Following on from previous musings about how breaking the limerence habit can feel like an battle with an internal version of yourself that is greedy and has poor impulse control, I’ve been thinking about the weirdness of being in conflict with yourself.
From a neuroscience perspective, this is all a bit “just-so” story – what’s actually happening is a complex mix of network activity in different regions of the brain leading to conflicting drives – but it really feels like there is a mischievous part of ourselves trying to tempt our better parts to misbehave.
Interestingly enough, psychologists (or at least psychoanalysts) have long used the idea of subpersonalities as a model for explaining behaviour. Famously, Freud talked about the Id, Ego and Superego, and Jung talks about the Shadow, the Anima/Animus, and other nebulous metaphorical figures that we should seek to integrate into our personalities to become psychologically well-balanced. This sort of thinking can be generalised to the concept that we are an amalgam of various subpersonalities, squabbling in an internal mental committee, each of which can become dominant under the right external circumstances.
It has a sort of narrative appeal, this idea. It’s easy to think that, yes, there are distinct subpersonalities that manifest when we are angry, or lustful, or scared, or stressed, which are part of ourselves but behave quite differently from our normal, rational selves. So, despite the fact that it isn’t literally true, I’ve been wondering if this idea is nevertheless useful as a way of conceptualising and managing limerence.
What would a limerent subpersonality be like?
Optimistic at first. Creative, maybe. Given to joy, flirtation and impulsive behaviour. But also jealous, selfish, monomanic, and compulsive. In the longer term, it would also be obsessive, aggressive (in terms of its demands on our mental attention), irrational, and prone to spectacular mood swings.
When does it commonly manifest?
Often, when we are stressed or lonely. That is when we are most motivated to indulge it, and succumb to it’s siren-song temptations of excitement, romantic thrills, personal connection, and pleasurable reward. The big issue with limerence, though, is that once it has got dominance, it makes itself totally at home and refuses to leave. That’s the sinking sensation for limerents of realising that they’ve tipped from neurochemical high to addictive dependency.
How can we integrate it into ourselves?
The need to confront and assimilate the Shadow is a Jungian concept. The idea is that the unconscious parts of ourselves constitute our shadow self, and must be contended with, understood, accepted, and assimilated if we are to fully succeed in “individuation”.
Projecting this onto limerence, it would mean accepting that the limerent subpersonality is a part of us, that it brings positive and negative traits, and that it must be understood, recognised (i.e. properly seen and respected), and acknowledged. That does not necessarily mean it should ever given dominance, though. Integrating the shadow doesn’t mean occasionally allowing it free reign. You may feel murderous rage occasionally, but that isn’t reasonably integrated by adopting a “one murder a year” allowance.
The argument would be, that we should stare our limerent subpersonality fully in the face, acknowledge the pleasure it can bring us, acknowledge the harm it can cause us, acknowledge the harm it can do others, and decide to only indulge it when it is safe to do so. Keeping that romantic intensity constrained can be challenging, but knowing it is there ready to unleash if we find an LO we can truly bond with, is a potent idea.
So, overall, is this useful? I’m a bit on the fence, to be honest. I can certainly see some value for people trying to calm or tame their limerent tendencies, to view their challenge in terms of a wrestling match with a part of yourself that has taken over and is making unreasonable demands. That could be a productive way of making sense of the battle ahead. But for me, limerence feels more like a change in mental state than the temporary dominance of a competitive subpersonality. I’m still myself, just in a more sensationally-heightened state.
I would describe the experience more as a weird sort of fracturing between my psychological/rational self and my emotional self. It was as though I was observing the turmoil within myself with surprise and confusion. My emotional triggers were no longer aligned neatly with my thoughts, and I would occasionally literally become speechless when trying to express myself honestly as the two forces (rational thought and emotional urge) conflicted. So, in a sense, that is conflicting subpersonalities, but I didn’t commonly experience a devil whispering in my ear. It was more like an inarticulate emotional urge willing me to be irresponsible.
It really is quite hard to put this stuff into words. Stimulating to have a good ponder, though.
And for the Jungians out there: maybe our LOs are the embodiment of our anima/animus, and that’s why they resonate so strongly…?
