One of the most fascinating areas of science for me is the interface between neuroscience and psychology. To be more specific: neurophysiology is the study of how brains work at a mechanistic level (cells, synapses, neurochemicals), whereas psychology is more about how we behave and why we behave that way. There’s a general assumption that the one leads to the other; that psychology emerges from the underlying neurophysiology. But there are quite a few… conceptual gaps – shall we say? – between the two levels.
In the context of limerence, I think this interface between physiology and psychology is really important for figuring out how to respond constructively to an unwanted episode. My professional background, and approach to understanding and managing limerence, is more at the neurophysiology level. As a consequence, I tend to think in terms of reward pathways, reinforcement learning, neurotransmitters and so on, and attack the problem with the strategy of using psychological tactics to reprogram the established habits. As a result I approach limerence as a phenomenon that emerges from fundamental aspects of our neurophysiology, which makes it a very deep-rooted problem that lies as much in our evolutionary heritage as in our individual life experiences.
For those that favour the “talking therapies”, limerence seems like a very different problem. Here, the view is that personal problems in our history have shaped our psychology, and this has led to us behave in dysfunctional ways. From this perspective, limerence is not an emergent property of our neurophysiological inheritance, it is an aberrant behaviour that arises from psychologically damaging events within our short lifetime. Accordingly, the “fix” is to identify the historical causes of the dysfunction, and by naming them, become liberated from them. Hopefully.
Unpicking why this distinction matters is quite a subtle concept. Physiology determines psychology, but experience and behaviour alter physiology too. Brains are amazingly plastic and adaptable, and are basically machines for turning sensory information into behaviour. They are also machines that self-assemble (which is quite impressive when you think about it) forming certain patterns of neuronal circuits that can be used to carry out specific computational tasks. The environment then modifies the circuits using reward and punishment feedback until the blossoming human seeks rewarding things, avoids painful things, and sometimes composes symphonies.
Here’s another way of looking at it: we have an inbuilt mechanism for becoming limerent due to the way our brains work, but our individual life experiences will determine when romantic attraction over-tips and becomes a runaway snowball of obsessive infatuation.
Therefore, understanding the neuroscience of limerence is essential to figuring out how to reverse the mental state, but if you don’t know what in your psychological history set up the triggers that start the snowball rolling, you’ll still be vulnerable to it happening again in the future.
Similarly, identifying the triggers as being linked to say parental bonding, or past romantic failures, or personal insecurity, is very useful – but that knowledge in itself doesn’t correct the neurochemical feedback loops or limerence-reinforcing habits.
Think about this stuff for long enough and you realise that the physiology and psychology are utterly interwoven and inseparable. It’s naive to think you can affect one without affecting the other, or treat one without treating the other; and so the only surefire way to master limerence is to work at both levels.
First, deal with the current situation by counteracting your established patterns of thought and behaviour, and second, analyse the triggers and cues that set you off in the first place, and what experiences in your past might have set you up to be primed by those cues.
As a strategy, it’s a cause for some optimism. We can use what we know about neuroscience to retrain ourselves away from the reinforcing behaviour that deepens limerence, and our brains will (slowly, and with some resistance) lay down a new habit of behaving like the kind of people we want to be. That’s a cognitive behavioural therapy approach.
Then, we can investigate why we fell so emphatically for our own personal LOs, and explore who we really are deep down. That’s a counselling, or psychotherapeutic, approach.
Meld all this together and you get the principles of a purposeful life: what do I want to achieve, who do I want to be, what can I practically do to help myself now, and what old habits or experiences are holding me back?
This approach focuses on improving ourselves, and clarifies the fact that there’s no benefit to blaming other people, or fate, or giving in to unwarranted despair. It’s all about recognising that the way we think, the way we feel, and the way we act, are all interdependent and can be used as levers to steer ourselves in new directions.
All the way to freedom.
First – remove yourself from the threat. Second – figure out why radioactive Twinkies are your poison of choice.
Some of the readers will recognize the reference.
Oh this post! How do I love thee? Let me count the ways!
3. Non- judgemental
4. Helps define attainable and realistic goals
5. Accessible and succinct
8. Engenders heightened self awareness
All the way to freedom!
Agree with all points raised by Jaideux!
Well written, DrL, I literally digested every single sentence slowly. So much food for thought. Love it!
Now I have to figure out how to best apply this to my LE and learn from it.
I think I’ve dealt with the psychological side but I’m not quite past the physiological side. It’s interesting what fires up the old neural pathways. The latest trigger:
LO #4 likes beer. When we were in contact, we’d talk about it. We have different preferences but it was something we sort of bonded over. I could see us drinking beer together. I never actually met LO #4 but because of where she moved to, in my mind, I could see exactly where we’d drink it. On a side note, my wife doesn’t like beer. Beer was something that made LO #4 different and appealing. Not better but different.
