What Is Limerence – A Guide To Its Signs, Causes, And Coping

What is limerence? How does it flood your mind with intense feelings of attraction and infatuation?

Ever felt a strong passion for someone, blurring the lines between infatuation and obsession?

You may not be familiar with the term “limerence,” but you may have known and lived it.

Dive in to understand this intense emotion, recognize its signs, navigate its challenges, and find out how to cope with it in your life.

what is limerence and its signs
Photo by Dziana Hasanbekava, Pexels

“The goal of limerence is not possession, but a kind of merging, a “oneness,” the ecstatic bliss of mutual reciprocation.”

– Dorothy Tennov

Read This Clear Summary of Groundbreaking Book: Love and Limerence.

What Is Limerence

Limerence is a sudden-onset mental state marked by obsessive thoughts and feelings of intense longing for another person. It is often a romantic infatuation, but can also be non-romantic. It can start as a desire and turn into an uncontrollable craving for the person.

The person of interest is known as the limerence object (LO) while the one feeling strong emotions is called a limerent person (LE).

The term “limerence” was coined by psychologist Dorothy Tennov coined in the 1970s after interviewing 300 people for their experiences on romantic love.

Tennov noted a particular manifestation of “being in love” reported by many of her subjects (Tennov, 1998).

This love was an involuntary, overwhelming longing for the other person’s attention and positive regard. This attachment was typically unrequited, and the other person was unavailable to reciprocate feelings.

Limerence often comes on unexpectedly and makes the person feel flustered by their intense feelings for their object of fascination.

Do you think you’re emotionally damaged, but don’t know its signs?

Definitions of Limerence

  • Limerence is an involuntary interpersonal state that involves intrusive, obsessive, and compulsive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that are dependent on perceived emotional reciprocation from the object of interest (Wakin & Vo, 2008).
  • Limerence is an acute onset, unexpected, obsessive attachment to one person, the Limerent Object, which is rarely reported in scientific literature (Willmott & Bentley, 2015).
  • Limerence is “a particularly intense form of romantic passion which includes motivational and affective properties of romantic yearning and a desire for one’s romantic feelings to be reciprocated” (Carswell & Impett, 2021)
  • In limerence the role of physiological states of excitement and fear, co-mingle with expressions of paranoia wherein attempts to hide interest in the increasingly idealized LO, are mixed with attempts at interpreting potential signs of desired emotional reciprocation (Dorothy Tennov, 1979).

Emotional Components of Limerence

Limerence falls somewhere between obsession and addiction.

Limerent persons often feel extreme emotional lability, or “mood swings.” The shift from joy (of being loved back) to despair (of being turned down) can occur in a short amount of time.

The basic components of limerence are:

  1. Intrusive Thinking: Limerence involves constant, intrusive thinking about the person of interest.
  2. Longing for Reciprocation: There is a strong longing for the limerent person’s romantic feelings to be reciprocated by the other person.
  3. Feeling of Buoyancy or Elation: The limerent person often experiences a feeling of buoyancy or elation when they attain reciprocation of their feelings.
  4. Mood Dependency: The mood of a person experiencing limerence is highly dependent on the actions of the other person.
  5. Fear of Rejection: A constant fear of being rejected by the object of their affection is another common component of limerence.
  6. Intensity of Feelings: Limerence is marked by intense feelings that overshadow other concerns of personal importance, like neglecting self-care and fulfilling family or work responsibilities.
  7. Exclusivity: An individual experiencing limerence usually finds it impossible to feel limerent for more than one person at a time.
  8. Emotional Aching: There is often an aching in the center of the chest when the limerent person is uncertain of the reciprocation of feelings.

Signs of Limerence

Limerence has been compared to OCD and substance use disorder, as it shares features of both.

In limerence, physiological states of excitement and fear co-mingle with paranoid expressions. The person tries to hide their interest in the idealized limerent object while seeking to interpret potential signs of emotional reciprocation (Tennov, 1979).

Some signs of limerence include obsessive thinking, intrusive thoughts, constant daydreaming, a strong fear of rejection, mood swings, rituals that interfere with daily functioning, and idealizing the LO to an unrealistic degree.

1. Obsessive Thoughts and Preoccupation

People experiencing limerence are consumed with thoughts about the person of interest, even in their absence.

This intense preoccupation can lead to overthinking (rumination), consuming mental energy, and leaving them too exhausted to carry out everyday duties.

2. Inability to Focus On Anything Else

The obsession with the person of interest dominates thoughts and behaviors, making it difficult to concentrate on other aspects of life.

3. Idealization and The Halo Effect

When experiencing limerence, the person of interest is seen as flawless and perfect, an idealized version that may not align with reality.

