It may sound silly for an individual to be addicted to unrequited love, but it can sometimes be the result of growing up in a household where love was either conditional or inconsistent. As a result, the child of such a household may have felt anxious to win the love, praise or affection of a parent—or someone else influential—who was unavailable, abusive or failed to provide proper nurturing. Thus, such a child became a ‘torchbearer,’ i.e. they put their parent or other influential role model on a pedestal, looking up to them to receive recognition or approval.
Alternatively, the child could have witnessed one parent in an unrequited love relationship with the other and taken that energy on. If it wasn’t an issue of childhood environment, then possibly some sort of other trauma occurred to upset the torchbearer’s self-esteem, as well as their ability to feel safe receiving love. Sometimes there may have occurred a sudden and unexpected separation, betrayal, health, or appearance issue. Other times, an individual may begin this pattern after leaving/ending an abusive marriage or relationship. Subconsciously there may be a fear of being loved and committed to because it means getting close enough to someone who can become controlling or hurtful. At the same time, however, there is a strong desire for commitment and to feel safe, cherished and approved of.
Whatever the case, the torchbearer may find themselves attracted to love situations that seem to keep them stuck in a predictable dynamic: loving someone without receiving love back. Although the torchbearer may feel unworthy of love on one level, they often know they are worthy on another. This inner conflict can result in the torchbearer feeling confused as to why they stay addicted to an unavailable person. The relationship then becomes about fantasy, idealization, and/or avoidance. In some cases a love-hate relationship ensues where the addict both loves and disapproves of the object of their devotion.
According to Susan Peabody, author of Addiction to Love: Overcoming Obsession and Dependency in Relationships, the main categories of love addictions include:
- obsessed love addicts: these love addicts obsess about their love interest and cannot let go even if their love interest is unavailable or abusive
- codependent love addiction: these love addicts need to please a partner to feel a sense of self, approval or self-worth.
- narcissistic love addicts: these love addicts take advantage of their partner. They can act disinterested, selfish or abusive even though they feel addicted to their love interest and may not be able to let go
- ambivalent love addicts: this category of love addicts includes unrequited love addicts (also known as ‘torch-bearers’), saboteurs, seductive withholders, and romance addicts. The main goal of the love addict (often subconscious) is to avoid true intimacy and bonding. These love addicts often crave love and affection, but are afraid to get too close to a love interest at the same time.
As stated above, an ambivalent love addict is usually characterized as an individual who both deeply craves love, intimacy, commitment and unconditional love, while at the same time experiencing fears of relating deeply to another person. Such love addicts end up consciously or unconsciously pushing love away or holding it at a distance. At a subconscious level, it can feel much safer for these individuals to love someone who isn’t fully available or who is not interested in a full commitment. Becoming attracted to an individual who is married, committed to another, distant, a player, a saboteur, someone they can never approach, or a sex addict may act to help the torchbearer avoid a true relationship/intimacy. Some torchbearers end up attracted to friends or colleagues, hoping the attraction will become something more. Sometimes the love object may not even know the love addicts is attracted to them. The love addict may be waiting for the love object to show interested before exposing their own feelings.
Many torchbearers are good at rationalizing and creating various excuses for their need to continue fantasizing over the love interest. Simultaneously, there may also be a counter-productive excuse for never letting the love interest know their real feelings. So, this keeps the torchbearer in a mode of waiting, either for the right time to express their feelings, or for the day that their love interest will acknowledge them in a desired way.
I have found that an interesting dynamic can occur in a few cases if the torchbearer actually succeeds at winning the affections and commitment of the individual they desire it from. What is this dynamic? Either the craving is cured because the love addict loses interest now that their feelings have been reciprocated, or the love addict lives out the same high anxiety throughout a committed relationship based on severe fears of being rejected (because the commitment is now making them face their deepest fear— if someone gets too close to them they will find them unlovable and abandon them). In essence, the torchbearer runs the risk that even if they obtain the object of their desire, they may not achieve the closeness or intimacy they crave unless they change why they were addicted in the first place. Sometimes the addiction simply changes. An addict may transform from a torchbearer into a seductive withholder, codependent love addict, or other.
