What Is Limerence and How Do You Overcome It?

Limerence is an involuntary state of intense romantic desire for another person, characterized by intrusive and obsessive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors related to the longed-for love object. It involves an acute longing for emotional reciprocation, but has an undertone of suffering that results from unfulfilled needs or uncertainties.

illustration of a woman blowing a kiss, love hearts floating out of her hand
Limerence is an obsession or intense longing for another person, regardless of whether those feelings are reciprocated.

In the film Saltburn, Oliver’s obsession with Felix and his consequent behavior is an example of limerence.

On the surface, limerence may seem like love (especially the early stages), when you want to be close to the other person all the time, speak about them feverishly to your friends, and can’t stop thinking about them.

However, limerence is unhealthy and has more to do with wanting to fill an inner void and trying to satisfy unmet childhood needs than love.

It involves two people: the limerent and the object of limerence (or LO).

The psychologist Dorothy Tenov first coined this term in the 1970s after conducting a series of interviews and realizing that some people experience love much more intensely than others.

In limerence, the desire for the other person is so strong that it negatively impacts a person’s life over time as they cannot focus on anything but the person of their obsession.

They neglect their work, social life, and other responsibilities and, as seen in the film Saltburn, it can lead to some pretty destructive behaviors (though not necessarily as extreme).

An example from Dorothy Tennov’s book Love and Limerence:

“I dropped out of three of my five classes because I was spending hours every day lying on my bed thinking about Carol. It was all I wanted to do. Just lie around, think about her, and try to figure out ways to get her back. Every few days I would telephone her until finally, she told me to stop calling”.

Limerence vs love: What’s the difference?

Limerence may look like love, especially because of how love and the pursuit of a love interest are depicted in movies and songs.

It has led to an often subconscious belief that thinking “I can’t breathe without that person” and obsessional behavior like stalking are akin to love.

But limerence and love are not the same – a limerent person’s obsession is about satisfying their own needs and is the result of anxiety rather than wanting the best for the other person (as is the case with love).

If the limerent is rejected, they might even become vengeful and angry because their expectation of reciprocity has not been met.

  • Duration – Limerence is short-lived, usually lasting between 6 months to 3 years, while love tends to last much longer when reciprocated.
  • Reciprocation – Limerence does not require reciprocation or even interaction from the object of affection, while love involves a mutual caring bond between two people.
  • Thought Patterns – People in limerence have intrusive, involuntary thoughts about the limerent object and feel they cannot control their passion. Love usually involves more choice about focusing one’s thoughts on a partner.
  • Dependency – Limerence creates emotional dependency on, and idealization of, the limerent object. In contrast, healthy love promotes interdependence, understanding, and acceptance.
  • Self-Worth – Those experiencing limerence tend to derive their self-worth from receiving signs of interest from the limerent object, while love promotes self-acceptance and is not as tied to validation from a partner.

Signs of Limerence

The key characteristic of limerence is that the limerent’s obsession is uncontrollable and consumes their every minute and their feelings, thoughts, and behaviors.

Here are the signs of limerence:

  • Intrusive and constant thoughts about the LO
  • Everything reminds the limerent of the LO
  • Feelings of confusion, destabilisation and being out of control, even to the point of stalking a LO
  • Intense longing for the LO
  • Overwhelming emotions from excitement and joy to distress and shame
  • The limerent’s mood depends on the behavior of the LO – or rather the perception of their behavior and whether it’s perceived as reciprocation or not
  • Fantasizing about what might or could happen
  • Fear of rejection
  • Idealizing the LO e.g., “they’re flawless” and can’t do any wrong
  • Doing anything to impress the LO such as excessive grooming, lying, cutting off friends, etc.
  • Limerence is experienced for one person at a time (the LO)
  • The obsession negatively affects other areas of the limerent’s life (work, friends, etc.)

4 Stages of Limerence

The journey of limerence can be broken down into four main stages:

  • Attraction – An immediate, intoxicating connection sparks between two people. Euphoria, adrenaline rushes, and constant thoughts about the love interest characterize this stage.
  • Obsession – Thoughts become consumed with the love object. Their words and actions are constantly analyzed for signs of interest or rejection. Mood depends heavily on their perceived reactions.
  • Emotional Rollercoaster – The relationship alternates between perceived signs of reciprocation that bring soaring highs and negative interactions that lead to crushing lows. Rational thinking declines.
  • Resolution – Limerence either evolves into a mutual relationship, gradually fades, or ends abruptly if feelings are unreciprocated. This pivotal stage often sparks introspection and reevaluation of one’s emotional state.

What does Limerence feel like

Limerence feels like an obsessive, addictive, confusing, and destabilizing emotional state focused on an unattainable object of desire. It’s an extreme mix of highs and lows involving anxiety, uncertainty, and despair.

