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CPTSD: Is it love or limerance?

What is PTSD? Why is it complex? And what is limerence? How complex PTSD and limerence is are related? Let me put this in simpler language. PTSD is post-traumatic stress disorder and a few additional symptoms are the ones which make PTSD complex. Usually, PTSD is an anxiety disorder that develops in reaction to physical injury or mental or emotional distress, such as military combat, violent assault, sexual assault, an abusive relationship or other life-threatening events. PTSD becomes complex when a person has difficulty controlling their emotions, feels very angry or distrustful towards the world, constant feelings of emptiness or hopelessness, feel as if they are permanently damaged or feels nobody understands them.

A person with CPTSD often avoids friendships or relationships or finds them very difficult. All these feelings can also result in physical symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, chest pains and stomach issues. They also struggle with suicidal thoughts. People who struggle with CPTSD are likely to experience emotional flashbacks in which they have intense feelings that they originally felt during trauma, such as fear, shame, sadness or despair. You might react to events in the present as if they are causing these feelings, without realizing that you’re having a flashback. You’re more likely to develop complex PTSD if you experienced trauma at an early age, trauma lasted for a long time, you were harmed by someone close to you etc.

Now, what is limerence? Limerence is a state of involuntary infatuation and idealization that feels like love. This is a term that addiction psychologists like to use to refer to a kind of infatuation that is a subset of love addiction. Today, many scientists and mental health professionals believe that limerence is not only a psychological state but also a neurological one, caused by low levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain. Limerence is kind of like obsessive-compulsive disorder it's just that the person becomes obsessive in love. There are several telltale signs that indicate a person is in a state of limerence. These include:-

1. Idealization (both positive and negative) of other person’s characteristics.

2. Intrusive thoughts and fantasies about the other person.

3. Pervasive feelings of rejection.

4. Periods of hope and euphoria based on “ little things”, which are noticed and endlessly analyzed for meaning.

5. Extreme shyness, stuttering, nervousness, and confusion around the person.

6. Arrange one’s schedule to maximize possible encounters with the other person.

7. Physical symptoms like flushing, trembling, weakness, loss of appetite, and heart palpitations around the other person.

8. Neglect of personal health and social responsibilities.

9. Extreme highs and lows.

10. Fear of rejection.

Research suggests that limerence is the result of biochemical processes in the brain. When someone struggling with limerence sees the object of their possession, the pituitary gland releases a cocktail of feel-good chemicals, including norepinephrine, dopamine, phenylethylamine ( a natural amphetamine), estrogen and testosterone, which produces a state of euphoria. This process works much the same way that changes in the brain cause substance addicts to have an all-consuming desire for their drug choice, sometimes driving them to extreme behaviours to pursue the object they desire.

Childhood emotional neglect(CEN) can also cause limerence in adult relationships. It is a deep, long-lasting wound that is not easily detectable in adults or by those in close relationships with them. When you have exposure over time to an adult with childhood trauma, you will notice that the person may have trouble communicating emotions or feelings, constantly withdraws instead of exploring feelings, and uses only functional simple sentences. The truth of this relation dysfunction in adults is that there was some type of parental invalidation of their coming from school each day and a parent neglecting to process with them, espousing a “ seen but not heard” stance. This child learns to not share emotions and cannot gain the capacity or vocabulary to understand what they are feeling. They have no safe space and grow up without receiving the empathy they need for healthy development. This further results in people fantasizing about the kind of love they never received and are happy with the bare minimum efforts.



The problem with the whole limerence versus love conundrum is simple. The two are strikingly similar. As you’re falling in limerence with someone, you’d be forgiven for thinking they are “ the one”. Squint hard enough and limerence looks like an awful lot of love. Here are a couple of ways that the two are frustratingly similar.

1. It hardly does it justice. When you’re in limerence with someone, it is similar to falling in love. The attraction is real. It is a form of infatuation which can mirror the early stages of falling in love where you obsessively think about the person.