Sometimes the love addict is so used to getting a ‘high’ off of feelings of fear and obsession that being in a normal relationship where love is reciprocated may not feel challenging enough. The love addict may feel like they lack passion for the other person. The end result continues to be the avoidance of a real intimate attachment that is capable of providing true love, security and protection.
For example, if you look at King Henry the VIII, he would take mistress after mistress and get bored very quickly and be done with them. With regard to Anne Boleyn, Henry became obsessed with her primarily because she refused his advances. However, once they married, consummated their relationship and bore a child, he quickly lost interest.
So, how do you know if you are addicted to unrequited love? The list below is not a comprehensive list, but merely notes characteristics I typically see with predominantly female clients:
- Do you obsess over or find yourself only attracted to love interests who are not available in some way, married, playing you, ‘just friends,’ or have left you?
- Do you fear communicating your feelings to your love interest? i.e. Do you fear asking them their feelings? Or, alternatively, do you find yourself communicating what you want over and over, unable to accept a lack of response (or a half-hearted response) as simply an indicator that your love object may not be on the same page?
- Do you suffer in silence while you hold adoration towards someone who doesn’t really know? (While some unrequited love addicts pursue their interests openly and ardently, others can hold torches for people who have no idea the love addict either exists or has feelings for them.)
- Do you expect your love interest to be psychic or empathic enough to know and interpret your feelings and needs, even though you have been unable to communicate anything?
- Are you living out your relationship psychically, in your head, or vicariously through ‘signs’? Are you feeling that you are always ’picking up’ on or empathically sensing your love objects feelings, projections or emotions even though there is no contact or grounded evidence he feels these ways?
- Do you find yourself always hoping and waiting for some indication your feelings are reciprocated, which days and weeks go by and then months and you are still hoping and waiting?
- Are you never able to feel ‘close’ in a real way to the person you are holding a torch for?
- Are you continually asking yourself many questions, wondering about the other person’s feelings and intentions (or potential future intentions) without ever grounding anything to test to see if your fantasies are real?
- Do you have other addictions, such as to sex, psychics, alcohol etc.?
- Do you feel you cannot let go of the love interest even though it is not making you feel loved? Do feel powerless to stop at will?
- Is the preoccupation with this interest having a more negative affect on you spiritually, financially or in other ways, than positive? In the end, are you losing more than you gain?
- Do you have a history of being hurt or obsessing on lack of love, attention or approval by a parent or someone else influential in your earlier life?
For those with less intense expressions of this addiction:
- Are you confused why you only seem to attract individuals where your feelings are stronger than theirs? If so, do you feel bored with people who are into you or once a relationship starts to develop?
- Does it seem that all of the individuals who would be the ‘right type’ for you (i.e. loving toward you) are individuals you cannot see yourself ‘falling in-love’ with?
In general, if you have a love interest that you crave but are afraid to reach out to in any real and genuine way for fear of rejection, then you might be addicted to unrequited love. You may also be addicted if there is an underlying knowledge that expressing your wants and needs would not be appropriate. I’ve talked to many clients who are totally engaged with these types of interests, sometimes even sexually, but they know on some level there are certain things they cannot ask/dare communicate because their love interest is not on the same page (and on some level they know it).
Here is an example of one kind of non-communicative unrequited love addict who does have some form of relationship and interaction with her love interest:
A woman starts to like an attractive man. They meet and there is some flirting—the man seems interested in the woman. Information is exchanged and this is followed by mixed signals that mark the relationship. The woman starts obsessing and fantasizing about having a relationship with the man. However, the man won’t make a clear indication that he is interested; i.e. he may not be calling her. So, the woman ends up doing most of the contacting to keep the interaction ongoing. The woman attempts to ‘act’ as casual as possible because she wants the man to make his interest known first. She is getting some cues of affection and indication of interest, but it’s kept at a superficial level. Thus, she always feels unsure. This goes on for some time, even months, and the woman starts to frequently ask herself, “Does this guy really want a relationship, or am I just a casual interest or a friend?” Despite feeling a sense of unknowing and distress, the woman will never risk asking to find out. She starts asking for advice from other friends who tell her to forget about the love interest; yet she hangs on in hopes that he will ask for a real date, a commitment or show he cares.
