10 Stages of Love
New Life Ministries
Dr. Steve Arterburn, of New Life Ministries, shares the characteristics of love addiction.
1. Obsession. The individual is consumed
by thoughts of romantic intrigue. The mind seems to whir away of its
own accord, devises plots and plans to obtain the romantic high. Concentration
is shattered, judgment impaired. Obsession begins the cycle that drives
the individual to the next phase and beginnings the cycle that drives
the individual to the next phase and intensifies as the process plays
An episode of obsessive thinking can be triggered by almost anything:
meeting an attractive person; passing someone on the street; seeing
a picture on a billboard; experiencing an emotional low point of self-pity
or depression; even passing through a location where the obsession
was triggered on a prior occasion. The very promises that the addict
makes to avoid triggering the obsession can themselves serve as a
trigger. It is truly a no-win situation.
2. The Hunt. The individual is driven to follow through
on the obsession. Inevitably he begins to seek out something or someone
that will satisfy that drive. If his object of choice is another person,
he may cruise the singles bars. If he is hooked primarily on
novels or movies, he will often go through rather elaborate rituals
of selecting just the right book or video, setting the
scene with music and dim lighting, and so on.
The stronger the obsession, the more diligent the hunt. This is another
point at which interference with normal life becomes noticeable if
it results in time away from work or home responsibilities. Only one
of two things will stop the hunt: finding the object being sought;
or being caught looking.
3. Recruitment. When the object of the hunt is something
inanimate, like a book or movie, recruitment is as simple as a business
transaction: buy the book or rent the video. When the object is another
person, however, the recruitment phase is far more complex. Romance
addicts become remarkably skillful at enlisting other people to play
the necessary role to complete their romantic fantasy. Sometimes this
takes the form of a non-sexual seduction.
Recruitment is always risky. The addict might be embarrassed to run
into someone she knows while buying a book with a lurid cover or renting
an unsavory video. Worse yet, she might be seen cruising bars or other
public places looking for a partner. Worst of all, she might find
a prospective partner but have her overtures rebuked.
Yet that risk only heightens the romantic intoxication. The rush of
adrenaline that accompanies the danger of being caught or found out
further propels the addictive cycle.
4. Gratification. Gratification occurs when the addict
succeeds, by whatever means, at realizing her romantic fantasy. The
book, the soap opera, the movie does the trick. Or the
combination of soft music and candlelight enables her to play out
a technicolor romantic dream in her mind. Or another person is found
who responds positively to her advances. The itch has
been scratched, at least for the moment.
5. Return to Normal. The immediate effect of gratification
is a break in the obsessive thinking and from the pain that
fueled it and a return to what feels like normal
for a little while. The adrenalin rush recedes, the mind seems to
clear. The addict feels peaceful.
If it were possible to remain in this state, all might be well. But
no one can remain in a state of perpetual bliss and freedom from stress.
Inevitable, the pressures of real life build up again, and something
triggers a new round of obsession, hunt, recruitment, and gratification.
6. Justification. The very fact of having resolved
these problems by resorting to romantic fantasy or acting out frequently
brings its own feelings of guilt and remorse. The addict then begins
to justify his behavior. He convinces himself that what he did wasnt
so bad, that everyone does it, that it was normal,
or at least understandable for someone with his unique
circumstances and special needs. His self-talk sounds like this: But
I needed it. I deserved it. Besides, I really had no choice. Its
just the way I am. I was only doing what comes naturally to me.
In this phase particularly, the addict rationalizes what he has done
to the victim. Even if the gratification involved another living,
breathing, feeling human being, he depersonalizes the entire episode.
Inn his mind the other person was not a real person at
all, just a component in the staging of a complex romantic drama.
7. Blame. Most addicts cannot successfully rationalize
their behavior without blaming someone for it. The addict will blame
his parents, his spouse, someone from his past who has let him down,
and lay his underlying pain at their feet. Fundamentally, he refuses
to take responsibility for his own situation, but blames others for
driving him to make the choices he makes.
8. Shame. But justifying and blame-shifting only go
so far. Invariably the addict carries a residual awareness of what
she has done and of what her actions say about what kind of
person she must be. Inevitably that awareness comes to the surface
in the form of guilt over what she has done and shame over who she
The very nature of shame is that it be repressed, stuffed
deep inside her mind and heart, rather than brought into the light
and dealt with. Thus are sown deep seeds of self-loathing seeds
that will eventually give birth to the pain that launches the whole
cycle all over again.
9. Despair. The experience of careening from high excitement
at the outset of the cycle to shame and guilt at its conclusion, and
the awareness that the cycle is unstoppable, produces hopelessness.
When the fix is off, the addicts whole world comes crashing
down. The sense of pain or emptiness that originally fueled the addictive
behavior is nothing compared to the agonies of depression and despair.
And those agonies get worse with every trip through the cycle.
10. Promises. Because the pain is so great, the addict
swears never to do it again. He will be different. He
will thing differently. He will live a new life. He will never go
to those places or read those books or watch
those programs again. But the prospect of keeping all
these promises the same ones he has made, and promptly broken,
so many times before only heightens the sense of frustration
and adds to the addicts despair. He knows it is only a matter
of time until the obsessive thoughts start t crowd in again and he
will be caught in the addictive cycle once more.
Excerpted from Addicted to Love by Steve Arterburn.
Used by permission of New Life Ministries. New Life Ministries has
a variety of resources on men, women, and relationships. Call 1-800-NEW-LIFE
or visit www.newlife.com.
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