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Infatuation Is a Temporary Illusion: How to Escape the Pain

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As a neuroscientist, I am fascinated by infatuation; it's such a strong, mysterious phenomenon, yet is entirely scientifically-explainable.

I will start this by saying that however deep and impossible your situation feels, you will leave this infatuated state. There will be a day when you can think about this special person without any type of pain or passion. You will remember how strongly you felt towards them while they didn't have the same feelings for you, and it will seem completely crazy that you were so stuck in limerence.

Albeit cliché, the concept that time is the only thing that will make you feel less magnetically drawn to someone who you cannot be with is true. You cannot magic away these feelings, because they are a strong illusion created by chemicals in your brain. Over time, your neurobiology will balance out again, and this person, who is acting as a potent stimulus, will no longer inspire the same physiological response in you. Thinking about your situation scientifically helps, as it steers you away from thinking in terms of romance and delusion.

What Is an Infatuation?

Are you currently struggling with huge, incredibly deep feelings for someone that you will never be with? We use the term 'infatuation' (also limerence) to describe the state of being utterly enamored by and obsessed with someone; it is the wildest thing that a human can experience in the sober, baseline state. The invisible pull that you feel will seem so novel and colossal in strength that, if experiencing infatuation for the first time, you will be certain that you will 'never feel this again', and that this person is 'the one'. After all, your body and mind react so strongly and surely to them that it is impossible to imagine a life worth living that doesn't have them at the center of it. This is not the case, as you will experience several infatuations in your life if you are prone to them.

Due to differing genetics and brain chemistry, some people are more prone to entering limerence than others; in fact, some will never experience this roller coaster of euphoria and insecurity. Unrequited crushes are normal and not too much of an issue; unrequited infatuation not only encompasses incredibly powerful attraction, admiration and a general feeling of 'love' towards the subject, but is also agonizing and depressive by nature.

If the infatuated cannot be with the person that they desire, they will likely enter a deep depression and will feel completely out of order for weeks or months, until the feelings fade or they gain closure. Irrational thoughts and misery normally accompany this rollercoaster experience, as well as physical symptoms such as elevated libido and lack of appetite (due to an excess of dopamine in the brain).

Is It a Normal Crush or an Infatuation?

You may wonder how we can define things as vague and fluid as romantic feelings. However, the line between a healthy crush and a problematic infatuation is not as thin as it seems. Crushes can be unwanted and painful, bringing ups and downs into our lives, but a true infatuation blows a crush out of the water. If deeply infatuated with someone that you cannot be with, you will think irrational thoughts such as 'I want to die—X isn't in my life and everything else makes me miserable'.

These thoughts are falsehoods, for the world is so open that you will definitely encounter other people (as well as places, music and even fashion trends) that you find fascinating.

If you are simply experiencing a romantic crush, you will find the person very appealing and may intensely want to date them, but there will be less feeling than there is in limerence—less hormonal influence, less joy, and less crying. The highs will be less euphoric, sure, but the lows will not be nearly as crushing as those experienced in the limerent state.

The difference between a crush and an infatuation is that the former allows you to enjoy the warm feelings and be in control of your emotions, while the latter is extremely unhealthy and causes the sufferer a lot of pain if they cannot be with the person they desire. A crush may feel very strong and you may want to act differently to charm the subject of your feelings, but it will never be as delusional, destructive, and fantasy-based as a true infatuation is.

So, how does one differentiate between the two? In short, if you feel so distraught that you cannot be with the person that you are googling for solutions, crying before bed and upon waking, losing interest in activities that you normally love, struggling to imagine a future without the person in your life, you are definitely infatuated and not crushing. If you treat this emotional conundrum as if it were a drug addiction, you will stop feeling this way in a matter of weeks or months.

Why Do People Become Infatuated in the First Place?

Most people go through their lives organically forming healthy 'crushes'; even when not actively seeking a partner, they will encounter a few people a year that will grab their attention and seem irresistible. After all, this is biologically advantageous; we are mammals and are meant to pursue, and eventually reproduce with, those that we deem physically and emotionally intriguing.

