By Danny W. Pettry II, M.Ed., M.S., LPC, NCC, CTRS-BHS
What is Limerence?
Limerence is a state of mind which results from a romantic attraction to another person and typically includes obsessive thoughts and fantasies and a desire to form or maintain a relationship with the object of love and have one’s feelings reciprocated (Limerence, Wikipedia, 2021).
“Limerence” was coined by Dorothy Tennovin in her (1979) book, Love and Limerence: The Experience of Being in Love,
A person may develop limerence for a person who is unavailable: like a boss/ supervisor, someone who is married, someone who is not interested or unwilling to be in a relationship with the person who is suffering from limerence.
Most people develop some obsessive thoughts and fantasies when they start dating a new person. However, the person who suffers limerence continues to be in this love-struck (love sickness) for a long time (possibly months and even years).
Limerence is not a condition listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5 is a book) published the American Psychiatric Association.
The DSM-5 is a “living document.” It changes overtime. Sometimes diagnosis are removed from the DSM. Homosexuality was removed in the DSM-II. Asperger Syndrome was removed from the DSM-5. Sometimes mental health diagnosis are added to the DSM.
Limerence isn’t real “love.” It’s more of an infatuated obsession with a false fantasy about another person.
People who don’t experience limerence are often unfathomed at how any person could be so obsessed and hooked on one person.
The Problems with Limerence:
Limerence becomes problematic for a person when the condition impacts major life domains. Here are some examples:
- Vocational: The person isn’t completing required responsibilities at their work due to obsessing thinking and dwelling. They start to call in from work to dwell and daydream about their limerent object [LO] or sometimes referred to as a Person of Addiction [PoA].
- Social: Stop spending time with family and friends to dwell on their LO/POA.
- Romantic relationship: It’s nearly impossible for a person suffering limerence to have a healthy relationship with a LO/POA. The person with limerence will despair at the slightest rejection, disapproval, or even perceived rejection. In example: if the LO/POA goes out with friends, the person with limerence may accuse them of cheating. The person with limerence attempts to totally enmesh with the LO/POA.
- Fear of intimacy: a person with limerence may feel frightened at real intimacy. They unconsciously avoid relationships with people who are open, willing, and available. They unconsciously pursue people who are unavailable because they’re afraid of real intimacy.
- Leisure pursuits: Giving up hobbies and interests to dwell on their LO/POA.
- Self-care: They stop showering or washing laundry. However, they may get dressed up (looking their best) if they think there is a chance they’ll run into their LO/POA.
- Emotional: They’re emotions are all over the place: depressed (missing LO/POA); anxious and worried that they’ll never see their LO/POA again. Feelings of abandonment and rejection. Emotions high if LO/POA gives them attention and drops fast if the they’re ignored. Stressed. Sometimes feels hopeful (even if it is a false hope).
- Sleep: may not sleep well.
- Appetite: may decrease
- Legal: may stalk LO/POA on social media, google searches, going to places where they think they’ll run into their LO/POA.
- Emotional blackmail of LO/POA – may threaten to kill self or harm self if LO/POA doesn’t comply with their wants to “be together.”
- Reality distorition: A person with limerence doesn’t see “reality.” They have a distorted fantasy about the LO/POA. They think of the LO/POA as a perfect “Superman” or a “Goddess.” They have a fantasy that they’ll be happy once in a relationship with this person.
There is a theory that limerence is caused from childhood abandonment issues. Some experts believe limerence is the adult version of Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD). Children who fail to bond with their parents during their early formative years develop RAD. The person with adult attachment disorder may be attempting to win over the love, affection, approval, and attention through a romantic relationship in the same way they attempted to pursue a parent who was neglectful.
Conditions that are related to limerence:
- Anxiety: Person with limerence may have intense anxiety worrying if they’ll ever be with the LO/POA.
- Depression: may dwell on past relationship with LO/POA after a breakup. They have a difficult time letting go and moving on.
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: The person with limerence suffers from intrusive unwanted thoughts about the LO/POA. They have urges and compulsions to reach out the LO/POA by phone, text, mail, social media, stopping by, showing up at their work, etc.
- Process additions: people can become addicted to behavior, in example: gambling, video games. In this case, the person with limerence is addicted to the LO/POA. Any contact with the LO/POA is like a small hit of the drug. There is a small short-term relief in hearing their voice on their voice mail, seeing them in public, or running into them, or receiving an instant message from them.
Disclaimer: this blog is not a substitute for medical advice.
- No contact: a person suffering from limerence can benefit from having no contact with the LO/POA. This is like a person in Narcotics Anonymous counting months and years clean. Any contact would result in the person with limerence getting a small short-term relief (hit), which isn’t healthy.
- Avoiding inappropriate stalking: Google searches, drive by their home or work, asking people about them, talking to their family and friends. These are not direct contact, but they still provide a small hit (like a drug) that gives small relief (but long-term suffering). It’s also illegal.
- Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) can help a person with limerenace to change unhealthy thoughts, feelings, and behaviors into healthier, effective thoughts, feelings, and behavior.
- Radical acceptance training is helpful: Use of Serenity Prayer
- Mindfulness: being in the present moment and noticing nothing bad is currently happening
- Interpersonal skills training: to find healthier ways to interact with others to avoid pushing people away or being blocked on social media. They can develop new relationships and get to know new people.
- Affect regulation skills: finding healthy ways to regulate emotions. This can be healthy distractions like going to the park, reading a book, watching a comedy, walking a pet.
- Contribution: Volunteering is often a way to help a person with limerence to distract self from obsessive thoughts and urges while purposely helping other people with various needs.
- Spirituality: connection to a Higher Power has been shown to be effective for people recovering from addictions.
- Purpose drive life can be effective. This is where the person with limerence turns their focus towards a purpose and mission as a healthy distraction.
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