2. IT CAN HAPPEN WITH ANYONE, ANYTIME- You know never know when you’re about to fall in love and it can happen with the most implausible people. As it turns out, limerence is the same. It could be with anyone from a landlord, a boss, or a shop owner.


However, no matter how hard you stare, limerence and love are not the same concepts. The main difference here is that love requires a real, meaningful connection with another person, while limerence is about the chase and lusting after someone. Let's look at some differences:-

1. YOU THINK THE PERSON COMPLETE YOU- Are you looking for a relationship or are you looking for someone to fix you? Limerence is the feeling that the object of their desire will complete them. This can be a form of trauma bonding where one person is seeking to be “ saved by another”.

2. YOU WANT THEM WHETHER THEY ARE GOOD FOR YOU OR NOT:- A relationship should be all about mutual respect and you should have personal growth with it. When it comes to limerence, all of that goes directly out of the window. The limerent person is desperate to get the object that they desire no matter what consequences it brings.

3. YOU IGNORE THE PERSONS’ FLAWS:- Seeing a bunch of red flags and ignoring them? This is a state of limerence exactly like the above point you crave that fantasy, that love so much that you end up denying the wrongdoings of the person.

4. YOU NEGLECT YOUR OWN NEEDS FOR THEM:- Is this infatuation taking priority over needs? The difference is if someone gives up their needs and wants to be obsessively focused on the other person and there might be intermittent reinforcement from the limerent object by occasional connection and not real love.

5. YOU’RE SCARED OF REAL CONNECTION:- There could be an underlying reason that your default is limerence. “Deep down the limerent person may be afraid of genuine connection and maybe more comfortable with the distance. There may be psychological reasons and fear why they prefer obsessing over connecting”.


Yes, there is a way to deal with limerence. There are a lot of professionals that can help, and certain types of therapies can also come to your rescue. Feeling self-love, and freedom, becoming a better version of your selves takes a lot of hard work and effort. It is a long process but a really worthy one. There are 4 phases which can help a limerent person:-

1. THE IMPETUS- The reason we do limerence is that in the early stages it feels great. The reason we come to regret doing limerence is that in the later years it feels awful. Once the realization is dawned that we have become addicted to LO and need to escape, there tends to be a precipitating crisis of some sort that finally pushes us to declare. “ Enough this has to stop”!. Something snaps and makes us want to quit.

Depending on the strength of the impetus, and the strength of your resolve, this could be a hollow promise. You may slide back into the old habits without taking action. Or, the impetus could be enough to push you into phase two.

2. IMPLEMENTATION- Phase two is where you get serious. Social media blocks are activated. Withdrawal plans are implemented. Contact numbers were deleted from the SIMs. You start to take action and it feels good. You are taking control of the situation and starting to feel some clarity returning to your thoughts. Buoyed by the early success, you start to feel more emotionally and psychologically robust. No contact actually works.

3. LABOURIOUS MAINTENANCE- The first flush of success wears off and you meet resistance. You are three-quarters of the way through a marathon and the finishing line still looks far away. They are still in your thoughts every day, and you were hoping for some relief by now. Loneliness and craving test your resolve and maintaining no contact seems a laborious effort. Life was more fun when they were in it. maybe an accidental meeting sets you back. This is a perilous time.

When you find yourself in this phase, attack the resistance! This is the purposeful moment: what wins? Your determination to transform your life for the better, or your subconscious craving for the false comfort and emotional crutch of limerence? These old feelings might be comfortable, but they are like enabling friends or alcoholics.

4. FREEDOM- The memories are still there but fading. You still think about the lo, but the craving has subsided and the time between thoughts lengthens. You no longer seek them as a habit.

If you consider the possibility of seeing them again, the emotional response is mutes disquiet, rather than excitement. This is the phase in which you realize that lo is no longer the driving force in your life. They are no longer seen as a prize or a goal, they are someone from your past. You are free. and what’s more, you have the deep satisfaction that comes from having completed a metaphorical marathon.

No contact can lead to freedom, but it can be a rocky road. To really cement the success, take some time to reflect on the limerence experience from the perspective of what it’s taught about yourself, about your past, and about how you should plan for your future.

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