The strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is one of those rare stories that has such psychological potency that it becomes a shorthand for a fundamental human experience, and lasts in the public imagination long past its creation (134 years and counting).
It always struck me as an obvious metaphor for limerence. For all our attempts to project ourselves as stable, outwardly respectable Drs Jekyll, we know that a fiery inner limerent Hyde wants us to run all over the boundaries of decorum, cackling gleefully.
The popular perception of the story is that Jekyll concocts a serum that transforms him into a monstrous alter-ego who rampages around committing murders and infamy, before reverting back to a dazed and ashamed Jekyll, who learns a bitter lesson about the dangers of runaway scientific ambition.
It’s become synonymous with the idea of a split personality – people who can flip on a moment from calm to enraged, or who live duplicitous lives with lots of secrets.
Most of the time, most of us limerents manage to keep our worst Hydeian excesses in check. Sure, we might make poor choices that we regret, but we don’t go into full unbridled-monster-from-the-subconscious mode. We know that our limerent brain is urging us to take risks and seek the heady rush of LO contact, but we’re also aware of our need to keep those impatient impulses in check.
So, the Jekyll and Hyde idea has an obvious aptness for limerence, but it wasn’t until I recently read the original story (available for free from Project Gutenberg) that I was blown away by the parallels.
The first thing that struck me was how intentional Dr Jekyll’s experiments were. I’d thought it was a morality tale of reckless ambition, but it is much darker and deeper. It’s about deceit, and about the desire of a morally compromised man to maintain a respectable façade while getting away with “undignified” pleasures.
Jekyll deliberately invents the serum so he can use Hyde to cover up his debauched adventures, knowing that once sated he can return to his laboratory to drink the counter-serum and recover his respectability. By his own report:
I was the first that could plod in the public eye with a load of genial respectability, and in a moment, like a schoolboy, strip off these lendings and spring headlong into the sea of liberty. But for me, in my impenetrable mantle, the safety was complete. Think of it—I did not even exist! Let me but escape into my laboratory door, give me but a second or two to mix and swallow the draught that I had always standing ready; and whatever he had done, Edward Hyde would pass away like the stain of breath upon a mirror; and there in his stead, quietly at home, trimming the midnight lamp in his study, a man who could afford to laugh at suspicion, would be Henry Jekyll.
The second striking passage was the sensation of becoming Hyde. How’s this for an uncomfortable description of a (quasi-limerent?) subconscious unshackling?
I felt younger, lighter, happier in body; within I was conscious of a heady recklessness, a current of disordered sensual images running like a millrace in my fancy, a solution of the bonds of obligation, an unknown but not an innocent freedom of the soul. I knew myself, at the first breath of this new life, to be more wicked, tenfold more wicked, sold a slave to my original evil; and the thought, in that moment, braced and delighted me like wine.
The third thing – and perhaps the most resonant parallel to limerence – was how things started to go wrong. Hooked on his Hyde habit, Jekyll indulges more and more, until one morning he wakes to discover he has transformed into Hyde in his sleep. In horror, he rushes to the laboratory to take the counter-serum, which works, but he now understands that he has gone too far. He is no longer in control of the transformation. Hyde is breaking through.
That really hit me as a lesson for limerents. We indulge the daydreams and fantasies and contact, believing we are containing those sources of pleasure as a cherished personal secret. But, we come to realise that our sneaky little serum habit of indulging forbidden urges starts to get out of control. At first, we think we can manage things fine, but then, just like Jekyll, the first time we transform into Hyde spontaneously, without taking the serum, we realise that our private little indulgence is out of control.
The daydreams come unbidden; become intrusive.