When I made my opioid induced trip down memory lane a few weeks ago, I read a post on her social media that talked about beer. I actually took it as an affront that she’d discuss beer with someone else. I saw beer as OUR thing. I saw a redhead in a microbrewery shortly after and now, every time I get near a pub/microbrewery I think of LO #4.
Seriously? We’ve been NC for 3.5 years and nothing’s changed to alter that but somehow, LO #4 and beer have connected themselves. I kid you not.
My Limerent Brain Is An Idiot says
Wow, you’re going to think about LO#4 a lot during sporting events!
Scharny I am curious as to why you continue to check out past LO’s social media. I am not judging, just trying to decide if I should unfollow my now former LO, that I have gone NC with. Penny for your thoughts.
It was a relapse with a small “r.”
I’ve had some medical setbacks recently. My son has ongoing medical issues. I was off work for several weeks and I was taking Percocet for a short time. I think the combination of lots of time, the stress of what’s going on, and the Percocet, contributed to me checking out her social media. She blocked me on her personal page but you can’t block professional pages. It was, “You really don’t want to do this…Oh, yes, I do….” And, I did.
It’s not horrible. I had to do what I call “active suppression” to get back on track but it’s getting better. I just happen to notice that since I looked at her social media, every time I look at the beer menu in a microbrewery, I think, “Would LO #4 like any of these?” The beer was a residual aftereffect.
I blocked LO #2 and her BF on Facebook for a time. I got tired of seeing them come up in my search queue. I reclaimed 4 letters of the alphabet. I recently unblocked them. I think that’s ok. In “The definition of limerence,” DrL has the flowchart on how limerence plays out. I took LO #2 to its conclusion. She was a real part of my life for 5 years and I’ll never forget her. LO #2 is no longer a threat.
LO #4 was the red path. I wasn’t able to see that LE to its conclusion. The anxiety I experienced after looking at her site tells me that for reasons I don’t understand, she’s still a threat. I know I don’t have a place for LO #4 in my life. The buzz I got from thinking of her get rapidly snuffed by the reality that’s it’s never going to happen.
If blocking your LO supports NC, do it. It’s more symbolic than anything else but maybe the extra step of unblocking them may keep you on the path.
Your comments about one LO being a threat and the other isn’t really resonates with me. I was extremely limerent for a guy I dated. I didn’t know it at the time, but his friend later told me he was also crazy limerent for me (although at the time I didn’t know the concept of limerence). Even though we were together, I knew we weren’t a good match and it was bound to end in a massive heartbreak for me, and the only way out I saw was to break up with him. I was so crazy about him I couldn’t eat, sleep, think… it was so distracting that it messed with my studies, I couldn’t focus anymore. Long story short, apparently I broke his heart (and mine too). This has been 15 years ago and thinking of him doesn’t do anything anymore, I’ve reached closure a long time ago and he is no threat at all. But I recently moved back into the area and I am pretty sure he lives around here as well and I wonder if I’ll ever bump into him accidentally at the grocery store or a restaurant or even the hospital (he’s a doctor) or so. And I am curious if anything happens to me (like a physiological reaction) if I ever see him again. Or if nothing happens at all. This is pure curiosity, in the mindfulness sense I am just interested what happens to my body and a chance to be aware about it and learn from it.
“…wonder if I’ll ever bump into him accidentally at the grocery store or a restaurant or even the hospital (he’s a doctor) or so…This is pure curiosity, in the mindfulness sense I am just interested what happens to my body and a chance to be aware about it and learn from it. ”
Part of me would love to run into LO #2 & LO #4 in an airport.
Who knows? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oXlkwHECabU
Sarah – About eight years ago I ran into LO on a train. Or rather, I saw her on the train. We were at opposite ends of the carriage. I don’t think she saw me. She was talking to her mother and I was rather awkwardly trying to avoid looking at her because I was a mess and I didn’t want her to see me.
I hadn’t seen her for a year at this point and I had wondered to myself how I’d feel if I saw her again. If I’d still feel the same way about her. Well, my reaction coupled with my rapid pulse upon seeing her basically answered that question for me.
Could be different for you. Who knows?
Mike, I think I should be fine, as my LE is 15 years back, and i haven’t seen him once since then. I did google him two days ago and actually saw which doctors office he works at (with a pic of him) It didn’t raise my pulse at all. He was never on social media so I never saw any update of his life, other than one or two people verbally updating me that went to school with him.
Personally I avoid use of social media because of LO. There are other reasons (privacy concerns, I don’t really like it, etc) but that’s the main one. When I did use it I’d spend most of my time looking at her pictures. Eventually I got frustrated because here she was living this happy life in those pictures and I wasn’t a part of it.
