What is Love Avoidance?
Love avoidance is an inability or refusal to experience an intimate, loving relationship with another person. People with love avoidance have difficulty trusting others and tend to distance themselves if a relationship begins to feel too close. Experiences in early childhood are usually to blame.
Symptoms of Love Avoidance
Trauma and rejection are at the root of love avoidance. Fear of abandonment causes people to go to great lengths to conceal any sign of vulnerability. Individuals with love avoidance may:
- use criticism, anger or abuse to keep people at arm’s length.
- have a series of failed relationships, continually bouncing from one lover to another. Some people may avoid love, sex and intimacy entirely for months, years, or sometimes an entire lifetime.
- have a tremendous need for acceptance in the form of compliments and flattery from friends and family members.
- avoid intensity in relationships, but may turn to other activities for stimulation, including drug and alcohol abuse or behavioral addictions such as gambling or unsafe sex.
- enjoy casual sex but become bored or distant when a relationship turns serious.
- remain remote and guarded, even with a spouse or life partner.
- demand to sleep in separate rooms.
- develop sexual relationships with people who are unavailable, i.e. married people.
- indicate they have feelings, but are unable or unwilling to say, “I love you.”
- indicate a fear of being “smothered.”
- hides feelings and denies there is a problem.
What Causes Love Avoidance?
People are wired to seek love and connection with other people, but love avoidance arises as the result of feelings of abandonment and loss as a child. If an infant’s needs weren’t met by his mother or another primary caregiver, the infant is likely to develop difficulty forming attachments in adulthood.
In some cases, parents didn’t provided adequate nurturing, or a mentally or physically ill parent may have required nurturing and attention from the child. Some people develop an attachment disorder after being smothered by a narcissistic parent whose needs took precedence.
Love avoidance can also result from abuse or neglect that occurred in early childhood, not only at the hands of parents, but by siblings, other family members, teachers, coaches, bullies and others.
Can Love Avoidance be Treated?
The first step is to acknowledge that a problem exists. Once love avoidance is out in the open, there are strategies to become more emotionally attuned to other people. Some people may need help with anger management before treatment for love avoidance can be effective.
Long-term treatment for love avoidance is similar to treatment for trauma. It involves resolution of early childhood experiences and getting honest with emotions. Techniques include cognitive therapy, education, and in some cases, medication to treat symptoms of depression or anxiety.
Treatment for love avoidance often requires stabilization of other problems first, including problems with drug and alcohol abuse or addiction. Often, the first and most important step is drug and alcohol treatment or rehab. A treatment center specializing in dual-diagnosis is equipped to deal with love avoidance and co-occurring problems such as addiction or mental illness.