I’m trying to reconcile this with “Limerence and emotional attachment.” I guess you could say your attachment style is a manifestation of your subtype. Everybody has an attachment style but not everybody’s a limerent. Maybe you can argue that everybody is a limerent but that subtype is repressed to the point where they can’t grasp the concept (i.e., non-limerents). Going the Freud/Jung route appears to allow one to argue to any conclusion you want to come to, either way.
At least 3 of 4 of my LOs reminded my of my mother. But, between Freud and Bowlby, I prefer Bowlby. I suppose one could argue that Jung and/or Freud underpin Bowlby’s theory but I don’t see any value in that.
Maybe the inner 5yr old trying to make his LOs happy was the Shadow self of my Trickster Archetype. That one never came up as one of my contingencies should things had gone south. I can see my wife’s eyes glaze over as I used that as part of disclosing. “Sweetie, it wasn’t my fault. My Shadow Trickster Archetype made me do it. Jung talks all about it.” I don’t think her response would be, “Well, in that case, you had no choice. No problem.”
Personally, I struggle to get my head around some of the psychological theories, but the idea of rational thought vs emotional urges really really resonates with me.
My inner toddler/emotional urges have had too much influence lately, so instead of being 6 months no contact I’m only 5 days. As you rightly say – it shouldn’t be occasionally getting free reign!
Yes, you definitely do need to be the boss, and not let the inner toddler take over. That said, it is a balancing act. Being too hard on yourself can be counter-productive, because anyone with any spirit would rebel against a tyrant. As long as the general direction of travel is in a positive direction, you should forgive yourself small lapses. Even better is to try and learn from them – why did I lapse today? What happened that made LO suddenly more attractive?
This makes sense to me. My therapist and I have been talking lately about me being accepting of my LE-related feelings, because pushing against them and feeling guilty about them isn’t working. That doesn’t mean giving in to the wants of that inner child or indulging in the LE, more just accepting that I feel that affection for LE and not beating myself up about it. Acknowledge the thought, accept it, and put it away.
*affection for LO, not LE
I can’t seem to go back and edit.
Interesting points. You could swap ‘Limerence’ for any other addictive process really..certainly in my experience with bulimia. It’s like a different personality takes charge. I’m wondering how much ‘comorbidity’ there is between limerent behaviour and other addictions/mental disorders?
This ties in nicely with a book I’ve just started reading- Prof Steve Peters- The Chip Paradox, Mind Management Programme for confidence, success and happiness. It says we have an emotional evolutionary ‘chimp’ brain and our rational human brain. It’s about understanding and managing them. Good book so far
It’s the self deception that is so intriguing. When I have had friends who were under the spell of a narcissistic LO, it was very easy to advise them to run for the hills as their LO clearly was not treating them with dignity and respect. When I was the limerent I simply believed that my tenacity would win out and that one day my LO and I would skip off into the eternal sunset and all my thinking about this matter was helping me stay the course…loyally. Although my close friends tried to gently help me to see the hopelessness of this LE, year after year, I did not believe them. The optimist in me was sure that my devotion (LOVE, methought!) would find it’s rich reward. I was oblivious to my ‘greediness and lack of impulse control’ …and my rumination and obsession if you will was also self-explained away as love. So much self deceit! Which is quite devilish after all.
I was supporting friends under the limerence spell as well that were on the verge of starting an actual affair and tried my best to be a good friend and keep them from making a mistake. At that time I knew exactly what needed to be done to not let an affair happen. I honestly thought I would never be capable of having an affair myself.
When it came to my LO, I wished I had a friend on my side to talk me out of it, but I felt like I can’t talk to anyone about it. So to this day for the past two years, no one knows a thing, it’s exhausting. I felt very lonely just having myself and my own thoughts, thinking about this stuff like literally all the time. I am glad I found this site and at least can get some of my thoughts out and have people comment on my situation. So a big thank you at this point.
My LO still thinks we are going “back to normal” which we clearly are not, I even told him it will be a redefined normal. He’s a really nice guy, I feel like he doesn’t deserve me cutting myself out of his life. It’s weird, but all he wants is me being his friend, he doesn’t want anything else from me (anymore, and I pushed him into the affair unfortunately), and I am unable to see him as just a friend.
