In psychoanalysis, a sign that the method is taking hold is ‘the initial infatuation to be observed at the beginning of treatment’, the beginning of transference. The patient, in Freud’s words, ‘develops a special interest in the person of the doctor…never tires in his home of praising the doctor and of extolling ever new qualities in him’. What occurs, ‘it is usually maintained…is a sort of false love, a shadow of love’, replicating in its course the infatuations of ‘what is called true love’.
Freudian theory holds that when a person enters psychoanalysis, they will develop strong feelings toward the therapist, usually in the form of a powerful crush, but it can take other forms too. It happened to me with one of my therapists many years ago. I had to quit because it became so intense. He kept telling me it was normal and to work through it (he was a Freudian psychoanalyst) but I just couldn’t deal with it anymore.
I think what happened to me these past few weeks was really a form of transference, even though the person in question is someone I never met. I looked up to him as an authority on mental health and found (well, still find) his writings therapeutic and powerfully written. This man is also a person who I’ve been told has this spell-like effect on many women (and probably some men too) who have been victims of narcissistic abuse and look to him as an authority. But he is also a narcissist and he proved to me today he’s exactly what he says he is. My idealization of him came crashing down to reality. I had hoped he was “different.” He wasn’t.
I don’t think transference is really beneficial to the therapist-patient relationship. I think it’s a distraction that keeps the patient from focusing on themselves. I noticed during the time I’ve had this ridiculous infatuation I haven’t been focusing on ME as much as I should be. I think developing a “pleasant diversion” (at least pleasant until your fantasies are shattered by hard, cold reality) in one’s mind by forming an obsession over another person might be a way to not have to focus on painful emotions that might be coming up.
Infatuation has also been called “limerence” in Dorothy Tennov’s excellent 1979 book, “Love and Limerence,” which I highly recommend (and have provided the link if anyone wants to order a copy). Tennov gives the best description of the experience I’ve ever read. I don’t know why that word hasn’t really caught on because it’s a good one. In later chapters, she also writes about the phenomenon of transference in psychotherapy.
Infatuation is not love. Many people confuse the two, and it can feel like “love” to those entering a new relationship and finding themselves obsessed with the other person. It can lead to real love over time. But infatuation is shortlived unless it’s continually fed and has little to do with genuine love. You can be infatuated over someone you don’t even know–such as a celebrity, and how can that be love?
Infatuation involves increased levels of dopamine in the brain similar to a cocaine or opioid high, which is why it feels so good and why it must be “fed” to be kept alive. When it can’t be fed anymore, the infatuated person, like a person withdrawing from drugs, may “crash” or experience depression. I wonder if people with addictive personalities are more likely to develop this condition.
Real love isn’t drug addiction or a “condition.” It involves commitment, genuine caring about the other person, willingness to compromise and sometimes sacrifice, and mutual understanding. Genuine love must include true friendship and mutual give and take. It also requires an ability to empathize with another person you care about. Real love may or may not include infatuation. They are two different things, although one can lead to the other. A mother’s love for her child certainly doesn’t involve infatuation, but it’s love in one of its highest forms.
Infatuation includes none of these things, only an unrealistic idealization and obsession with another person. The idealized image the infatuated person has of their object of obsession may or may not be accurate at all. Most likely it isn’t. That’s why crushes tend to be shortlived. Tennov calls limerence/infatuation “cognitive obsession,” and that pretty much sums up what it is. Sure, it can be a lot of fun (like a drug high), and an interesting diversion if not taken to extremes, but it’s not “love.”
I’ve always wondered too why crushes are so embarrassing for people to talk about, since they’re so common and normal. I hesitated a LOT about discussing this on a public blog, especially knowing the person in question is most likely going to see all this, but you know what? I don’t care, because I’m not going to lie about anything in this blog. It’s my therapy, and I made a commitment to never lie about anything, so there you go.