to a certain point. That first tickle of love can only move forward on this continuum of love if it is reciprocated. If it isn’t, then alas, your love will get stuck there and you are essentially left with a heart that feels full to bursting and has no where to go.

Yeah, ouch. We have all been there and it hurts like hell.

Now, let’s say that you have that crush, you are head-over-heels for someone and that love is requited? That is when you have that forward momentum toward the far right end of the spectrum. That is when love can grow and deepen and blossom into a love that can last for years and builds itself a home in your DNA. That love can fade, but the essence of it stays with you forever. That is the love I have for my ex-husband. It will never leave – it is a part of me. And that is okay.

I need to address this aspect of ‘love’ as well: What if your love continues to move toward the right end of the spectrum without being reciprocated? It is my opinion, that perhaps you might have entered into a space of unhealthy stalker-like tendencies. I would venture to say that this is a psychological issue of some kind and you should seek professional help. I am dead serious.

So, how does a person who finds themselves stuck in the bursting, crushing-hard, love stage make it stop when that love is unrequited and has no where to go? Boundaries! Big, fat, hard, scary boundaries. The only way forward, toward letting go and healing, is to wean yourself off of the drug that is love and go cold turkey, right into a stage of zero contact.

Research shows us that falling in love is indeed akin to being on drugs.

This is an excerpt from a post by Shauna H Springer Ph.D.

Dr. Helen Fisher, an anthropologist and relationship researcher, conducted a series of illuminating studies on the brain chemistry of love. Specifically, she found that the same brain chemicals (that is, massive amounts of dopamine and norepinephrine ) are in play, and many of the same brain pathways and structures are active when we are falling in love and enjoying a cocaine-high.***

Consider the specific euphoric effects of smoking crack cocaine. In the short run, according to the website cocaine.org, smoking crack cocaine leads to enhanced mood, heightened sexual interest, a feeling of increased self-confidence, greater conversational prowess and intensified consciousness… “It offers the most wonderful state of consciousness, and the most intense sense of being alive [that] the user will ever enjoy.”****

You need to rid yourself of that drug that is love. Once and for all. Completely. Block a phone number if you have to, delete them from social media, steer clear if they are in your social circles. This advice may seem extreme, but for me, it has worked in the past and gotten me to a space where I was able to let that love fizzle and fade and come back around to a space of a deep and solid friendship with a former crush. But I could not have done that without the no-contact rule. It took a whopping 23 days and now he is one of my closest friends – and I don’t feel anything other than a deep, friend-love for him.

Once again, I am currently stuck on the left side of this love-line; the pink, effervescent side. It is unrequited, and I am in that space of having to back off and untangle my heart and travel backward and let go. Back to myself, alone. I love easily because I walk around with my big, open heart right on my sleeve. It finds connection in the strangest places and I have no choice but to go along for the ride. I have tried casual, I have tried slowing down, and though I did manage those things for a time, it isn’t really a comfortable state of being for me when my heart wants OUT.

But here is the thing – something I am coming to understand and accept about myself, is this:

When my heart gets involved, I don’t do casual. I don’t do half-assed. I don’t do lukewarm. I dive in headfirst, with a fearless and reckless abandon. I may be too much for some people, but the truth is, most people are not enough for me.

I was told once, by a wonderful guy, that he wanted to ‘steer’ the relationship, He told me that if I were the one to take the reins, I would drive us straight off of a cliff.

And he was right.

But I would rather have someone hold my hand and jump off with me, than go in circles, endlessly, forever.

 

Fuck. Yes.

Some of you might have already read, or heard about, Marc Manson’s blog post entitled, Fuck Yes or No. In it, he talks about radical and enthusiastic consent (albeit in a frustratingly heteronormative way). His take home message is a good one though:

Don’t choose someone or something in your life if the answer isn’t a resounding, “FUCK YES!”.

I want to surround myself with “FUCK YES!” from this point forward. Somewhat ironically, I think the key to this lies in the ability to say “FUCK NO!” and mean it.

This concept makes so much sense to me after this last year of saying ‘yes’ when I most definitely should have said ‘no’. I allowed people into my heart and into my life who really did not deserve to be there. I continually put my needs in the proverbial backseat just to fill a deep void within myself. I was so paralyzed by my fear of abandonment and my complete lack of identity outside of my role as a wife and a mother, I chose to be invisible. It wasn’t an intentional choice. At the time it was the safest choice, and because of that, it became my only choice.

My heart breaks for the person I was last year. It hurts to think about all of the ways in which I leaked myself out to everyone else. Leaving nothing of any substance behind. I want to scoop that person up into my arms and snuggle the shit out of her. I was so lost and so confused and trying so hard to please everyone else that I lost myself completely.

I am not the same person I was last year. And this is a REALLY GOOD THING.

Let’s talk about Boundaries!

We all need boundaries. Saying ‘no’ is so vitally important. ‘No’ to relationships that do not meet our needs, saying ‘no’ to overextending ourselves at work, or at home, or with complicated matters of the heart. Setting boundaries as a means of separating your emotions from others, and recognizing that your feelings belong to you and no one else, and vice versa, is huge. This is big work, people!

When we set clear boundaries with ourselves and with others, we are further developing our sense of self. If I say ‘no’ to someone, to a relationship that doesn’t serve me, I am exercising that part of myself that leads to empowerment and a clearer sense of who I am and what I want. I am flexing those mental and psychological muscles that perpetuate a confidence within me that reinforce this fact: even when boundaries feel scary and difficult, they make me stronger in the long run. I am holding onto core truths within myself and acknowledging that my needs, my desires, and my path matter more than literally anyone else. It is not selfish, narcissistic, or cruel.

It is vital.

I am setting boundaries with people; with relationships. I am setting boundaries with my children! Society sends this really fucked up message that once you have children, your needs take a backseat to theirs (this is especially true of mothers). I call BULLSHIT! Separating yourself from your role as a mother or a father is paramount and deserves a blog post all to itself (next time).

I am not settling for anything less than what I want. I am doing my utmost to stay in integrity with myself. This is REALLY HARD WORK; to say goodbye to people and connections that feel so good. Admitting the hard truth, that ultimately, these relationships will not serve me. It hurts! Saying no, letting go, drawing lines in the imaginary sand, feeling like I am letting people down if I don’t say ‘yes’, all the time, to everyone and everything.

I am an empath, a mother, a nurturer, an INFJ, and it goes against every fiber of my being to say ‘no’ to anyone. My tendency to leak myself out into the ether is so strong I am constantly checking in with myself. I want to help people be their best selves and discover who they have the potential to become. And this is so incredibly dangerous for me, my heart, and my relationships with people.

At some point, someone will say a resounding FUCK YES! to me. Until then,

I am only responsible for myself.

And I cannot save the damn world.