I try to avoid googling her too. I had a slip on that around April and it really killed me. I couldn’t sleep for a week. The worst part is that I didn’t find out anything that I didn’t already know or couldn’t have guessed. She finished her legal training. She’s now a qualified solicitor. As far as I could tell, she doesn’t appear to be married or have any children (my biggest fear). But it really hurt me nonetheless. For some reason the simple fact of her moving with her life and being successful seems to fill me with pain. It sounds horrible to say, especially about someone you love, but I honestly think I’d feel better if I knew she was a failure and miserable in life.
Anonymous Limerent says
Mike, I think you worded the last sentence quite harshly, but it makes sense.
It’s like in school, when I can hear LO talking and laughing and gossiping with her friends or, hurtfully, other boys, and I get so depressed because she’s living a normal, happy life while I’m not too far away, hating myself and wishing I could do what she’s doing. I think what makes it worse is I delusionally (if that’s a word) think she must be aware of the hurt she’s causing me but still does it anyway. Which is impossible, because I’ve hidden my pain so well only 5 people have noticed. And they don’t have a clue what’s going on.
“It sounds horrible to say, especially about someone you love, but I honestly think I’d feel better if I knew she was a failure and miserable in life.”
There’s a reason for that. We’ll toss out Schadenfreude since we usually don’t take pleasure in the misfortune of people we care about.
If you tilt toward the numinous, we like it when they fail with someone else. It allows us to hang on to that little nagging possibility that she would have been happy with us. Then, you toss in things like your SO, her SO, whatever the obstacles, and becomes the stuff of grand opera. Their success and happiness diminishes our significance. We’re not as special or important as we’d like to think we are. They’re getting along just fine without us and that can be tough to accept.
My Limerent Brain Is An Idiot says
Scharnhorst, that’s a very insightful post. My own self-reflection leads me to the conclusion that there *is* a particle of narcissism in the core blend of limerence, and you stated it well. If it was all altruistic, one could see one’s LO all happy and moving on with their life–and be just fine with it, even happy for them. But if they are doing so well, they won’t need a rescuer (like myself), right? And if they can do just fine without me, they CLEARLY aren’t moping around wishing they were with me. So they aren’t reciprocating, which is one of the core desires of the limerent. Not to even mention the overwhelming desire for exclusivity.
That’s why my #1 rule is to extinguish all thoughts of my LO as soon as they appear. It’s just a long slog through my own weaknesses and, well, idiocy – and I HATE finding out how much of an idiot my limerent brain truly is.
Ready for the next advanced concept? What legacy will you leave your LO with? How will your LO remember you down the road? Will your LO smile should you cross their thoughts or will you be the perennial happy hour or break room story? For those of you in professional relationships with your LO, will they see you as a mentor? Will they ever stop to think that maybe they got where they are because you helped them? They may remember you forever or they may not. If they do, what will they remember?
I doubt LO #1 & #3 remember me. There’s no doubt in my mind they were more significant to me than I was to them. That may be true with LO #2 and LO #4 but I WANT LO #2 & LO #4 to remember me.
I wondered if LO #2 ever thought of me over the years. LO #2 sent me a Facebook friend request 25 years after we said goodbye. Even if it was an accident, the implication was she was looking. Looking at her new husband’s FB profile, he could be my clone. In 1987, LO #2 told me, “I’m still a nurse today because of you.” In 2015, she won some national nursing award. If she wasn’t lying to me in 1987, I contributed to that.
When we said goodbye, I asked LO #4 to delete my account. She asked if I’d really have a problem not deleting it. She said that deleting an account removes all that person’s content and deleting mine would get rid of some things she liked and would leave gaping holes. 3.5 years later, I got the shotgun email and, in a fit of pique, I asked her to delete it, again. She banned me but didn’t delete me. She also responded to the email. Implication: if the content wasn’t valuable in itself, at least there was enough of it to keep it around for the sake of the site. Over the years, I sent her a few small unique birthday presents (an emotional affair indicator, btw). If she kept them, she’ll remember who they came from.
Since I’m not in contact with them, I have no idea what my legacy is them but I’m pretty sure I have one.
I ruminate on this from time to time. I wonder if it is the last gasp of my limerence trying to latch on to something that still connects me to LO. And then I think I’m overthinking everything again (a habit of mine).
My usual conclusion is that it doesn’t matter either way – we don’t get to pick our own legacies, we just get to hope our actions justify a good one.
NC for almost 3 weeks now (still mental work in progress). Starting to think in past terms. What was, is in the past and will stay there. It still hurts though.
I was happy to hear that his LE with his new LO ended. But then the “she wants me, she wants me not” started (and he sought my advise on what to do), when I finally decided to go NC. It shouldn’t matter to me if he is with her or not and I should want him to be happy (but I am still glad to know he is not with her and it didn’t work out and I am secretly hoping that I meant more to him than she did) but then again… he moved on, he does not want to be with me. I shouldn’t be hung up over an LO that does not reciprocate. I should focus on my SO.
