The Relationship between Love Addiction and Trauma Bonding
Love Addiction: An All-Too-Common Coping Mechanism
Love addiction out in the wild is the soap opera of codependent relationships. Simply put, it’s where you crave the rush of the honeymoon phase and struggle when the buzz wears off. It can also manifest as being completely consumed by your partner, feeling “addicted” to them even.
When this happens, there is usually (and understandably) a loss of self, as love addicts tend to do whatever it takes to appease the person providing the rush. Sadly, at least for the serious party in the relationship, a love addict likely won’t hang around for long.
If you’ve never experienced love addiction, it’s basically girl meets boy; girl swoons like a rom-com idiot; girl’s brain stops dripping happy juice at some point; girl starts pleading with boy to make more happy juice together; boy won’t/can’t make more happy juice with girl; girl meets new boy; girl “falls in love” with new boy who brought happy juice. Repeat as necessary.
(Side note: love addiction has no orientation. Think Person A meets Person B.)
Even in some of my friendships, I’ve experienced a type of love addiction. For example, do you know folks who find the drama in what feels like every situation? If so, you’ve probably experienced it, too.
As they share their impassioned stories, desperate for your insight, you get a “rush” that’s chemically similar to the honeymoon phase of a romantic relationship. (Think getting excited, talking faster, “oh no she didn’t!?” types of vibes.)
Contrary to love addicts in romantic relationships, people in codependent friendships often have trouble walking away. They feel compelled to help/advise/uplift/praise/reassure. They sometimes feel ashamed for getting dragged into someone’s neediness, knowing they’re not truly invested emotionally, but then feel guilty if they don’t keep giving.
Love Addiction: Navigating Life Without Boundaries
Like most survivors of childhood trauma, I built up an arsenal of unhealthy coping mechanisms and a raging case of codependency. I became a bottomless giver to everyone, unable to set healthy boundaries for my own preservation. I let partners diminish my worth because I wanted to keep them comfortable.
I maintained toxic friendships with energy vampires because we had a history together, not realizing that people aren’t always meant to stay in our lives. Those people always needed something and rarely showed up for others in return.
Boundaryless, I gave people nearly 24/7 access to me. I was accused of doing it for attention, which was completely absurd because I often entertained people I didn’t want to.
You see, I felt guilty turning people away, even when I didn’t have the energy to invest in them. I would endure the encounter only to feel ashamed that I couldn’t express my needs more clearly.
Love Addiction: The End is the Beginning
Over the years, I kept trying to establish romantic relationships only to find myself disconnected with no clue why. While I still cared about those people, I didn’t want to be in a relationship with them anymore.
I often found myself moving on with an eerie detachment, unable to understand why I was the only one who felt like things weren’t working out. Weren’t they over it, too?
There were no good reasons to go, but there were no good reasons to stay, either.
I obviously never wanted to hurt those people. If anything, I felt like I was sparing them by cutting them loose. Despite looking for stability, I felt compelled to shake things up if they got stagnant. And I didn’t realize that the instability I resented in my codependent relationships was mostly a projection of my coping mechanisms.
I didn’t know why I liked to rattle the snow globe until quite recently. That’s when my therapist told me I was a love addict.
So How Can Love Addiction Lead to Trauma Bonding?
I’d like to preface with the point that not all love addiction leads to trauma bonding. Typically trauma bonding occurs when a love-addicted person gets with a partner who has an abusive Cluster B personality.
Trauma bonding isn’t complex, but yet it is. In short, it’s an inability to leave someone you know is unhealthy for you. Your brain knows that you’re not happy, your needs aren’t being met, and you wouldn’t wish your circumstances on anyone. Yet, for some reason, you can’t walk away.
It’s part biology; in some cases the situation has left the abused party in fight or flight mode, for example. Your body recognizes the dangers and doesn’t know what to do, so usually you freeze. But it’s also part codependency, and that’s where it gets complicated.
Because most codependents struggle to understand that there are people who are innately monstrous, we focus on the rare good moments in between all the shite ones. We make excuses for the abusive person — Oh, he’s just had a rough day — or worse, we blame ourselves, citing some non-existent slight we surely must have caused them to be punished in this way.
True story: On the phone one night, bawling my eyes out on a downtown street, begging to know why my ex was being so cruel to me, I said that it all felt like some kind of punishment. Know what that asshole said to me?!
And I still gave him two more years.
Trauma bonding is that. It’s hearing some dumb shit like that and not snapping out of the addiction. And that was a good night by comparison!
But then an actual good night happens. A great date. Great sex. Some sweet text message sometimes was all it took. And because you want so badly to deny all the painful things you’re experiencing, you cling to those few-and-far-between moments when they’re really just scraps of affection.
It’s a cycle. You get love, and then it gets taken away. You’re left feeling worthless and helpless. You convince yourself that you can’t even function in the world without this person controlling your every move, because they’ve controlled them all for so long. You allow it to happen because you don’t know what else to do with yourself anymore. It’s horrifying.
That’s where the trauma bond comes in. It’s the same thing you see with cult leaders and their followers, even. We all watch the news and think, “How the hell can they buy into this guy?!”
