I’ve spent this week working on a new post on the neuroscience of how limerence fades, drawing on the literature of habituation and hedonic adaptation, but if I’m honest it’s been a bit of a slog.
Then, out of the blue, I had one of those days where coincidences (or synchronicity?) seemed to be trying to tell me something.
Like many people, I’m signed up to a lot of email newsletters (which vary in quality), but one of the good ones is from Mel Robbins. In the latest email she talked about languishing, and it really hit home.
Purposeful living is the guiding principle of this blog and the most useful mindset I’ve discovered so far for managing limerence and generally improving the quality of my life and relationships. The last couple of years have been testing, though.
The definition of languishing that Mel used is this:
You’re tired and overwhelmed by everything you have to manage in your life. You’re not getting out like you used to, and your habits are all over the place… these past years of stress, loss, change, and uncertainty have thrown your nervous system into a state of fight, flight, or freeze.
Now Mel was talking in general terms about how the last few years have affected everyone, but it hit home for me given my recent trials, and how they have disrupted a purposeful start to my year. I know there are good reasons for why I am feeling emotionally battered and less purposeful than usual, but it immediately struck me how difficult it is to escape the trap of languishing.
The problems of languishing are complex and compounding, and there are many intersections with limerence. So, I’m going to put off the neurophysiology of learned suppression of desire till next week, and spend some time pondering about languishing instead.
What is languishing?
I’d define it as a state of feeling restless and unhappy with the status quo, but stuck and unclear on how to improve things. That leads to tiredness, a lack of motivation, and the tendency to respond to the stress of overwhelm by escaping into easy pleasures (like social media). It also means a low threshold for giving up on difficult tasks, followed by anxiety about how you aren’t making progress. You could probably also add a dash of disgust about your own inaction.
I hear from a fair number of limerents in this state. They enjoyed the intoxicating thrills of a new limerent episode, but then toppled over into a debilitating post-euphoria hangover of persistent, toxic infatuation. When these folks encounter the concept of purposeful living, they grasp the logic of the idea, but struggle to muster enough energy or direction to start taking action. Instead, they languish in a fog of frazzled nerves, free-floating anxiety and suffocating inaction.
Languishing, by its nature, works against purposeful living, because just functioning seems enough of an effort. Forging a new life out of the wreckage of limerence seems an impossible ask.
Languishing makes you prone to limerence
I’ve written before about the perils of drifting through life, and how inattention about what you’re doing or where you’re going makes you vulnerable to limerence. If you are languishing, the situation is even more perilous.
Someone caught in a trap of low mood, low motivation and hopelessness will devour limerence with the urgency of a metabolism-hacking Influencer coming off a 48 hour fast.
Languishing stresses other relationships
I talked earlier about synchronicity, and while I was struggling with my writing and pondering the trap of languishing, Lost in Space left a comment on another post about his relationship with his wife:
I want her to be healthy and active with me long term and not get sick or die before me… yet her actions every day show me that she cares more about eating junk food, drinking sugary drinks and watching many hours of tv every day than she does about staying healthy and fit. Right or wrong, it does make me feel that she cares less about me as a man and as her husband, and that she takes me for granted and doesn’t feel a need to put in even moderate amounts of effort.
I love my wife very much, and I love her no matter what her body looks likes. And if I had to choose, I’d prefer to live with an obese but happy wife than a fit but unhappy wife, if those were truly my only two choices. But I do really struggle to understand why she can’t commit to basic self-care when she knows it’s important for herself, to me, and to our shared future.
It sounds like Lost in Space’s wife is languishing. When asked, she admits that she prefers fit men, and I’d bet money that if you asked her “do you wish you could be more disciplined and eat better and stay fitter?” she would say yes. Not many people make a purposeful choice to eat junk food and watch hours of TV.
No doubt there will be plenty of keyboard warriors ready to find fault with Lost in Space’s concerns, but there is a blunt reality to the fact that relationships thrive when people’s goals, values and beliefs are aligned. At minimum, they need to be compatible.
Emotional affairs often begin with oversharing about problems in a marriage.