Having said this, I will clarify that your sexual orientation is totally unimportant in your ability to develop all-consuming, raging feelings for someone. This level of feeling is just as prevalent between people of the same gender as it is between those of opposite genders. However, we are wired to pursue, bond with and care for other human beings for the sole reason of reproduction and the survival of our species. If someone is infatuated with someone of the same gender, they will experience the same concoction of erratic emotions as a straight person. Neurochemical changes will temporarily dominate your life regardless of the perceived likelihood of the passing on of your genes.


What to Do? Understand That Your Feelings Are Scientifically-Explainable and Never Permanent

The wild array of feelings that come along with any form of attraction may seem intangible and wondrous, but they are caused by altered levels of different neurotransmitters. Focusing on the science behind such a strong human experience is crucial in dealing with the pain that it can cause you.

  • Reject dwelling in the infatuation too much. It's incredibly tempting to spend hours writing and lamenting about the subject of your "love", only to enter an even more heightened state of delusion. Even if this isn't your first infatuation and you saw that you got over your last one, remember that, naturally, you will be convinced that this person is the one and that you are ruining your life by missing out on being with them. This is nonsense and is your brain tricking you!
  • The best way to avoid falling into this nauseating, fantasy-driven loop of obsessing and fantasizing and despairing is to understand the science behind this crazy human experience.
  • It is also incredibly comforting to know that unrequited infatuation very rarely lasts for more than 6-8 months, and often will fizzle out incredibly suddenly and much earlier than this. This is because infatuation is neither logical nor grounded at all. It is so, so ephemeral by nature; one day you will look back at this period of your life and it will seem like a wild but distant dream. Trust me on that one.
  • However, to break this person-addiction habit and ensure you never, ever cry over unrequited love again, you'll need to dig very deep and be committed to recovery. Your external world is a mere reflection of your beliefs and what you allow to imprint itself into your subconscious mind. By meeting your psychological needs healthily and treating unhealed wounds, you will become completely, 100% immune to infatuation/limerence. Potential partners will sparkle to you, make your heart sing and you'll be able to transition into real relationships with them instead of you manifesting unrequited love and crying spells. I promise you this.
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Feeling Something Intensely Doesn't Mean It's Permanent

Don't get confused and think that, just because you feel such strong passion for this person, your feelings will 'last forever' and you will 'never get over them'. For some reason, when us humans experience something intense or profound, we do what no other animals do and we introduce a poignant aspect of eternality to the situation. It's a huge logical fallacy to think 'I feel strongly about X, hence I will ALWAYS feel this way', yet we all do it. Our tragic flaw is, in many ways, that we are aware of time and the future and cannot simply live in the moment and deal with whatever strong feelings we are experiencing as they come and go.

If you think about, a large part of your pain is that you feel that you won't ever have a happy, fulfilled, exciting life without this individual. After all, they've inspired so much energy in you and you haven't felt this way with anyone else before. The truth is that, no, your infatuation will not last long and will certainly not be permanent.

Infatuation has a shelf-life because it is based in the fantasy and reality cannot maintain it. It is such idealisation and irrationality that, once the real world creeps in and you become aware that your feelings are unfounded and inappropriate, they will naturally dissipate. It is for this reason that couples who feel 'infatuated' often become bored after around six months. They aren't experiencing that surge of initial attraction or the wondrous mystery that their partner made them feel when they first met, because they were simply infatuated then and didn't really know their partner.

What Does It Mean If You're Prone To Infatuation?

Being a neuroscientist, my attention has been drawn to the fact that those of us who fall into infatuations are 1. prone to this state (experience it over and over again until they learn precisely how to treat the root cause, even if each "episode" feels novel and "different this time"), and 2. we are people who feel things very intensely.

