It’s been a while since we considered a case study, and this one is a little mysterious. Lotus got in touch with me about her situation, but using an apparently fake or dead email address. That has made it hard for me to follow up for more info, so we’re going to have to work with what we have.
Anyway, cloak and dagger limitations aside, the question is a good one: how to deal with limerence for a mentor.
Lotus sets the scene about a limerence dynamic that comes up on the blog and in the comments quite frequently:
Typically the limerent (a guy) is an accomplished senior leader at work and LO is an attractive, younger, extrovert, junior woman full of effusive praise for the leader. How do you resist that?!
She is on the other side of this scenario:
I am a woman… limerent for my boss. He hired me. Is attractive, extrovert and vivacious. He is really into promoting female talent in our field. He likes my work, and of course I work extra hard to make him happy, which further leads to very public praise and also private face-to-face positive feedback, and the cycle continues.”
It’s really nice to get praise, but of course, limerence has to come along and spoil everything.
He is also a huge advocate and mentor for me and has taken me under his wing, pulling me often into whatever he is doing. He is super professional with me (as I am with him). I know this is nothing but my little ego getting inflated by all this. I know this rationally, but every time I start slipping off LE chains, his public agreeing with me, supporting me, giving me kudos happens… and I fall in the ring of fire again!
Lotus needs to find a way to break this cycle. Neither she nor her boss are free to pursue a romantic relationship, even if they wanted to. So, what can be done?
Well, a good starting point is to analyse some of the psychological factors in play here, and see if that uncovers what might be going on beneath the surface.
1. The power of praise
The first thing to note is that the direct trigger for limerent feelings in Lotus is praise from her boss. That is a very common trigger. It’s emotional validation, professional recognition, ego-fluffing, and self-esteem boosting all rolled into one. A rewarding stew.
For limerents who are struggling to find emotional sustenance elsewhere, this can be a potent trigger for the glimmer. Someone in a position of authority praises you, values you, and pays attention to you. They see you, and that makes them seem marvellous.
From a neurochemical perspective, this is the rush of victory – a mix of dopamine reward and serotonin mood enhancement. A taste of that becomes desirable, then motivating, then addictive.
To add extra spice, this scenario also results in good outcomes. When working hard to impress an LO, you achieve more. If your work is good, you can add the satisfaction of career success and advancement to the simple pleasure of worthwhile labour.
All in all, it’s quite a feedback loop: This person makes me feel good about myself. When I try to please them, I get a hit of bliss and I make progress in my working life. By continuing in this cycle, I accomplish more and feel even better about myself.
Not hard to see how this can lead to limerent reinforcement.
2. The authority figure archetype
Another factor to consider is the prevalence of the “mentor” archetype amongst limerent objects. These are people who sort of have some idealisation already built into them. They are people who have accomplished enough to have status, and they can help you grow as a person (or, at least, a professional).
I’ve talked before about the idea of a limerence avatar – a blueprint that most limerents have for the kind of people we tend to become limerent for. If your avatar is “the mentor”, then you will obviously be prone to become limerent for bosses, professors, doctors, and so on.
Why this sort of person causes the glimmer for you will be hidden somewhere in your personal history. An obvious theory is that it is linked into the emotional background of your family of origin – in disparaging terms “Mummy or Daddy issues”. For those who subscribe to the idea that limerence is caused by attachment problems, this is the go-to explanation. But it is worth going beyond the obvious explanation and looking at other possibilities.
3. The seduction of power
Powerful people can be impressive. They can be intelligent, charming – dazzling even – and they generally have a lot of social and financial resources at their disposal. This can make them alluring company, especially for younger people who have not yet built those capabilities.
Lotus describes her LO as attractive, extrovert and vivacious. That may be adding another dimension to the limerence, as the reward of being praised is overlaid by the excitement of being favoured by someone so charismatic. Sometimes people rise to positions of influence because they have a sort of glamour – in the old fashioned sense of being bewitching or enchanting.
Becoming addicted to such people may not be as simple as trying to please the ghost of a distant parent, it may be a more visceral attraction to a genuinely fascinating person. Limerence will do the work of turning that glimmer of magnetic appeal into an irresistible intoxication.
