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Love Addiction & the Quarter-Life Crises

Roughly 15 years ago, I sat across from my therapist as she explained the affliction she thought I'd been suffering; Quarter Life Crises. "Cute," I thought, "and I pay you for this?" Still, as soon as I left, I tirelessly exhausted poor Google, in hopes of finding any sort of understanding, and more-so, a solution, as to what had been tailspinning me, but.... nothing. I needed to know why my now must-have accessory was a dirty martini and why I couldn't find my way out from this sick revolving door of toxic relationships; not to mention the growing pile of heartbreak and self-destruction. And worse, it's like it all started out of nowhere! Relatively straight-laced and self-confident, to needy, desperate, and risky. Now, luckily, more info comes up on the subject providing slightly more validity than it had back in 2003.

"This is more like

Fast forward to today. Now I sit as the therapist helping others deal with their quarter life crises (QLC). I know. Anyway, as codependency is fairly common, it was no surprise that many of my QLC cases were struggling with that as well. However, I began to notice a unique twist in the QLC type of love addiction. It didn't seem to have the same origin as did classic codependency. "Fascinating," I thought. Don't get me wrong, this new strain of love addiction was still codependency... but, more like codependency on steroids!

Typically, the root of codependency is a fear of abandonment / rejection, particularly if experienced within early childhood. That is why I spend a great deal of my sessions helping clients navigate through the time-period of personality development (ages 1-6), by restructuring that part of the subconscious; healing those moments which may have caused emotional stunting.

But, with quarter-life love addiction, the transformational healing tended to come more from focusing on the period of coping skill development (ages 1-3). Makes sense I suppose. Fundamentally, what is addiction? Yep, maladaptive coping skills.


So, by honing in on those roots and treating this love addiction as say, a drug or alcohol addiction, freeing from emotional entanglement appeared to not only be more successful, but more absolute. Also, quite like chemical dependency, love addiction can produce intense physical and emotional withdrawal symptoms. Often leading to a relapse.

You might be wondering, "What if I know I am codependent but I can't relate to any experiences as a child where I suffered a particular abandonment or rejection (emotional or otherwise)? Well, like most coping skills, this equals survival skills. And no, this doesn't necessarily mean that you had to have experienced a shocking trauma. Simply, it could just be by replicating the skills of your primary caregiver; who lets say, was the epitome of self-sacrifice by regularly putting others' needs above her own.​

And I hear this one a lot, "okay, I can relate, but how do I make it go away?" Well, let's break it down and tackle first, the quarter-life-crises (QLC). Literature might say that technically this would be felt between the ages of 23-30. However, I would adjust that a bit. I've seen this dilemma occur in as young as intellectual 19-year-olds and carry on well in to the late 30's. It could last just a few weeks or reek its havoc for many years.

During the QLC, there is an overwhelming sense of urgency, feeling pressured, or panicky, with commonly accompanied obsessive thoughts and/or behavior(s) surrounding internal messages like:

  • "I don't know who I am & I should've figured it out already."

  • "I don't know my life's purpose by now, guess I'll never get it."

  • "I've been wasting my life, I'm so far behind!"

  • "I'm too old to start over so I guess I'll just settle... (job, relationship, etc)."

  • "Life's passed me by, it's too late to go after what I want."

  • ​"All my friends have achieved (insert expectation here) but since I haven't, that must mean I'm a failure."

You get the general idea; comparing oneself to pre-conceived expectations (self imposed or not) against a certain chronological time period in life and feeling as though you are falling short OR a race against the clock to meet those standards. If I just described the wind beneath your wings, then I have one powerful little word for you. Acceptance. And, let's take it one step further for all of my over-achieving perfectionists out there (don't worry, we'll address that in the upcoming: Why Average is Better than Perfect) and consider this additional word; Where-Acceptance.

"Where"-acceptance? If you're similar to me during my QLC, at this point, you're probably thinking something along the lines of (while simultaneously typing W-h-e-r-e A-c-c-e... into Goggle), "Now Molly is coming up with pop-psych verbiage? At least I'm not paying for this." By the way, I coined this term. So you likely won't find on Google...yet :) The way I see it, having acceptance for where one is in life is basically the only choice against suffering, mostly from anxiety. I mean, that's just plain physics. Where you are is the only place you are, because, that's where YOU are!