Jekyll reacts by aggressively rejecting Hyde, and throwing himself into religious and charitable work as moral compensation, gaining a reprieve. But, in time his vigilance relaxes, and he takes another drink…
Jekyll retreats from society, becomes estranged from old friends, and lives an increasingly isolated and dissolute life. Now Hyde has him completely, and he begins to transform whenever a selfish urge seizes him. Whenever Jekyll relaxes, he is vulnerable:
I sat in the sun on a bench; the animal within me licking the chops of memory; the spiritual side a little drowsed, promising subsequent penitence, but not yet moved to begin. After all, I reflected, I was like my neighbours; and then I smiled, comparing myself with other men, comparing my active good-will with the lazy cruelty of their neglect. And at the very moment of that vainglorious thought, a qualm came over me, a horrid nausea and the most deadly shuddering.
Ultimately, the counter-serum becomes less and less effective and the story runs to its inevitable conclusion:
I began to spy a danger that, if this were much prolonged, the balance of my nature might be permanently overthrown, the power of voluntary change be forfeited, and the character of Edward Hyde become irrevocably mine… All things therefore seemed to point to this; that I was slowly losing hold of my original and better self, and becoming slowly incorporated with my second and worse.
So: a great story. What are the key lessons for limerents?
1) Don’t try to partition limerence from the rest of your life
You might think you can demarcate your fantasies and impulses from the rest of your life, but they will leak out. Jekyll’s belated revelation was that by trying to separate out his unworthy urges into Hyde he did not free himself, he instead created a monstrous, single-minded creature who overwhelmed him. It is the integration of our primitive drives into ourselves that offers the best chance of peace, not their denial or expulsion. Make friends with your limerent brain. Just don’t let it run the show.
2) Self-indulgence can cause hidden harm
It’s true that daydreaming, rumination and the thrill of LO contact can provide secret pleasure, and while this remains in your head, no-one else is harmed. However, as long-term friend of the blog Lee has pointed out before, overindulging those private fantasies can alter your own thoughts and behaviour. You can unwittingly erode your own good intentions and good character by reinforcing LO as your main source of reward and pleasure, until the rest of your life starts to look like a burden.
3) It’s easier to resist than to reverse
On that last theme, it’s much harder to deprogram yourself out of limerence than to resist the urge at the outset. If you’ve diligently trained yourself to seek LO for emotional reward, you will have to break that habit in order to recover. It’s much easier to stop at the beginning when you sense the glimmer than it is to reverse the training later. Just as for Dr Jekyll, the remedy works less and less well the longer you indulge the urge, and reinforce the addiction.
This truth is also illustrated in the story. The moral core of the tale is Dr Jekyll’s lawyer, Utterson. Early on he suspects that Hyde must be blackmailing Jekyll, believing of course that they are two men and not understanding Jekyll’s decision to alter his will to include Hyde. This leads to some introspection about his own past follies:
His past was fairly blameless; few men could read the rolls of their life with less apprehension; yet he was humbled to the dust by the many ill things he had done, and raised up again into a sober and fearful gratitude by the many he had come so near to doing yet avoided.
That’s the kind of character that leads to this quintessentially English exchange with Jekyll’s butler, Poole, once they decide to arm themselves with pokers and break into Jekyll’s laboratory to confront Hyde:
The lawyer took that rude but weighty instrument into his hand, and balanced it. “Do you know, Poole,” he said, looking up, “that you and I are about to place ourselves in a position of some peril?”
“You may say so, sir, indeed,” returned the butler.
I think it’s fair to say the unflappable Utterson lives with purpose. I hope that if I one day face such a trial, I will be as resolute as Utterson and Poole.
It’s a great story, full of useful archetypes.
The Picture of Dorian Gray is another candidate.
Always loved Jekyll and Hyde. The story can be read as a metaphor about many things, from the double lives that gay men were obliged to lead in Victorian Britain to what’s it like to live with a narcissistic spouse. (You think you married an angel but you never know when Mr/Ms Hyde is coming out to play!)
I think there’s a saying in New Age circles that “what you don’t own owns you”. Of course, what’s being discussed here is shadow aspects of self. The takeaway I get from “Jekyll and Hyde” is if you don’t acknowledge and make peace with your shadow (which well could be the impulses of your limerent brain), eventually your shadow is going to grow in power and control you and all your choices.
