The break-up workbook for love addicts, by Jim Hall MS (a summary by Pat Evert)
You are not going crazy. You are not insane. You are going to be ok. The obsessions, the emptiness, the panic, the sense of not knowing who you are; the feeling of never finding love again… it all can feel insurmountable. But withdrawal contains the seeds of becoming a completely healthy person. Withdrawing is a time to meet yourself; that is, your authentic precious self you have been for so long. If I had continued my ongoing relational patterns, I would not have the self-love and value present today; nor the healthier relationships and the experience of a fulfilling marriage. The pain of withdrawal was a necessary consequence of my love addiction — and although very painful, was a bona fide blessing.
The more one uses their addiction of choice; obsession and preoccupation for that addiction increases. When there is addiction, there is a lack of control over thoughts, compulsions, or behaviors. Essentially, an addiction is used as a coping mechanism to escape the way one feels about themselves and/or the world around them. Addictions act as a lubricant to cope with missing or unfulfilled needs, which arise from unpleasant events or situations in one’s life – temporarily allowing an addict to disregard, “forget,” deny, or repress problems, emotions. The same way addicts in recovery need to abstain from drugs and alcohol, those with a Love Addiction must abstain from their behavioral addiction if they are to recover and heal from this problem.
- LOVE ADDICTION
Love addiction is a psychological addiction and chronic preoccupation to a person, romance or the fantasy of a person in relationships. The addiction to ‘love’ is carried out in self defeating behaviors in a diminished capacity of the “self,” to validate one’s self-worth. No person can fill another’s emptiness and internal void; no one can make someone happy if they are not already happy internally. The love addict enters a relationship, and makes up who they want their partner to be – and do not see who their partner truly is. Love addicts are drawn to Love Avoidant partners who are compulsively counter-dependent – that is, they are emotionally unavailable, disconnected and fear being engulfed by their love addict partner. Avoidants enter relationships with walls – where they will let nothing or no one in – which makes healthy relationships impossible. Love addiction, like any addiction, is a progressive illness, which is not curable but can be successfully treated, as long as one does the work needed. The negative consequence of addictive love is most prominently revealed when a relationship ends; or when a relationship is perceived as falling apart. This is when withdrawal of being with one person is experienced at the most intense level. Since the relationship with one person has been the essential contact point with life, and the relationship becomes one’s only identity – its removal leaves him or her in disoriented agony— as withdrawal occurs and the fantasy is weakened; reality comes seeping in, a reality of which a love addict denied since the relationship began. Obsessive thoughts may escalate in extreme—leaving him or her desperately seeking relief by getting their drug (lover) back.
When the breakup becomes reality and your heart breaks in two, chemicals are released that cause temporary ‘insanity,’ or so it feels. Love addiction withdrawal is more often than not, agonizing, excruciating, and feels unbearable. In essence, the addiction was just a buffer to avoid and abandon the self. This is the sickness in addiction.
- SYMPTOMS OF WITHDRAWAL
Because you have identified through your partner’s world, while ignoring your own, you feel an intense loss of self; loss of identity. The feeling of being completely diminished and insufficient as a person, flood the “being” of your soul. Common feelings of never being loved again, extreme obsession, anger, a powerful sense of betrayal, resentment. You have believed falsely that you are not worthy of love.
- GRIEF AND WITHDRAWAL
For love addicts however, the normal stages of grieving evolve into morbid and/or pathological grief process, characterized by obsession, denial, chronic depression, avoidance of normal activities and powerful desire to escape from reality. It is pathological because the grief is tethered to the addiction aspect to what was lost. The grief turns into extremely painful withdrawal where you feel crazy – even like dying. In order to get better, addicts need to grieve the loss of the addiction which provided comfort, even if that comfort was temporary and toxic. Craving in any addiction is normal in withdrawal – even though it is certainly not a fun process to go through.
- UNRESOLVED GRIEF
You are not necessarily feeling this intense pain because of your ex-partner and the loss of your relationship. Much of the feelings are immature responses of your inner-child, one who desperately wants to be loved. What you are experiencing is that little child of yours crying out desperately for acceptance, worth and value. These wounds resurface in intimate relationships and result in emotional pain. You end up taking a failed relationship to heart, falsely personalizing it; injure yourself, and internalizing the rejection, just as a child would. The old wounds resurface— spilling their toxins in a supposedly new injury. When you feel the other couldn’t love you because of something you did wrong, which is not the case – the wound becomes a self-contained system where self-doubt incubates and fear and emptiness becomes ingrown. You internalize the lies which foster the carried childhood shame ever so deeper.
