One of the arguments I make about why we are vulnerable to limerence is that the extraordinary sensations associated with that mental state of total infatuation are transformational.
If life in general is disappointing, if you are seeking escape from unhappiness (past or present), or if you have settled into a malaise of OK-ness with a background sense of discontent, then spectacular escape is appealing. When you’re riding the euphoric highs and soul-wracking lows of limerence, you are certainly not focused on the humdrum business of daily life. You are transported out of the everyday routines of life, into a world of sensation.
Here’s a TEDx talk that is all about the idea of using the chaos of a hectic life to escape from an uncomfortable past.
On the surface, a life of hedonic excess seems romantic – bold, vital, fearless – but it can also be all about moving so fast that you don’t have to stop and face yourself in the mirror.
Hayley’s shift in happiness came from the transition from looking outward for stimulation and meaning, to looking inward for truth and self-knowledge. There are lessons there for limerents too.
I sometimes talk about the two levels at which limerence needs to be addressed:
- Managing the immediate emergency of having got trapped in a mental state of hyperarousal (i.e. the neuroscience)
- Understanding the slower, cumulative individual circumstances that led you to the choices that got you hooked (i.e. your personal history)
For the short-term, a deprogramming strategy can be invaluable to get back ownership of your mental real estate, but for the long term you are at risk of repeating the whole limerence cycle until you are able to properly understand what your personal vulnerabilities are and where they come from.
And, once you’ve done that, then you need to start building a new life that incorporates that new knowledge, and uses it to understand what you really need to thrive. That is the purposeful living philosophy that underpins lasting recovery.
Using limerence to escape the present can seem like embarking on an exciting new direction, a new path to take in life that leads to a more stimulating destination. But as the old saying says, “wherever you go, there you are.”
One of the best ways to salvage some good from the trials of limerence is to treat it as a wake up call to deal with what needs to be dealt with.
Escape is good if you are imprisoned, but you can’t run away from yourself.
Like many other readers on this website, I feel like your blog posts are timed exactly for the right stage of my life, Dr L. This morning I was trying to understand a “puzzle” about my mood swings from LO withdrawal. After the first roughest days of no contact, I started to feel like NC was really working in taking LO off the pedestal I had put him on, and my withdrawal pain would become increasingly punctured by bouts of relief and gratitude. However, as I became more successful in breaking the LO=reward circuit, I actually started to become *more*, not less, depressed. I was completely baffled by this and thought I was going crazy. I now realise it’s because there was nothing to replace the emotional reward the LO fantasy had given me: my escape fantasy is now successfully ending, but I still have to face the things I was subconsciously using it to escape from, including a deep seated fear and shame of loneliness. Not easy.
In a similar way, I think this why people trying to comfort a distraught dumpee usually say “you will find someone else, don’t worry”, to reassure them that the void that the severed bond has left will be filled. But of course this is unhelpful on a practical level because when and how we meet someone we click with is often out of our immediate control, and on a deeper level because it emphasises the notion of relationships as escape. Much more comforting and constructive is to be given the encouragement and knowledge to face our fears and insecurities in an introspective way, and to stop escaping by thinking about what purposeful living in small steps centred around our own lives and needs (as you write in another blog – in physical and mental health, social bonds, career) looks like.
“I actually started to become *more*, not less, depressed. I was completely baffled by this and thought I was going crazy. I now realise it’s because there was nothing to replace the emotional reward the LO fantasy had given me: my escape fantasy is now successfully ending, but I still have to face the things I was subconsciously using it to escape from, including a deep seated fear and shame of loneliness. Not easy.”
What you say here is profound. We still have to face, at some point, the things and/or feelings we were trying to run away from e.g. loneliness, fear of the unknown, etc.
Perhaps an LO is a bit like the security blanket Linus carries around with him in the “Peanuts” comic strip? We invest so much emotion and energy in our security blankets, and yet at the end of the day the blanket isn’t magical and won’t save us. The blanket is just a blanket we’ve naively endowed with magical properties…
Thanks Sammy. We absolutely have to face these things that many people keep running away from their entire lives. I never had the courage to even think about some core fears and insecurities until now, so the LE has been transformative in that sense. Maybe that’s because when the painful stuff is familiar and long-standing it can be easy to keep hiding it under the surface, but overwhelming pain as with an LE gone horribly wrong blows everything up, and the only way to truly recover becomes to deal with the whole mess.