How to stop languishing and take action
I’m taking a fairly unsympathetic approach to this issue, because I recognise the tendency to languish in myself, and know I need a cold dose of reality to snap me out of it. I currently feel inhibited about what to do with the limited time I have, and how to take action on the purposeful goals ahead of me. To be honest, my to-do list has become a wishlist. Things get added to the bottom faster than they are crossed off the top.
I haven’t yet found a good answer to this problem, and so instead I’m going to go back to Mel Robbins. She is currently running a free 3-part training program all about how to stop languishing and start taking action. As the final bit of synchronicity, it has the same name as my own quickstart guide on how to overcome limerence, Take Control. So, I’m going to take her course and see if it works.
One element of the exercise is social accountability, so if the discussion of languishing hit home for you, I’d invite you to join the course too and we’ll do it together. I’ll keep this post updated with comments as I go, and let’s see whether the Languishing Limerents of LwL can collectively get some benefit from working as a team.
There is a greater-than-zero chance that it will end with a sales pitch for a membership program, but there’s no harm in suspending my cynicism and trying!
Limerent Emeritus says
Song of the Blog: “Slip Slidin’ Away” – Paul Simon (1977)
Meme of the Blog:
Nice! Mixing in a little self sabotage perhaps ?
Limerent Emeritus says
Something like this?
There ya go!
Work in Progress says
I love this read Dr L – I think we all need a check in from time to time and that we always are a WIP. Even after my LE I felt getting my life on track was where it was at, but I have noticed as time has gone by that I have started to fall back into old/bad habits:
– scrolling on my phone before bed (really ditched this habit after my LE and went straight to reading books before bed!)
– drinking more (went off booze after my LE to help with anxiety but a glass or three is slowly creeping back in!)
– going to bed later
– waking later (never been an early riser but always feel a million dollars when I do wake up earlier and throw in a walk with the dog at the park)
– eating due to boredom (mainly pre-dinner time, filling in that time between getting home with the kids till dinner – kids are older and more self-sufficient these days!)
I am pleased to say, I ditched watching TV and have stayed off binge watching as nothing really catches my eye – unless it’s Lego Masters, Madalorian, & Ted Lasso that we watch as a fam!
It’s like you try and fill in the void – I’m not sure what that void is and whether it’s just part of mid life as the term “having fun” seems to drop off the radar and more of the hum drum of life kicks in!
I know that’s where purposeful living comes in but it’s a tough slog some days.
My LE is completely behind me now, but I am always digging deep to ensure I stay on the purposeful road.
Will check out Mel Robbins course – may help with the healthy eating program I’ve just signed up for this week! 😂
This is EXACTLY my problem right now.
I did make some positive changes to my life after my EA but it sure doesn’t take long to fall back on some bad habits.
Really concentrating on Purposeful Living and it sure has helped but I am dragging my feet at actually making plans to move forward. With my Limerence about 70 to 75% better this is the perfect time!
I’m just tired. Exhausted is a better descriptor.
I can’t think in all of my 45 years on this earth, anything that has sucked the life out of me more than this.
Learned some valuable lessons and working on healing my lonely, sad inner child
So at least I have that and also this site and all of you wonderful people.
We can do this!
Lost in Space says
Here’s some happy synchronicity – right after I finished reading this post for the first time last night, I walked out into our garage/home gym and found my wife in the middle of a hard workout, listening to the music of her youth at full blast, sweating away WITH A BIG SMILE ON HER FACE. I told her later how happy it made me to see her seeming to enjoy a workout (and that she’d initiated working out on her own), and she seemed pleased that I noticed that.
Dr. L – I think your description of languishing is spot on, and is exactly what I’ve noticed in my SO over much of the past years. And I think it creates problems for us in part because I’m what I’d call an “anti-languisher”. As you all know from reading my posts, I’m definitely a guy who’s definitely subject to strong emotional swings and can get to feeling really down and upset, but my M.O. has always been that when I feel down and bad, I get more active rather than less. I hate just sitting with negative emotions, and find it hard to adequately distract myself with passive things like tv watching or video game playing, so I tend to lean into active things to distract and sooth myself when I’m upset.
