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.
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.