Ever heard about that saying that mentions that whichever way your feet are pointed is the direction that you'll walk? And if you're intention for the direction of your future is to not repeat the path of the past, then why have your feet (a.k.a. mental energy) pointed at the past? It stands to reason, the latter would more likely keep you repeating those patterns that are bringing upon the current misery anyway. Trying to change what's already occurred is an impossibility. Why waste time fighting what you can't change.

I get it, easier said than done.

So, how about this as a starting place; Awareness. That's simple, plus (and this is my favorite part), awareness activates the subconscious! All my over-thinkers and intellectualizers out there will struggle with this, but here it goes. Your assignment: you are NOT allowed to judge, analyze, or try to figure acceptance out; you're only task is to have awareness of those times when you resist it and when you go with it.

See, as humans we will naturally gravitate toward what feels good. And anxiety is designed to keep us uncomfortable. Therefore, that which brings upon anxiety (beating yourself up for not meeting expectations, a.k.a., resisting where-acceptance) will obviously feel bad to the subconscious. And the subconscious (you know, that little thing that controls 90% of our behavior) will begin to veer away from resistance, and calm (acceptance) will feel good. Thus, drawing the subconscious towards its direction.

BUT, and I'm serious about this, DO NOT activate the conscious-mind by attempting to judge, analyze, or "fix" during your awareness study. I'll get into that at another time, but, short version is keeping the conscious-mind engaged will basically interrupt the work of the subconscious. I mean it! NO thinking allowed. Just noticing. In fact, I'll give you a little tid bit my therapist once gave to me to heed my over-thinking. Adopt the phrase, "That's interesting." Something about saying, "that's interesting," helps fight the urge to get into thinking trouble.

Plus, haven't you noticed that the more you tell yourself not to think about something, it somehow becomes all you can think about? Try this phrase on for size, "I wonder if..." I wonder if I could practice awareness of my life circumstances for the next hour. I like putting an achievable goal on it like an hour, or a day, rather than saying "never." Both "I wonder if..." and that short time challenge will cultivate hope rather than a shame-based directive, which would likely foster self-sabotage.

Okay, now as if those urgent I'm-a-failure-who's-falling-short messages of QLC weren't bad enough, let's introduce love addiction into the mix. You laughing yet?

Remember I mentioned that the core is a fear of abandonment and/or rejection? Okay, well those internal messages go something like this:

  • "I should be married with kids by now, guess I'm unlovable."

  • "Crap! I've been focusing on a work career this whole time & it just hit me -I haven't found my life-partner yet! I better get on every on-line dating site I can find & make that my new career."

  • "Screw being selective and basing my choices off what I deserve, I'm marrying (and/or procreating with) the next person I meet! Even if they do happen to be a crazy, needy psychopath incapable of respecting my boundaries, that my gut warns me against. I'm on a mission, and hey, at least they probably will never leave me."

"Please don't leave me. Please don't leave me. Please don't leave me. Well, at least get me pregnant first."

"I'm too old to start over, I'll just make this unhealthy relationship fit. besides, pretty sure love & respect are overrated."

  • "My only dating goal is to prove I'm marriage/parent material."

  • ​"All my friends are married with kids, I suck. Better start dating beneath me. Damn it, I'm on a mission!"

Right about now you may have stopped laughing because you've realized I just described your literal thought process last Friday night. No fear, I shall deliver you a word! Acceptance.

Wait? Isn't that the same word... Yep. I like things that are easy to remember. And again, for all my perfectionists, two words: Self-acceptance. (Okay, so I can't coin that one. But hey, I'm a recovering perfectionist so this is my strive for average-ness.😜)

Yes, self-acceptance is key and the cornerstone of self-love, even self-like. Why people fear abandonment and rejection is because ultimately, they don't want to feel alone, a.k.a., lonely. If you haven't guessed by now, I love quotes. One of my favorites is,

"You cannot be lonely if you like who you are alone with."- Wayne Dyer

Loving yourself might feel like an overwhelming task. Many times, I hear clients who have become frustrated by this notion, exclaiming that it's one of the hardest things they've ever tried to learn to do. That's when I usually respond with, "No learning is required, you already know how. You wouldn't be the age you are today if you didn't."