Now, I am aware that virtually every single person on this planet feels certain things strongly and irrationally, but a limerence really is at the top of the scale in terms of intensity, especially since mental illness is usually thrown into the mix. Nearly every single person who I have seen who has fallen into a deep infatuation has been on the spectrum for severe depression, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder (BPD) or OCD (meaning, they could obtain a psychiatric diagnosis for one of these illnesses).

I don't want to scare you; I am a firm believer that we all sit on spectrums for most mental health conditions, and that there should be no fear or taboo enshrouding this type of information. Many of us could be diagnosed with different things and obtain certain psychiatric labels, but I don't think we should strive to do this unless our mental health is affecting our quality of life extremely negatively. However, I do have to tell you: infatuation at its worst is not neurotypical.

If you tend to live your life emptily, only motivated and made to feel emotion by unobtainable people who you think can make everything okay, then you are most probably mentally ill (by society's definition, at least). If your self-esteem was moderately high and you were mainly mentally healthy (no depressive episodes, no propensity to obsession, no episodes of mania) then it is highly unlikely that you would fall into an illusion so controlling as infatuation.

As I have mentioned and will continue mentioning in this article, infatuation is a deceitful trick. It's your brain's way of latching onto something that could, in theory, make you happy and take away all your troubles. For this reason, if you are infatuated with someone, you are not happy with your current life. You might want to tell me "I am happy and confident, this person is just so special/beautiful that I need them", but that statement would be yet another dopamine-driven delusion.

If you are prone to infatuation/limerence:

  • you have a lot of love to give to people, whether platonic or romantic (this is a blessing). I suggest that you utilise this in the healthiest possible way and focus on solidifying strong, platonic friendships. You won't feel the high of infatuation and attraction, but you won't experience the horrible lows either, and you will be immensely satisfied because you'll form close bonds and feel understood by people who want to be in your life for genuine reasons, other than desire.
  • as mentioned above, you are probably mentally ill in some way, and could most likely be diagnosed with OCD, depression, anxiety, BPD, or bipolar disorder. Don't let this scare you. A diagnosis would just be putting a label on what you've felt your entire life.
  • you will fall into more of these miserable infatuations if you do not treat the root-cause, which is unmet psychological needs and limiting beliefs regarding yourself and your worth. Don't let them shape your months and years, and don't let your life be a string of feelings for different people with you making no advancements in your own life. Even if you don't feel sound enough on a psychological level, force yourself to make friends, to exercise, to work and to read books. You'll be pleasantly surprised at how quickly you actually make new brain pathways and *escape* this hell.
  • you're very prone to fantasising about ideas, people and concepts that could, in theory, help you "escape" the current life or situation that you are in. Use this to your advantage - it just means that your brain is prone to creating dopaminergic pathways to motivate you. Currently, you're motivated to get this person into your life, but you can use this mental tactic to enjoy other things intensely, like academics, hobbies, pets etc. Become obsessed with another country, and make it your mission to learn the language fluently and move there within the next 8 years. Grab onto something other than a person that sparks your interest and get you thinking "my life would be amazing IF ...", whether it be the idea of gaining muscle at the gym, redecorating your house or writing a novel. Some would advise against this, but I have evidence to prove that it's a healthy way to cope with a propensity to idolising people. Hobbies/pets/languages/exercise won't turn you limerent, so obsess over them instead.
  • unless you work hard on yourself to recover from this susceptibility to falling hard and selflessly for people, your partners will never be on the same page as you. They will never love you as fiercely as you "love" them, because they will never be consumed by someone in the way that people consume and fill your existence. This may fill you with sadness but is reality; the fact that you have developed the behavioural pattern of limerence isn't their problem, nor is it something that many people will relate to. Wishing for someone to fall for you in this lovesick, bittersweet way is going to align you with reactive, toxic people who are generally unstable and enmesh with you too quickly.
  • the best comes last: you can become immune to infatuation/limerence! You'll need to do a lot of research on how to attack your subconscious mind and alter your brain's fundamental wirings, but it's surprisingly simpler than it sounds and the only path to complete emotional freedom.

Yes, This Is Just One of Your Many Phases!

