‘It was the shape of our love that twisted me’
I spent the weekend in Hunter Valley to see Leonard Cohen. It was amazing, he was incredible, but when he spoke those words I almost gave myself whiplash snapping my head around to look at him.
Hi my name is Lisa and I’m Love Avoidant.
I’ve been trying to write this post for weeks now and I just haven’t been able to find the words. With Leonard’s line rattling around my mind, I knew it was time when I stumbled across this poem in a WordPress post:
‘My mother is Love and my father is Pain.
I’m the miserable daughter of the Moon and the Sun,
Something between Darkness and Light,
lost among the stars’
I’m jumping ahead of myself. From the beginning…
During the energy reading I had back in September, Lynette recommended that I read Facing Love Addiction by Pia Mellody. Lynette explained the love addiction condition comprised of two equal and opposing characters that attract and repel each other. The Love Addict and the Love Avoidant.
Just from the titles I thought I might identify more closely with a Love Avoidant. In our reading Lynette actually asked me about relationships “tell me about relationships, they get a bit twisty”.
Not til I went to the South Coast earlier this month for my week of solitude, and read (most) of the book did I come to appreciate just how avoidant I am and how it possibly evolved.
What defines a Love Avoidant
According to the book, Love Avoidants:
- evade intensity within relationships by creating intensity in activities (usually addictive ones) outside the relationship
- avoid being known in the relationship in order to protect them from engulfment and control by the other person
- avoid intimacy using distancing techniques.
What defines a Love Addict
- assign a disproportionate amount of time, attention, and value above themselves to the person to whom they are addicted. This focus often has an obsessive quality about it.
- have unrealistic expectations for unconditional positive regard from the other person in the relationship
- neglect care for themselves while they’re in the relationship.
The underpinning fears for both Addicts and Avoidants are intimacy and abandonment.
Addicts are consciously fearful of abandonment and subconsciously fearful of intimacy whereas Avoidants are consciously fearful of intimacy which they see as engulfment and enmeshment and are subconsciously fearful of abandonment.
These points are written in the book but it’s a very simplistic overview.
The complexity comes when you put an Addict and an Avoidant together. And of course they naturally attract, they usually aren’t attracted to healthy people at all.
Once attracted a dance ensues and the underpinning fears go a long way to explain their different approaches. The Addict puts the Avoidant on an entirely imagined pedestal and only ever wants more, more, more of the Avoidant. The Avoidant senses the overwhelming potential to be engulfed and completely lose themselves but feels duty bound to provide the more, more, more and so emotionally retreats to protect themselves from becoming overwhelmed.
This dance sums up just about every single relationship I’ve been in except for the one with another Avoidant and one seemingly healthy one (there is hope!).
In my experience, the neediness of my partner pushes me away to a place where I can have space. I feel suffocation so real it causes physical pain and while I may superficially understand my partner is just trying to be close, it actually feels vampiric. Eventually I am so drained I can’t even think of my partner without having feelings of suffocation. Over and out.
It’s an awful, heartbreaking pattern.
So how did this happen?
‘Some people grow up in families in which they experienced enmeshment from one parent and abandonment from the other’ Facing Love Addiction, page 50.
During Lynette’s reading she explained that my mum and I are bonded so strongly it goes beyond the typical love a parent and child have for each other. As the first of three kids with a huge seven year gap between me and my next sister – I was doted on and the centre of my mums world. And it didn’t stop when the girls came along, Mum just found more love in her for the three of us.
And then on the other hand Dad almost entirely rejected me. He was overly authoritarian, manipulative, critical, cruel and withheld love only revealing it to use as a weapon or resource depending on the circumstance or his mood.
‘My mother is Love and my father is Pain’
With that character assassination of my Dad it’s perhaps understandable that I’ve always considered him to have sired my demons. However I’m coming to realise that the overwhelming overprotectiveness and enmeshment of my Mum may actually be the primary cause of my avoidance. I’m sure Dad’s abandonment didn’t help – he doesn’t get off scot free!
‘It was the shape of our love that twisted me’
Reflecting on my parents’ relationship before and after children, what I’ve witnessed coupled with the stories I’ve heard over the years I’m certain my Mum is an Addict and my Dad an Avoidant. Which is a far more typical combination Male = avoidant Female = addict.
It’s best to mention that I have made peace with my Dad and we actually get along very well now. Perhaps I behaved as a Love Addict child needing more of my Dad that he’s equipped to give. It may explain some but not all of his behaviours.
And despite the enlightenment that my Mum is likely the primary contributor to my Love Avoidant state – I couldn’t love her any more than I do. Who would ever think that too much love could be potentially damaging. She’d be devastated and probably very lost if she thought this hypothesis was possible.
How to escape the pattern?
‘Hug your demons or they’ll bite you in the ass’
While I’m doing my best to hug my demons, this is where I stopped reading the book. It suggested that with professional help the process could take anywhere between three to five years. Holy freaking holy.
There was talk of recovery groups and support networks and professional help to endure the withdrawal phase. It was all too much.
I’m a clever girl, I can think my way out of this. Meanwhile I might just avoid relationships until I’ve got a better understanding of what a healthy one looks like. Or is that just a seemingly sensible excuse to continue avoidance?