Love Addiction or Addiction to Denial?

I have a patient who wants me to help him move on and put the object of his addiction (his ex-girlfriend) on the shelf. When he holds on to her, I ask about the consequences. He says they are negative. I point out that he puts his life on hold waiting for her, letting his life depend on her while blaming himself for his past mistakes. He says he does not want this, but he cannot help it. He does not want to say goodbye to the tiny chance that she still wants him. He says he is willing to pay the price, if it preserves his hope in her. It looks like addictions to alcohol and drugs. He says he is willing to pay the price, if it preserves his hope in her. Sometimes he says, “Now I see what I’ve been doing. I can see how much it upsets me and my life. I’ll stop it.” But he doesn’t. He also reproaches and tortures himself by thinking of good memories in the past. I think I need to I ask about the problem and the will to work with it.” Thanks to Ebbe for this important question!

 

He is not addicted to his girlfriend. He is addicted to denial in fantasy. He could relate to reality: she left him. Instead, he relates to his fantasy: she’ll come back. Triangle of conflict: mixed feelings of rage, guilt, and grief toward her; anxiety; and the defense of denial through fantasy.

 

Let’s analyze what he says, so we can see his defense and how to address it.

 

“I have a patient who wants me to help him to move on and put the object of his addiction (his ex-girlfriend) on the shelf.”

 

His ex-girlfriend is not the object of his addiction. His FANTASY is the object of his addiction. The real girlfriend left him. His FANTASY girlfriend wants to come back and live happily ever after. The object of his addiction is not a person; it’s a fantasy about that person.

 

Intervention: But this is such a beautiful fantasy: a rejecting girlfriend turns into a loving girlfriend. Why put it on the shelf? [Since his denial is syntonic, mirror it. Then he experience conflict between himself and his defense.]

 

“When he does not let her go, I ask about the consequences. He says they are negative.”

 

The good news: he does not have to let his girlfriend go. She already left. The question is whether he will let his fantasy go: the fantasy of a girlfriend who wants to come back.

 

Intervention: But this is such a beautiful fantasy: a rejecting girlfriend turns into a loving girlfriend. What could be negative about that? [By mirroring his defense, you help the patient experience the irrationality and the price of his defense.]

 

“I point out that he puts his life on hold waiting for her, letting his life depend on her while blaming himself for the mistakes he has done. He says he does not want this, but he cannot help it.”

 

Intervention: You can’t help it that you want the loving girlfriend in your mind rather than the rejecting girlfriend in reality. I can understand that. [Point out his defense and empathize with the underlying feelings it wards off.]

 

“He does not want to say goodbye to the tiny chance that she still wants him. He says he is willing to pay the price, if it preserves his hope in her.”

 

Intervention: It’s important to love her while she rejects you. Can we accept that? [Point out his defense and deactivate projection of will onto you.]

 

“He does not want to say goodbye to the tiny chance that she still wants him.”

 

Intervention: Why say goodbye to your fantasy when it might turn into reality? [Mirror his denial, so he can experience its irrationality and price.]

 

“He says he is willing to pay the price, if it preserves his hope in her.”

 

Intervention: You would rather suffer waiting for your fantasy to turn into reality. Can we accept that? [Point out his defense.]

 

“Now I see what I’ve been doing. I can see how much it upsets me and my life. I’ll stop it.”

 

Intervention: Why stop now? What if your fantasy turns into reality next week? [Mirror his defense. When he promises to stop his defense, he makes a promise to you, not to himself. His intrapsychic conflict becomes interpersonal. The conflict is between you (spokesperson for reality) and the patient (spokesperson for fantasy). I suggest the therapist mirror the fantasy, so the patient experiences the conflict within himself between his wish for the truth and his lie.]

 

“He also reproaches and tortures himself by thinking of good memories in the past.”

 

Intervention: Do the memories hurt? Or does her rejection hurt? [His pleasant memories don’t cause his pain. They numb it by avoiding the memory of her unpleasant rejection.]

 

The issue of declaring a problem and will is interesting. He believes his problem is that she rejected him: how can I get her back? For us, the problem is how he avoids his feelings over her rejection. By denying reality, he fails to deal with it.

 

Will? His will is not to face reality but to deny it by relating to his fantasy instead. And who can blame him? He has very painful feelings over this loss. And, given the strength of his denial, he probably has many other buried feelings over previous rejections as well.

 

Take home point: there is no such thing as a love addiction, just addiction to denial. He is not addicted to a rejecting girlfriend. He is addicted to a fantasy girlfriend who will unring the bell, make time rewind, and resume a life of loving bliss. Denial through fantasy is his drug of choice. And wow!! Is it ever addictive!

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