How Your Limerence is Fueled by
Shame and Self-Abandonment
In therapy, my calling attention to a patient’s continual rejection and criticism of one's attraction to limerence often evokes a sobering mix of clarity and sadness. I've seen individuals in limerence hoping to rid themselves of it like an emotional exorcism. Obsessing about and longing for a stranger, a celebrity, a teacher, a friend, or an ex elicits shame and the desire to excise the shameful part of oneself to feel normal again.
What’s shameful about wanting to be wanted and loved? When I’ve asked that question in session, I’m met with sentiments like it’s selfish and childish or I’m angry with myself that I can’t get past it. Most people have discovered the term and concept just before they seek therapy, which signals to me that, despite feeling relieved that there’s a name for their experience, they’ve been internalizing and sitting with their shame for a while. Limerence shame often stems from feeling wrong for craving reciprocation of feeling.
But it’s not wrong; it’s right for our ego development, our equilibrium, and our survival. So why shame and reject a natural drive to feel loved? Aside from intermittent caregiving which I discussed here, mixed messages around love (e.g., preoccupied or moody parents) can also instill doubt about one’s lovability. Navigating the abrupt shift from feeling loved via praise or affection to emotionally abandoned via aggression or inattention is precarious and confusing. Self-blame, shame, and an overall sense of badness soon follow. This mirrors the limerence experience.
Mixed messaging is a hallmark of the limerence rollercoaster, compelling a person in limerence to search for the evidence – repeatedly recalling conversations, gestures, or visuals – of lovability. Limerent objects, typically chosen for their paradoxical cues, tend to abandon the limerent person over and over, fulfilling the familiar relationship arc with early caregivers. The limerent person tries to undo the feelings of being unlovable by re-engaging with the evidence. The shame of obsessively poring over the evidence leads to self-abandonment, which then fuels the need for limerence.
In the end, your parents and your limerent objects have failed to consistently affirm your lovability, and they always will. Not because you’re not lovable; but because your being lovable has nothing to do with how someone treats you.
You might also like: Limerence: The Agony and the Ecstasy of our Earliest Addiction or Limerence as a Resistance to Intimacy or Limerence and Splitting or Exploring the Origins of Limerence as Self-Soothing or Limerence: A Psychic Retreat