One of the main goals of this site is to help people make sense of what’s happening to them during limerence. Understanding that such intense romantic infatuation is a defined phenomenon, that it has common symptoms, can be explained by well known neuroscience, and that it is predictably reinforced by our instinctive behaviour, helps clarify what’s going on.
The realisation that limerence is an altered mental state similar to addiction is a very useful first step in getting a grip on it, and there are some reliable psychological techniques that can help reverse this process and “deprogram” yourself out of the limerent mindset.
While this emergency intervention is essential for re-establishing some mental stability, the process of long-term rehabilitation is more personalised. The basic neural mechanisms that drive us into limerence (and can be exploited to drag us back out) are shared by us all, but our individual psychological vulnerabilities are much more idiosyncratic. The specifics about why we succumb to limerence for a particular person at a particular time are going to depend on our personal histories.
It is in this process of excavating the underlying, unconscious, deeper concerns, that therapy is most valuable. Making sense of the mental state of limerence is distinct from making sense of the personal triggers we have that drive us into the state. Getting to the roots of the fears, anxieties, disappointments, or frustrations that form our personal narratives is painful but valuable work.
Ultimately, though, simply understanding the intricacies of the neuroscience, or the psychological roots of your own vulnerabilities, does not actually solve the problem. While deeper insight into how our brains work and what has led us to the point of destructive infatuation is undeniably useful, the blunt question that still needs to be answered is: now what?
That’s where purposeful living kicks in. If you want to escape the false dream of limerence, it really helps to have a positive reality to escape to. Limerence is a life-shock. The process of rebuilding will be faster and easier if you are excited about the new life that you could create.
Living with purpose is the best cure for limerence, because it reduces the attractiveness of a wild romantic disruption to the status quo – because the status quo is actually pretty sweet.
That’s quite a transformation for many people who have previously been drifting through life. It requires a rebuilding of the self, a determination to move away from a state of passive experience to active exploration. That’s what I mean by “purposeful”, and getting there means really examining the relationship you have with yourself and with the world.
OK, back down to earth. What do I mean in terms of the actual core behaviours and attitudes that define someone who is focused on transforming their life for the better? Here are some of the essential elements:
With yourself, and with others. Honesty is the only way to successfully align your life with your true beliefs, principles, and values. If you deny your true feelings and instead try to live in a way that you think others will approve of, you open yourself up to temptations that arouse your suppressed desires.
Being true to yourself is difficult if you are estranged from your own feelings and nature. We are forged from the combined influences of genetics and environment, and many of us grow up in an environment that punishes us for our inherent traits (like shyness, boldness, doubt, non-conformity, sensitivity, curiosity etc.). That can set us up for an adulthood in which we have suppressed our natural inclinations for so long that we cannot easily remember them.
Re-discovery of our intrinsic personality traits, and how they have been influenced by outside forces, is an essential step towards getting the balance right in the tension between individual desire and social responsibility.
3. Openness to renewal
Linked into the influence of society is the need to imagine an alternative mode of living. We are shaped by all the stories and lessons we are exposed to during childhood and adolescence, and are generally unaware of how these narratives come to define our worldview. Our attitudes toward fundamental aspects of life – family, romance, money, work, society – are founded on a set of beliefs that are so deeply embedded that we rarely examine where they came from or how we developed them.
An openness to rewriting some of those narratives – what have been termed “limiting beliefs” or “invisible scripts” – is necessary to telling yourself a new story about how life can be.
4. The courage to face discomfort
Renewal is a nice way of saying change. Change often comes with discomfort built in.
There are good reasons to avoid discomfort, with very deep evolutionary forces necessary for survival, but one of the main reasons why humans are so uniquely successful as a species is because our overdeveloped brains allow us to see beyond short-term discomfort to long-term success. Most animals don’t have that luxury.
Change requires courage, but it is the courage to face short-term trials for long-term prizes. In fact, many self-development gurus point out that humans actually thrive on discomfort, because it stimulates growth (of strength, resilience, and stamina – both mental and physical). Getting comfortable with discomfort is a keystone skill.