4. Mutual ego amplification
The next factor to consider is what LO is bringing to this limerence party. While I repeatedly emphasise that limerence is happening in our heads and that is where the solution lies, it is also important to consider how their behaviour is affecting the dynamics of the limerent experience.
Most mentors get pleasure and satisfaction from helping others to thrive. Although it can be a generous act, it isn’t entirely selfless – there is emotional reward in it for the mentor too. When you find someone who responds to your experience with appreciation, you feel good about yourself as a mentor too. If that mentee then puts your advice into practice and succeeds, you feel even better.
In its purest form, this relationship is overwhelmingly positive. Untainted by erotic or romantic desire, “true” mentorship is a wonderful force for mutual benefit. Unfortunately, from the perspective of the mentor, the idea of helping someone who excites their ego in other ways too is much more seductive.
There is a reason why a senior person bringing wealth and experience, and a junior person bringing youth and sex appeal, is so combustible a mix. Each has something the other desires, each benefits from the mutual ego gratification, and each becomes energised by the frisson of excitement that comes from playing on the edge of respectability.
Things go wrong, of course, when it turns out they weren’t playing the same game or by the same rules.
5. Narcissistic mentors
One obvious danger in this scenario is the temptation for the mentor to abuse their power. The senior manager who pays particular and disproportionate attention to attractive, young proteges is a cliché for a reason. Predatory narcissists who cultivate the hero-worship of impressionable young people know exactly how to use praise, advocacy and recognition to manipulate.
Limerence for such a mentor can go badly when idealisation of the LO makes the limerent blind to the pattern of favouritism by the mentor, and the inevitable workplace rumours that accumulate around such people. Narcissists tend to cycle through proteges as they use up their narcissistic supply, always looking for new targets to impress (among the people that don’t know them well enough yet). If you’ve become limerent for that kind of boss, the discard can be devastating.
Finally, it may be uncharitable of me, but my (anecdotal) professional experience has been that those men most vocal in their determination to “promote female talent” are the biggest narcissists. Genuine mentors seem more reflective – they respond to the people who approach them as individuals, not as abstract representatives of a demographic class. Narcissists pay attention to institutional concerns about representation and pander to them, in order to make themselves look good.
Cynical, I know, and it is always possible that some good would come regardless of the motives of the pandering narcissist. But as an individual seeking support, I’d advise caution about the overtures of a mentor who sees you as a cause rather than a person.
6. Risky business
Those are some of the main psychological factors that should be considered in this case. As ever, trying to analyse the situation dispassionately can help clarify what’s really going on and understand your own impulses and desires. It is possible to benefit from mentorship even if you are limerent, if you are able to regulate your addictive urges well enough to remain on the right side of professional decorum. But it’s a gamble, as every jolt of euphoria makes you a bit more giddy and disinhibited.
For all the self-analysis, it’s also important to soberly face the practical downsides. Workplace dalliances can go catastrophically wrong. Senior people playing favourites often breeds resentment in other colleagues. Gossip can turn nasty. Sometimes a little flirtation from either party can be taken as licence to push at boundaries, and somebody crosses a professional line. HR or personnel departments can then get involved, leading to legal and career-destroying consequences.
Behaviour that seemed titillating and exciting during limerence can look plainly inappropriate in the cold light of day – once the mental fog has cleared. Trying to ride the limerent wave can lead to ever greater risk taking. When you are seeking the praise and validation of an LO like a junkie seeks a hit, you are dependent on your boss for mood regulation. That’s not a stable state to live in for very long.
So, that’s a lot of words spent in dissecting the situation, but what can be done? The ideal outcome for Lotus would be for her to continue to benefit from the mentorship of her boss, but stop the limerence reaction that it causes from escalating. No contact is not really an option (except for the extreme scenario of quitting), so what would work better?
It will be no surprise to regular readers that purposeful living is my answer. Lotus needs to find a way to expand the scope of her working life beyond the local goal of pleasing her boss, and into a larger goal of developing an independent career. You don’t want to stay tethered to this man forever; at some point you need to grow beyond him. I don’t mean surpassing his achievements, necessarily, I mean becoming self-sufficient and directing your own career and no longer needing his patronage.