I think Jekyll’s problem was he wanted to pretend he WAS his facade. He wanted to pretend to himself and to others he was all-righteous and didn’t have a dark side. He mistook his too-virtuous persona for his true self, but that too-virtuous persona was only the classic false self of the narcissist. Hyde represents the parts of his personality that he disowned. Only the dissociation didn’t work.
Maybe when we’re dishonest with ourselves and not leading emotionally balanced lives, we become especially susceptible to addictions, including the addiction of limerence? Jekyll didn’t want to face up to his full humanity.
I can sure relate to this.
As always DrL your blog cuts right to the heart of the matter. Love the literary analogy and lots of food for thought, thank you.
I think I am good on no.1, have already lost the battle on no.3 so must focus my efforts on no.2. If only that was easy!
I’m limerent for Mr. Hyde. But I have to work with Dr. Jekyll.
It is Halloween soon…
Oh the hell of Vampirella , oh the curse,
Chewing on her American bubble gum….
I like this post,because it’s true, had only been chewing on thoughts.. and it feels like a curse having limerence & I must be honest , will work harder at nailing my thoughts down / no daydreaming or going over situations about my LO . The good thing is am honestly tired of my limerence lingering in my skull,but no action taken ,Thanks again Dr.
I’ve typed out 3 different responses to this post, and have somehow deleted all of them. I think this is absolutely brilliant!! I’ve been thinking about it since last week. I looked for the thread that included Faye’s comments, but I couldn’t find them. But I thought that what she was saying fit perfectly into this thread, and it’s something that I thought too (although I wasn’t as conscious about it- nor did I think I was being deliberate). The idea that my life can be segmented, and that true harm can be avoided by careful management of the facts, is the thing that I think every single infidelity has in common; it can’t survive without it. That’s what Dr. Jekyll was deliberately attempting, that Faye (if I understood correctly) was also saying, and that I was doing, even though I was presenting it to myself differently. It’s an attempt at license (as opposed to freedom- which is the free ability to do the right) without consequence. I wanted to keep the life I had and also live an alternate life, and I thought I could control that if I was careful enough. I also told myself that I could walk away, and I planned to, even though I was never actually able to. And I was changing, just like Dr. Jekyll, and the control was an illusion, as evidenced by this long slow walk out of limerence. I see now how horribly arrogant I was, and I’m finding that honesty is the antidote to that arrogance (impossible to stay arrogant when you’re actually being seen in all your screwed up glory) and to the conditions that keep limerence healthy and growing.
I’m going to send this now- even though I could go on and on- so I don’t accidentally erase it again. Also- I want to say that I’m not trying to call you out, Faye; just some of the things you said made me really think.
Looking for this?
Yes!! Thank you.
I just recently had a real life Jekyll and Hyde episode play out where my limerent, in finality, expressed that he actually wanted to kill me.
I’m a married woman who met a man on social media almost a year ago who lives 3000 miles away. It started out as a business relationship that crossed over into flirting, then sexting, then phone sex and exchanging sexy videos. He immediately became obsessively attached to me and told me he “loved” me and kept asking me to leave my husband.
He’d push harder and harder and I’d pull away. This made him white hot angry with me and yet, he couldn’t resist me and didn’t want our relationship to end. I finally I gave into him and declared that I had feelings for him, leaving myself unaware and vulnerable to his machinations when he told me, during one of our “intimate” moments, that he hated me and wanted to kidnap, torture, rape and kill me. He said it was a “fantasy” of his. Obviously I had to end it and I immediately did, but I couldn’t believe he’d ever say something like that to me. Still can’t believe it.
Just goes to show that obsession can be dangerous. Brings out the worst in people. I “accidentally“ intended (wanted to get to know him personally) on unleashing my charm and seductive wiles on him shortly after I met him, and it ended in something so horrible I can hardly conceive of it.
Stay safe out there, people. Lots of sickos roaming the earth.
