Limerence and attachment theory

When we think of limerence, there is no clear reason why it happens, why some people might experience it in their lives, while others won’t. Limerence is defined by a strong connection and bond that someone can feel towards their LO (Limerent Object), obsessive and intrusive thoughts that make you feel you are living in a fantasy. 

You might be experiencing limerence right now, or maybe your partner is. And understanding more about it is one of the first things that you can do. You can get to know more about limerence in some other articles that we have on our blog, but today we’d like to explain to you a bit more about limerence and how it is connected with the attachment theory.

Attachment theory is based on the relationship and bonds that people usually show in long term relationships. The type of attachment style of every person is usually formed early in childhood, based on the type of relationship that a child had with their parents or primary caregivers. 

The first psychologist to define the attachment theory was John Bowlby and he described attachment as a “lasting psychological connectedness between human beings”. John Bowlby was specifically interested in understanding why children experience anxiety and distress when they are separated from their primary caregivers, usually their parents.

The attachment style that people have are also influenced by the behaviours they see from their primary caregiver. The way a caregiver interacts and behaves with the child will influence the type of attachment style the children will have. If the primary caregivers are available and responsive to the infant’s needs, the child is more likely to develop a sense of security. In this way, the child feels safe to explore the world and ask for help from their parent. On the other side, if the primary caregivers are not available to the needs of the infant, this can influence the future development of the child.

These early bonds will define different types of attachment style of adults in their later relationships and there are 3 types of attachment: secure attachment, anxious-insecure attachment and avoidant-insecure attachment.

  1. Secure attachment – People with a secure attachment style are more self-confident and can create stable and long-lasting relationships. They usually positively see things and can express their emotions openly. As children, they learned that if they are scared, they can easily seek reassurance from their caregivers, because their need will be fulfilled. 
  2. The avoidant-insecure attachment style – Those with an avoidant insecure attachment style will easily shut down emotionally, avoiding depending in any way on anyone. They will take pride in their independence and not seek support from their partners. People with this attachment style might have had abusive or neglectful caregivers, they were shut down by the caregivers for seeking help or expressing their emotions. 
  3. The Anxious-insecure attachment style – People with this attachment style feel the need to be constantly reassured by their partners. As a result of poor availability from their parents, as children, they learned that their caregiver (and partners in the future) may abandon them or respond negatively to their distress, by ending the relationship. 

As you can see, bonds from childhood have a powerful impact on the behaviour and functioning of children in the future. Research suggests that failure to form secure attachments early in life can harm behaviour in later childhood and throughout life. So, based on this, what is the connection between attachment styles and limerence? 

As you know, limerence feels like love and an intense crush but intensified by 10 times. It can be similar to the beginning of any relationship, but it is not. During limerence, you fantasize about someone and your future together, even if you don’t have a relationship with your LO (Limerent Object). Limerence is more like a distractive mechanism that people use in life. Your mind focuses on the fantasy of what life could be, rather than living in the present. 

There is one specifical attachment style that is more prone to experiencing limerence: the anxious attachment style. Why? Firstly, because someone with an anxious insecure attachment style will tend to be more preoccupied with the other person. Secondly, they will be looking for constant emotional reciprocity, to secure the love for as long as possible. Imagine a toddler that is left alone and is just thinking and longing for their mother

When you experience limerence, you want your feelings to be reciprocated. Craving the love of the other person is at the base of limerence, as it is for the infant that is craving to be loved back by their caregiver. They can be possessive, and seek a “fantasy bond” rather than a balanced, mutually supportive attachment. Low self-esteem is often also an underlying issue that can result from this attachment style.

When you don’t know yourself properly, it is harder to understand how to solve the issue. As with any other addiction, in limerence as well, the issue is not the issue. The LO is not the problem, as it can be easily replaced with another LO. Limerence can be also a result of trauma, the mind trying to fill a void. Imagine that you have a void at the subconscious level and that void creates a desire. From this desire, you create a need that you satisfy by reaching outside yourself.

So if you are experiencing limerence, the first thing you can do is to get to know yourself more. The more you know yourself, the more power you have to control your life. Learn more about your desires, dreams, motivations and values. Learn how to question yourself and understand what you need to heal. You can start by asking yourself these questions:

  • What are the needs that are being met through limerence outside myself? What can I do to meet those needs for myself?
  • What limiting beliefs do I have and I can change? What do I need from myself and those around me?

The attachment style is not only relevant to understand why someone might be experiencing limerence, but also to understand their ability to respond to the symptoms of limerence. The higher the self-awareness, the easier will be for the limerent person to take a step back, detach from the situation and let the LO go. Understanding attachment styles can be very useful, yet we have to remember that humans are not that simple. Someone’s attachment style can change during the years, or they can have different attachment styles depending on the person.  In conclusion, remember that, in the end, Limerence is the act of being addicted to being in love, not the act of actually loving someone.

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