A new era

Well now. I’ve been typing away here at LwL for almost two years, and am still having a good time of it. Lots of people email me to share their stories, and thank me for setting this place up, which makes me feel good. So, I’ve decided that it’s time to help secure those gains and make some more: it’s time to tart up the blog, and add more features!

So, this short post is just to say: changes are coming. I’m moving to a new webhost shortly, and adding some freebies and links to further resources, and I’m also going to set up an online course to try and help struggling limerents get control of their psychology, and plot a purposeful future for themselves. I spent a while thinking about ways to fund the costs of the site (and motivate myself to write more), and this seemed the best option. Ads and donations didn’t seem right, somehow, so I’ve opted for making something valuable that people will pay for. Plus, I’m hoping that the psychology of paying will strengthen their commitment to the cause of improving themselves. And then everyone benefits.

Anyway, we’ll see how it goes, but just a “head’s up” that things will look a little snazzier around here soon. As with all transitions, things may also go a bit wrong – so bear with me if there are a few glitches in the short term. I’ll be throwing the switch this weekend, and a trial run suggests all content and comments will migrate OK, but no doubt the internet goblins will have a few tricks up their sleeves.

Thanks all!

Dr L

 

Can limerence be safely harnessed?

At first limerence is amazing. And then it isn’t.

This transition – from exhilarating to exhausting – mirrors the transition from initial high to desperate dependency for drugs of abuse, which is part of the reason why I like the framing of limerence as “person addiction”. So what is it that causes this transition? Why does something that feels great at first inevitably lead to a crash? Is it actually inevitable, or could we limerents [whisper it] find a way to get the high while minimising the risk of dependency?

Well. What a question! Let’s have a think.

1) The brain buzz

I’ve talked before about the neurophysiology of limerence, and how it is linked to reward systems in the brain. Dopamine is the primary player in this, but it’s a bit of an oversimplification to present it so straightforwardly. There are lots of other aspects to limerence beyond “simple” reward. Limerence is also linked to arousal, positive affect (i.e. happiness), sexual attraction, and bonding, to name a few other major psychological motivators. So, to try and pick that lot apart you need to consider the roles of a range of neurotransmitters and neuromodulators (serotonin, noradrenaline, acetylcholine, histamine), a few hormones (adrenaline, oxytocin, endorphins) and you can throw in various other speculative neurochemicals that might have a role too. What I’m saying is, it’s complicated. There is going to be a very substantial change in neurophysiology as a consequence of becoming limerent.

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Like, far out, man.

It also doesn’t end there. Once the transition begins, and LO starts to become an addiction, there are even more changes in store. Most limerents realise that once they start to crave LO contact, they are losing control of the situation. Often, they react by becoming defensive, and try to maintain the pretense that this is just a close friendship. Then, the real dishonesty sets in. Telling white lies about motivation or behaviour. Being deceitful about where they have been, and what they’ve been up to. Hiding their phone. In other words – behaving like an addict, with all the associated compromises of their self-worth, moral principles, and relationships with others.

What this means in practical terms is that limerence alters the way you perceive and react to the world in pretty profound ways, and is also likely to lead to changes in personality. That’s the kind of fire you’re playing with.

2) The energy needs to go somewhere  

The thrill of limerence is an unusual psychological and physiological state. That’s why it feels so good. Sustaining that heightened sense of overarousal is not normal. Kind of like the “fight or flight” response, if there is no pay off, the pent up energy gets internalised and goes bad.

By analogy to how internalising stress and anxiety can lead to illness (like hypertension, or anxiety disorders) trying to internalise limerence energy leads to unhealthy psychology. This is a large part of why I would advocate a purposeful response to the glimmer early on: either express your feelings for LO (if appropriate), or make a purposeful decision to avoid their company, and set boundaries to reduce the risk of escalating affection.

The biggest danger is when you try to maintain your supply of brain-altering LO juice, but through willful denial pretend that it will have no lasting consequences. You’re fueling a fire but then trying to contain it to your internal world.

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Thar she blows!

Redirecting that energy into some other project (creative, practical or social) can help, but if you keep fuelling the fire, you are never going to succeed in putting it out. Ultimately, if you charge up with energy but do nothing to discharge it, it will burst out in places where you don’t want it to.

3) The dangers of brinkmanship

One downside to the “person addiction” perspective for limerence is that it conjures the image of a seedy addict, seeking illicit highs or sleazy sexual kicks. But limerence rarely feels like that.

Early on (and for some people, over the long term) limerence doesn’t even feel primarily sexual or romantic. It’s often just that the company of this particular person feels energising and enlivening. It can also provoke a strong desire to help LO, emotionally or practically. Surely these are good things? Enjoying the company of another person and helping them achieve their goals?

Given that premise, perhaps it’s OK to get a bit of a limerence lift from time to time when you encounter a new LO, but then pull back when you get close to the brink of addiction? Can you let the LO energy grow for a bit, just to perk life up, but then let it subside? If limerence is a hill with addiction on the far side, can you climb to the fringe of the peak without tumbling over into the Valley Of The Junkies beyond?