Genuine mentors will be delighted by this, hungry narcissists will not. So, this could also be a way of finding out which class your LO falls into.
In the meantime, there is the problem of escaping the limerent reinforcement during times of praise and recognition. As the situation does not seem critical at the moment (no professional lines have been crossed, and no damage beyond the internal distress for Lotus), a slow cooling off seems a good plan. Reframing what’s happening now you are aware of your limerent triggers would go a long way.
When you feel a rush of pride, enjoy it, but remind yourself this is your limerent response to your buttons being pushed. It isn’t a sign of romantic interest from your boss. He is not the source of those good feelings, you conjured them within yourself. You are responding to his cues, he is not gifting you magical emotional delights. And, most importantly, remind yourself that you do not know his motives. He may well be highly impressed by your abilities, but his decision to promote them so publicly is part of his own agenda.
That little tweak in mindset can make a big difference. You do not know his motives. They may not be noble. You may just be a vehicle for his ego-boosting performance as White Knight. He might be attracted to you too, and so favouring you for sleazy reasons. You don’t know, and it doesn’t actually matter.
You do know that you don’t want a relationship with this man. You know that you need to grow beyond him. Securing his praise isn’t the goal – doing praiseworthy work is.
Reframe this time as a period where you helped each other professionally, you benefited from his mentorship regardless of his motives, and you learned something important about your own emotional triggers.
Then look beyond it to a purposeful future where you are in charge of your own professional fate.
Allie 1 says
I (obviously) relate to much of this being in the throes of a long LE for my boss LO.
And totally agree that this is such a potent relationship for LEs forming on either side. My personal avatar definitely includes “the Mentor” and this is a big factor in my LE even although I have no FOO or attachment issues. I just like feeling looked after and cared for by someone I trust and find interesting & attractive. Isn’t that something most of us ultimately want from a potential SO?
Before moving onto my LOs project, I suffered from a low level of work anxiety for several years, at times almost dreading work days. So without him knowing it, my LO is a saviour of sorts – I owe my renewed enjoyment of work to his (non-glamourous) quiet, calm, patient, thoughtful yet challenging and slightly authoritarian management style. He doesn’t really praise or favour me – I get my limerent kicks from the experience of collaborating with him, from the mutual support and appreciation we quietly bestow upon each other professionally. Even though this is now underpinned by (unacknowledged) mutual attraction and deeper feelings, I believe it is in essence a great working relationship… the archetype of a great relationship PERIOD, if only we were free to explore that… but we are not. I am pretty long in the tooth so am already in control of my professional fate yet I struggle to find a solid reason to detach.
One of my strongest desires would be to find a way to feel completely satisfied with what we have right now. Unfortunately, my addict’s desire for “more” always tends to dominate.
“Each has something the other desires, each benefits from the mutual ego gratification, and each becomes energised by the frisson of excitement that comes from playing on the edge of respectability. ”
This is where the main problem lies. Frisson is the perfect word to describe limerence. In fact, I’m starting to think it’s at the heart of limerence. Frisson creates an inner tension, an inner conflict. Unfortunately, she won’t get this level of “ping” from men she could actually date. The very nature of the relationship with the boss creates all these other factors that ratchet up the frisson, factors that aren’t naturally there in a traditional dating situation. Ah, limerence, limerence, limerence. It is basically so unhealthy.
Allie 1 says
I can relate.
The “frisson” for me comes from the idea that this quiet, sometimes distant, highly focussed, respectable and serious man, whom almost always behaves with utter calm professionalism towards me, has a secret… he would, if it were not for the barriers, very much like to do passionate, pleasurable and naughty things with me. I find the juxtaposition between these two very different aspects of my LO… ELECTRIC!
Of course, this could all be purely limerent imaginings on my part, but I am 99.99% sure it is not.
I chuckled when I read your message. I understand what you are saying. The idea that, if things were different, this boss of yours could turn ANIMALE. 🙂
I’m just not sure how you create frisson in a normal dating situation. From my own experience, most men are not good at creating it. Of course, my expectations for it are probably unhealthy.
