Limerence music

Super-busy with the day job at the moment, so behind on blogging.

Whenever possible, I work with some background music. Often this needs to be classical (or at least lyric-free) but sometimes YouTube leads me to old-timey treasures that get me thinking  of life, love and limerence. Here are a couple of obviously limerence-inspired classics I’m currently tapping toes to:

Rationalisation

A treacherous tendency of the limerent brain, of which we must all be wary, is rationalisation. This takes the form of self-justifications for why interactions with LO are necessary (when they aren’t), why text or emails messages must be retained (when they should be deleted), and why it’s fine to just think about them for a while (rather than getting on with something useful).

Rationalisation is a very powerful force for preservation of self-esteem. Even the flimsiest excuse can be enough to knock on LO’s office door, wander over to their cubicle, or sit next to them in class. We all of us do this, but limerents are often masters of the art.

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Da Vinci’s of justification

While one has to acknowledge that rationalisation is an impressive display of high-level executive function, it’s also an impediment to living with limerence, and living purposefully.

If you work through the behaviour step by step, this becomes clear.

1) You feel the first impulse to seek LO

This happens faster than conscious thought can intervene. It may be triggered by discomfort or stress, causing a subconscious seeking of relief through pleasure. The reward circuits flicker. You experience a low level craving, and if you’ve been limerent for a while, the association with LO is very strongly embedded.

2) Your mind jumps away from what you were concentrating on and focusses on LO

The sensation of pleasure leads seamlessly to thoughts of LO. Your mind starts to cast about for reasons to think about, or seek, them. This is the critical moment. Now, your conscious mind has caught up and is assessing the situation. You have a moment to override the impulse to reinforce LO-related pleasure.

3) You crave them

Limerence has you. You want to connect with LO somehow. Physical or electronic contact may be possible. If not, reverie beckons. Now is the moment for you to override the impulse, recognise your craving as an unhealthy addiction, and enforce no contact. Unless you can think of a good reason…

4) The rationalisation starts

Pit the craving for limerent reward against the knowledge that LO is not good for us, and the result is cognitive dissonance. One solution to the pain that causes is rationalisation. If there is a reason why we need to spend some time with LO, then we are not weak willed and unable to maintain no contact.

Our minds are fantastic idea engines. They’re really good at devising narratives that have at least the outward appearance of consistency and rationality, even if they are made up on the hoof as we walk into the jaws of doom.

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Oh hi! Sorry to disturb your writing, but I was just taking my laptop for a walk and I saw this convenient shelf thing, and I’ve been meaning to ask you… what do you think of my new desktop picture? 

Given time, and the chance to slightly rewrite events in our own favour, our memories are even better at post-hoc story telling to justify our behaviour.

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It was great of Paul to help me sort out that email issue. Lucky I bumped into him.

Rationalisation is a self-indulgence, in much the same way that limerence is a self-indulgence. It stems from a desire to avoid feelings of discomfort by telling ourselves helpful white lies to avoid facing the actual cause of the discomfort. For limerence, it’s using an LO-hit as stress relief. For rationalisation, it’s using cleverness to diffuse embarrassment or shame, and continue with behaviours that we know, deep down, are not good for us. And as with many dysfunctional behaviours, if we cut off rationalisation to help with limerence, we gain additional benefits in all aspects of life.

At it’s heart, rationalisation is self-lying. It’s an attempt to maintain self-esteem after doing something we wish we hadn’t. That keeps us from properly understanding our emotional drives, and stops us developing as purposeful humans and healthy adults. Self-honesty is the key to liberation.

So next time you find yourself constructing a narrative to justify LO-seeking behaviour, seize that crucial moment when you have a chance to stop yourself before you act, and tell yourself the truth.

Taking control

When limerent for someone unsuitable, you are faced with the challenge of using your judgement and wisdom to overcome the neurophysiological storm of addictive reward, and get away from the most desirable object in your world. How can this be done?

Age and experience helps, but that’s not exactly a quick fix. So is there anything that can be done in the short term to counterbalance the reward circuitry, and condition your traitor brain into behaving itself?

1) Negative feedback 

As I mentioned in a previous post, the progression of limerence fits the pattern of intermittent reward schedules, making it a powerfully salient stimulus. But we can counter that! We can exploit negative reward (or punishment) as another potent mechanism for associative learning. The basic idea is to deliberately evoke negative experiences when around LO. Perhaps say something inappropriate that makes you feel ashamed. Perhaps deliberately derail conversations with LO to prevent them (and you) from relaxing and getting blissed. Perhaps disrupt interactions by leaving mid-conversation to go to the toilet. Perhaps retreat into your inner world and dwell intensely on a past source of fear or shame that is a major emotional trigger for you.

The goal is to make new associations between LO’s company and bad feelings. Break the cycle of reinforcement and retrain yourself to avoid rather than seek their company.

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Mind games with yourself

2) Dwell on their defects 

Related to point 1, you can try and counter the idealisation inherent in limerence by exaggerating the LO’s negative points. Anytime you find yourself making excuses for their behaviour, remind yourself that people should be judged by their behaviour. If there is something that annoys or repulses you about LO, focus your attention on it. If you hate the way they eat with their mouth open, offer them snacks. If you disagree with their political views, talk about politics a lot. If they are married, ask lots of questions about their positive feelings for their spouse and children. Aversion conditioning again. You have to devalue LO to counterbalance the idealisation that your limerent brain is trying to force on you, if you stand any chance of seeing them objectively.