I like the security blanket metaphor, our LO escape fantasy does feel like that. An LO fantasy that is alive and well can be so comforting while also stunting our personal growth (or maybe it’s comforting precisely because we use it to not grow).
This resonated so much: or maybe it’s comforting precisely because we use it to not grow
I am so stuck in the pain of it all, even though I have no contact now, I still go round in circles wanting to move forward and let go, and then somehow talking myself round to this feeling will never go and I just want them back in my life in some way. I had completely recognised that maybe I can’t let go because the attachment to it is comforting. Even the lows not just highs, anything that keeps the attachment. Exactly because it’s like a security blanket. I have a void from way back when of unmet needs and wanting to be loved. And the attention and desire from someone else is too compelling. And that offer of escape from my present life…..
So I’ve started to see how much there is too work on from past pains and trauma, that has nothing to do with LO, it’s all for me to grow. And how hard that is to confront! How scary and unanchoring to try to change…. So it really makes sense you saying maybe it’s comforting precisely because we use it not to grow! The idea of that growth is so scary, we feel we could lose ourselves and know it’s hard work that gets worse before it gets better. How comforting to find a LO that makes us think all the joy, meaning and purpose possible is right here by having this connection and feelings for them?! Ta da, a much quicker and more satisfying fix than all that ‘growth’?!
I wish I could move forward a bit quicker though. The pain of all this, it’s horrid isn’t it.
I agree that it’s a profound insight. It’s also a reason why it can be so hard to recover from limerence – the pain of withdrawal makes us desperate for relief… and limerent fantasy is our favourite method for mood repair.
Like many things in life, freedom from limerence lies on the far side of a struggle in the present. It takes grit and determination to labour through that.
Limerent Emeritus says
Song of the Blog: “Escape/The Pina Colada Song” – Rupert Holmes (1979)
It fits pretty well with “…if you have settled into a malaise of OK-ness with a background sense of discontent, then spectacular escape is appealing…” and, say what you will, it is catchy. It went to #1 on the charts which shows there’s no accounting for taste.
No LOs are associated with this song.
In the 80s, after breaking up with LO #2, I did put a person ad in “The Seattle Weekly.” They declined to publish the first one and returned my check.
They printed the second one. I got 3 responses from women and one from a guy although it was clearly in the “Men Seeking Women” section. I went out with two of the women. Neither went anywhere.
carried away says
I agree we try to find happiness in someone else, but what if our lives are so despondent; say we are diagnosed with a terrible disease; I kind of like the thought of escaping into a romance to ease the pain.
Allie 1 says
Yup, it works so very well… at least temporarily. In the end though, Limerence adds to our pain, it does not resolve it.
And if we are lucky enough to end up in a real relationship with an LO? The limerence ends.
carried away says
But what if we look outside of the scope of our own lives to those who might really be hurting mentally and physically; those who might not have our privilege. Those who have nothing. Limerence may seem a shining light to them.
I guess this is the issue that all addicts wrestle with. The short-term relief of giving in to the addiction versus the long-term recovery that comes from weaning yourself off an unhealthy coping strategy. That requires the slow work of developing deeper, lasting and healthy ways to boost your mood.
Romance can be a healthy source of joy, but limerence is an addict’s high.
carried away says
Do you think everyone who is limerent is an addict?
No, not in the general sense that all limerents have an “addictive personality” as people sometimes put it. But, I think that limerence is well described as person addiction – and especially in those cases when limerents are clearly using the limerence for escape.
As Limerent Emeritus points out below, you can get better at managing the limerence and not succumbing so deeply once you understand the triggers (and the neuroscience), but if you embrace it, there is always the risk of getting dependent.
Allie 1 says
My 2p worth… I think that depends on what you mean by “limerence”.
An LE is defined here as “Personal Addiction” so by definition, the limerent is an addict.
But Limerence (when not part of an LE) can also be defined as the less obsessive, more productive experience of just falling “in-love”, which is more a transitory phase early in a relationship than it is an addiction.