- OBSESSION AND WITHDRAWAL
One powerful way love addicts ironically hold on to a broken relationship is through obsession. The preoccupation with obsessive thoughts becomes a viscous cycle. Your obsessions are strongly linked to the fantasy you created early in the relationship – ignoring all the red-flags; avoiding the reality of who your ex-partner has so far displayed. Obsessive thinking keeps you at a ‘less than’ position— while keeping your ex partner at a ‘better-than’ position. At the core of the obsessions — is the fact that the love addict cannot or will not ACCEPT what is going on – accepting reality that this unhealthy relationship is ending or has ended. If you want to heal and survive your withdrawal— trying to return to your ex or trying to escape with another addiction are the last things you want to do.
- TOOLS and STRATEGIES for Overcoming Withdrawal
Your job right now is to assist your mind to reach a healthier balance in this healing process. In withdrawal, without the addiction – your cognitive thinking process becomes ever so distorted and irrational. It is further fueling a bunch of negative thinking, which in turn, is intensifying the emotional pain. The following tools will help minimize and overcome many of your toxic-obsessive thinking processes.
#1 – Which obsessions are the most bothersome, painful, or raise fears?
What time during the day does each of these obsessions usually happen?
What commonly triggers, or sets off each obsession?
#2 – Describe the emotions you feel when you have these obsessive thoughts (shame, pain, sadness, anger, resentment, anxiety, etc.).
#3 – Do you have any obsessive thoughts that bring comfort (as opposed to pain or discomfort)?
#4 – What role do you think your obsessions may be playing?
More often than not these obsessions come down to self-blame. The “if only…” OBSESSIVE THOUGHTS DO NOT ‘TELL THE TRUTH’- THEY ONLY MANIPULATE IT. The reality is: “if only…” obsession is the addiction talking aloud. It is trying to hold on tight to the fantasy of who you wanted him/her to be. “If only he…” or “If only she…” obsessions tend to deflect any accountability and blame on your ex partner. If we jam ourselves in a narrative of how ‘my ex was the problem’… then we become stuck in the ‘Victim’ role. When we choose to be a ‘Victim,’ we choose to be powerless. NOTHING would have changed the outcome of our relationship. Nothing I could do (or anyone can do, for that matter) would change how he/she is able to love and be relational, because he/she is incapable to love or give to ANYONE. He/she has issues, and I have issues that need to be healed and resolved. “Additionally, my ex-partner displayed who he/she was since the beginning. I cannot deny that any longer. For me to continue denying this truth and reality – is to stay stuck in my fantasy. One more thing, who my ex-partner was or wasn’t to me … IS NOT ABOUT ME, NEVER WAS ABOUT ME, AND NEVER WILL BE ABOUT ME. Love Avoidants and Love Addicts are relationally unhealthy – and both cannot be relationally healthy until, and only until, they want (and choose) to heal and grow. To make positive change in one’s life is an individual – adult choice… period. And guess what? No one has any control of your behaviors, actions, and choices. To think otherwise, is part of the sickness. The fact is when two unhealthy people come together; the relationship will ALWAYS have more pain than joy.
Thought Stopping is used to interrupt these obsessive, bothersome thoughts with a “stop” command, which serves as a reminder and a distraction. This is then followed with positive and reassuring statements; so you begin breaking the negative thought habit and reinforcing a sense of reassurance. Since the human mind can only process one thought at a time, you must actively choose to direct your mind toward a thought that is affirming, and directly related to healthy emotional well-being. By doing so, you will deny the mind the processor “capacity” required to dwell on the negative. These tools are proven to help reduce and minimize obsessive thoughts and the negative emotions that result.
RUBBER BAND “THOUGHT-STOPPING” – TECHNIQUE #1
- You get an obsessive thought: snap the rubber band on your wrist
- Say a commanding “STOP” to yourself
- Followed by a positive affirmation
THOUGHT STOPPING – TECHNIQUE #2
- Start monitoring these thoughts by writing them down
- Write down positive affirmations next to your obsessive thought
- Claim the replacement truth aloud
Countering negative cognitive distortions
Our feelings (good or bad) come from our thoughts. You FEEL the way you THINK. Most bad feelings come from DISTORTED or IRRATIONAL thoughts. If we have constant unwanted negative thoughts, what follows are the negative feelings. Your THOUGHT from an upsetting event is the MEANING you create about the event or situation. People are not disturbed by things, as much as the views they take from them. Learn how to confront distorted thinking, which will help you minimize agonizing emotions.