3) Remember that this is your life 

Not LO’s life. Not your imagined ideal life as LO’s partner. Your life, now. Your guts turning somersaults and your future wellbeing at stake. This is one of the simplest concepts to explain, but one of the hardest things to really learn. You have to consider your self interest. Avoid selfishness, but tell yourself again and again that you deserve a stable, emotionally secure and fruitful future. The inappropriate LO is holding you back from that. You are being cast as the bit player in someone else’s story.

The key to success in living with limerence is this ability to be your own advocate, and take purposeful steps to change your situation. The gains will multiply well beyond the immediate benefits of getting over the current LO; they will shape your future. Recognise that the only real control anyone has over anything is control over how they respond to events. You can choose to be someone that gives their love and energy in a healthy, reciprocal and stable way, and the kind of person that requires that in return from the people you share your life with (though with FOO being the difficult case).

You can’t always control your emotional triggers, and you certainly can’t control your past, but you can control your behavioural response in the here and now to other people. Take control.

 

Help! My partner is limerent for someone else

One of the hardest aspects of limerence to live with is developing limerence when in long-term relationship. If it’s hard for the limerent, it’s even worse for the significant other. If you are the significant other, it can be very hard to deal with the apparent change in personality and behaviour of your limerent partner, not to mention the gut-punch to your self-esteem of watching your loved one become infatuated with someone else. Like many people, I’ve been on both sides of this equation. Being the SO is worst.

However! Hope is not lost. With knowledge about limerence and its root causes and typical patterns of development, purposeful steps can be taken to respond to the emotional crisis.

 

1) Self care

An unfortunate truth about limerence, is that your limerent SO is not likely to be focussed on your emotional needs. This is especially bad when they have previously been a great source of stability and support. So, the most important thing – more important than trying to solve The Problem – is to care for yourself. Consider confiding in a trusted friend. Consider individual counselling. You are likely to feel broadsided by this, and in your rush to try and save the relationship you risk sidelining your own needs entirely, to try and make your partner happier. Your partner is probably focussing all their attention on their own needs. Focus on your own, and find sources of support for yourself outside of your relationship. But ideally not an LO of your own.

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“See, that’s her.”    *Snort* “Really?”

2) Assert your needs clearly

It is reasonable for you to be angry about this. It is reasonable for you to demand boundaries be enforced. It is reasonable for you to receive clear and honest answers about the interactions of your SO with their LO. Only you know what is acceptable to you in terms of the level of emotional intimacy that your partner has with an LO. Some people are sceptical that an emotional affair is even a thing; others consider it a worse betrayal than one-night-stand sex. It’s important to decide what your red lines are, and assert these clearly (but non-aggressively) to your partner. Let them take time to absorb the information. Follow up a few days later with a conversation in which you ask them to express to you what they think your boundaries are. Be clear with yourself about what the consequences will be if they cross your red lines. Ultimatums are only meaningful if enforced. It’s important for your self-respect – and important to communicate to your SO – that you are not willing to accommodate their emotional dithering indefinitely.

3) You are right. They are not “just friends”

If you recognise the symptoms of limerence in your partner, you are almost certainly right that they are not “just friends” with their LO. I have posted before about the improbability of friendship with an LO. If your partner is trying to minimise the significance of their relationship with LO, this is a red flag. Look to point 2. A caring SO, who genuinely does not have feelings for the person you suspect of being an LO, will be motivated to help you cope with your feelings of anxiety. They will not shame you or accuse you of jealousy or being irrationally needy.

4) Do not try to compete with LO

While it is always worthwhile to honestly appraise your relationship, and judge whether you are both giving and receiving intimacy and emotional support, try to avoid the temptation to compete with LO. It may be that your relationship has been neglected. How many of us manage to give our partners the attention they deserve when all the other demands of life steer us into taking them for granted? But you are not going to turn this around by outshining the LO. Once limerence is established, the limerent tends to devalue their SO and idealise the LO. You will not overcome this devaluation by dressing prettier, being more amorous, or being super-supportive. This may cheer your SO up, but is likely to be rather insincere and will still not compare with LO’s promise and novelty. A corollary of this is: don’t flirt with other people to make your partner jealous. It may instead feed into the devaluation and give them an excuse to dump you (on the not unreasonable grounds that you are being disrespectful and manipulative).

If you do come to realise that you have been distant from your partner, then make positive changes in your relationship slowly and purposefully, and in a way that will last – not in a burst of competitive energy that you will come to resent later. The best time for active improvement in your relationship dynamic is after the limerence has passed and your SO has demonstrated their commitment to improving the relationship too.

5) Educate your SO

Direct them here, or to other support sites. Consider buying Tennov’s book. It was a huge benefit to me when I first learned about the concept of limerence (and non-limerence) and it helped me understand myself better and be able to respond more purposefully to limerence when it stirred. Your limerent partner may be highly conflicted and having difficulty understanding their emotional overload. Recognising the causes and cures for limerence could be very valuable for them in getting over their limerence and re-committing to your relationship.

 

Ultimately, the only thing that will cause your SO to overcome their addiction is time and space. You need to decide how patient you are willing to be, how motivated your SO is to try to overcome their infatuation and focus their attention on your relationship, and how solid your relationship was before the limerent episode invaded. Most of all: be easy on yourself.