Exploring the Origins of Limerence as Self-Soothing
Infants are unable to communicate their needs, therefore, they lay crying in their cribs longing for their needs to be met. Predictability and attunement train us to be patient and have faith that we will be cared for. An unpredictable or misattuned caregiver necessarily compels an infant to construct a set of self-soothing skills out of the fear that they have been abandoned and need to survive. I’m thinking about rocking, thumb-sucking, and limerence.
Limerence–the obsessive fantasizing about and longing for reciprocity of feeling from another person–has qualities that feel reminiscent of the crying infant pining for its inconsistent caregiver. If the fear of abandonment is instilled in us for survival, then securing unconditional love is the primary objective. Perhaps someone under the influence of limerence is persistently fixated on this exact pursuit.
Intrinsically, limerence is concerned with ensuring that someone can finally fulfill the need for total devotion, thereby fending off the ache of being and feeling alone. In a very Are you my mother? kind of way, a person in limerence is preoccupied with finding and keeping the one person who will provide eternal and constant love, otherwise known as unconditional love. Surprisingly, however, the limerent person (much like the baby bird in the aforementioned P.D. Eastman story) chooses someone based on very little information and usually with a history of very little attendance to needs and wants. Breadcrumbs. But, breadcrumbs are not a promise of a full meal, just like sporadic attention from someone is not a promise to love you unconditionally. In limerence, the math just doesn’t add up.
Let’s get back to the crying infant in the crib. Without consistent tending to the crying infant, crying proves fruitless. If the reinforcing conditions are intermittent, cravings for pleasure or relief from discomfort are formed, as is an unconscious strategy–such as limerence–to secure pleasure and relief when caregiving is unreliable. An infant who is hungry might conjure the fantasy of the mother’s breast; an infant who needs to be touched might conjure the fantasy of being held by a caregiver. Fantasy serves to alleviate the fear of abandonment. The infant’s ability to find soothing from fantasy is born, as is the infant’s agonizing relationship with need fulfillment and lack.
People who endured such uncertain conditions might later find this relationship with lack activated by someone who creates or contributes to conditions that are reminiscent of their abandonment fears resulting from an inconsistent caregiver, compelling them to operate as if under the same circumstances. What this can look like in limerence is filling in the blanks or ignoring the warning signs, which help form a fantasy of an idealized version of the limerent object. The purpose is to fabricate the ultimate unconditional caregiver and sense of lovableness, both of which stave off fears of abandonment. The limerent person derives pleasure from poring over the behaviors of the limerent object with the goal of gathering evidence of a person who either currently loves or will forever love them. However, the mission is not accomplished when the construct is built on fantasy. The outcomes are often as they are in infancy: Crying from the hunger of an unmet need.
The unconscious defense of limerence is ultimately flawed, and its habitual nature can be recognized and corrected by linking limerence to its potential origins. Soothing oneself with evidence of the actual love in your life will be more lasting and less harrowing than enduring the fantastic landscape of limerence that can’t truly be realized.
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