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Enough with the leading questions, counsel

Here’s why I think it’s perilous. Limerence, in my view, is primarily a drive for bonding. Even if you don’t intend to act on the impulse, the drive is still there. Your body is firing you up with energy and euphoria to spur you to action.

Potential mate detected! Bond! Now!

If you continually expose yourself to the stimulus but don’t act, then the drive turns inwards into obsessive thoughts, psychological fixation, and reinforcing rumination. It’s like fruit that ripens nicely, then over-ripens, then starts rotting on the vine.

I’m not saying it’s impossible. I’m not even as pessimistic as this jumble of thoughts might suggest. What I’m saying is that it’s very risky to try and experiment with limerence, unless you have a deep understanding of your own triggers and experience with methods for pulling you back from the brink. And absolutely, fundamentally, you don’t stand a chance of using limerence safely unless you are scrupulously honest with yourself.

Brinkmanship comes with risks. If you are not willing to accept the consequences of tipping over the edge, best to not even get close.

Life as a limerent: autopilot mode

One of the most disruptive aspects of limerence is the total attention-capture that sets in. At first, the limerent is OK with that – after all there’s nothing more interesting or enjoyable in their world than their new LO, so thinking about them all the time is very stimulating. After a while, though, the inability to concentrate on other thoughts and activities takes its toll.

Many limerents will be familiar with autopilot mode: a state of being physically present but mentally absent. You are there, going through the motions of everyday life, meeting your obligations (barely), but your attention is elsewhere, in your internal world, ruminating and obsessing. Work begins to suffer. Projects don’t get completed (unless you think it might lead to LO’s good opinion in which case they get your full attention). Life in the external world drifts by as you watch from the muffled interior of your limerent bubble.

Partners of limerents will be familiar with it too. Zombie spouse. Mouthing words but staring into the middle distance. Shuffling along beside you, but answering your questions with, at best, a distracted and only marginally relevant reply that confirms they aren’t listening. Or worse, snapping in irritation because your talking is distracting them from their obsessive thoughts.

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Urrgghh! I’m trying to concentrate

Paradoxically, sometimes zombie spouse can transform into manic spouse. Bursts of unfocussed energy and enthusiasm, or maybe sudden interest in a new hobby or activity (by astonishing coincidence, usually something that LO is into). Either way, the lack of attention on the here and now is infuriating.

This is no way to live. What can be done? Specifically, what can a limerent do once they realise they are living in autopilot mode?

1) Try to harness the energy

Limerence is usually associated with a boost of energy and enthusiasm. If you try to suppress or stifle it, it is likely to burst out in unpredictable and potentially destructive ways, rather than conveniently disappear. So, try and direct it constructively. The impulse to transform yourself – to make yourself more attractive to LO – can have positive outcomes. Exercise more. Improve yourself. Everyone benefits from you being fitter, healthier, and more interesting. Even if there is a problematic motive, the outcome is positive.

Beyond yourself, you can also direct the energy to new projects. I had an uptick in DIY activities during my last limerent episode. Partly that was a selfish drive to secure time to ruminate, and partly it was because the repetitive nature of manual labour was calming and has its own satisfaction. I may not have been as present for my family as I should have been, but at least our home was tidier and they had somewhere to put their books.

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Perfect.

This might seem a bit trite, but here’s the thing: you’re going to have to go through the limerence experience one way or the other. You can either be totally withdrawn and selfish, or you can at least try to craft some additional benefit by improving yourself and your environment while it’s happening. You’re still stuck with the rumination, but you at least have a cleaner bathroom at the end of it. Zombies can do helpful chores.

2) Accept and adapt

Autopilot is actually an amazing invention. If you want to get to your destination safely, a device that keeps the plane or boat moving steadily forwards in the right direction is a godsend.

If you have become trapped in unhealthy limerence, “going through the motions” can actually be a positive response. Deciding, “I am going to keep going with everyday life despite all these strong emotions” is a purposeful decision. If autopilot is what is needed to keep you on the straight and narrow, so be it. Accept that reality and do your best to meet your responsibilities, fulfill your commitments, and be the best partner you are able to be under the circumstances.

There is nobility in keeping going despite personal pain and emotional distress. “When you’re going through hell… keep going” is one of my favourite quotes, because it acknowledges the value of persistence under duress. Autopilot mode can be an important safety mechanism. If you believe in the destination you are travelling towards (a future with your current partner and without LO), but don’t trust yourself to be steering the ship soundly at the moment, trust in the autopilot to get you through the turbulence.

3) Use it as a behavioural cue. 

When you recognise that you are in the grip of a bad limerence episode, and have started to slip into autopilot mode, it can be used as a trigger to make more effort with your real life. If you have a partner or family, use the autopilot fugue as a cue to focus on them. If you miss what your spouse has just said to you, Notice It, apologise, and exert yourself towards paying more attention to where you are and who you are with.

If you can repeat that cycle enough – spot absentmindedness, chastise self, focus on here and now – it can start to ingrain a new habit that makes autopilot mode a bit less automatic and puts you back in control of the tiller.

Coming out of the other side of limerence takes time. If autopilot helps you function during that time, use it, and then reshape it into a reminder that you have commitments to others that are worth meeting. Anything that helps you orient yourself in the proper direction has value.