I currently reply to messages but nothing more, not trying to make any conversation. I feel bad as clearly he can tell I try to keep my distance. I am a bit afraid to ask for NC again. Part of me thinks if I just keep him at a friendly distance, maybe I am ok? I don’t see him, we work at different offices, I won’t bump into him, so literally, we don’t see each other physically. But it seems a never ending story. How can I see him for what he is? Why does he trigger these romantic feelings in me?
Sarah I read an article somewhere about the withdrawal from liemrence.. it made a good point:
How can you quit caffeine if your having a coffee every 3rd day? To be his friend is not authentic and unfair on yourself. I’ve had to be cold and haven’t text LO back and for the first time in months and I don’t feel awful. Im honestly sick to the back teeth of limerance I’m at the stage where it’s just friggin annoying. If I have to ignore LO to get myself out of this mess then I’ll do whatever it takes. He knows your situation.. you know what you need to do. It’s hard and this year has been so long in limerence but the spell is fading, I am taking back control now. Yes my god there has been set backs but the past few weeks without LO have been so nice. Horrendous at first but as you get past the emotions the benefits of not being around LO are really on the up. The reason why your not getting the clarity you need is bcuz your not giving yourself enough mental space. If you have the chance of physical distance I would be running for the hills if I were you. You will see him for his true colours soon enough but you have to break away or else it isn’t going to happen. I’ve tried being friends with LO and it doesn’t work. I have to see him but I barely look at him now. I can’t and will not let myself be sucked back in. Be strong and work on yourself.
What was an eye opener for me my therapist said what is Rachel like and what does she enjoy… I could not answer. My whole life was wrapped up in LO I didn’t even know myself anymore. How awful is that. I had really lost myself.
Everytime I think of LO now I say the affirmation ‘i am the prize, he is not’ thanks Scharnhorst by the way for that little gem! I truely believe that now.
1 year ago I was rock bottom, suicidal thoughts and really starting to mess up myself. I was so so low with this addiction. This is your life… Not LO’s and it’s about time you took it back.
Your stronger than you think.
‘I am the prize, he is not’. I love this! Thank you.
Fighting freedom I loved your previous posts! How are you getting on?
I copied that statement as well… I am the prize…
Thanks for your answer Rachel. I am also very sick of this limerence situation. I just don’t feel like myself. Just seeing LO for one day messed up my 6w NC. He’s constantly on my mind again, and I hate the conscious “i see i have a message from him but I won’t look at my phone, so he sees that I haven’t read his message yet”. I’m constantly thinking again about what message I am sending to him, trying hard to play it cool. I am so sick of it. I know what I have to do, I have to go NC again, but I feel like I am almost waiting for a trigger again to use it to go NC.
David Anthony Burton says
Hi. I do believe i will need to keep reading again and again and again your beautiful web site.
It really is quite hard to put this stuff into words. Stimulating to have a good ponder, though.
( it was more like an inarticulate emotional urge willing me to be irresponsible )
If i can only understand these positive, incredible, your not alone words and wisdom and joy and hope
And take the positives from your brillanance / work, here posted snd shared
Thank You! P.s i once read that our limerence is understanding the emense love our creator and God has for us and in our state is the closses we will get to maybe understanding and loving our situation
Thanks for your kind words, David, and welcome. Glad the site is helping.
I jump from one theory to another. This is kind of like theoretical leapfrog. Many theories seem to offer some validity, but no one theory seems to satisfactorily explain where this thing comes from, or where it is going. No theory seems to offer me any conclusive answers to my questions (e.g. why do I have this?, why do I want to both keep it and get rid of it?, what is this? Is this love? Is this a repressed part of my self trying to break free and live? Is this a curse? Is this a gift? What should I do with this?, etc.). I am to hard headed to accept conventional limerence wisdom floating around in forums. My latest theorizing is that I actually experienced the presence of God while in the presence of LO. Somehow, she awoke the pure love of God in me. It was so overwhelming and good, that I wanted desperately to hold on to it. The harsh reality is that God cannot be contained. LO was only the stimulus that awakened this powerful emotional state—pure bliss. Perhaps this is just a glimpse of what eternity in the presence of God will be like.