I think in dating you lack the barriers and therefore a lot of the risky, forbidden fruit type of excitement just isn’t there like there is an inappropriate mentor type relationship. Also you spend so much time with each other. So many looks, comments, touches to make the mind whirr. With dating, it’s a couple of hours together and some preamble via text. And then the is the uncertainty- with dating there isn’t that much. You’re both there for the same reason. In a workplace relationship, you can’t be as direct so there a lot of gaps for the mind to fill.
And there is lots of potential to irresponsibly play in that grey zone. Comments that get right up to the line of plausible deniability.
Some people love that game…
“I think in dating you lack the barriers and therefore a lot of the risky, forbidden fruit type of excitement just isn’t there like there is an inappropriate mentor type relationship. ”
I think you are right. The forbidden fruit could be with any type of LO who is unavailable or “inappropriate.” But the problem is that the nice person who asks you out, who is available, can’t compete. They pale by comparison and are in a competition they didn’t even know existed.
Allie 1 says
Yeah learning to feel truly enthusiastic for bog standard sex when you have experienced the limerent variety is a challenge. I can almost see why people get into kink, role playing and the like… to try and generate some excitement & desire.
Yes, limerent sex versus bog standard (I had to look that up 🙂 ) is very different, but I was even referring to the courtship in general. There has to be a dance, a push/pull, to create frisson, and usually there is way too much push, which kills frisson.
Those are the limerent imaginings that fuel reverie, all right. The danger comes when you’ve indulged them so much that you find it very difficult to stop.
It’s like all that pent up fantasy energy has nowhere to go, and ends up turning into obsessive thoughts.
Limerent Emeritus says
And, sometimes, your mind just goes where it wants to go.
Song of the Day: “The Music of the Night” – Michael Crawford [“The Phantom of the Opera” (1987)]
“Night time, sharpens, heightens each sensation,
Darkness stirs, and wakes imagination,
Silently the senses, abandon their defenses…
Close your eyes and surrender to your darkest dreams
Purge your thoughts of the life you knew before
Close your eyes let your spirit start to soar
And you’ll live as you’ve never lived before…
Open up your mind, let your fantasies unwind
In this darkness which you know you cannot fight
The darkness of the music of the night
Let your mind start a journey through a strange new world
Leave all thoughts of the world you knew before
Let your soul take you where you long to be
Only then can you belong to me
Floating, falling, sweet intoxication
Touch me, trust me, savor each sensation
Let the dream begin, let your darker side give in….”
This sounds pretty good on an oboe but you have to find the right key. The original key has 5 flats and is too low for an oboe. One that works goes from 2 flats to 5 sharps. Weber does that a lot.
I am currently trying to break my person-addiction to an author/guru LO.
I strongly suspect he is a Covert-Narcissist. He claims to be a “Relationship Anarchist” and can be pursuing multiple relationships at any one time (currently 7 that I am aware of). We may consider them Narcissistic Supply, but most of these women have fallen for the glamour and flattery of a talented published author who is promising them some kind of spiritual path to peace and happiness.
He has a huge number of disgruntled “ex-members” who claim he lured and /or seduced them, who all claim he is a Narcissist. To begin with, I struggled to accept what they said because he seemed to be empathetic and generous with his time to so many… but it transpires that there is all kinds of shenanigans afoot.
I have been limerent in my life previously, almost always with someone who returned my affections… but this current LE is absolute hell. Covert-Narcissist/ spiritual leader/ non-monogamist is a fresh kind of hell!
Allie 1 says
I feel for you Hypatia. Your LO sounds truly awful! I am so sorry you have become so firmly caught in this man’s web of deception. Awareness is half the battle and it sounds like you have mastered that. Wishing you well.
Sorry to hear that Hypatia. That sounds really tough. (Hugs)
I agree with Allie 1. Your awareness and clear-eyed understanding of the situation will go a long way in helping break the magical hold of this LE.
Dr L! A thousand, a million apologies. No cloak-and-dagger effect was intended. The reality was quite banal. I forgot my password to that email account & got locked out.