This is known as the “halo effect,” as the mind creates an idealized version of the limerent object that may not align with reality.

This mindset often overlooks their faults and imperfections, further feeding the deep obsession.

4. Fantasy and Fond Hopes

Elaborate fantasies are created about a life with the person of interest.

They often imagine a future together and believe that they alone can make the person of interest happy.

5. Secretive Behavior

Limerence may cause individuals to hide their emotions from friends and family.

They become more secretive about their feelings towards the person of interest. This secretiveness can lead to a sense of isolation.

6. Stalking Behavior

One of the dangerous red flags of limerence is stalking,

This includes excessively monitoring the person of interest’s social media activity or even stalking them offline.

This obsessive behavior can have damaging effects on mental well-being, and professional or personal life, since the focus on the other person becomes all-consuming.

7. Possessiveness

Limerence is often marked by unrequited love.

The one-sided nature of feelings of intense desire to have them can cause severe emotional distress.

There’s a tendency to become possessive of the person of interest, viewing them as personal property and experiencing jealousy when they interact with others.

8. Unrequited Love

Limerence is often marked by unrequited love, causing severe emotional distress.

Despite a strong desire for intimacy and acceptance, the lack of reciprocation leaves individuals feeling inadequate and undeserving of affection.

9. Loss of Self-Esteem

As a result of unrequited desire, self-esteem may plummet, causing individuals to question their self-worth. This loss of confidence can lead to anxiety and depression.

10. Distress and Psychological Pain

The emotional strain of limerence can manifest as anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues.

Symptoms may include mood swings, inability to concentrate, and persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness.

11. Physical Symptoms

Limerence can also result in physical symptoms, such as headaches, chest pains, stomach pain, or body aches, when thinking about or being in the presence of the person of interest.

These pains are often a response to the stress and emotional turmoil induced by the intense attraction and unrequited love.

Four Stages of Limerence

Limerence has at least four stages.

  • Early on, limerence can be both thrilling and agonizing, as your thoughts become consumed with this person.
  • Later on, it may come with the decay of the passion and obsession, and the resumption of normal life.

Understanding the stages of limerence can help you navigate these complex emotions.

Stage 1: Crush

In the first stage, you experience a crush on the object of your limerence.

The attraction is often based on physical appearance or an ideal you’ve created in your mind.

Your emotions are still somewhat controlled during this stage, and you may not yet be all consumed with thoughts about the other person.

Stage 2: Infatuation

As the crush develops, you enter the stage of infatuation.

This is when the intensity of your emotions increases, and you become more preoccupied with the other person. You may fantasize about a future with them, idealizing their perceived virtues and dismissing any flaws.

You likely experience an emotional high when in close proximity to the person, further deepening your attachment.

This euphoria makes it difficult for you to focus on anything else, as the thought of your limerent object becomes increasingly dominant in your mind.

Stage 3: Frustration

The third stage of limerence is marked by frustration, as the reality of your situation begins to set in.

You may realize that your feelings are not reciprocated or that a relationship with this person is unattainable.

Anxiety and obsessive-compulsive tendencies can manifest, as you’re plagued by intrusive thoughts and seek ways to alleviate your emotional turmoil.

It is during this stage that mutual limerence may become unlikely, as the intensity of your feelings may push the other person away or create an imbalanced dynamic.

Stage 4: Resignation

In the final stage of limerence, there is a sense of resignation.

You may come to terms with the fact that your feelings are unrequited, and you gradually begin to disengage emotionally.

This is generally a process of self-preservation, as your mental health may have suffered due to the all-consuming nature of limerence.

With time, the emotional intensity will fade, allowing you to regain control over your thoughts and feelings.

Uncertainty Element of Limerence

Uncertainty is the driving force behind the development and maintenance of limerence.

The limerent person (LE) obsessively desires to be close to the person they are fascinated with, declare their intense feelings, and feel euphoric, but each of these has an inbuilt fear of uncertainty. Here are some examples:

  1. The limerent person (LE) might find themselves making excuses to run into the person they are fascinated with at work or school, but they’re constantly anxious about how the other person might react.
  2. The LE might rehearse a heartfelt confession of love for hours, but when the moment comes, they’re paralyzed by the fear that the other person might not feel the same way.
  3. When the limerent person (LE) receives a positive response from the object of their affection, such as a smile or a compliment, they might feel an overwhelming sense of happiness, but it’s often tainted by the nagging doubt of whether the affection is genuine.

Limerence can stem from a mixture of personality traits, biological predispositions, attachment styles, and factors like OCD or external triggers.

