Intersections

An interesting question that often comes up in discussions about limerence, is the potential for overlap with other personality traits. Perhaps, given the intrusive thoughts and obsessive nature of limerent reverie, the obvious intersection is with OCD. There also seems a common element with stress heightening the conditions; as though the brain is seeking relief from stress through learned mental patterns – either limerent reverie or compulsive thoughts or rituals.

I’ve often wondered if there is an overlap with introversion too – given that one way of defining the difference between introverts and extroverts is whether the internal or external world seems most “real” to them. As LOs exist mainly in the internal world of the limerent’s imagination, it seems likely that introverts would feel the pull of reverie more powerfully and meaningfully. Yet another possibility is high sensitivity: the concept that some people have more active autonomic nervous systems than others, and so find many stimuli “over-arousing”. The experience of limerence is like having arousal overload. Maybe highly sensitive people are more prone to limerence, or have a lower threshold for being triggered into a limerent episode?

These speculations also make me reflect on whether limerence is a pathology. It’s a very common experience for people who are shy or quiet or sensitive to be told that they are abnormal; that their deviation from the norm is evidence that they are in some way defective and possibly even need medicating or behavioural-conditioning to fix themselves.

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C’mon! Get with it!

I’ve mentioned before that there is an element of disease-mongering in the current discourse around limerence. Experiencing limerence – just like experiencing social anxiety or aversion to loud noise – does not seem sufficient reason to justify claims of a mental disorder. Certainly, unwanted limerence is a problem, and has a significant impact on quality of life and the ability to find fulfillment and peace of mind. However, the euphoria of reciprocated limerent feeling is an incredibly positive experience so it seems… counterintuitive to claim this as pathology. Framed as person-addiction, limerence appears negative, but framed as a mechanism for pair-bonding it appears positive.

Like so much about limerence, we’re left floundering in speculation because of the lack of clearly-defined research into the condition. It would be great if sociologists or psychologists would look into this, but that would require greater awareness of limerence in the general population, and a willingness to investigate something that (ever since Tennov’s time) is seen as rather unworthy of academic enquiry. It’s a curiosity that such a central and important part of human experience is treated as somehow frivolous.

Relapse

Double meaning here – both the end to a work-induced blog hiatus, and another post on limerence as person addiction… 

 

Using the framework of “person addiction” as a way of understanding limerence, another feature that it can have in common with other addictions is relapse. Despite successfully avoiding the company of LO for a long period – even a period long enough to lead to a fading of the limerence symptoms – it is surprisingly easy to be triggered to fall back into reverie and reignite the craving. Some limerents even report a sudden relapsing back into a deep, continuous, and intrusive obsession years after breaking contact with an LO. As though the intervening time had never passed.

In my experience, such relapses are often triggered by stress. It is as though my subconscious brain has learned to associate thoughts about LO with dopamine reward and resorted to reworking the old mental patterns as a stress-relief mechanism. Of course, other triggers abound. People that remind you of LO. Places or objects you associate with LO. Social media.

Urgh, social media! If ever there was a curse of the modern age for limerents, it’s that. Nothing like their happy smiling face in your timeline (or notification of a change in their relationship status) to set you back to square one.

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I can tell she misses me

In the spirit of purposeful living, during my last episode of relapse I decided to analyse my thoughts to see what I could learn. Here’s what I learned:

1) It really is all about you

I’d had no further contact with LO. They hadn’t re-entered my life, interacted with me at all, or popped up on social media. It was entirely within my head, and also the version of LO that only exists in my head, not the actual person that I used to interact with. Slowly morphing into my idealised version of them, to meet my emotional needs. Stress-induced fantasy. Not real.

2) It is not healthy

Kind of implicit with addiction, but it was noticeable that the more I gave in to the reverie, the more my day-to-day contentedness decreased. I treated it as an experiment – deliberately fixating on LO, and then monitoring my mood. It was basically emotional self-harm, as everyday life became a distraction (rather than a purpose) and I became more irritable. When I stopped deliberately doing this, I felt happier and calmer and better able to focus on the important people and projects in my life.

3) You can resist

Relapse is a feature of any addiction, but when that addiction is to a person you don’t have to interact with, your main challenge is to avoid thinking about them. And that is possible. If they pop into your mind, remind yourself of their negative features and that you are better off without them in your life. You need to cancel out the reward-associations that your brain has established, by replacing them with negative associations. If you suffer from white-knight syndrome this can be uncomfortable. It can feel like you are unfairly demonising an innocent LO, when they are actually a vulnerable and good person. But remember point 1 – this is all in your head. Objectively you know that LO is an independent person with a complex mix of good and bad traits, and should be treated with respect as an individual. Emotionally, however, you need to switch the narrative about the fantasy LO in your head from idealisation to vilification. It’s perfectly reasonable to replace the exaggeratedly-positive imagined LO with an exaggeratedly-negative one.

Plus, they’ll never know.

So, whenever the hint of relapse strikes, change the script. “Remember LO… *sigh*” becomes “Remember LO… and all the pain I caused myself.”