However, thanks for taking up the case study… and as always a thorough analysis. Awesome blog. There’s a lot to unpack here & I will be re-reading you words many times.
I did have a good, satisfying career before I met LO boss. I like my line of work. Right now my work, LO, these feelings which I’m sure are primarily just in my head… all are a big muddled heap… but I know this is a temporary phase. Sooner or later, one way or another, it will pass.
My thought in writing to you was more around how to resist:
1. a Good LO…
2. … who is someone you genuinely admire for their qualities…
3. … and who whole-heartedly is constantly admiring YOU!
Even if one is not an egoist (I hope I’m not)… how to NOT be limerent once that glimmer has hit when you have all that validation & deluge of positivity going on from their side?
I really like some of the points you have mentioned about motive etc… need to think more about it.
PS: I am incredibly grateful for this site, your blogs & all the commentators here. It has helped reframe my LE quite a bit.
No need for apologies, Lotus. I did consider that more mundane explanation for the dead email, but thought it would be more fun to infer intrigue 🙂
Good LOs are hard to cope with. There’s a post here on the topic if you haven’t seen it already.
A lot of the battle is getting into the recovery mindset. Despite your LO’s virtues, and despite the pleasure of their praise, when you know intellectually that any relationship is a non-starter and that the limerence is starting to degrade your quality of life, you have to try and reframe the situation into one where you are in charge of reversing the limerent programming.
It can be slow work…
Thanks for the links. You are absolutely right. A relationship is a non-starter here, and overall the LE degrades the quality of life for me. I will try to implement the recovery mindset you have explained.
Btw, hilarious pics with the narrative … You must win a lot of caption-writing contests 😄
Limerent Emeritus says
Tell her who inspired the redheads, Doc!
I think you should next post about how limerence changes our perception. Would be helpful for a lot of us.
…then your mentor leaves for another job and you’re left brokenhearted, exposed to all the resentment of colleagues who saw you get favored for years, and unmotivated at work without any LO to impress.
Or so I heard ;).
The kick: that slightly inappropriate yet possibly romantic yet vague comment your mentor whispers to your ear as goodbye. That alone could revive any dormant limerence. Am right there 🙁
“The kick: that slightly inappropriate yet possibly romantic yet vague comment your mentor whispers to your ear as goodbye.”
How did you respond?
Wow, light bulb moment reading this, as it seems to have played a part in my current and past (10+ years ago) LOs. My current LO started as my mentor, and I was a mentor to my previous LO. There are more factors at play, and as a manager, I mentor people all the time to one extent or another without becoming limerent for them. Thanks to this post, though, I was able to connect the dots. Hopefully, I can remember what situations to avoid in the future in order to avoid such misery again.
I’ve spent time trying to figure out why I’d fall for two men, many years apart, who are so totally different from each other, and for that matter, different from my husband as well. Now I feel like I have my answer. Thank you!
This site has been invaluable for me. Thank you Dr Limerence, I would never have been able to gain insight into what happened to me 6 years ago, and an explanation for the utter desolation I felt without it.
However, I have yet to come across another person’s experience which is similar to mine.
My LO came into my workplace as a locum and I helped him to settle in and forged a strong friendship with him – He was more experienced than me but I helped him with the computer and office systems and he seemed grateful and was very appreciative.
We laughed together, helped each other with work and generally got on like a house on fire. He started to flirt and leave me little gifts, which I found flattering. However, I distinctly remember thinking at that time ‘I will have to put a stop to this. I think he is attracted to me’ (we both have SOs).
However, within about 3 months I had felt the glimmer and was deep into the madness of LE and didn’t want it to stop.
At the same time as all this was happening, I was being horribly bullied by a senior manager, to such an extent that I became ill and had to complain about her behaviour. ( I am extremely conscientious, yet she found fault with everything I did, which was soul destroying.) U see normal circumstances I am sure I would just have left the company, but I stayed to be close to LO.
HR told me that other people had also complained about the bullying manager and to resolve the situation they moved that manager to another office and promoted LO and made him permanent so he became my manager and mentor resulting in LE becoming more intense.
LO seemed slightly colder towards me but still we enjoyed great chats, sometimes about very personal matters. He appeared to be supportive of me and be encouraging towards me in my career path.