Celebrity limerence is when a fan of a larger-than-life personality, like a famous actress or a “liked by millions” social media influencer, obsessively follows them online and in the real world.

Limerence is commonly a temporary state, lasting a few weeks to months, but rarely to several years.

Causes of Limerence

Numerous conditions have been associated with Limerence including Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD; Wakin & Vo, 2008) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) (Willmott & Bentley, 2012), both involving excessive rumination (Curci, Lanciano, Soleti, & Rime, 2013; Horowitz, 1986).

Consistently, aspects of anxiety and depression, as well as addiction (Sack, 2012; Wakin & Vo, 2008; Willmott & Bentley, 2012) are noted in limerent individuals.

However, the extent and the relative expression of Limerence symptomology related to these conditions have not been assessed, with limited commentary on the subject warning of the potential error of oversimplification.

Limerence and Attachment Styles

The deep infatuation, obsession, fantastical longing, and mood swings of limerence might have roots in a defective attachment style formed during their childhood.

We can view limerence as an attachment issue related to one’s parenting, environment, or relationship history.

This view suggests that the tendency to develop limerence goes beyond mere romantic fascination and may be tied to one’s emotional development and past experiences.

Recognizing limerence as an unhealthy form of attachment can help the limerent person (LE) understand their feelings without self-blame. This can help them move toward more fulfilling relationships.

Limerence has been associated with an anxious attachment style and an insecure attachment style.

  • People with anxious attachment styles are characterized by a fear of abandonment and a need for constant reassurance from others, and are more likely to experience limerence.
  • People with insecure attachment style, which includes both anxious and avoidant attachment styles, can also be associated with limerence. They are more likely to show intense emotional reactions to perceived threats to their relationships

However, due to the obsessive nature of limerence, it can have a significant impact on one’s future attachment style in relationships.

The limerent person’s uncontrollable desires for their limerent object (LO) may make it difficult to form secure attachments with others. They tend to compare the person they are attracted to with the person they are related to, and become anxious fault-finders with both themselves and the related person.

As their focus on their LO increases, they may need reassurance and constant connection. This neediness can make it more challenging to build healthy, secure relationships in the future.

Limerence Vs. Genuine Love: Fantasy Over Reality

Recognizing limerence can be a challenging process, as its onset often mimics the feelings of a typical infatuation.

The lines between limerence, infatuation, or normal romantic attraction can often be blurred, making it difficult to distinguish one from the other.

This confusion can be further complicated as people experiencing limerence might often mistake it for genuine love, potentially causing harm to their relationships.

The key to differentiating limerence from genuine love lies in the balance between fantasy and reality.

Limerence creates a fantasy world around the person of interest. This fantasy fixation on how great it would be to belong to them makes it hard to see what a real relationship could be.

But genuine love and attraction usually reflect a healthy balance, with realistic expectations developing as the relationship matures.

Limerence makes your LO your central focus of motivation. You may feel the “need” to protect them, nurture their qualities, and take care of their wants. This causes irrational attachment, which makes the limerence worse.

Unfortunately, limerence can devolve into a harmful addiction, when you increasingly “have to” preoccupy yourself with that person’s thoughts and fantasies.

This is in contrast to the mutual experiences and shared emotions that make love grow.

In long-term love relationships, dopamine levels typically stabilize, and love comes to signify caring and supporting the other person within the context of real-life situations.

It’s this difference between the fantastical obsession of limerence and the grounded reality of love that distinguishes the two experiences.

Find some time to read this: Love vs Limerence: How can you tell the difference?

Limerence: What Is It And How Do We Let It Go?

Love grows through shared emotions. Limerence is driven by one-sided, unattainable fantasy.

How To Deal with Limerence

Limerence can have a significant impact on your life.

However, the harsh truth is that many mental health clinicians are largely unaware of even the concept of limerence.

Limerence can be overwhelming and disorienting. Be gentle with yourself as you overcome limerence. Do not punish yourself for having strong emotions towards that one person.

1. Ground Yourself In Reality And Facts

You are not experiencing genuine love or admiration, but a crystallized mix of attraction, desire, and obsession.

  • Take a step back and accept the facts of the situation. You can’t have them the way you want.
  • De-fantasize yourself, and realize how you have unrealistic views and expectations of them.
  • Be aware of your biased beliefs. They may call the police on you instead of welcoming you if you get too close to them.
  • Realize they have their own relationships and priorities. They don’t need you to complete their life. So, you need to focus on other things in your life.
  • Moreover, up close, they are not the perfect version of the person you are making out them to be. They have their flaws that you may not know of.