Think about it, babies are born to survive. Self-love is instinctual. They get their needs met. Hungry, cry, get fed. Get it? But somewhere along the way, we tell ourselves that we have no idea how to do this thing, that by the way, we were born automatically doing.

In fact, I joke that we are born brilliant. Next, childhood happens and distracts us. Our brilliance is overshadowed by outside events and by others that make us think we are stupid. Then, we seek relief and are told the key is self-love. So we end up spending most of our adult years trying to regain the skills we were innately doing since the beginning. That should be a lifetime movie: Adulthood - the Unlearning. See, who says kids don't know anything? But really it goes, born brilliant and grow up to feel lost. Is it just me, or is there something very wrong with that? But I digress...

If you're saying to yourself, "oh man, I have a horrible memory..." Need not fear, for the subconscious remembers ALL. Speaking of subconscious, that brings me to my next word. This time it's validation. We all need validation. To feel heard, understood, respected, appreciated, and, accepted free of judgement. Here's some types of validation and examples of correlating statements:

Emotional - permission to experience ANY feeling

"It's okay to cry." "Feeling that way is understandable." "You're allowed to be frustrated." "That was a painful situation, I get why you feel that way."

Worthiness of - love, attention, recognition, success, happiness, etc.

"You deserve that raise, I'm proud of you." "I respect your opinion." "You are smart!" "You are beautiful." "I love you." "Your input is valuable, we will listen." "Thank you."

Normalizing - checks and balances

"Yours was a completely normal reaction." "That was an appropriate response." "If it happened to me, I would feel the same way." "Anyone would've said that too."

Ah yes, validation from others can feel soooo GOOD. However, the part that trips us up is when we begin to overly depend on it, forgetting to validate (and value) ourselves. Thus, making other people's opinions of us matter more than even our opinion of us. Often, not even feeling lovable (remember, that instinctual birth right?), unless or until someone else first tells us they love us.

How did we get it so twisted?

Well, like all addictions, love included, in imbalance occurred. As I mentioned earlier, this type of codependency differs than the more recognized version in that with this type, the original core fear(s) may not have necessarily developed in early childhood. Love addiction is simply the over indulgence on love from others to the point that a dependency developed.

We've all heard this one, "All things in moderation." Yes, apparently that even includes love from others.

This might lead you to a common question I hear, "Is there such a thing as too much self-love. To this, I would emphatically answer, "NO, of course not!" Simply put, all forms of addiction include seeking relief from an external source; i.e. drugs, alcohol, shopping, food, people, etc. It's impossible to have negative effects from an over-abundance of self-love, an internal source.

What about narcissists, arrogant a*&holes or ego-maniacs?

Valid question. A commonly used reference in addiction recovery is ego. I like to call it fragile ego. Those a@$holes stem from too much fragile ego (or frego, lol). Not too much self-love. Frego is a mask, spawn from shame; a self-loathing. Quite the opposite of self-love, which creates self-confidence. See, worlds apart from each other.

Let me put it this way. Have you ever seen someone with a big frego walk into a room? Is it just me or did you suddenly just get totally annoyed? Now, consider a different person walks in this same room. This is a person that you can just sense possesses self-confidence. Imagine they are both standing up front, standing side by side. I wonder if the differences would become blatantly obvious.

If you're still not quite sure, use this as a reference: Rich people don't have to announce that they are rich, they just are. Truly self-confident people don't walk around saying, "I'm so wonderful, look at me, look at me!" They don't need validation from anyone else because they have given themselves enough self-love and acceptance they don't walk around feeling empty, or dependent on others to fill them up. Mr. Frego's confidence, on the other hand, is so fleeting because it comes from outside sources. So he has to constantly re-up by ranting to others about his self-importance in the hopes that they feed him his much needed validation.

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