Now I get it.
Love Addiction: My Trauma Bond Damn Near Killed Me
From April 2016 until summer of 2019, I was in the most toxic relationship I’ve ever known. It depleted every part of me.
Physically, I’d wasted away. Emotionally, I was consistently disappointed by a man who would dangle carrots of affection to keep me wrapped up in whatever sick game he was playing and then discard me when I wasn’t of use to him. Rinse and repeat for three long years.
One minute he would thank me for loving him and the next minute he was verbally, mentally, and emotionally abusing me. I was drowning in my Stockholm Syndrome, all trauma-bonded to this monster.
My self-worth was non-existent.
My entire life was lived for a man who promised everything and followed through with nothing but gaslighting, triangulation, and projection.
I was a shell of a human by the time he was done with me.
He actually encouraged me to go to therapy because he didn’t like how easily I got along with people. Come to find out, he was jealous of my likeability (among my other strengths he does not possess himself). He was terribly insecure and wrongly thought I just wanted all the men to notice me. He wanted that part of me “therapied” out so that he didn’t feel threatened.
I was so “in love” that I was willing to do anything for him, believed he might have even been right, so I signed up.
Love Addiction: The Light at the End of the Tunnel
In therapy, I learned about how all of these coping mechanisms I’d developed from childhood trauma were why I acted in relationships the way I did and why I wanted to make people happy all the time. (Fear of abandonment = “No no! I’ll be whatever you want! Don’t leave!”)
They were also the root of why I continued to connect to all kinds of people, even when I wasn’t really interested in doing so. They were why I went to and stayed with this monster for three years.
Then I started dealing with the traumas that taught me those mechanisms in the first place. Therapy ended up giving me my power back and the strength to tell that vicious, abusive jackass to go $%&* himself.
While my trauma doesn’t define me any longer, I’m still working through the horrendous damage that man caused.
- I’m learning how to trust myself again after all the gaslighting and lies he fed me to keep me off balance.
- I’m reprogramming the self-defeating narrative in my head that plays in his voice and tries to convince me I’m a “piece of shit.”
- I’m rediscovering my worth after being triangulated against multiple people and things.
Love Addiction: Breaking Out
Coming to terms with what love addiction was and how it was playing out in in my life was hard. I felt horrible for having treated partners the way I did. Hell, at the time, I even thought my psychopathic now-ex was my karma for that. (Not true; he was just a narcissistic ass.)
I worked through the Adult Children of Alcoholics and Dysfunctional Families steps, and I’m here to tell you — step work is HARD. You have to face some ugly demons and come to terms with some awful things about your behavior.
But once I started working through the steps, it became clear. I was actually comforted to be so “textbook,” as now I could literally read about why I was like I was. And thankfully, once you see it, you can’t unsee it.
Another great resource I was assigned as homework on day one of therapy — my therapist called it right away that’s how common love addiction is sadly — was Facing Love Addiction by Pia Mellody, et. al. This book served as a toolkit to discover, conquer, and rewrite my addictive behaviors. (I’m not making any money for telling you about it; it’s just that awesome.)
Love Addiction: In the End
It’s important to be real with yourself about the situation. Until I was ready to face it, I couldn’t work through it. I spent months on my therapist’s couch trying to wrap my brain around how horrible a person my ex is and how someone can actually enjoy causing people pain. I still don’t understand it, but I’ve at least learned that’s his cross to bear.
What I have learned is that I’m not in control of his horrid behaviors, and because I have a heart and give a shit about others, I’ll never understand why he did what he did to me. I’d never trust him to give me a straight answer if given the chance anyway, so I don’t waste my time thinking about it anymore.
If any of this resonates with you, or you have a friend you can see falling down this rabbit hole, please get (or convince them to get) professional help.
Because without it, I’d still be that girl. I know I would be. I’d have eventually gotten out of that toxic relationship, but I’m certain my unacknowledged love addiction would have continued to lead me down the same paths for the rest of my life, chasing the rush, thinking I was all in love and such.
Real love isn’t a rush like that. Those are just chemicals in your brain. Love is a choice you make. That’s the thing I’ve learned through it all that I’m most proud of. It’s the only reason I have the blissful relationship I currently have. Coming to that knowledge inspired me to write this:
Love Addiction: Closing Thoughts
Love addiction doesn’t always lead to trauma bonding, but it certainly opens you up to the possibility of it more so than any other coping mechanism I’ve seen or lived through.
Ultimately, education is everything here. If you know what you are, you can change it. If you see that you keep repeating this pattern with your relationships, it’s worth looking into. You deserve to break the habit, the addiction.
There is help, and you deserve to find someone who loves with the same heart you love with but who will both keep their own boundaries and respect yours. My current partner has even helped me establish them for myself when I didn’t know what to do, that’s how healthy this is for me now.
The work isn’t easy, but it’s so worth it.
Do you struggle with love addiction or know someone you think might? Please share your stories with us in the comments below. What successes have you found? What things are you still working through? It takes a village. Let’s help each other out.