Another year rolls round to its end, and here in the UK we’ve had some proper Christmassy weather, with subzero temperatures and a frost-bedecked world. The betting markets are doing their usual roaring trade in gambling on whether we’ll have a white Christmas, but given how it’s been warming up this last week, the bookmakers look set to be the main winners again.
Despite being a mostly secular nation, Christmas is a big part of British culture, and so it comes with a large dose of psychological meaning. One consequence is that limerent distress – or vulnerability – can be heightened by the amplification of importance that seems to come with significant dates.
This distress can take different forms, depending on the limerent’s circumstances. Maybe you are single, and missing your LO more intensely than ever. Maybe your LO isn’t single, and so that sadness is given extra piquancy by imagining them with their partner or family – your exclusion heightened by the shame of wanting someone who is already taken. Or, maybe you are not single. Maybe you have a family who deserve your love and attention, but you are wrestling with the guilt of being constantly distracted by urgent, intrusive thoughts of LO.
Sadly, there are lots of ways in which limerence can spoil the holidays, or the holidays can worsen limerence. So, this Christmas eve in the LwL coffeehouse, let’s pour ourselves a mulled wine in place of our usual coffee, and contemplate what can be done to manage the season’s melancholia.
1. Capitalise on no contact time
It’s usually the case that holiday time means enforced separation from a Limerent Object. Try to think of that as an opportunity, not a loss.
While withdrawal can be painful, you can also use it as a way to try and build resilience. When you find the intrusive thoughts about LO getting bad, take some time to tell yourself “this is helping me build resistance”, rather than giving into the impulse to reach out and dispel the discomfort by contacting them.
Even worse, if your LO is unavailable and spending time with their family, then you might just be inviting more pain by texting them in the hope that some contact will give relief. Instead, you might invite the agony of endlessly waiting for them to reply.
Try to use the time away from LO productively, by building your recovery mindset and bolstering your resolve.
2. Don’t break existing no contact
An alternative scenario to consider is when you have already been limiting contact for some time, but miss them more acutely because of the festivities.
There are abundant excuses for getting back in touch with them – to wish them a happy Christmas, or happy New Year, or to express your hope that they are doing well – which can give you a fig leaf of deniability.
This is another chance to test your resilience. When you are gifted an opportunity to break No Contact with a ready-made culturally-approved excuse, it’s even more psychologically powerful to resist.
If you have the grit to ride out the temptation and not give in, you’ll do wonders for your recovery. Resistance is more meaningful when you have an excuse to indulge, but don’t take it.
Being aware that the pitfall of social deniability exists can be enough to give you that extra edge.
3. Use the sadness to start a life review
Resisting temptation is good, but sometimes the enforced separation can be hard to cope with. This is especially true if you are alone, but LO is surrounded by family (and in the worst imaginings of your subconscious, having a wonderful time while oblivious to your loneliness). Then, the challenge is not so much resisting desire, as coping with sadness.
One way of approaching this problem is to use the milestone of an important date to review your life honestly. Anniversaries and festivals are a time for reflection. It’s understandable to be sad at such times, but it can also be a time for a reset.
Stories are a powerful way of understanding the trials of life, and one of the most compelling is the story of rebirth. A good way to conceptualise your situation as a narrative, is to align your life to the season. You are in your midwinter, and that is when the world is at its darkest and coldest.
But winter passes.
The New Year comes with recovery and regrowth, and for you, too, the New Year holds the promise of a better life. Have compassion for yourself in these dark times, as you would for anyone else who is suffering loss – even disenfranchised grief.
The key message of rebirth stories is that the old life must be left behind – remembered, but transcended. Whatever circumstances meant that you could not be together with your LO are irrelevant to the central truth: they cannot give you relief from your sadness.
Looking ahead to the New Year and the coming spring, you no longer want to be mired in this mess of an asymmetrical obsession. You don’t want to stay where you are, or even worse trudge backwards, ever deeper into the darkness of the underworld.
You don’t know what new adventures are out there ahead of you, or what opportunities might arrive. You don’t know who you will find along the road. But, you do know that rebirth means new beginnings and new hope, and the determination to look forwards and leave the bitter past behind.