Sarah, Be done. Focus on your SO. I’m working to repair the damage with my SO. We are in counseling, Its difficult to hear how deep the damage went. I’ve gone total NC, not LC. The entire situation I was in was toxic. Better news -Yesterday, I was offered an opportunity to perform in a different venue by someone who knows somewhat of the situation, but was too busy to remain involved. I’m grateful, and consider this a positive move towards the purposeful.
My answer to the mentor question is No. It is the last gasp. And why should you care?( This is what those I care about told me) The LO used you and moved on.
Yes, I think the key thing here is that I don’t care emotionally what LO thinks of me (or at least I am able to allow the momentary twinge to dissipate effortlessly). But I do care at an intellectual level. I would like to have left more benefit behind me than damage.
But yes, again, it doesn’t matter, and I’m certainly not going to fall into the trap of trying to revisit or revise the past!
“Its difficult to hear how deep the damage went.”
On the other hand – it lets you know how important you are to your SO. I hope “are” rather than “was” important. As you’re in counseling, I’m betting on the present tense.
“Yesterday, I was offered an opportunity to perform in a different venue”
Oh that is wonderful news! I hope it’s a great opportunity for you.
Ditto – congrats on the new opportunity lowendj. Hope you crush it (with purpose)!
“But I do care at an intellectual level. I would like to have left more benefit behind me than damage.”
That’s probably a fairly standard sentiment. I think we’d all like to believe we left our LOs better off than we found them, at least those of us who are fixers/rescuers.
However, with respect to LO #2, a therapist told me, “You’ll be a thorn in that woman’s side forever.” She said that I could be “The One That Got Away.” I really like that notion. I have no idea if it’s true, and, as noted, it doesn’t make any difference. But, there’s no higher position in the Pantheon of Exes than TOTGA. It’s a legacy I can live with.
Great news on your new opportunity!
I am getting there, but I need some more time. NC really helps. I thought for the longest time that I want to keep LO as a friend, hence wasn’t able to go NC. But now, it slowly starts to fade, and that was only possible with NC. Now I think I don’t even want LO as a friend, as it wouldn’t work out for me.
Agree with DrL and lowendj, it doesn’t matter what LO thinks.
Thanks all! Last night was supposed to go in an entirely different direction, but because I decided to out to network with different people, it all fell in line.
However, I caution all to avoid thoughts like- LO is “better”since being involved…will realize what he/she is missing…etc. All suggesting vindication or revenge at some future point in time (Yeah, me too). You might get that opportunity. Sweet if you do. But we all should give it up.😁
Dopamine feels so good! When I don’t have limerence for someone I’m trying to date, I feel friendly and indifferent toward them but have no interest in a sexual relationship (and I looove sex), even if we have a great time together and he would be a good partner. The idea of spending my life with someone who is basically like a brother to me (non LO) feels absolutely soul crushing. I don’t know how to overcome this, and I don’t understand why I need to. I don’t experience the devastation people speak of, the fantasies aren’t hurting anyone, and if I act normal and be patient… a lot of times the LO can become a boyfriend.
Misdemeanour, I see nothing wrong with your viewpoint for two single people. When barriers are present, such as either one or both of you being married/attached, limerence is a beast that can be difficult to withdraw from.
Misdemeanor – had my LO and I both been single, then I’d fully agree with you! I would have given the relationship a chance and the dopamine would be great.
For me the devastation came from wanting conflicting things, and as much as I wanted reciprocation from my LO, I absolutely did not want to hurt my husband, his wife or any of our children. The price for the dopamine hits was too high.
If it’s not causing you (or anyone else) a problem then it’s not something that needs to be treated!
Have you read DrL’s “Is Limerence All Bad?”
If you’re available and limerence isn’t a disruptive force in your life, go for it. Finding your Twin Flame, if you believe in them, is as good as it ever gets. I thought I found mine a long time ago but it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. I thought our connection transcended the mortal world. We were different. We fed off each other and together there’d be no stopping us. We’d have the world by the tail. Juice Newton sang about it, “In the Heart of the Night” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g1VAMl9dA64). I felt sorry for people whose relationships didn’t have that kind of power. I was wrong across the board but it took two therapists and a subsequent LE decades later to understand why.
If you continually bypass suitable candidates in hopes of finding your LO soulmate, repeatedly chase unsuitable candidates, or actually kind of get off on repeating the cycle of dissatisfying LEs, you may want to look into that. Finding your LO soulmate/twin flame can make finding the Holy Grail look like a cakewalk. You don’t really want to find the Grail, you just want to keep looking for it.