- Feelings are often NOT based on reality; they are just feelings
- To say something ‘should be’ different is just wishful thinking
- To blame yourself or others for things outside your control is insane
- To ‘make up stories’ what people are thinking is without any evidence
- To dwell on negative qualities is asking for trouble
- To judge yourself or others critically or harshly will invite difficult emotions
Gains and pains
When experiencing love withdrawal – it is very common to stay stuck in denial, stuck in the fantasy of what was, what could be or what should be. You cannot move forward if you stay stuck in denial of what your addictive relationship was really all about.
Was the relationship really so ‘great’ or ‘magical’?
Still in ‘Love’
An addictive relationship is not love. Love is not obsessive, dependent, reliant, and selfish; it is not giving up your identity, abandoning your wants and needs. Healthy love relationships S.H.A.R.E. at least five additional important qualities that interconnect.
- Safety: In a healthy relationship, you feel safe.
- Honesty: You don’t hide secrets from your partner; you can express your thoughts without fear of censure or ridicule.
- Acceptance: You and your partner accept each other as you are.
- Respect: You think highly of each other.
- Enjoyment: There has to be shared gratification there needs to be elements of joy with the presence of one another.
Anger or Danger
Anger is a powerful survival tool. When we are angry, the brain downshifts to a lower evolutionary level. Prolonged or repressed anger is unhealthy. As an adult, you have the obligation to not only give this anger a healthy voice, but also to nurture and validate all your inner feelings.
Affirm and validate your anger: Change thoughts from: “I’m angry at you because you…” To: “It’s unfortunate this happened, but it’s not worth the price to pay.” Journaling is an excellent way to express and vent angry feelings. Verbalize your anger (calm and congruently) with a friend, sponsor, therapist, or other positive mentor.
Write a letter, but don’t send it
The goal of an unsent letter is to discharge and let loose your anger. By writing it out—you are allowing yourself in a safe manner to process and organize your thoughts, helping you to put things to rest and assist you in getting over the loss.
- Write why you want to release this specific chapter in your life.
- List exactly what you are still angry and hurt about.
- Express how you felt as a result of his/her behaviors or actions during the relationship.
- Acknowledge how you contributed to this unhealthy relationship. It is just recognizing your imperfections, like his or hers.
- Describe how you are starting to realize it is all fantasy. Then describe what you know to be true today about the relationship you had.
- Describe what you are beginning to discover about yourself and how you erroneously believed you deserved crumbs.
- Describe what you now recognize about the relationship that you never recognized before.
- Describe how you are now beginning to recognize your inherent worth; how you are discovering your value and inner worth as a human being simply because “I am”; describe how you are not a child and don’t ‘need’ his or her presence, validation, or anything from them to stand on your own two feet.
- Forgive her.
- Describe how you are going to begin loving you more, much-much more; putting your wants and needs first before anyone else; it is your right to do so.
No Contact Rule
This strong URGE IS FOR ONE, AND ONE THING ONLY – to relieve the withdrawal symptoms. Remember— IT IS AN ADDICTION. This powerful feeling wants to convince you there is still hope; that things could work out if we just try “one more time.” Don’t buy into it! The purpose of sticking to a No Contact Rule is about setting boundaries with your ex and protecting yourself. It is a delicate balancing act between taking back control and not going crazy. You cannot heal when you keep contact with your ex… The No Contact rule involves NO CONTACT IN WHATEVER MANNER IS POSSIBLE. Take care of yourself. You must remember, he or she IS a drug to you, and the longer you take little hits, you halt any chance of recovering and getting past the pain, and moving forward to a better life, a better relationship in the future.
Moving forward on a healthy path is not possible when you continue to buy into your fantasy that he or she is the answer to your problems – NO, NO, THEY’RE NOT.
ONLY THE CHOICES YOU MAKE and HOW YOU TAKE CARE OF YOU IS THE ANSWER TO YOUR PROBLEMS.
Boundaries and your Bottom-Line
Healthy Boundaries are actually about letting healthy people in our lives, and keeping unhealthy destructive people at a distance. Setting and honoring boundaries builds self-respect and respect with those around us. We have to verbalize and speak up and let our boundaries be known. The best way to set a boundary with someone is by being direct. You speak firmly and congruently and say something like “I don’t feel comfortable when you … Please don’t do that around me anymore.”