3 months later , to my absolute shock and horror, I received a performance letter from HR stating several very trivial examples of poor performance by me, all of which were either distortions or outright lies. My LO was named as the witness in the letter and I was invited to a disciplinary meeting.
LO had absented himself on the day I received this letter, so I could not confront him.
I immediately left the company as I couldn’t bear the thought of the disciplinary hearing or sitting across a table from him as he accused me of various invented misdemeanours.
I found all this experience absolutely devastating, and of course could not fully discuss it with my SO, as that would mean disclosing the true cause of my pain.
My SO is truly amazing and I would not hurt him for the world.
A close friend and my sister got me through that period, which I fear could have had a terrible outcome. My self confidence was totally shattered and I couldn’t work for 11 months.
I did try to contact LO on several occasions by text, but only got terse replies and it was obvious that he didn’t want me to ‘darken his door’ again. When I accused him by text of being a bad friend he told me to never contact him again and he refused to give me a reference for a future job.
After a period of NC, I stupidly wrote to him forgiving him , as I think he was pressurised into doing what he did by the bully boss, but I received no reply.
I did manage to get another job as I had plenty of other former managers who readily gave me a reference as they know me to be a loyal, committed employee. I replaced the bad working experience with a great one and regained my confidence.
I have now gone 3 years NC, but because it was not my choice, I don’t think I have had the closure I should have had. I have also been left with the mystery of never finding out what really happened or why LO acted as he did or why he just kicked me aside after a year of friendship.
I haven’t seen him for over 6 years but still think of him every day and wonder why he was so cruel. The LE has lessened but is still there and I don’t know why. Why would anyone still obsess over someone who was so horrible? ?
I just wondered if anyone else has had a LO who so abruptly and cruelly cut contact and how it affected them.
Limerent Emeritus says
“I just wondered if anyone else has had a LO who so abruptly and cruelly cut contact and how it affected them.”
There’s a blog on it: https://livingwithlimerence.com/case-study-ghosted-by-lo/
Thanks. That really helps. I hadn’t noticed that blog.
I have the experience of the work relationship ending ubruptly but with a different outcome. I went to lunch with my LO after he failed to sign the new contract for his employment there. We stayed, talked, I told him how I felt. I had been like his assistant, it was brutal to say the least when he left. He’d promoted me when his other program manager retired and off we went. I couldn’t believe what was happening to me. I cried on my way home after working with him for the day.
Well now we’re in a PA and it’s Heartbreak hotel for me and him. And he’s married and 15 years older than I am. So, my reasoning for going through with this is that I couldn’t let it hang. I had to find out, play it out. We’ll see in 3 years if the outcome is worse than yours. You are lucky he cut you off.
Hi Lotus, I hope you’re well and that the situation has improved in the meantime. I’ve been following this site for quite some time now, after a very bad LE (My first ever. Also for a mentor…of the narcissistic kind). We tackled that together with my husband, as a team, and we’re at a great place now. And although I think I’ve just had the “glimmer” now for someone else (also a mentor…), it’s comforting to know that, thanks to this site and my previous LE, I’m wiser now and I know how to manage it.
I’ve never commented on this site but 2 days ago something happened, and I feel like sharing it could be helpful to you and the rest of the community.
A friend of mine, 29 years old, told me she has cancer. I was in shock (still am), I didn’t expect it, she has a very healthy lifestyle and nobody in her family has ever had cancer. It’s just bad luck, so it could easily have been me.
As devastating as this news was, I think that in a weird way, it was the wake-up call I needed. Because I immediately had this feeling of “who would I want by my side if I were in her shoes”, and clearly, it was NOT LO. I may be wrong, but I think a lot of us, if we think deeply about it and if we’re honest with ourselves, would give a similar answer to that question. It truly helped me to picture myself in her situation, and I think it is a very good “exercise” to do whenever you’re in doubt about what/who is important in your life. Also, the fact that she’s going through this hardship gives me a sense of purpose because now being a good and supportive friend to her matters way more to me than indulging in limerent reverie.
It may not be much but I really hope this comment can help my fellow limerents 🙂