The man is simply not putting out a vibe of wanting a full-on relationship. However, within the mind of the woman, she starts to fantasize that maybe he is just scared, can’t communicate or is insecure. She carries hope that he will start to be more demonstrative or want something more if she can just be patient enough or never upset the status quo. She even wonders, “Should I say something or make a move?,” but something inside is telling her it’s not safe to tell this person how she feels because they are not on the same page. So, she keeps holding a torch. Eventually, she finds out the man has started to pursue someone else and she feels upset and betrayed. But, in the end, she has never had a clear indication that they were in a ‘relationship.’
In the worst cases of unrequited love addiction, I have seen the torchbearer become addicted to psychics, spell castors or healers (to heal why the love interest is blocked from loving the addict). Sometimes a love addict may even lose touch with reality and develop patterns of psychic or physical stalking.
Unfortunately, some torchbearers have been taught by other psychics to believe that their obsessive thoughts are rooted in empathically ‘picking up’ the thoughts of their love object. They end up over-thinking concerning whether their own thoughts are theirs or evidence a loved one truly cares. Others may feel that because they have dreams or strong feelings about their love object it means he is a ‘twin flame’ or loves them. This prevents them from moving on from such relationships in order to find a healthy relationship where their feelings are returned.
What Can You Do If You Feel You Are Addicted to Unrequited Love?
Frequently, I see two main themes running in these relationships: fear of true communication (or fear of accepting a communication or lack thereof) and fear of vulnerability and rejection. If the torchbearer is holding on waiting for a ‘sign’ or demonstration from the love object, afraid of giving up, learning communication would help them let go of fantasizing a relationship while teaching them how to ground their perceptions in reality. In the least, the torchbearer can get closure in the case where the love addict’s desires are not reciprocated (in the case that the love object is willing to communicate honestly).
Getting closure isn’t always easy for a love addict. It is often considered to be a harsh rejection. Many frightened unrequited love addicts wish to avoid being hurt at all costs. The fantasy, although agonizing at times, is safer. Furthermore, when it comes to simply leaving an unrequited love relationship, this may not solve the problem either. It may just transfer the love addiction from one of pursuing the unrequited love interest, to holding a torch and suffering in silence while pining after the loss.
Many unrequited love clients I work with are afraid of confrontation or may have been raised to believe that expressing feelings or needs is a burden on others, a sign of weakness, sign of inferiority or something to be afraid of. They keep all bottled up, afraid to express anything, and this is part of why their emotions can feel so intense and out of control.
I will often recommend that for at least 5 minutes before going to sleep at night, the torchbearer change the fantasy to one where they are with someone who loves them in a requited way. They are NOT to put a face on this visualization or turn it into their love object, because this draws the energy back to the old pattern again. Some have great difficulty doing this or even feel uncomfortable imagining a normal, loving person caring about or nurturing them in ways where love being reciprocated. Allowing oneself to visualize in these ways can often bring to the surface some deep-rooted ideas and fears: e.g. of being with someone worthy because they might reject you, of not feeling good enough to deserve the love of a worthy person, etc. (there could be other root fears as well).
Other steps that an unrequited love addict can take include:
Step 1: Communication with Yourself
The first step is for the torchbearers to ask themselves what they truly want from a relationship. What is their vision of how they want to be loved and committed to? This step may be one of the hardest. The unrequited love addict may be so used to wanting to be something for someone else that asking them to figure out what they truly want and need from another person may feel foreign to them. For example, instead of asking “What do I need from my love object,” a torchbearers may instead ask themselves, “How can I have my love object love me and find me worthy or desirable? How can I be better, more lovable to them, etc.?”