Affirmations: Positive Self-Talk
Affirmations are one of the most powerful tools for recovery. Affirmations are a way of retraining “old thoughts” of NEGATIVE SELF TALK—they are phrases we repeat to ourselves which help change the way we communicate with ourselves. It helps change how you feel, and also changes behaviors. You will probably outgrow some affirmations, so you want to adjunct or change them as needed. The best time to do your affirmations is when you become aware that you are experiencing negative self-talk, which leads you to feel anxious or depressed.
- Withdrawal will not last forever – and I will come out on top
- The world is a better place because I am here
- I can make my own decisions
- I let go of dependency on others and find happiness within myself
- I don’t need a relationship partner to validate my worth
- I am enough
Beware of Switching Addictions
Although withdrawal can be excruciating and almost unbearable, it is important that you experience the pain fully, and not hide it, avoid it or escape from it with another addiction. Switching puts the brakes on any steps towards your healing and recovery. You need to allow time to do the recovery work necessary (6-12 months) for long lasting change. You need to learn how to nurture and love yourself and face your feelings you have been running from for too long.
Feelings and Grief
You need to feel all your feelings and grieve this loss with support—and you need support with healthy and understanding individuals. It is no wonder then that we might be tempted to avoid feeling our feelings altogether – it pretty overwhelming! You think you cannot survive them— THE FACT IS YOU CAN AND YOU WILL SURVIVE, IT WON’T LAST FOREVER. The only way through grief and the feelings that come with it is through it. This road is painful, confusing, and downright terrifying in moments. You need to allow yourself to be the human being you are. You need to cry, express yourself, and talk about it—it is your right. With healthy support and understanding, you will learn to find your way through this new landscape of grief.
IT’S NOT ABOUT ME
Your avoidant partner’s behaviors and choices have nothing to do with her love for you. Too often, love addicts tend to take everything there partner does very personally. They believe and internalize everything they say or do. Why did she say this or that? The answer is that she is an AVOIDANT (counter-dependent) and has core issues that have nothing to do with you. Do not take ANY of what was done or said to you or not done or said to your to heart. IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU. Your EX-partner has been who she is because this is what she was before you ever started a relationship. So do not blame yourself for the failure of the relationship.
IT’S NOT ABOUT ME. I WILL NOT OWN HIS/HER BEHAVIORS OR WORDS.
I RELEASE THEM – I LET GO. THIS IS THE TIME TO STOP ABANDONING YOU!
- Adjusting to Withdrawal
Because of the biochemical changes in the brain, such as dopamine, have been on overload as a result of this addiction, many of these brain chemicals have been depleted. So part of the process of overcoming withdrawal is allowing the brain to re-adjust itself back to a normal level of homeostasis.
This means part of getting through withdrawal is you need to tolerate some of the pain and uneasiness with the knowing that your brain (which has been in an addictive state for sometime) is in a period of re-balance. If you hang in there with patience and persistence, you will adapt and eventually overcome this difficult period. We must ‘lean into the pain”, acknowledge and face the discomfort of withdrawal, knowing you will live through it; you will not go ‘crazy’; and you will come out stronger than you were before.
- HOW LONG WITHDRAWAL WILL LAST?
Ultimately, the answer of how long withdrawal will last is in:
- How much you are fully engaged in your recovery.
- The longevity of your dependencies in relationships;
- The trauma or abandonment was experienced in childhood.
I believed I could never get through it, but I did.
- THIS IS YOUR TIME FOR BREAKING FREE
This time of withdrawal is a huge opportunity to make positive and powerful change materialize in your life, trust the process. Do you want painful relationships in your future? Do you want to experience withdrawal like this again in your life? Of course you don’t. This is a time for becoming stronger and healthier in the midst of your suffering.
Love addicts who overcome their patterns of addictive loving are profoundly different in terms of their thinking and behaviors prior.
- Develop your spiritual side, let your “higher power” replace your ex-partner.
- Learn not to become hooked into drama and power games.
- Develop an understanding of what healthy self-esteem is all about.
- Become “selfish” in your recovery (healthy selfishness, esp. at this time).
- Use this time to really recognize your worth, recognize your strength…
Urges are the compulsion and yearning to have your drug (ex) – and they are common and normal. They are not a sign of failure. It reminds you that this is in fact, a real addiction. If you don’t continue your drug, your urges will weaken and eventually go away. Urges only get stronger if you give in to them. Urge surfing is to ride out the urge.
To “let go” is not to judge, but to allow another to be a human being.
To “let go” is not to deny, but to accept.
To “let go” is to fear less and LOVE MYSELF MORE.