Limerent Emeritus says
IMO, the answer is “No.” Everyone who is limerent isn’t an addict. I found my last LO very compelling to the extent I got into an EA with her. But, I wasn’t addicted to her.
At what point does compulsive behavior cross the line into addiction? I know enough about compulsive behavior and probability that I tend to avoid casinos. I don’t think I’d become addicted to gambling but I’m pretty sure I’d lose money that I could spend elsewhere.
I don’t think LO #4 could have destroyed my marriage but nothing about the LE/EA was going to make my marriage better and it had the potential to hurt a lot of people.
It took working with a therapist to identify and correct what about LO #4 that I found so compelling. But, it needed to be done.
I am recently out of a relationship where we were both doing this. In the beginning, it was like a drug high for us both. We marveled together at our luck in finding each other, our mutual obsession and damn near worship of each other and the promise of what we could create together. So much ridiculous and unrealistic fantasy that totally disregarded the very real responsibilities of our actual lives. It, of course, all fell apart spectacularly when it turned out that he was really a major alcoholic, I was anxious and depressed, and we were both just looking for an escape from our unsatisfying everyday lives. Weird how that didn’t work out and after 2 years it had fizzled into something that wasn’t making either of us happy anymore and became more of an unsatisfying obligation. It’s over now and even though the pain of it hurts every single day, I’m hopeful we both get to come out of it in a better place. I’m working hard on creating my purposeful life so this never happens to me again. I haven’t heard from him in months now but I truly hope he’s doing the same.
Allie 1 says
Wow thanks for sharing your story S. Such a useful lesson to us all. Well done for seeing the truth and taking the best course of action for your wellbeing, it must have been hard to walk away. Wishing you well with your purposeful life.
Allie 1 says
I love this post, and the Ted talk. I agree wholeheartedly with the importance of knowing and being entirely comfortable with yourself.
But I have to point out that an LE does not always mean you are lacking in this area. Pre-LE, I was settled into OK-ness with a background sense of contentment… high in self -awareness, -acceptance, –worth and all of that good stuff. I felt loved. I have meditated regularly and practiced mindfulness for years, and was the epitome of Hayley Quinn’s ethos of “a night in spent making chicken soup and reading a book is awesome” (it really is!). And while I believe all this has given me a high degree of emotional resilience, my LE actually represents an escape from this type of settled contentment. It fulfils a much-neglected need for a little hedonistic pleasure, novelty and adventure. I guess the lesson for me is that my purposeful life needs to meet a wide variety of needs and must find the right balance between them all.
Allie you really hit it with “an LE does not always mean you are lacking” in purposefulness or self-awareness. I was always self-righteous with friends who fell into impulsive romantic/sexual situations, thinking they were bored and if they had my fascinating career or more education or curiosity about the world they’d be stabler and less likely to do things like leave their husbands for randos on the internet. I’ve always been a poster child for a purposeful life. Until my first LE at age 45. And I’m 48 and still not out of it, and struggling badly.
What Allie and JJ say reminds me a bit of Carl Jung’s idea of our disowned selves, when suppressed tend to explode eventually with a vengence. I think people who are purposeful tend to suppress the parts of themselves that are hedonistic, irresponsible and tend to deny themselves short-term pleasure. What then could be more devilish than a full-blown LE?
This site is the best, just reading the articles is curing the Limerence slowly. Thank you very much.
Same. I’m 3 years into my limerence and it shows no signs of ending. I visit this site when I feel particularly low & hopeless and it always picks me up reading similar experiences. There’s literally nowhere else that properly recognises or helps to relieve the pain of this awful predicament. Huge appreciation to the posters on here & especially to Dr L x
This leads me to believe that when we attach to a LO it may not be the person per se, but rather the point in our life where we (consciously or unconsciously choose to dissociate from our personal crisis) and escape to this world of romantic fantasy. I have heard it in grief circles referred to as a transitional object. Ie think of the child separating from parents to go to daycare. Its a traumatic moment, the child is in crisis at the thought of being left alone and we grab the nearest thing and say “here, take this dummy/blanket/food item” and so we attach to that.
My husband passed away very suddenly. Ive developed limerent feelings toward his brother who was very kind and supportive to me in the days and weeks immediately following his death. I have felt like I’m in love with him, but I think I can see now it is more this blankie/addictive dynamic.