5. An internal locus of control
I’ve written before about the power of taking responsibility. Most of our limiting beliefs come from societal expectations, and many of the practical constraints that limit our ability to take action are external (not enough time, money, freedom, opportunity).
If you want your life to be better, though, you need to plan within the world as it is, not lament the fact that it isn’t how you would like it to be. An internal locus of control means believing that you have the power to affect change in your life and improve your situation. That you are not a helpless pawn in someone else’s game.
Ironically, the people in history who did change the world for the better started from the belief that they had the power to do so – even in the face of resistance (or overt hostility) from outside.
It’s becoming a cliche in my writing that uncertainty is the rocket fuel of limerence, but it’s true. I don’t know if limerents as a demographic are especially prone to the psychological stresses of uncertainty (although I think it’s plausible), but using your purposeful mindset to end uncertainty about your own situation is an incredibly powerful step.
Getting stuck in analysis-paralysis over competing opportunities is a trap. Indecision is usually caused by fear of loss, not by prudent risk management. Purpose comes from making decisive choices, not from keeping all your options open in the hope that worrying about them for long enough will improve your odds of making the right choice.
You almost certainly will make wrong choices. The solution is to correct them once you know for sure, not to indefinitely put off the decision. Like everything, balance is the key. Impulsive choices are risky, but so is chronic uncertainty.
7. Action orientation
Finally, the personal transformation needed to live with more purpose isn’t just about internal shifts in mindset. You also have to pursue meaningful goals, and that means taking action.
There is a reciprocal relationship between knowledge and action. It’s necessary to plan ahead, but then you have to try and execute on the plan to learn whether it is workable or not. This is similar to the difference between classical philosophy and the scientific method – a hypothesis can be beautiful, but until it is tested against reality it can’t be said to be true. You learn things by taking action that you never anticipated during the scheming and dreaming phase.
Until you start exerting effort to transform your life, your purpose will remain unfulfilled.
That’s a summary of some of the necessary aspects of purposeful living and what’s needed for marshalling the chaos of limerence into personal renewal. But there is a lot of nuance and detail in each of the elements – which we’ll get into in the weeks ahead.
I think the Six Pillars of Self-Esteem is a good read for us limerents (the pillars: Living Consciously, Self Acceptance, Self Responsibility, Self Assertiveness, Living Purposefully, Personal Integrity). I just checked: it isn’t in the recommended reading list. What do you think about it, Dr L?
Reading this post gives me the same sense as that book though: I’m all for it, I agree, I feel inspired and invigorated… but I also feel lost. I know it’s highly personal, and general advice is necessarily vague. I’m in therapy, I know there isn’t a “one size fits all” with purposeful living (that’s the point…), but sometimes I feel like I’d give my first-born for an effective workbook/guide. It feels like circular reasoning, how can I live purposefully without knowing myself? How can I know myself without living purposefully? I have to be my own guide, but I’m looking for a guide because I can’t be my own so something has to give. Or I’m just too lazy? I just can’t seem to find the thread I can start to pull on and it asks for so much energy and mental effort. But maybe it takes time and what I lack is patience and discipline, and it’s more of a PDCA model. It’s exhausting but I hope some good inertia is going to set in? System 2 to system 1?
As a smart jogging baboon said in my favorite show: “It gets easier. Every day it gets a little easier. But you gotta do it every day —that’s the hard part. But it does get easier.”
One can only hope…
I found this article helpful.
“Your brain needs the help of another brain.”
It’s subscriber only unfortunately!
The purposeful living posts on this website have helped me reorient my life over the past two years after a brutal episode of limerence, and I identify with each of these elements and how they have been critical in my journey. I agree that humans thrive on discomfort – these years have been challenging but also the most “alive” I have ever felt, a continuous period of growth. I’m super excited for your upcoming blog posts on purposeful living! Thanks Dr L!
“ Understanding that such intense romantic infatuation is a defined phenomenon, that it has common symptoms, can be explained by well known neuroscience, and that it is predictably reinforced by our instinctive behaviour, helps clarify what’s going on. “
~ Know thyself