Just finished reading Irvin Yalom’s “When Nietzsche wept”, which I recommend to all of you, and I think the character in the book, Josef Breuer, is kind of limerent towards one of his patients. I don’t really want to spoil the book to you, so I will try to describe the idea without making a strict reference: imagining the limerent object with another person doing the exact things that they do towards you (wether they are real or imaginary attitudes of flirting) helps a lot, and may eventually help overcome the infatuation. It just helps you normalize those actions and lesser the effect they have on you.
As most psycholigical disorders, I’m pretty sure limerence can be overcame with both psychoanalisys, by determining the triggers, and cognitive behavioral therapy, by restructuring neural paths, which is what’s righlty described in this post. It’s funny because I’ve been thinking about this issues lately and came across this post today which resumes my thoughts in a clear way.
And don’t forget to meditate; having control over your thoughts is a great part of the process (which could easily be considered as part of the behavioral therapy) and will let you observe your emotions, be it embarrasment, anxiety or fear without judging, giving you a chance to rationalize them. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel!
Sad Mouse says
“It’s not in the DMS-V” said the therapist to my limerent spouse, who recently disclosed to me his secret, unrequited, years-long obsession with our close mutual friend (also a coworker). Reading about limerence was a lightbulb moment for him and he has vigorously embraced the strategies outlined here (NC, disrupting old thought patterns, disclosure and sunlight to remove the intoxicating secrecy and uncertainty).
But his therapist wants to create a space for him to grieve the loss of his friendship (which I’m resisting putting in sarcasm quotes, but the fact remains that it was a pretty casual friendship until he became limerent for her 2.5 years ago and started pursuing it. I was actually closer to LO in real life. ) I think maybe (per therapist) he’s also meant to be grieving the loss of the special feelings he had and the fantasy of reciprocation/this alternate castle on a cloud that he’d built for himself.
Can one effectively do both? Move on from limerence through NC, disclosure, trying not to ruminate, rebonding with one’s spouse–but also take the time and space to grieve the relationship (both real and fantasy) to LO in one-on-one therapy? I guess we’re both a little concerned that talking about the LO and his feelings for her will make them seem more real and give them longer life.
Sad Mouse says
Correction: *DSM-V* (which would be the American Psychiatric Association’s reference of diagnosable conditions)
I’d say there’s two levels to this, Sad Mouse. First, you have to get the limerent feelings under control. That means the strategies I advocate here (and by the sounds of it what you spouse is pursuing). That’s what I call “emergency deprogramming” – hence the name of my course 🙂
The second level is that once the emergency is under control, you can do the deep work of understanding why you were vulnerable to limerence, and what it might be telling you about unaddressed psychological needs.
My instinct is that the structured grieving would be useful in the second phase, but (as I think you sense) could be counterproductive in the first phase. The limerent will have to acknowledge that there will be loss at the fantasy evaporating, and that they will likely feel disenfranchised grief, but keeping the limerent object central in mind during the deprogramming phase may slow progress.
That’s my perspective as a neuroscientist. But clearly, your spouse should take his therapist’s professional perspective seriously.
Sad Mouse says
Thanks, Dr. L. This makes sense. It’s hard to know quite how far along we are in getting the emergency under control but we have at the very least some serious momentum in the right direction. The foundations of our marriage still feel secure. And I guess the faint silver lining of this weird socially distant phase of our life is the fact that NC with LO is comparatively easy to institute–-and that being sheltered in place together means we have more time to communicate and remember what we love about each other and re-bond/rebuild.
I am fortunate in one regard: my spouse was never so far gone that he seriously contemplated leaving me for this other woman (and he claims that even in the throes of limerence, I didn’t suffer by comparison. On some level he still appreciated me and wanted our relationship to survive.) It wasn’t necessarily a welcome fantasy, and I believe he strongly wanted it to fade away so that LO could resume her natural place in his/our life (as a good friend/colleague with no additional pull on his heartstrings). He just couldn’t figure out how to make it go away on its own and the prospect of causing me pain made him reluctant to tell me what was really going on.
I think this discussing-loss-of-LO in therapy amounts to touching a bruise and seeing if it still hurts. Maybe doing that in structured dialogue with a trained therapist is better than doing it alone…especially if it can be a gateway to deeper personal insights that could help us avoid a repeat in the future.
Limerence isn’t in the DSM-III or DSM-IV. But, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. The DSM is partially driven by politics and economics. For example, check out Self-Defeating Personality Disorder (aka Masochistic Personality Disorder) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-defeating_personality_disorder. It was in the DSM-III but removed from the DSM-IV for being too controversial. Also, specific DSM conditions have specific codes therapists can use to bill insurance companies.