Love addicts can also seem like perpetual victims or trauma junkies. So, healing the need to be a victim is also important, as well as having boundaries. All of this should be targeted, in addition to working on any issues/traumas from childhood which implanted some of these fears and patterns.
Get rid of excuses as well. This includes, “He’s my twin flame, so it isn’t supposed to be easy,” “I’m meant to learn to be more patient,” etc. If you want to wait, then wait. But know that you set the tone of the relationship.
Other self-communication that can help is to affirm “I allow” to all the emotions and feelings that are being avoided. For example:
- “I allow myself to have feelings and to express them to my love object.”
- “I allow myself to feel pain if my feelings are not reciprocated.”
- “I allow myself to be rejected, knowing I can survive.”
- “I allow myself to stop obsessing on my love object knowing I will survive.”
- “I allow myself to fully mourn the loss of a relationship and to fully feel my feelings (if necessary).”
- “I allow myself to feel not good enough.”
Most pain is caused by trying to resist things in life, including emotions and experiences. Many will try to move to fast to affirming the positives which keeps the negative emotions suppressed and not dealt with. False hope and too much “trying to be positive” can block a person from seeing the signs that a relationship is over or from grieving a loss, feeling the pain, and moving forward. Even if the relationship isn’t over and your unrequited lover comes around, you won’t hurt anything through deciding to let go of obsession, to grieve the pain you feel in the moment, and to keep your live moving forward rather than keeping yourself stuck.
Step 2: Communication with Your Love Interest
If communication with the love object is possible, this is the next step. I recommend engaging in direct forms of communication rather than just looking for ‘signs’ or getting readings. Many clients have told me, “Well I already said something.” Asking them what they said, it wasn’t really very much, was hinting or fishing for information, or was said a long time ago. Many may also will communicate in a projecting way feeling afraid to ask for anything or to be rejected. They will tell their love interest, “You don’t want a relationship” or “You never loved me” instead of initiating a real conversation. Such types of projections often shut the love interest down and leaves the love addict without a clear answers to a real question such as: “Where do you see this friendship going?”
Sometimes the love interest will not even answer a direct question. Sometimes they do not wish to hurt anyone’s feelings. If this is true, then go by behavior. Behavior is a wonderful form of communication. If you find your calls being unanswered, or if your relationship is hidden from others, and you are not being treated as anything more than casual, then listen to this. Some individuals are capable of enjoying someone superficially without wanting a relationship. Yes, sometimes a love object may move at a slower or shier pace, but this still may indicate that one person is obsessing and wanting more while the other is less so. This is the perfect situation to set a boundary or timeline as to how long you will wait before letting go while trusting that you can find and fall in love with someone else.
So, to reiterate, start to state what you want out of love and a relationship, and ask the object of your affection (where possible) if they feel they will ever be able to give it. Forget about thinking, “he/she should already know, I don’t want to overwhelm them, we already talked about it (in an indirect way).” Open yourself up to risk hearing the truth; risk rejection. This helps break the fantasy, and though may be considered incredibly painful, it is the next step toward risking true intimacy, attracting the right relationship, and breaking through all of the fears that prevent it from arising. If one can risk losing love and still see themselves as whole, then one can start going into relationships with a sense of self as a sole identity which another can complement, rather than feeling another will complete them.
Step 3: Accepting What Is Communicated Back or Any Lack of A Response
Sometimes, the love addict at this stage may have been totally clear with their love interest what they want yet the love addict still feels unclear or hopes the situation will change. They may not be able to accept that the person of their infatuation may be ambivalent, stringing them along, afraid to lose a friendship, a player, or afraid to just be honest and give them the love object the closure they need. Sometimes there may be a lack of response; i.e. an email is sent to the love object who appears to avoid sending a response back. In these cases, again aim for setting a boundary with yourself as to how long you are willing wait around. Stick to this time frame! You do not need to compromise yourself. Be willing to recognize when you need to either end a relationship or at least bring it down to a more casual and detached level while you pursue other options.