Live in the moment and deal with any false, irrational thoughts like 'this will last forever'. Every time you think that, correct yourself and remember that you're feeling something very strong and unpleasant, but that's all it is, and in no way does this equate to any form of permanence.

You can feel things strongly without them lasting forever! I don't know why we, as humans, struggle with this idea so much. There are so many sensory afflictions that come and go. For example, think of a terrible illness where you're vomiting constantly and can barely walk. You feel like you're never going to feel well again, but days later, you bounce back. The illness is just a faint memory that doesn't even inspire much emotion in you. Similarly, sometimes we come across music that we love and then can barely stand to hear it a month later.

We, as humans, go through many phases in our life. Phases are definitely valid life experiences, but find comfort in their ephemerality! This boy or girl is a phase in your life, albeit an intense one. One day, you will look back and associate them with whatever music you're currently listening to, the clothes you're currently wearing and the way that you feel. That is because those aspects of your life are also a phase. This person won't make your heart skip forever. If you take one thing from this article, let it be that. You won't believe me now, but there will come a time when you don't care who they date, and their name won't even stand out to you in a list. Human emotions are weird, huh?

Remember: You Love Your Brain's Chemicals, Not This Person

Unless you are experiencing a healthy crush within reality (just attraction and the feeling of connection), your infatuation is a result of an unhealthy dopamine reward circuit that your brain has essentially created as a survival mechanism. You are so depressed/unfulfilled/lonely that your brain knows that real life isn't offering much for you in terms of incentive to live, so it creates its own happiness in order to temporarily relieve you from unhappiness, nihilism and lack of focus.

Infatuation is the brain making its own fun through a 'fantasy bond'. Your brain provides you with a sugary high full of wonder and hope and promises for the future, and then when real life doesn't follow the illusion (e.g., when the person unsurprisingly doesn't devote their entire life to you because they have their own life/feelings), you will experience the consequent crash. There is a duality to every strong psychological experience, and what goes up always comes down.

Mocking yourself slightly and realising that your brain is 'glitching' in this way is imperative. Tell yourself, "I love dopamine, not him/her!". If the attraction wasn't there, and you knew their personality inside out, would you still 'need' them? It's almost impossible that you would. You might love them in a genuine, affectionate way, just like some elderly couples love each other after years of commitment, but it wouldn't be delightful and euphoric, nor would it be what you're craving now.

Find comfort in the above. If you find yourself thinking, "I've met him at the wrong point in my life, we could have grown old together etc." remember that the romance wouldn't feel like this for more than a few months anyway. Yes, maybe if you had met this man in 5 years time you'd date and then marry him and be happy (in the stable sense of the word, with no thrill), but the truth is that that's not even what you want. You want to be able to act on the passionate feelings that you currently have, and for those to last forever, which is why the supposed "missed connection" is so tragic and hard for you to cope with. The thing is, as I've explained, the sheer concept of living with them forever and feeling this way with them forever is a fairytale that your brain has created.

In short: your brain has messed up here, and is misunderstanding the situation. We are animals at the end of the day, and our bodies function to promote survival, often not bothering about our feelings. If your life is lacking authenticity, excitement and motivation, your brain may work to ensure the survival of your genes by creating its own goals. Don't listen to everything that your mind is telling you and try not to crave the highs that it is offering you!

Neuroscience: What Causes Infatuation?

Understanding the science behind this turbulent experience is crucial, and is the only way to think practically without being nihilistic and numbing yourself to your feelings. This area of neuroscience is fascinating, as it deals with human experiences that seem so spiritual and magical that it's hard to believe that they are caused and controlled by relatively simple chemicals. However, a handful of neurotransmitters control all aspects of your mood and mental health, and therefore can explain every thought and motive that an infatuation will cause you to experience.

