03/25/2013 05:24 pm ET Updated May 25, 2013

Are You Love Addicted?

As an infant and toddler, were you held and nurtured with unconditional love? Did your parents or other caregivers lovingly help you to manage and regulate your big feelings of fear, anger, heartbreak, frustration and helplessness? Did they provide a strong role model for you, taking loving care of their own feelings, so that you grew up knowing how to do this for yourself? If they did, you are fortunate indeed.

Many of us did not receive the love we needed, nor did we learn how to give it to ourselves, and when then is the case, we may feel a huge, painful emptiness inside.

Alicia wrote to me the following description of her love addiction:

The trigger from love addiction feels like the wound of wounds. The pain is so deep and encompassing. I feel I can't see anything else but this unbearable pain. I wonder WHEN this will ever end, because intellectually I understand another person cannot permanently make me whole. But every time they do -- for that period of time when we connect, the initial enmeshing is ecstasy. I feel it is the ONLY time in life that part of me ever feels any relief or respite from the pain that is my constant companion. And I am just crushed when the truth sets in and the relief of the connection is gone and I am abandoned again in a world/universe/creation far too vast for me to ever learn to live in.

If this sounds like a small child, it's because the small child in Alicia is still suffering from the unhealed wounds of not being loved enough as a child. Even though Alicia realizes that another cannot permanently take away her pain, she is deeply addicted to the brief times when someone else gives her love.

As an adult, only by becoming our own loving inner parent -- our own loving inner Mom and Dad -- can this pain heal. Until Alicia learns to bring deep love to the wounded child within her -- the love she didn't receive as a baby and toddler -- the wound will not get healed.

Gerald wrote the following to me about his love addiction:

I realized recently I suffer from love addiction. I am still in withdrawal and it is so hard. Even though my head knows she was not the best person for me, I still feel like I want her back and think (or kid myself) that we both need time to grow, mature and heal (she left me). How do I really get over her and the relationship or how can I mature and heal to hopefully establish a new relationship with her?

Because another's love feels so good for the moment, it's tempting to believe that only another's love can heal us. But, just like a parent of an actual infant, we are the ones who are with ourselves 24/7. If, as an actual parent, you consistently abandoned your child to another's care, withholding your own love, care and affection, your child would feel rejected. The same thing happens on the inner level. When we make another person responsible for healing the pain of our original lack of love, we are rejecting and abandoning ourselves, which serves to perpetuate love addiction.

Joanna wrote:

Hi Dr. M, I have been agonizing for four months over my boyfriend who dumped me because I became needy. I am addicted to super successful, interesting people. I know I put a great show on at the onset and that mid way in relationship I crumble and destroy because in all actuality, I feel like nothing in myself and that I am not worthy. How can I turn this around once and for all?

Each of these people is asking, "How do I heal from love addiction?"

Here are the steps to healing:

1. You need to be willing to feel the depth of the heartbreak, loneliness and helplessness that you felt as a child when you didn't receive the love you needed. You need to find a place within you that wants responsibility for giving the baby and toddler within you the love you didn't receive then. It takes courage to feel this very deep pain without running to someone else to fix it.

2. You need to learn to open your heart to the love that is always available to you -- whether you call this love God, spirit, the universe, your higher self, your spiritual guidance or an angel. It is less important how you conceptualize the love that we live in, than that you learn to open your heart and invite that love into it. When you really want to take full responsibility for healing your love addiction, then you simply extend the invitation and say, "Please fill my heart with love for the child within me who is suffering from a lack of love."

3. With kindness and gentleness, imagine picking yourself up as a small baby or toddler, holding and rocking yourself, bringing the love to yourself that you would give to an actual baby or child whom you deeply loved. Holding a doll or stuffed animal that represents you as a baby or toddler can help make this more real for you.

4. While you are holding yourself as a baby, imagine that an unconditionally loving being is holding you. It might be an image of your older wiser self, or an image of someone who has died who loved you, or an image of a religious figure. The important thing is to eventually experience that you are not alone -- that you are being held in love while you lovingly hold the baby within you.

5. Holding yourself with love is a good start, but it is just the beginning of healing from love addiction. You also need to begin to treat yourself as a worthwhile and valuable person. When you value yourself, you will not want to reject yourself by giving yourself away to someone else. When you value yourself, you will be kind to yourself rather than judgmental. You will feed yourself well and you will take loving care of yourself around others. You will do all the things for yourself that you would do for a child you deeply loved.

Valuing yourself can start by lovingly seeing the innocent child within you -- your essence. This is your true self, and may have been covered over by the fears and false beliefs of your ego-wounded self that you created as you grew up, to try to get love and avoid pain. As you learn to value your essence and recognize that you are not your ego-wounded self, you will naturally want to take loving care of yourself.

Over time, you will find that you no longer feel needy and no longer seek to get love. Now that you value yourself and are able to fill yourself with love, you seek relationships to share your love rather than to get love.

By following these steps, you can heal from love addiction. I have helped many people heal their love addiction through learning to practice the Inner Bonding process.

Margaret Paul, Ph.D. is a relationship expert, best-selling author, and co-creator of the powerful Inner Bonding® self-healing process, recommended by actress Lindsay Wagner and singer Alanis Morissette, and featured on Oprah. To begin learning how to love and connect with yourself so that you can connect with others, take advantage of our free Inner Bonding eCourse, receive Free Help, and take our 12-Week eCourse, "The Intimate Relationship Toolbox" - the first two weeks are free! Discover SelfQuest®, a transformational self-healing/conflict resolution computer program. Phone or Skype sessions with Dr. Margaret Paul.

Connect with Margaret on Facebook: Inner Bonding, and Facebook: SelfQuest.

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