For example, the other night I was feeling absolutely horrible after a text exchange with LO, and SO was kind of checked out for the evening doing her own thing, so I was on my own for the evening after the kids went to bed. I thought to myself “I can lay on the couch and feel like crap, or I can clean the bathrooms and work out while I feel like crap. Either way I’ll feel equally sad, but at least with the latter option the bathrooms will be clean and I’ll be a little more physically healthy”. And so I put on some heartbreak music and ruminated on sad thoughts while I cleaned both bathrooms and did a hard workout, and probably felt 10% better when it was done and I went to bed
And that’s just kind of how I usually operate, and I have to sometimes stop and recognize that this is one area where my wife and I are just wired differently. I get frustrated with her because I’m like “if you’re unhappy about something, why don’t you do something to change it?” and she gets frustrated because she feels like life is easy for me all of the time because I don’t suffer from outwardly obvious bouts of depression and low mood. And I guess maybe I should say “programmed differently” – I was raised by a hard working, “stiff upper lip” father who just worked through all his problems and a mother who was very supportive and always made me feel like I could accomplish things that I worked at, while SO was raised by a passive mother and a toxic step-father who constantly belittled her and made her feel like nothing she ever did was good enough, and so she was trained to believe that her own efforts wouldn’t help so why even try (which she’s actually managed to overcome in many areas of her life)
Recognizing this difference in me and SO has been helpful. For example, I know that tough love is usually good for me, but it’s absolutely counterproductive for her. I do my best when I feel challenged – she does her best when she feels safe. The best way I can support her in getting out of her doldrums is to support her in a way that makes her feel safe and secure and capable of succeeding in her goals
This is so good read. What a great way to end the weekend.
I think my languishing is not forgiving myself. I’m not sure why. Am I afraid to be present in my marriage even though my wife has made it clear that we can move on from this? She held me in her arms and comforted me while I had an intrusive thought of another woman! How much clearer can she make it? Does forgiving myself mean that I accept what I did was so terribly wrong? What have I possibly effected LO in her future and future relationships? Did I do her some permanent damage? Why does my wife choose to stay present in the relationship? What if it happens again? Vodka probably isn’t the right answer to these questions, but …..
What if you briefly had a d/s relationship for a few months with a friend while separated from a spouse for a few months? It’s hard to detox and not still feel strongly for that person and the kind of high that it provided. I suppose that is close to what limerence feels like. I am still friends with this person and have boundaries, but I still miss it a lot.
Dr L says
Update on the second part of the three part training:
Good video, if a bit too much pep-talk to practical advice for my taste. There were two major take-aways for me.
First, the counterintuitive idea that adding something purposeful/enjoyable to life is a way of achieving more during overwhelm. Interesting study result, and I would agree that I feel more “languished” on days when I have been struggling to get motivated, than when I have done something irrelevant to my goals but positive (such as taking a walk in the countryside). So, I definitely feel better, even if total productivity is the same.
Second, Mel categorises people as “box jumpers” (good vision of the future, but leap ahead without planning) and “path layers” (good strategic thinkers who make forward progress well, but no clear vision of where they are headed). I liked this concept, but don’t neatly fit either category, personally. I suppose I lean towards path laying, as can make task lists like a pro, but have lots of competing visions for the future.
Those are my quick thoughts. Enjoying it so far.
Work in Progress says
Thanks for the update Dr L – I’m still yet to check out her courses! Did you do her booklet – find it easy to do? Sometimes I find these types of things motivating at the time but then something I forget about later!!
I think one of the things I’m trying to focus on is the simple things that spark joy – I read the other day that the opposite of triggers is called glimmers. This made me smirk a bit but then when I read a psychologists version of glimmers they made sense to me – things like; feeling the sun on your skin, hugging your partner; petting your pet; listening to your fave song on repeater; awe of nature; sunsets; chatting with someone that gets you; swimming in the ocean (a personal fave of mine). These are all things that I’ve enjoyed my whole life!