  1. Dopamine is the 'pleasure chemical', and relates to euphoria, addiction and craving. It can also inspire goal-based behaviour, e.g., wanting to save money to plan an elaborate trip, or, more relevantly, wanting that "perfect life" with someone you have recently met where you two are alone and free, revelling in each other's happiness. When you first fall into infatuation and you cannot imagine happiness with anyone else but this individual, it is dopamine acting... and boy, is dopamine a powerful neurotransmitter! It gives us momentum in life and quite literally drives humanity, but in the case of infatuation, it is a delightful yet dangerous substance. When noradrenaline is also released, the two neurotransmitters can undergo a reaction and produce not only an elated mood, but also focused attention, hyper-activity and loss of appetite. All of these changes can be witnessed in the "lovesick"; you develop tunnel vision during these biochemical changes. You are greatly inspired by anything to do with the other person, and bored at the rest of the world, for it all seems so dull compared to the object of your passion. While noradrenaline is a neurotransmitter and adrenaline a hormone, the two contribute synergistically to a racing heart and the novel excitement associated with love.
  2. Serotonin is low when you are infatuated, which is counterintuitive, as high levels of serotonin are also commonly associated with "lovey-dovey" feelings. In fact, taking ecstasy causes a great release of this neurotransmitter, and depression is caused by low levels of it. However, the infatuated brain shows the same low serotonin levels as someone with OCD, which explains the obsessive nature of infatuation, and hence why you should avoid romanticizing your state and realize that you are essentially mentally ill while in the throes of this level of passion.
  3. Adrenaline activates stress responses in the body, and is involved with the physiological signs of infatuation. It activates the levels of other hormones like cortisol, which all activate the sympathetic nervous system in a cascade-like manner, causing trembling, sweating and an increased heart rate.
  4. Oxytocin is released during intimate acts, cuddling and other forms of close, trust-based contact. It is slightly different to the others, as it does not directly cause "infatuation". In other words, it does not contribute to the insanely powerful passion that one feels while infatuated. Rather, it adds to the experience by increasing the sweet feelings of trust and fondness. For this reason, it is also extremely important in relationships after the infatuation and hence the craving (caused by dopamine) wears off. If the people in the relationship do not possess adequate amounts of oxytocin (and vasopressin), it is unlikely that the relationship will last once they have passed through the drugged-up stage of infatuation and are suddenly aware of each other's flaws.

I urge you to think about the science behind your feelings, as it will help you rationalise what you feel. Allow yourself to cry but don't let yourself romanticise this 'missed connection', because it was never there in the first place. Your neurobiology has temporarily gone awry and taken control of your feelings, but this level of misery cannot and will not last.

Personality Archetypes and Infatuation

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

Questions & Answers

Question: What is the INFJ personality type?

Answer: INFJ is known as the 'Advocate', and is one of the 16 Myers-Briggs personality types.

Question: I see the poll and I'm intrigued that, the rarest of types - INFJ (only 2 or less % of the population) has the leading 21 % of the votes in infatuation. Does this mean that every person of the INF type (it's 40 % for INFJ and INFP combined in this poll) is prone to infatuation?

Answer: MBTI is really just a way to categorize personality types and is descriptive, rather than scientific. However, it does seem fairly accurate and reflective of people's traits, strengths, and inclinations. I, therefore, believe that we can consider 'NFP' a real disposition that most likely has traceable neural correlates e.g. genes that affect neurotransmitter modulation and transmission. It seems likely that the vast majority of 'NFP'-type people are prone to turbulent inner experiences and infatuation.

Question: Why do I choose to date men 7 to 20 years younger than me?

Answer: Interesting topic, but unfortunately little is known about the psychology behind our sexual/romantic preferences. Afterall, we are still unsure why certain people are gay (as in, whether it is down to genes, environment or a combination of factors).

I won't try and psychoanalyze you and claim that your preference is due to childhood problems etc., but you might want to see a counselor to see if the answer is deep in your subconscious somewhere.

It might just be that you find the look of younger men attractive, or it may be that you desire to be more powerful/sociable/earn more money than your partner, hence you prefer to be older.

Question: What is the INTJ personality type?

Answer: The 'architect' archetype.

© 2017 Lucy

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