If you want an idea of what he might be dealing with, check out https://livingwithlimerence.com/2019/04/06/the-loneliness-of-no-contact/ My bet is he won’t be able to explain it yet because he probably hasn’t sorted through it all.
Also, if you search under “spouse” on the Blog page, you’ll get 3 pages of related blogs.
Personally, I found working with a therapist really helped me. I’ve worked with several over the years. But, I had an idea of what I wanted to get out of therapy and the therapists were more interested in helping me than putting me in a box which several of them tried. When my wife and I saw a marriage counselor just 2 years into our marriage, we started out with one. My wife didn’t really like the guy and we started seeing another therapist. I swear the same things came out of the second therapists mouth as came out of the first one but my wife felt comfortable with the second therapist and we stayed with her.
Keep an eye on his therapist. He/she sounds like an “in the box” type and limerence is usually outside most therapists’ boxes. Therapy can be a double edge sword for limerents. A good one can really help but a bad one can make things worse. Search for “therapy” and you’ll get a dozen blogs back. If this therapist doesn’t work for you, find one that does.
Therapists are like plumbers:
1. They vary in quality and expertise.
2. We confer expert status on them and believe what they say.
3. You usually only look for one when there’s a crisis.
4. You tend to go with the first one who answers your call.
Sad Mouse says
Thanks–this is helpful context. I think I’ve already read just about every blog post on this site. Most of them are helpful. The comments are sometimes enlightening and sometimes terrifying. I’ll show them from time to time to SO and say “really? was it like this?” Sometimes he will say yes; other times he’ll say “not so much.” It seems perhaps his limerence was less all-consuming than it might have been. And perhaps the foundation of our marriage was more secure? I have much to be grateful for, even in the midst of this trauma.
The limerence framework is useful and it’s been frustrating that so few therapists seem to get it. Many want to call it a more conventional emotional affair (albeit a one-sided variant). Even within that framework, however, I’ve found useful content.
Sounds like the Venn overlap between affairs and limerence is non-trivial.
I am struggling at the moment.
I feel stuck.
I have ended contact for the second time 4 weeks ago.
I feel drawn to seeing her.
The fog has somewhat lifted.
Panic state and attacks have settled.
I have mental discomfort, intrusive obsessions, fantasy, permanent anxiety/aroused state, some yearning and pining (nowhere near as bad as the first time I ended contact 3 months ago)
I try distraction, mindfulness (I can start to read a book again just about), exercise, sleep, eat well, speak to people (about other stuff), tricky with lockdown.
Feels like my mind just drifts to LO.
I try to ride cravings. I try to block it out.
I read that it can take over a year to be free (on the optimistic side).
I’m considering getting SSRI and starting psychotherapy.
One option is just to move city or change career.
Kind of shock myself out of it.
Try and make lots of new connections.
Force myself to find more purpose in life.
Prior to it happening I think I was a sitting duck/vulnerable to it happening.
Ironically I work as a doctor and psychiatrist who has done some psychotherapy.
But still feel stuck.
And want to feel free.
Miss Anon says
Can I ask why you feel like you need to have no contact and not be drawn to her ?
If the feelings are strong, was it because it was in contradiction to something else you want more in your life?
I ask because I often wonder myself why am I fighting so hard against feelings that seem so instinctive and natural. In my case it is because I am trying to make a decision for the ‘greater good‘.
I’m not a psychiatrist or mental health professional but I’ve worked with maybe 10 of them when you count the hospital staff trying to help my diabetic son who’s depression and anxiety led to several in-patient stints and a bunch of 911 calls.
In the last 8+ years, he’s tried Sertraline, Zoloft, Viibryd, and Lexapro. Celaxa put him in the hospital in less than a week. He was on Buspirone and Hydroxezine for anxiety. They put him him on Straterra because the thought he might be ADD. Abilify sent his blood sugar through the roof. They had him on Lamictal. One psychiatrist diagnosed him a bipolar and put him on Lithium. That resulted in him breaking down in tears on the freeway at 60 MPH. We have a supply of Klonopin in case he goes off the deep end. We had something stronger than that but I can’t remember what it was. That guy was considering Thorzine and Mellaril. The psychiatrist we have now takes a more holistic approach and med-washed him down to 500mg of Depakote. He’s also in DBT and has made a lot of improvement.
I’m not a doctor but having seen the effects of those different classes, I’d recommend staying away from the medications and finding a good therapist instead. Don’t get hung up on the timetable. Limerence can be a positive thing in your life (but you won’t find many of them on LwL), it can be a minor annoyance, or it can wreck your life. We’re all different people living under different circumstances. I consider myself “Post-Limerent.” Limerence had the potential to really mess up my life but it didn’t and I got past it.
Just out of curiosity, why did you become a psychiatrist?
Thank you Scharnhorst.
