Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Love Sick or Limerence?

It seems that “Love sick” is a genuine psychological condition. “Limerence” – some psychologists call "Affection Deficit Disorder" is closer to obsessive-compulsive disorder and addiction than puppy love. Left untreated it is agonizing, even fatal and few treat it because few take it seriously.

Albert Wakin, Professor of Psychology at Sacred Heart University at Fairfield, Connecticut notes that that individuals diagnosed as limerent think about the object of their love up to 98% of the time. A very constant type of love sick. The addictive part of limerence is very powerful because it is an addiction to a person, not a substance.

How it works

Typically, the beginning of a healthy/normal relationship is marked by the "honeymoon period," whereby both people have obsessive-compulsive-like thoughts about the other, and experience high intimacy and passion to tear each other’s cloths off. This honeymoon stage of a relationship is marked by feelings of intense euphoria and the release of our reward-activation neurotransmitters like dopamine (a pleasureable neurotransmitter), oxytocin (the "bonding" chemical released during sex), and elevated levels of the sex hormones testosterone and estrogen, all triggered by the sheer novelty of the relationship. So, if you have ever found yourself in a trance-like state whereby your person of interest is the only thing on your mind and you engage in 20-minute conversations with friends, but haven't heard a word they've said, there is scientific evidence to support that you are experiencing a normal stage of love.

Importantly then, in a healthy relationship, usually after around six to twenty-four months the aforementioned hormone levels and feelings of intense euphoria dissipate to a normal degree, which is actually beneficial for both your productivity and sanity. However, those who suffer from Limerence are permanently trapped in this stage of euphoria and it’s associated hormone level. As such, their cognitions and behaviours become obsessive and compulsive.

"In healthy relationships, these hormone levels go back to normal after roughly six to 24 months, but a person suffering from limerence is stuck in the infatuation stage," says Wakin.

Those afflicted with limerence basically never leave the honeymoon stage of their infatuation with someone, high on a “hormonal cocktail” of oxytocin, dopamine, and elevated levels of estrogen and testosterone. Never coming down from that high can cause heart palpitations, loss of sleep, and chest pains, not to mention the truly horrible feeling of loving someone who doesn’t love you back and not being able to get over them.

Wakin emphasizes that you don’t have to be in a relationship to experience it. Also, age and gender do not matter (although it tends to start around age 25 since adolescent and early adulthood experiences of love are hard to distinguish from limerence). Limerence is not about sex, although sexual relations will intensify the feelings. “Men are real suffers of it. Women are likely to tell friends and get support. Men feel that opening up about it is a sign of weakness,” Wakin says.

Although recovery research on this condition is relatively undeveloped, individuals can undergo a combination of medication and therapy to combat symptoms of Limerence. Those who are impacted can enter treatment involving cognitive behavioral therapy as well as take antidepressants, which inhibits the part of the brain that is responsible for obsessive thoughts.

In taking immediate action, if you believe you are suffering from limerence, minimize all contact. Wakin aims to enter the condition into the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which is due for renewed publication in 2013. According to his estimation, 5 percent of the country's population suffers from limerence.

Is it a real condition?

However, the condition of Limerence is ripe with room for dialogue. First and foremost, is this an actual condition or are we merely giving people an excuse for letting their thoughts go into overdrive? I know I have felt lovesick before, but thinking about the other 98% of the time probably didn’t happen nor did I experience any of the other extreme symptoms Wakin talks about.

 Secondly, since some antidepressant medications have shown to work in inhibiting the obsessive thoughts, is Limerence actually an extension or unique sub-type of depression? Can disconnecting from the person of interest really eliminate these maladaptive symptoms?

Furthermore, it is imperative that individuals do not equate "infatuation" with "Limerence" as the two are distinct experiences and although euphoria may play a role in both, it is Limerence that leads to deleterious consequences, whereas more pleasant emotions are derived from "infatuation."


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