She didn’t mention glimmers of limerence but in some ways the above made sense to me – are we all just searching for glimmers? Maybe our LE glimmer can be turned in to the other glimmers that are noted above as we move forward?
Do we actually need goals and future plans? Or do we just search for some of the joy in the present to keep us contented. I feel Eckhart Tolle has been a great source for me in my recovery. 💛
Dr L says
Hi WiP. I did start filling in the workbook, but have to admit that I didn’t stick with it. Part of my problem with languishing is impatience with trivial tasks, and filling in lots of dials when I already know the area of life I am focused on is a good example of the kind of thing that tests my patience 🙂
Funny about glimmers. Definitely wise to keep clear of the limerence kind, but the others sound good.
Dr L says
I’ve done the last part of the training now, and it did end with a sales pitch! No harm, though, as it wasn’t a hard sell, and it’s fair enough really after giving a taster of what’s on offer to then offer more.
Anyway, the last part of the training was useful. Basic message was that once you’ve identified your style of thinking (“box jumper” or “box stepper”) you need to focus on developing the other skill.
So, “box jumpers” have a clear idea of their dream destination, and need to focus on the next practical step and take action on small movements forwards without getting distracted or impatient. Box steppers need to spend more time daydreaming about an audacious future and turn off their inner critic before they start nitpicking and worrying.
Worthwhile all in all, and good content for a freebie.
“I’d define it as a state of feeling restless and unhappy with the status quo, but stuck and unclear on how to improve things. That leads to tiredness, a lack of motivation, and the tendency to respond to the stress of overwhelm by escaping into easy pleasures (like social media). It also means a low threshold for giving up on difficult tasks, followed by anxiety about how you aren’t making progress. You could probably also add a dash of disgust about your own inaction.”
I associate languishing more with something one might be feeling BEFORE falling into limerence rather than a by-product of limerence itself. I.e. I’m apathetic about everything, nothing interests me, and BOOM suddenly I met this seemingly amazing person who gives my life meaning, etc. 😉
For me, limerence isn’t languishing – at least not initially. Limerence is for me initially a super-charged motivational state, tons of energy, can’t sleep, etc. The problem is … where to direct that motivational drive if not at LO or LO-related things/things that promote the illusion of pair-bonding with LO? Where to channel that energy? Honestly, if you’re up to it, strenuous physical exercise is not the worst place to start… You could try to “burn” some of that surplus energy just by moving your body. Exercise might calm the mind a little too. 🤔
Limerence is also a paradox for me. It’s manic energy on the one hand but it’s also total paralysis on the other hand. The paralysis comes from craving LO’s absolute approval. Once the brutal mood swings kicked in, for me personally, in my mid-20s, all of my energy actually became consumed in trying to manage those mood swings. I did manage my mood swings somewhat, but in an unhealthy way.
For example, I used alcohol to “lower the temperature” whenever I was too high and I used tobacco, sugar, coffee, and junk food to “raise the temperature” whenever I was too low. I am not suggesting anyone use the method I used. I am very health-conscious these days, and know I failed to treat my body with respect. I am merely pointing out that limerence-induced mood swings are really unpleasant and a part of me was desperate to escape the unpleasantness by any means possible. 🤔
I think limerence puts us in a state of mind where we want to “react” to life, especially to our LO’s real and/or perceived actions, and not respond to life. Maybe part of recovery is moving away from that passive, reacting-to-life stance?
I guess purposeful living would involve drawing up a list of goals and pursuing said goals systematically? However, I understand the pull of indolence too – it’s super-difficult to feel goals matter when in limerence if goals aren’t LO-related. I get the delicious melancholy. One’s brain is basically lying and saying “pair-bonding with LO is the only thing you should be worrying about right now”. 😉
If one is unhappy with the status quo, maybe that is a wake-up call that one needs to embrace a more authentic life? I.e. maybe some disconnect has crept in between one’s life and one’s values? Maybe the place to start is to sit down and draw up a list of one’s authentic values? What does one really, truly value? 🤔