Limerence: When a Crush Becomes an Obsession

Schema Therapy

Have you ever felt an overwhelming, all-consuming attraction to someone that lasted for months or even years? Did thoughts of this person dominate your waking hours, affecting your mood, productivity, and relationships? If so, you may have experienced limerence – an intense state of romantic attraction that goes far beyond a typical crush.

What is Limerence?

Psychologist Dorothy Tennov coined the term “limerence” in 1979 to describe an involuntary, obsessive longing for emotional reciprocation from another person. Unlike a normal crush or falling in love, limerence involves:

  • Intrusive, obsessive thoughts about the “limerent object” (LO)
  • Intense mood swings based on perceived signs of reciprocation or rejection from the LO 
  • Idealization of the LO
  • Fear of rejection
  • Physical symptoms like nervousness, sweating, and heart palpitations around the LO
  • Compulsive behaviors to seek proximity or information about the LO

Limerence can last anywhere from a few weeks to several years. It often develops for someone unavailable or unattainable, fueling the obsessive nature of the attraction.

The Neuroscience of Limerence

From a brain science perspective, limerence functions much like an addiction. The uncertainty of whether feelings will be reciprocated creates an intermittent reward cycle that floods the brain with dopamine. This makes limerence highly compelling and difficult to break free from.

Dr. Judson Brewer, a psychiatrist and neuroscientist, explains: “Dopamine is jet fuel. It’s what gets us motivated to do something — even if doing something only means anticipating.” The occasional positive interaction or perceived sign of interest from the LO provides just enough reward to keep the limerent person hooked.

Is Limerence a Problem?

Most people experience some degree of limerence in their lives, especially during adolescence and early adulthood. However, it becomes problematic when it interferes with daily functioning, relationships, and overall wellbeing.

Signs that limerence has become an issue include:

  • Inability to concentrate on work or other responsibilities
  • Neglecting friendships and family relationships
  • Experiencing extreme mood swings
  • Engaging in risky or unethical behavior to interact with the LO
  • Feeling depressed or anxious when unable to see/contact the LO

In severe cases, limerence can lead to job loss, divorce, or mental health crises. Vincent Harris, a writer who has struggled with limerence, shared: “For three years, I felt like I was living under a cloud. I had no motivation other than to hear from her. I was paralyzed with fear that if I reached out to her, I would say the wrong thing.”

Limerence from a Schema Therapy perspective

According to Schema Therapy, early maladaptive schemas (EMS) are core beliefs developed in childhood or adolescence that shape our perceptions, emotions, and behaviors in adulthood. These schemas are deeply ingrained and can influence how we form attachments and experience romantic relationships later in life.

For individuals experiencing limerence, certain schemas may be particularly relevant. For example, the “Abandonment/Instability” schema could lead to fears of rejection or abandonment, intensifying the need for constant reassurance and validation from the object of limerence. The “Emotional Deprivation” schema might manifest as a persistent longing for emotional connection and fulfillment through the idealized relationship.

By addressing these underlying schemas and modes, Schema Therapy helps individuals experiencing limerence gain insight into their emotional patterns and develop healthier ways of relating to themselves and others. This process fosters emotional resilience, self-awareness, and the ability to form more balanced and fulfilling relationships.

Overcoming Limerence

While intense limerence can feel all-consuming, there are strategies to manage it:

1. Practice self-compassion: Use loving-kindness meditation to develop self-compassion and create meaningful connections with others.

2. Engage in grounding activities: Pursue hobbies and interests that bring joy and fulfillment outside of the limerent relationship.

3. Challenge the fantasy: Make lists of ways the LO is not perfect or compatible with you to break the idealization.

4. Interrupt obsessive thoughts: When you catch yourself ruminating, say “Hello, limerence” and redirect your attention.

5. Seek therapy: Schema therapy, which is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy focused on belief systems about ourselves and relationships, can be effective in treating limerence.

6. Reduce rituals: Gradually eliminate compulsive behaviors like checking social media or re-reading old messages.

Remember, as Dr. Tennov wrote, “Limerence can live a long life sustained by crumbs.” You deserve more than crumbs – by recognizing limerence for what it is, you can begin to break free from its grip and open yourself to healthier, more fulfilling relationships.

About the writer:

Grace Higa is a psychotherapist and Licensed Clinical Social Worker with a private practice based in New York City and virtually in Massachusetts and Virginia. She specializes in Schema Therapy which help to overcome attachment issues resulting from limerence.  Schedule an appointment with Grace here.

Schema Therapy at Balanced Mind of New York Can Help

At Balanced Mind of New York, we are committed to providing a comprehensive and personalized approach to mental health and well-being. Our experienced and highly trained therapists specialize in a range of therapeutic modalities, including Schema Therapy, to address the unique needs of each individual seeking support. With a deep understanding of the intricacies of Schema Therapy, our counselors will guide you through the exploration of core beliefs and early maladaptive schemas that may be contributing to your emotional challenges. Through collaborative and empathetic sessions, we will work towards identifying and restructuring these schemas, fostering lasting emotional healing.

Our commitment extends beyond traditional therapeutic approaches. We integrate Schema Therapy with other evidence-based methods to ensure a holistic and effective treatment plan. If you are seeking a profound and transformative therapeutic experience tailored to your specific needs, contact Balanced Mind of New York to gain support you on your journey towards emotional well-being and personal growth.

References:

McCraken, A. (2021). Is it a crush or have you fallen into limerence?

NIDA. 2023, May 30. Preface. Retrieved from https://nida.nih.gov/research-topics/addiction-science/drugs-brain-behavior-science-of-addiction on 2024, June 26

Tennov, Dorothy (1979). Love and Limerence: The Experience of Being in Love. New York: Stein and Day

Wyant, Brandy. (2021). Treatment of Limerence Using a Cognitive Behavioral Approach: A Case Study.

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Balanced Mind of New York

Balanced Mind is a psychotherapy and counseling center offering online therapy throughout New York. We specialize in Schema Therapy and EMDR Therapy. We work with insurance to provide our clients with both quality and accessible care.

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