2. Slow Down And Don’t Rush Into Decisions

Rushing into decisions under the influence of limerence can lead to unintended consequences and regrets.

  • Remain patient instead of making impulsive choices.
  • Check yourself before making “life-changing” or “bold” decisions.
  • Give yourself time to doubt your feelings and evaluate your options.
  • Wait until your limerence has somewhat faded before rooting for your “emotional rights.”

3. Share Your Feelings With A Trustworthy Person

Your emotions are valid, even though you can’t control them. Sharing them with a trusted confidante can help you embrace your emotions without judging yourself.

  • Your good friends and supportive family members are your sounding board and emotional support
  • Talking about your feelings to them can provide a much-needed outside perspective on your issue.
  • A non-judgmental listener can help you understand the difference between limerence and love.
  • They can also dare to point out that you are wrong about your irrational feelings and cravings.

Sharing your emotional state can help you change your outlook on how relationships should be.

4. Seek Professional Help: Treatment of Limerence

Psychologists and therapists can help people with limerence by teaching them how to overcome the negative effects, develop healthy emotional bonding strategies, and improve their relationships.

There are not many clinical descriptions of limerence outside of Tennov’s book and Willmott and Bentley’s work “Exploring the Lived-Experience of Limerence: A Journey toward Authenticity” (2015).

There are no diagnostic criteria or treatment protocols for limerence.

Clinicians can use evidence-based treatment for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD),

Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP)* is a promising first-line treatment for limerence. Cognitive restructuring and behavioral activation can also be helpful in its treatment.

[*ERP is a cognitive-behavioral therapy that involves gradually exposing the OCD person to their feared stimuli while preventing them from engaging in their compulsive behaviors. It helps the person learn that their feared stimuli are not actually dangerous and that they can tolerate the anxiety that comes with exposure.]

If you find it challenging to cope with limerence on your own, consider seeking help from a mental health professional.

FAQs

  1. What are the key indicators of limerence?

    Limerence is characterized by an uncontrollable desire and obsession for another person. This intense infatuation often results in intrusive thoughts, an inability to focus on anything else, and a deep sense of longing for the other person’s attention and affection. Physical symptoms such as trembling, heart palpitations, and even shortness of breath may also be observed.

  2. How does limerence differ from love?

    While love is typically a strong and lasting emotional bond that involves mutual respect, trust, and commitment, limerence is more like an all-consuming infatuation that tends to be one-sided and short-lived. Limerence may be mistaken for love, but it lacks the stability and reciprocity that are integral to a healthy, long-term relationship.

  3. What can be observed in relationships affected by limerence?

    Relationships impacted by limerence often experience intense highs and lows. The limerent person may be extremely focused on their partner’s every move and become overwhelmed by emotions ranging from joy to despair, depending on how their partner is responding to them. In some cases, this can lead to possessiveness, jealousy, and unhealthy relationship dynamics.

  4. What are some ways to help someone overcome limerence?

    Overcoming limerence requires recognizing the issue and actively working on redirecting obsessive thoughts and behaviors. Techniques like mindfulness, practicing self-awareness, and seeking professional counseling can be helpful in mitigating its impact. Additionally, setting boundaries, engaging in hobbies, and nurturing other relationships can help you regain emotional balance.

  5. How can one recognize the end of limerence?

    Limerence typically ends when feelings of infatuation subside, and your obsessive thoughts are no longer dominating your daily life. This may happen gradually or suddenly, often as a result of a change in circumstances, such as the limerent person getting to know the object of their desire better and discovering they are not as perfect as they initially thought. Recognizing the end of limerence can help you move towards healthier relationships and emotional well-being.

  6. Is there an advantage of limerence?

    Limerence makes you upgrade your looks. “One of the signs of limerent behavior (that is hardest to hide) is the effort at self-improvement, especially in physical appearance,” writes Dorothy Tennov. As the limerence increases, the initial happy thought that he or she must be admirable to LO gives way to doubt. The first hope that sparked limerence may then be lost, and the limerent strives to regain it by more attention to personal details.

Final Words

Sometimes, limerence can result in dangerous consequences.

Limerence has been implicated as a major cause of relationship and family breakdown, as well as being related to anti-social behaviors, including stalking and self-harm (Tennov, 2005).

Rejection can cause the limerent person to develop a hypersensitive personality (HSP). They may start to react overemotionally to even the normal, daily rejections in the world.

When limerence is at its peak, the limerent person could stalk or kidnap the person they’re attracted to, or even hurt them.

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Author Bio: Researched and reviewed by Dr. Sandip Roy. His expertise is in mental well-being, positive psychology, narcissism, and Stoic philosophy.


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