The Conditional Love of Addiction

Posted by | Alcohol and Drug Use, Co-Occurring Disorders & Mental Health, Relapse Prevention, Treatment Programs, Wellness | February 02, 2016

One of the key driving forces of addiction is the need for love and acceptance. In fact, many recovery addicts recognize that they needed love so much (whether in childhood or as adults) that they developed a belief in being unworthy. They slowly developed low self-esteem and little confidence in who they are. This could have developed from chronic invalidation, critical parents or caregivers, or trauma.

As a result, they might have found relief in perfectionism, which is often the result of deep-seated shame. They might have said to themselves in some way, “I’ll be okay when I’m perfect.” OR instead of attempting to be perfect, others find relief from shame in control. Instead, they might have said to themselves, “I’ll be okay when I’m in control.” Both of these scenarios are common among recovering addicts. And even those who never struggle with addiction might recognize these patterns in themselves.

Escaping from shame and other challenging emotions is one of the primary reasons why many men and women turn to drugs and alcohol. And the continued avoidance of these feelings can eventually lead to an addiction. At the same time, the relationship patterns discussed above (and a combination of both control and perfectionism) can also develop, alongside addiction. In fact, these situations are the foundation for both co-dependent and counter-dependent relationships.

Co-dependent relationships are those that tend to be found in families with addiction. Typically, these unhealthy relationship patterns include powerlessness, enabling, and an over-reliance on another due to the lack of self-confidence in oneself. Someone who tends to be a perfectionist might aim to impress others for approval and acceptance. They are more willing to give up their own needs for the needs of others. Someone in this position might be hoping for love, albeit conditional, based upon how perfect they aim to be.

Counter-dependent relationships are those that can also be found in families with addiction, but these relationships have a slightly different focus. The pattern here is distance. A person distances themselves from others in relationship in order to stay safe. They avoid needing anyone in order to protect themselves from pain. They might attempt to control the relationship in order to feel protected from emotional harm. However, this too is a form of conditional love, based upon how in control a person can be of themselves and others.

As mentioned above, the thread that runs through all of this is shame and unworthiness. This is what can drive an addiction and it’s what can drive the unhealthy relationship patterns. Someone who is in recovery might recognize the frequent pairing of addiction and codependent (and sometimes, counter-dependent) relationships.

If you notice any of these patterns in yourself, particularly patterns of shame and unworthiness, perhaps working with a mental health provider might be useful. In fact, you might uncover these patterns in life and see how they may have contributed to your addiction. Learning about these patterns and their presence in your life helps to unlearn them. And that facilitates sobriety and well being.

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