Hailey’s relationship with her mother was often tense, but for things to go smoothly, the 32-year-old had to do a lot of pretending. She still needed her mother, or believed she did, and so she had become a master at pretending. She had never confronted her mom about the incest, and had never asked questions about any of the other painful things her mom had allowed to happen to Hailey—though, of course, both women knew.
Mother’s Harmful And Negative Influence
Despite the abuse committed by Hailey’s grandfather, which her mother had been complicit in (and which Hailey believed had happened to her mother before her), her mom had always been overprotective of Hailey in other ways. She was never allowed to play over at friends’ houses, have sleepovers or do any of the odd number of things all the other kids were allowed to do, and which she now knew were simple rites of childhood.
Her mother was terrified of germs and colds and car crashes, of dog bites and bad influences. Hailey felt smothered by her mother’s fears as a child, and at times today, she still felt smothered by them.
So when it came to romantic relationship—and Hailey had her share of romantic experiences—her biggest fear was of becoming enmeshed by someone else’s needs, of being smothered again. Without meaning to, she tended to pull away from the person she was getting close to, just after things became serious: after “feelings” words were shared or a commitment was asked for.
It was never intentional on Hailey’s part; she wasn’t conscious of being “afraid of commitment”—but terrified she was. Still, again and again, she longed for romantic closeness, and, again and again, she withdrew. Something about another person’s or her own vulnerability and raw feelings repulsed her and caused her to withdraw. But after a period of isolation, Hailey would return, intent on wooing her lover again, upping the stakes and promising the moon. Of course, she could never deliver.
She’d been pretending too long, so long she could convince herself that anything was true. You love him. You can do this. It will work. You don’t need any help.
What Is Love Avoidance And Why Does It Happen
In the recovery language surrounding love addiction, we’re used to hearing about codependent patterns in which women and men find themselves highly emotionally dependent on their romantic partners for their own well-being and emotional validation.
We see love addicts as desperate for companionship, people who are likely to tolerate (and contribute to) toxic relationship dynamics rather than be alone. People who experience love avoidance may also find themselves seeking, again and again, the rush of romance and connection, but they are people who just can’t tolerate it for long.
According to Susan Peabody, counselor and author of Recovery Workbook for Love Addicts and Love Avoidants, love avoidants are likely to have early experiences with molestation or rape, or physical or emotional incest (also called covert incest). Emotional incest occurs when a parent or other caregiver treats a child as a significant other, relying on them emotionally, over-sharing their problems and experiences with the child. A parent/child relationship like this is said to be enmeshed and results in emotional consequences for the child, even throughout adulthood. Love avoidants may unconsciously be seeking to escape this feeling of enmeshment from romantic partners.
Types Of Love Avoidants
According to Peabody and others, there are generally three types of love avoidants:
Saboteurs – These love avoidants unconsciously sabotage their relationships whenever things get serious. Love avoidants are highly uncomfortable with emotional intimacy (a red flag for love and sex addiction) and are likely to seek reasons to end a relationship as soon as they find themselves expressing or experiencing another person’s deep feelings. They may do so, for example, by creating arguments, cheating or convincing themselves the relationship just isn’t right.
Seductive Withholders – Just like saboteurs, seductive withholders cannot tolerate emotional intimacy for long. They are hot and cold. One minute they feel highly attracted, but the next, they are repulsed by fears of enmeshment and commitment. They may come on strong, but retreat as quickly and suddenly. “They always come on to you when they want sex or companionship. When they become bored or frightened, they begin withholding companionship, sex, affection, anything that makes them feel anxious.” SWs return again to the same person, usually promising more affection and commitment, but retreating each time.
Romance Addicts – Romance addicts are addicted to the buzz of early relationship—to the high that comes from romantic intrigue. These avoidants may move quickly from one relationship to the next or may engage in multiple affairs at one time, but like their fellow avoidants, are unable to tolerate serious commitment and emotional intimacy. They often mistake the intensity of sexual attraction and limerence (strong romantic feelings that come with the obsessive need for reciprocity) with true love.
Are You Love-Avoidant?
Are you someone who feels easily overwhelmed by another person’s needs? Do you require a lot more time for yourself than your partner usually does? Are you afraid of commitment or are you often ambivalent about your choice to commit, even after you have made the promise?
If these questions sound like you, dealing with love avoidance may be an important part of your recovery work.
As you can see from Hailey’s story, the tendency to avoid emotional intimacy frequently emerges as a response to childhood trauma. Individual therapy, group therapy and independent recovery steps are all important paths of healing.
Don’t Give Up On Your Healing – You Are Worth It…And Always Have Been