By Grace Brooks, LPC, LISAC, Rio Retreat Center Workshop Facilitator
“You complete me.”
When I think of addictive relationships this quote from the 1996 movie Jerry Maguire immediately comes to mind. In an addictive relationship, if you don’t manage to “complete” him or her you’d better watch out. You’re in for a crazy ride that unfortunately, without help, can end in death—yours or someone else’s.
I have been working as a Licensed Professional Counselor for 20 years. Thirteen of those years have been at The Meadows where, I have spent the majority of my time lecturing and facilitating workshops on the painful cycle of Love Addiction and Love Avoidance.
Facing Love Addiction
When I first read Pia Mellody’s book, Facing Love Addiction, I felt as though she had jumped into my mind and took notes. It was a relief to understand why I had such “crazy making” relationships. “What is wrong with me?” was a question I had been asking myself repeatedly.
Then the healing journey began. I discovered that there actually was something amiss. The good news was that I could fix it. I traced my painful reactions in my relationships to my childhood. Understanding where the trauma came from was easy; actually working through the trauma was hard.
When I was growing up, as an infant, a child and a teenager, my mother was not able to give me the time and attention I needed. She was not doing it on purpose; her mother was not able to give her the emotional nurturing she needed either. I learned it’s often a problem passed on from generation to generation. I was told I could break the cycle in my own family if I took “a few simple steps” (as we say in AA.)
The Burden of Completing Others
I learned that in my adult relationships, I was still desperately looking for attention and love from other people, particularly women. This played out by me turning strong women friends, sponsors and therapists into my surrogate mothers. I discovered through Pia’s love addiction theories that I was misusing these women by expecting them to complete me, because it didn’t allow me to accept them for who they actually were.
The responsibility of completing others surfaced primarily in my relationships with men. My brothers had always taken pains to treat me like I was very special and make me feel like I was their favorite.
In addition, I learned how to make everyone in my family of six siblings happy. That was how I felt good about myself. I could make people okay using humor. In family systems therapy, we call this the role of the mascot.
Later, I attracted needy men into my life so I could make them feel good! I turned myself into whatever they needed and eventually felt “engulfed, drained and controlled,” a common reaction that Pia points out in her book.
Breaking Self-Defeating Relationship Patterns
When I present this information in workshops, I see looks of understanding and relief spread across my clients’ faces as they realize that they are not crazy and are not the only ones who suffer from these types of self-defeating relationship patterns.
I began my journey to end these patterns 25 years ago by returning to my inner child. (What?) Yes, exactly what I said—I returned to that little girl who got lost in the painful experience of my childhood. I met her through inner child work.
I was startled at first as I visualized her face. I felt both connected to her and angry with her. I journeyed back to my childhood memories and felt the pain of abandonment and enmeshment. The healing did not happen overnight, but it did happen.
My relationships have improved although my trauma is not completely gone, I don’t think you can clear all of it, but my reactions when I perceive distancing and engulfing have greatly lessened.
Register for the Love Addiction / Love Avoidance Workshop
Love addicts assign too much value, time, and attention to another person, while neglecting to care for or value themselves. Love avoiders systematically uses relational walls during intimate contact in order to prevent feeling overwhelmed by the other person, associating “love” with duty or work.
If you fit either description, our Love Addiction / Love Avoidance workshop may be exactly what you need to learn how to develop more healthy, balanced, and fulfilling relationships. Call our Intake coordinator at 800-244-4949 to find out more or visit the workshop’s webpage.