Not all unrequited love addicts are afraid to state their wants, needs, and boundaries. But, often what can happen is that this type of love addict may end up continually stating needs and boundaries while unable to listen to what is being conveyed back (or to what is not being conveyed). They keep hoping the love object will change, mature, or outgrow his detached stance.
Step 4: Changing and Challenging One’s Views on Love
I also recommend changing one’s view of love. There is something self-absorbed in all the obsessing, withholding and holding on. It doesn’t show true interest in another person and their needs and feelings. Love is not manipulative nor is it self-compromising. It does not aim to change people or situations, nor does it wait for such situations or people to change. Though, I realize this isn’t necessarily the love addicts intention. For subconsciously there may be deeper fears and longings that may seem to be in control.
Step 5: Dealing with Obsession:
When it comes to dealing with mental obsession, one exercise one can perform (to move out of ruminating and obsession) involves moving the energy out of the mind and into the heart. Allow yourself to become a detached observer of your emotions and thoughts. Feel whatever emotions you need to feel, as well. There is nothing like a good cry sometimes to take us out of our heads.
A Few Other Self-Help Healing Tools
While one can always benefit from professional therapies and coaching, there are a few additional self-help healing tools that can be used to assist recovery from love addictions (feel free to look for others as I only mention a few here). Such self-help tools are not quick-fixes, nor are they meant to replace other healing efforts, but they can make wonderful complements.
Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) is a tool that can help with love addictions. EFT is easy to learn for free. One can find video demonstrations on www.youtube.com or free information on various sites. The main site is www.eftuniverse.com. If you wish to learn what your blocks are (to clear them with EFT) you can use a free online app at www.love-light-healing.com/decks/.
One may also wish to try using ‘flower essences’ (a form of homeopathy). Australian Bush Flower Essences (www.abfeusa.com for more information) has a ‘Relationship Essence’ which contains the following:
- Boab: is indicated for individuals who have a need to bring in more change, a need to clear negative core patterns that are rooted in family and which are inherited, or a need to clear negative lines of karma that exist between individuals and past life influence.
- Bluebell: is indicated for those who cut themselves off from their feelings. It helps to open the heart and to dissolve greed and rigidity. Emotions are present but withheld, and there may even be a fear of expressing positive emotions such as joy and love, etc. Individuals who may benefit from bluebell essence may operate out of fear that there is ‘not enough’ and that they cannot survive if they let go of all they hold onto.
- Bottlebrush: is indicated for those who need help to resolve one’s ‘issues with mother.’ It also helps one embrace major life changes through brushing away the past, allowing individuals to move on and go forward.
- Bush Gardenia: helps one to renew passion and interest in relationships. This essence is indicated for where one needs help with intimacy issues, and with resolving where there is too much self-interest or lack of awareness of a partner’s needs.
- Dagger Hakea: is indicated for those who need help to release resentments, bitterness and grudges.
- Flannel Flower: is indicated for those who fear emotional or physical intimacy, getting too close and who have a hard time maintaining personal boundaries. This essence is indicated for where one would benefit from trusting oneself enough to express their innermost feelings.
- Red Helmet Orchid: is indicated for those who need help to resolve ‘issues with father.’ It is also indicated for those who are dealing with issues with authority or with being too confrontational.
- Red Suva Frangipani: is indicated for those who struggle with rocky relationships. It is also indicated for those who feel a deep sense of loss and sadness when a relationship is in trouble or has ended. It can be indicated where there is a need to heal a feeling of emotional rawness.
- Wedding Bush: is indicated for those who may have issues with commitment to a relationship, job, goal etc. It can be recommended for individuals who tend to flit from one relationship to another, or for those who leave relationships when the crush phase or initial attraction has diminished.
A book I highly recommend is Addiction to Love: Overcoming Obsession and Dependency in Relationships by Susan Peabody (co-founder of LAA).
Peabody, S. (2005). Addiction to unrequited love: Overcoming obsession and dependency in relationships (3rd Ed). Berkeley, CA: Celestial Arts