Limerence and Narcissistic Tendencies | Counseling | Therapy

Limerence and Narcissistic Tendencies

Amanda Martinez — Intern therapist

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You may have heard of limerence in passing, or it may be a new concept for you. The term itself, coined by psychologist Dorothy Tennov, Ph.D., is described as intense, overwhelming feelings of infatuation for someone that can feel uncontrollable. The person experiencing limerence usually has an ardent desire for the other person to reciprocate their feelings. This desire can lead to obsessive, ruminating thoughts, and strong emotional attachment to the limerent person, whether corresponding actions are taken by the limerent person or not to reciprocate feelings. The thoughts about the limerent object can be intrusive and persistent, making it difficult to concentrate on daily tasks and activities, such as work and school. Limerence is often confused with love, as it simulates many of the characteristics one may associate with falling in love. For someone who finds themselves limerent for a person with narcissistic tendencies, those feelings of "falling in love" feel like falling - and flying - over and over again. Wherever one may be during a limerent episode, there is hope.

Your Brain During a Limerent Episode

The human brain is a wonder. Have you ever looked at a piece of architecture and marveled at the creativity it takes for a person to construct such a thing? Similarly, your brain during a limerent episode is working overtime to design and build the fantasy of your dreams. Each successful part of your design – each window you expertly measure out, and each room you tastefully furnish - rewards you with a surge of dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter in the brain's reward system; every dose of dopamine, along with other chemicals, praises your creation with feelings of pleasure, energy, and focus. You continue to build onto the fantasy. Before you know it, your brain has constructed an elaborate estate of a relationship. With limerence and a person who displays narcissistic tendencies, however, the ground you are building on is unstable. The ground may not even be there at all. If rejection, big or small, occurs from your limerent object (in this case the other person), it can send you into a downward spiral. The proverbial castle comes crashing down. Rejection can feel like pain in our brains, as the same parts of our brain that register physical hurt also light up from the pain experienced during romantic relationships.

For many experiencing limerence, the object of their affection may not understand to what extent the person experiencing limerence is facing. In fact, the LO (limerent object), if aware of your pain, may show empathy towards you. The person with a narcissistically constructed personality, however, can find it difficult to show true empathy. In fact, they are often drawn to those who identify as empathetic as they may interpret the kind and accepting nature of an empathetic person as a way to manipulate them. Many people can understand the harm here, but a person with narcissistic personality traits may be unable, or unwilling to.

How You are Feeling Emotionally During a Limerent Episode

Emotions run high during a limerent episode. Limerence can feel incredible, but with the amazing feelings come extreme bouts of despair and self-doubt. You may be feeling increased anxiety thinking about the limerent object. Fear of rejection from the limerent object can result in the person on the receiving end of the limerence having heightened feelings of insecurity. The highs can feel like all consuming euphoria, while the lows can feel like the bottomless throes of despair. Limerent feelings can be so intense they may manifest themselves physically as increased heart rate and nausea when in the presence of, or even thinking about, the limerent person.

Attachment Style: Two Peas in a Pod

Your attachment style can reveal a lot about whether you are more susceptible to limerence and people who display narcissistic personality traits than someone with say, an avoidant attachment. Attachment theory helps us to better understand our emotional bonds and how attachment affects relationships throughout our lives. It can also help to understand why you may be experiencing limerence, and why you find yourself pining for an unavailable person during the episode.

Those who identify with anxious attachment styles, for example, may have a tough time being away from their significant other(s) in romantic relationships. They may often need to have their feelings reciprocated and validated so that they can feel safe. This may look like saying “Do you still love me?” when there is a perceived feeling of distance from the significant other. Anxious attachment can cause the anxious person to feel overly insecure if they see their partner communicating with another person. They may think that their partner is interested in that person, with no evidence of the communication being romantic in nature. When a person with anxious attachment is vulnerable, a person with narcissistic personality traits may charm their way into their lives by offering the reassurance they crave by lovebombing them. Lovebombing in this instance can look like excessive compliments, ignored boundaries, and intense communication.

People with narcissistically constructed personalities will often test boundaries early in the relationship with the limerent individual. The limerent individual, lost in fantasy and vulnerable, may find themselves unable or unwilling to recognize the signs. Intuitive feelings that something is amiss can be subdued with the rose-colored glasses of limerence. A person experiencing limerence can confuse red flags as declarations of love. Often, it will often only exasperate the feelings of awe and beguiled admiration the limerent person is feeling. Those experiencing limerence will often put the object of their adoration on that pedestal, and with roses at their feet. This idealization feeds into an exaggerated view of the person; the person with narcissistic personality traits may find immense pleasure in the adoration.

Limerence exists largely in the mind of the person experiencing the limerence. Only a few interactions with a person can ignite a rich, colorful fantasy where a limerent individual is madly in love with their limerent person. The elaborate daydreams and fantasies can become an important part of a limerent person’s life, often blurring the lines between what is real and what is not.

Limerence involves elaborate fantasies and daydreams about a shared future with the limerent object. These fantasies can become a significant part of the person's mental life, with the inability to discern what's real and what is not. If we pretend limerence is a fire, whereas a person with no identifying narcissistic personality traits would not stoke the fires of limerence, the person with these traits sets them ablaze so they can admire their face in the light. The fantasy hides the reality of the relationship, and to maintain the embers of the fantasy, the limerent individual ignores the smoke.

How to Move On

Limerent episodes can vary in intensity and duration from anywhere from weeks to years. Overcoming a limerent episode can prove especially difficult, as those who find themselves in these types of situations may also be experiencing a type of trauma bonding. While healing from this experience may prove itself a daunting challenge, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and it is possible to let go. One way to do this is by acknowledging what is happening.

It can be difficult for those during a limerent episode to have the level of awareness it takes to distinguish what they are feeling from genuine love. However, even some semblance of awareness can help a person to have brief glimpses into life on the other side of limerence. Recognizing one’s attachment style dynamics during the onset of a limerent episode, and seeking support, such as therapy, can play a pivotal role in healing from difficult relationships. Additionally, it can help address the underlying patterns that contribute to the obsessive behaviors associated with limerence.

Underlying trauma, such as that experienced in childhood, can reveal major insight into the how's and why’s of limerence, such as why you may find yourself attracted to a specific type of person when it occurs (or why you seem to attract this type of person). By recognizing the parts of you that are attractive to people who display certain narcissistic personality traits, and by exploring the ways you are vulnerable to experiencing a limerent episode, the less you may find yourself in limerent relationships. Understanding that limerence may be a way of self-regulation for those who have experienced trauma while developing attachment can also be an incredibly insightful and powerful way of working towards life on the other side of limerence.

If you suspect you are experiencing limerence or find yourself in a relationship with a narcissist, a therapist at The Center for Growth can help you with the tools you will need to explore and develop secure attachments, create boundaries, and achieve a greater sense of self-worth. Research has shown a cognitive behavioral approach when addressing those in a limerent episode has proved beneficial for those experiencing limerence. With a combination of cognitive restructuring, and mindfulness techniques to promote awareness and grounding during rumination, those experiencing limerence can find real hope. Above all, finding a compassionate, non-judgemental space to process the obsessive thoughts and rituals associated with limerence is crucial towards healing. To learn more, you can schedule online with a therapist at The Center for Growth. If you would like to talk to a therapist as soon as possible, you can call (215) 922-LOVE (5683) ext 100 to be connected with TCFG intake department.

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