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Love addiction: a cognitive analytic map

Updated: Jan 11

There is a paper coming out in reformulation and a workshop we are offering on the afternoon of Valentine's day. Here is a summary of some of our thinking about a relational approach to addiction and the addictive qualities of our various coping procedures and defences. If you are interested come to the workshop, there are limited spaces.


Our ideas in a nutshell

Love addiction in CAT terms is a pattern of interaction which begins with chronic feelings of emptiness and a yearning for relationship which threatens to overwhelm a more relational and balanced sense of self. The yearning or ‘hopium’ is driven by hope of finding love and over-excitement in its first enactment then by teasing, fragile engagement, and the high octane of being on tenterhooks (or tender hooks) through high emotion and loss of self to the loved-up state combined with the shimmering presence of misery at the anticipated or actual loss of the loved-up feelings.


The combination of the self being in an entangled state of excitement and misery can be resolved by withdrawal of self from the addictive behaviour and a tolerance of the loss and the pain enough for a recovery of self in part but at the risk of a return to emptiness and yearning. This is the healing moment of realistic hope which can be sustained by dialogue with compassionate others and kindness and acceptance towards self. There is a window of narrative freedom where we can step out of the controlling and intrusive narrative of the addiction and be in a more open dialogue.


The healing conversations are at risk of an idealising addictive return to hopium (for ever looking for loved up, ideal care, not settling for the mutual joys of good enough care) which is the driver of the emotional roller coaster ride. To help understand and to engage with romantic and loving narratives outside of this cycle we have traced the love addictive pattern in CAT language showing the procedures that link different positions as role responses between several states within and between self and others. This short blog is not a prescription or an answer to anything. It is an invitation to join us in an ongoing dialogue about the relational dynamics of addiction and the push and pull of involvement with others on micro and macro scale.


A working copy of the love addiction CAT map

This is the CAT map we made for a workshop at the ACAT conference in May 2023 with a numbered guide to the ‘pinball’ effect of its sequences.



Key to numbered reciprocal roles:

1. Craving and yearning: the process of meeting the ‘hopium’ addictive need for love and putting self out there ready to lose self to the partial experience of being ‘loved up’. Creating a binary either-or procedural dilemma of heaven or hell.

2. Abusing and hurt (others to self, self to self) partially seen as the necessary pain of the excitement of love (excited misery’ captures the painfully simmering emotional mix of happy and hurt)

3. The nearly not yet teasing presence of restless love and trying the best to keep the good and mediate the bad leading to pinball movements within and between self and the loved person, object or activity.

4. The hiding place or safe place of ordinary, safe but boring love which is tolerated or dismissed but not a secure attachment.

5. The haunting thrilling desire for perfect fusion or ideal care. All the self’s ‘eggs’ are in the one fragile and easily broken or stolen basket.

6. What I really, really don’t want which is to be cast out, rejected and seemingly unlovable if not perfectly loved. For fear of this the chronically endured emotional pain of box 2 is preferred.

7. The moderating reflective and potentially therapeutic voice that sees that part of me is not all of me. How can it become part of the dialogue when love’s excitement kicks off and the pinball of love addicting threatens?

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