I think the combination of type 1 diabetes and mental health difficulties can be a really toxic mix. I hope your son manages to find some stability. I like to think I am a psychologically minded psychiatrist. I chose it because I have more time with people and I found it more interesting than other specialties. However it is more emotionally draining. And it has plenty of challenges.
I think that it is a really a good point about limerence sometimes being positive. And this website will be biased towards negative experiences. I hoped I could re-frame my thinking and how I reacted in seeing this person but at the moment it seems something unhealthy and way out of control (unconsciously). I have enquired about therapy. I will think about an SSRI.
It’s good to hear you are post limerent. When in contact I certainly felt what I was experiencing could ruin my life. I guess the ongoing intrusive thoughts that just drift and can really consume and occupy my thinking is what I would like to be free of. I think the timeframe is a good point. Cheers.
I’m not sure what your situation or greater good is. I think a lot of comments touch on people already being in a relationships as being a major obstacle.
I would like to say I would love to get in to contact, hang out, be my normal self and get to know the person. However, as soon as I am in contact, my mind and body becomes consumed and I cannot think of anything else, and I cannot do anything about it. I experience crushing chest pains waiting for a text. I feel lost in my mind when I’m at work trying to help other people. Or constantly feeling heart pounding and churning in my stomach and loins. Not being able to sleep and eat properly. And I can’t control or contain it. It immediately returned on getting back in touch. Plus permanent anxious and panic state. Seems very unconscious and like an addiction when I’m in the middle of it.
I feel like it seems wrong when there is not a clear obstacle in the way, apart from some ambivalence on behalf of the girl. I am attracted physically, enjoyed her company on the several dates and times I spent with her prior, and there was some reciprocation, but also ambivalence. I guess my greater good is for my own health and a balanced relationship in the future, certainly in me.
I had reached a crossroads in my life, career and location to live which added a time boundary and existential dilemna when I met and started seeing this person. I was not fully happy and probably had some deeper loneliness and unfulfilment . If anything I was emotionally ready and had space for a relationship. I definitely emotionally attuned and attached way too much early on (I had learnt to do psychodynamic therapy during this). I know I drifted and fantasized as a source of pleasure, whenever I was tired, down etc after first meeting this person. My thoughts in the day became more consumed and connected to the person. I think there are deeper issues that I more mindful of and possibly will learn more with therapy. I think the SSRI might help with my obsessive thoughts and anxiety state as well as time.
Hopefully, that answers your question. It may be not what you expected and now don’t relate to my situation. I could have simply said I feel my gut knows it is right for me to step away. I hope you find clarity in yours.
You know yourself best. If you think SSRIs might help, go for it. Part of every discharge plan for my son involved both a psychiatrist for managing the medication and a therapist for the rest of it.
I’m all for “better living through chemistry” if that’s what it takes. In November, 2018, I wasn’t on a single prescription medication. By June, 2019, I was on 8 of them. You do what you have to.
Miss Anon says
My situation is different in terms of barriers, yes, but I can truly relate to what you have described. I too suffered from many of the feelings you have written about, particularly the feeling of addiction and anxiety, the emotions were so strong at times I felt I was losing my mind.
I just realised I used the past tense on suffered. I still do have great sadness and rumination, but with bouts of no contact over a number of years, eventually my internal reactions have lost their magnitude. Unfortunately it transformed into an ongoing dull ache of ‘missing’ and thoughts of ‘what could have been’. Which makes me worry that if I started being in contact the addiction would return immediately.
I wish you courage and strength in finding a way out of the feelings. I know only too well how it can feel like being trapped. I still feel trapped that I can’t completely let it go, so I have a different phase to work on.
Is this a recurrent problem for you – of a very powerful and disruptive limerence reaction when you are romantically interested in someone – or is it specific to this latest LO? I am aware of the general negative tone of the site for single folks, despite limerence being a positive experience under the right circumstances, but it does sound as though you are getting more pain than pleasure as things stand.
As with Scharnhorst, my attitude to SSRI treatment is cautious. I hear from limerents who say they help with stabilising the emotional extremes, but generally people are taking them for depression or anxiety and the effect on limerence is kind of a bystander phenomenon. And I’m sure you know the broader risks as well as anyone.
There are CBT methods to help to break the habits that reinforce limerence, but your situation does sound like LO has triggered something really deep in you. If she is kind of interested, but not all that keen, then it’s understandable that your uncertainty would ratchet up, but if you are free to pursue her, then in principle you could follow up to find out how she really feels. But not if the overarousal of limerence crashes your emotional stability. Have you been able to figure out what she might be triggering in you?
Given what you’ve achieved professionally, it seems a shame to solve this problem by moving job and city. Maybe reframing this as an opportunity to get to grips with your psychological blocks around romantic attraction could help to give a sense of purpose to confronting the source of your vulnerability?
Wishing you all the best.
