Question #51: What if limerence is NOT a delusion?

lucy_limerence

This was a question I thought of after posting my list of 50 things I ponder about, but I want to explore this further because I’ve never heard anyone else ask this same question.

Limerence is a term coined by psychotherapist Dorothy Tennov in 1979 in her excellent book, Love and Limerence. Limerence is a newer word for the state of infatuation, being “in love” (as opposed to real, agape or mature love), or simply “having a crush.”  I’ve always liked her word because I think it sounds exactly like what the emotion feels like.  I never liked the term infatuation because it sounds disgusting, having a crush implies an “unserious” problem only teenagers have, and being in love is probably not accurate.

She hypothesizes that limerence is an evolutionary adaptation that makes it possible for men and women to meet and mate, and lasts just long enough for them to marry and reproduce. That’s why the typical limerent episode lasts on average two years, and why it more commonly afflicts the young.

I’ve always been what Tennov calls a “limerent”–a person who gets crushes easily. Not everyone does. People with Cluster B disorders, especially BPD, are more prone to limerence than others, because we tend to idealize other people without really knowing them well or at all. It’s actually very narcissistic, because the other person serves as a kind of mirror, reflecting back the ideal qualities you want to see in them–until they don’t. Tennov calls the object of a crush a “limerent object.” In some ways, when you’re limerent about someone, you do see them as an object, because the idealized image of the other person isn’t based on reality or even accurate. At least that’s the common belief.

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Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss – Antonio Canova (Italian, 1757–1822) – Eric Pouhier (May 2007)

But what if it IS accurate? What if limerence is actually a hyper-real state where you see another person as they really are, and just aren’t seeing everyone else the way they really are? What if it’s kind of like the idiot savant phenomenon in severe autism, where the autistic person seems to focus ALL their intellect into one narrow subject at the expense of everything else? In other words, if we were all created in God’s image, then maybe we are all far more beautiful and closer to perfection than we can perceive in everyday reality, and only in the state of limerence, when all our attention is focused on one person, we can see that person the way they really are, which is the way God perceives each one of us.

If you’ve ever been limerent about someone, and especially if they return your feelings (or you believe they do), you feel heady, giddy, euphoric, almost high. It’s a very spiritual feeling, and falling in love with someone does feel very spiritual. When we look at someone we are limerent about, are we really seeing them through a small window that lets us see them the way God sees the whole universe and everything in it?

Maybe the people who are closest to God and the spiritual, and who are the happiest, walk through life feeling limerent about everything. Being able to feel that way all the time about everything is the closest thing to heaven I can imagine.

That feeling can also be induced by certain drugs. Limerence could be closer to a drug high, but I prefer to think it’s a small peek into the divine.

I read somewhere that limerence is being considered as a mental illness in later editions of the DSM. Whether or not it’s real, I think that would be a shame, because limerence can be one of the most profound and magical experiences in life.

Further reading: Do Narcissists Fall in Love?

 

 

 

Do narcissists fall in love?

thelovers

Narcissists can’t love but they can and do fall in love. All the time. What they feel is a state Dorothy Tennov has called “limerence,” more commonly known as infatuation or colloquially known as a crush.

According to Wikipedia,

Limerence (also infatuated love) is a state of mind which results from a romantic attraction to another person typically including compulsive thoughts and fantasies and a desire to form or maintain a relationship and have one’s feelings reciprocated. Psychologist Dorothy Tennov coined the term “limerence” for her 1979 book “Love and Limerence: The Experience of Being in Love” to describe the concept that had grown out of her work in the mid-1960s, when she interviewed over 500 people on the topic of love.

Limerence has been defined by one writer as “an involuntary interpersonal state that involves intrusive, obsessive, and compulsive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that are contingent on perceived emotional reciprocation from the object of interest”. Limerence has also been defined in terms of the potentially inspirational effects and the relationship to attachment theory, which is not exclusively sexual, as being “an involuntary potentially inspiring state of adoration and attachment to a limerent object involving intrusive and obsessive thoughts, feelings and behaviors from euphoria to despair, contingent on perceived emotional reciprocation”.

In other words, the state of limerence is much like being high on a drug. The “LO” (limerent object) is the person fixated on, and this person is a mirror for the infatuated narcissist. When a narcissist falls in love with you, they can be the most romantic people you could ever imagine. They’ll gaze longingly into your eyes, bring you flowers, want to spend every moment with you, tell you they want to be with you forever.

But it’s not you they are seeing. What they are seeing is a reflection of themselves that you are showing them by reciprocating. You make them feel good about themselves because you are giving them supply and attention, and letting them know how wonderful you think they are. You’re basically nothing more than a mirror, and your narcissist, when he gazes into your eyes, is really gazing at his own false self you are feeding.

This doesn’t mean that only narcissists experience limerence or infatuation. Most people do at some point in their lives. It’s much more common for teenagers and young adults to have a “crush,” but it’s a temporary state. I think it’s more common in young people because they are still rather narcissistic and trying to find out who they are. Mature adults can “fall in love” too, but will normally move from the initial state of limerence with all its heady excitement and intensity, into a more stable state of deep love, which is less emotionally intense but much more rewarding for both partners.

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Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss. Antonio Canova (Italian, 1757–1822) – Eric Pouhier (May 2007)

Limerence only lasts an average of 1-2 years (in evolutionary terms, this is just enough time for a relationship to result in the birth of offspring, and is also about the length of time of an average engagement). But limerence isn’t love. It’s what Tennov calls a state of “cognitive obsession.” You can be “in love” with someone you don’t even know or have never met (like a celebrity for example), so how can that be real love? It isn’t. It’s obsession. You may be projecting what you want to see onto the limerent object, rather than seeing what’s actually there. That’s why later, after you’re “over” the object of your infatuation, it’s common to wonder, “what did I ever see in her?”

A narcissist can certainly fall in love (unless they’re the commitment-phobic type), but once you begin to express your own needs, and begin to show cracks in your armor that mean you’re only an imperfect human, you are no longer mirroring the narcissist as they want to be mirrored, and that’s when the abuse and manipulations will begin–or in some cases they will begin to devalue you before the final discard.

A narcissist cannot move from a limerent state into real love, as a normal adult can. Real, lasting love requires mutual give-and-take, empathy, sacrifice, compromise, and a lot of hard work–all things that narcissists simply can’t handle. That’s why their marriages and relationships usually don’t last that long–or if they do, become such hotbeds of misery and discord.

If you’ve been discarded by a narc and they’ve moved onto someone else, don’t feel too bad. Before you know it, that new “perfect” lover will seem not so perfect to them anymore, and they will be abused or discarded too, joining their long list of conquests.

Infatuation and transference

infatuation
I was just reading about infatuation on Wikipedia (everyone should know why by now) and found this:

In transference
In psychoanalysis, a sign that the method is taking hold is ‘the initial infatuation to be observed at the beginning of treatment’,[16] 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’.[17] 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’.[18]

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.

dopamine

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.