Wow. That’s pretty scary, Sandy. Good job you didn’t know him in real life.
Hope you stay safe, too.
Limerence Writer says
This is a great post and my FAVORITE topic… even over my LO! I have always ALWAYS loved Jekyll & Hyde since I was a little kid, along with the Incredible Hulk, and ever since puberty, the Savage She-Hulk became my very favorite comic character. After my mid-life crisis LE, I recovered as best I could by diving into my favorite thing to do: writing stories about a shy submissive female protagonist who transforms into a dominant-aggressive heroine or misunderstood monster… often coupled with a male love interest who becomes a helpful & loving sidekick. My first online fans helped me out of my depression because they liked my fanfic, and now I’m addicted to interacting with my fans. Almost 2 years ago, I discovered a voice actress on youtube, and I started writing a series for her to play a female version of Jekyll & Hyde. It is absolutely what I was born to write, and I am thrilled every time I get messages from a listener, even if they are frustrated with the direction I am taking my melodramatic soap opera. (The listener eventually becomes a character within the story, the aforementioned “love interest.”) I get to play with all kinds of themes and devices: love vs lust, drug addiction, untrustworthy narrators, cliffhangers, etc. It’s been such an amazingly happy experience that I hadn’t really considered its relationship to limerence. Dr. Angela Jekyll has a rather obsessive crush on the listener but she is too shy to act on it, and her secret formula designed to give her confidence goes much farther than expected, transforming her into a power-hungry narcissist who is incredibly seductive, amoral, petty and cruel. They are two halves of a fascinating character for me to explore, but it does make me wonder what it says about me. Do I fear that acting on my limerence makes me a monster? I think it’s telling that after 17 episodes, I’m at a point where Ms. Hyde has become aware that she is a danger to herself and may begin searching for forgiveness and self-discovery… with an occasional relapse.
“I think it’s telling that after 17 episodes, I’m at a point where Ms. Hyde has become aware that she is a danger to herself and may begin searching for forgiveness and self-discovery… with an occasional relapse.”
It’s definitely fiction. She’s more a danger to others. She may be able to forgive herself but others will be a more difficult challenge. Who’s the target demographic for your writing?
If you’ve ever been seriously involved with real “… power-hungry narcissist who is incredibly seductive, amoral, petty and cruel,” they’re soulless, unsympathetic, and beyond redemption. You can’t trust them. As one therapist put it, “It’s not that they can’t change, it’s just that they usually don’t. It works for them.” Look for them in Dante’s Eighth or Ninth Circles of Hell.
After we broke up, LO #2 told me to my face, “I can’t control you.” Who says that to their former lover? It appeared she didn’t respect anyone she could control and didn’t trust anyone she couldn’t which makes me wonder what her new husband is like.
Limerence Writer says
Lola Hyde is definitely a danger to others, and none of the other characters or much of the audience is ready to forgive her. (Surprisingly, there is still a Team Hyde among the fans, but a much more vocal Team Jekyll.) My audience is much larger than I could have dreamed, as my initial desire was to write for transformation fetishists like myself, but it seems to have a broader appeal that fascinates me. I’ve learned a lot from the comment section.
Lola Hyde’s development over the course of the series has largely been to become more and more corrupt, petty, insecure, monstrous, as the actress’s sex appeal was so great that I had to work to make her more despicable. It’s been interesting to see where she crosses the line with some listeners. At first many found her sexy, but there was usually something she would do that would upset them: mistreat the listener, cheat on him, use him purely for resources, etc. Hyde’s journey now is more about survival than acceptance, although she’ll claim it’s about acceptance… Most of what she says is deceptive, although in the 5th episode I had her spell out her needs to the listener, and I was floored when a fan claiming to have Dissociative Identity Disorder wrote me to say that I’d nailed what it’s like to have warring personalities. Hyde is basically saying: “If you cure me, I’ll die.”
Mr J says
Amazing post. Best one yet fir me.