Hi Simon. It must be really hard to feel that loss of control when faced with your LO. Have had that myself – it can feel very embarrassing sometimes. Is rumination central to your LE? This is something I have struggled with a lot. And the more my LE brings me down, the more my mind automatically turns to rumination to bring relief to the sad feelings, thus compounding the LO addiction. Have you tried Dr’Ls Emergency Deprogramming course? It includes a wonderful section about mastering rumination with many different techniques to try. This course is worth every penny trust me! The techniques are effective so long as you have the resolve to keep applying them – this has been the hard part for me. Wishing you the best in resolving this.
What can I say? A perfect article.
“Unwarranted despair” has been my life for almost two years now.
I’d ask my therapist, who I’d had months before I met LO, “what is wrong with me? Why can’t I get past this?”
I’d cry uncontrollably during breaks at work. My eyes fill with tears as I type this.
My LO said I put him on a pedestal. We both knew my reactions/sadness to his rejection were off. He tried to be supportive but he also gave off mixed signals (“I’m on your side of the bed”; “I’m trying to not have feelings for you”)
Untrue about the pedestal…I knew his many faults and issues. I felt that I could deal with them. My therapist described him as “broken.” She said he would drag me down. Like my dad, who had my mom to care for him.
As I’ve said, limerence happened because of the events in my life and meeting this man at the wrong time. Another time, we’d have met and been friends. My regret is that it’s probably not possible now.
I’m grateful that there’s a name for it. If you’re hot for someone for a few weeks/months, or dealing with a fresh breakup, I’d wager that it’s not limerence.
Limerence makes life stale without your LO. It’s a poison that taints every day, all day long.
It’s unbelievably difficult.
It was just over two years ago I became friends with someone who I met who visited my work, and we kept in contact even though he lived further away. It was like a mentoring type friendship someone who really enjoyed chatting to me for long time -there was an attraction at the start but this person did not consume my thoughts then, I just kept it a distance as he is 19 years younger than me. However It had been a very long time since I had been really attracted to someone and feel anywhere near being intimate.
One time when he did visit half a year later we did get intimate. It was from then on the limerence started, as it did not continue to develop into a relationship. He
It has happened to me before. No limerence before actual physical intimacy, then it doesn’t become a relationship and then that is when I get completely hooked/triggered into a limerent state of obsessive thoughts and the relationship not going anywhere, then friendship feels ruined.
A lot of what I read here people are getting Limerent without physical contact. I am now concerned over even becoming physical with anyone I am attracted too, as can’t handle these limerence episodes. I can’t seem to help it the effect it has on me after physical intimacy.
I am no where near this person where I live, however kept in contact as friends now and again, but find it unbearable to know he has a beautiful girlfriend now who is young, seems so connected, wise and artistic and seems to has everything for him that I don’t. – her being his same age.
I am trying to get on with so many other lovely interests and books, things to study, but find myself reading up about limerence as this person consumes my thoughts no matter how much I have read up about it already and understand the neuroscience and the biochemical processes of my being after intimacy, so understanding intellectually I can keep doing but this thing seems so incontrollable. Even if I want to stay relaxed and be friends with them as I know it is not about them but about what is going on in me. I can own it but unfairly really feels like an infliction it’s not fair to have.
It’s not fair, Ruby. You’re right.
It is especially potent for limerents to get to the point of physical intimacy (proving that LO is attracted to you), but then have the budding connection just sort of peter out. That is one of the worst combinations of hope and uncertainty for strengthening limerence. LO wants something casual, but you want more. It does sound as though this is a big trigger for you.
The only way that I’ve figured out to deal with this sort of unfairness, is to accept that it is outside of your control. It’s trite to point it out, but life often is unfair, and so the only practical option is to focus on what you can control and work on improving your life by making it more purposeful. We are all freighted with our own afflictions, and limerence can be a big one, but I’m also a bit more optimistic about integrating it into life in a healthy way rather than seeing it as a disease to be purged.
Getting to know yourself, being honest about what you want, and being strategic about what to spend your time and effort on are the key points. There’s a post here that adds more.
Good luck navigating your way through this.
I just learned the term limerence and it’s a relief to have a word to describe how I have felt for the last 5-7 years.
We broke up soooo long ago but I can’t ever stop the pain of his memory and the breakup. I refuse to think of the good times because it makes it worse. And I shove aside the pain when it hits me.
I see where people talk about significant others- I cant imagine being able to have a SO, the way I still obsess over him.
Our breakups were always huge ordeals with terrible crying from me and walk outs (because I said to) by him.
I can see him walking out my door 3 different times before the last one, when I literally begged him not to go.
I’m such a mess. I can’t afford therapy. I have literally no friends.
I am starting to feel a little bit less obsessed but I still dream about him almost every night.