A scientific study exploring the lived experience of limerence reported the following:

  • An obsessive, repetitive, addictive, time-consuming, distractive state that impacts normal daily activities. It involves intrusive and persistent thoughts about the limerent object (LO). “It’s an almost continuous intrusion of thoughts about LO…Good thoughts, bad thoughts…almost anything can trigger it, and the longer it goes on, the more associations your mind creates, and the more frequent the intrusion”
  • It is likened to an “emotional drug addiction” that is unsatisfiable. There are uncontrollable highs and unpredictable lows.
  • It involves anxiety, uncertainty, and depression related to whether feelings are reciprocated by the LO. 
  • An emotional rollercoaster with extremes of elation and despair. There are rushes of excitement and false hope combined with guilt, self-condemnation and confusion. “Rushes of fondness and excitement and false hope” “Euphoric feelings of love, combined with guilt, self-condemnation and confusion”
  • A destabilizing and insecure period leading to feelings of confusion, being out of control, and even stalking behaviors. It’s described as the “catalyst for the most destabilizing and insecure period” of one’s life.
  • It reactivates attachment wounds, abandonment trauma, and unmet childhood relational needs. There is an anxiety component related to childhood abandonment.

The Consequences of Limerence

Although limerence has a few positive aspects, it’s unhealthy overall.  

To impress their LO, the limerent spends a lot of time working on themselves, like their appearance and people skills, and they might find new hobbies and interests that can bring them closer to their LO.

However, the obsession often means they neglect their own life and responsibilities and give all their energy to a person who doesn’t necessarily feel the same way.

The emotional desperation of limerence can lead to poor personal decisions – ignoring red flags about a person, sinking money and time into an unavailable person, compromising personal values or boundaries to gain affection.

The positive emotions they experience, like joy, excitement, and hope, can be good initially. However, their emotions are dependent on another person, so if their LO doesn’t pay them attention or doesn’t reciprocate their feelings, they become very distressed.

They might experience symptoms of depression (hopelessness, changes to their appetite and sleep, and suicidality), anxiety, and despair.

The emotional highs and lows around perceived reactions from the desired person can lead to dramatic mood swings, irrational behavior, and depression.

In some cases, limerence can lead to destructive behaviors such as excessive drug/alcohol consumption as well as antisocial behaviors such as stalking and violence.

What Causes Limerence?

Research into the causes of limerence puts it down to a mixture of personality, biological predispositions, and childhood environment.

Compulsion, obsession, and lack of control are key features of limerence, and it has therefore been likened to substance misuse disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder. It is, however, a unique condition that is not currently classified as a mental health disorder.  

Teenagers are particularly prone to obsessional infatuation, extreme mood swings as a result of their crush’s behavior, and earth-shattering devastation if they’re rejected, which could suggest an innate predisposition for limerence.

The intensity of teenage love is likely due to hormonal changes, social pressures, and inexperience. It’s new and exciting, and teenagers are only learning to deal with the strong emotions they experience.

However, not every teenager, and certainly not every adult, experiences limerence. Therefore, it more likely stems from experiencing certain relational traumas (e.g., abandonment) and attachment insecurity.

Attachment Style

Attachment theory is one way to explain how limerence develops. If you grow up in a nurturing, loving, and supportive home, you’ll probably grow up to have a secure attachment style.

However, if your needs weren’t appropriately met during childhood, you may develop an insecure attachment style. One of these is called anxious attachment, which shares many similarities with limerence.

Due to their upbringing, someone with an anxious attachment has an extreme fear of rejection and abandonment and desperately looks to other people to satisfy their longing to be loved. They might start to idealize a person whom they believe will solve their problems and fulfill all their needs.

Their anxiety and fear of rejection may lead to quite obsessional behavior, as seen in limerence. They often become preoccupied with the other person and their relationship, which can lead to clinginess and dependence.

Therefore, having an anxious attachment style or expecting another person to fill the inner void caused in childhood, may increase the likelihood of experiencing limerence.

Importantly, limerence is not caused by the LO – it’s caused by the limerent’s anxiety and insecurities. If you experience limerence, that’s good news because it means you can regain control and take action to overcome limerence.

How to Overcome Limerence

Because limerence is caused by insecurity and relationship anxiety, the way to overcome it is to work on yourself. It won’t be solved by your LO professing their love for you.

If you experience limerence, it means you experience love intensely, are determined when pursuing your goals, and are willing to work hard – now you need to turn those qualities towards yourself, rather than another person.

Here’s some advice on overcoming limerence:

Self-Awareness and Self-Compassion 

Overcoming limerence (or any other difficulty) starts with self-awareness.

Notice what happens when you meet someone you like – the thoughts, feelings, and how you behave. If it’s helpful, write them down in a journal so you can keep track and notice patterns.

The key is to be curious (not judgmental) about your experience of love and relationships. Have compassion for yourself and why your relationship patterns have developed.

Fostering compassionate self-awareness creates space for you to learn and grow.

Work on Attachment Insecurities

Your attachment style has a significant impact on your relationship patterns, including limerence.

Working on your attachment insecurities is, therefore, essential for overcoming limerence.

When it comes to limerence, the relationship insecurities most likely manifest as anxious attachment. Healing this attachment style includes:

  • Educating yourself on attachment theory
  • Prioritizing self-care and building self-worth
  • Managing emotions and anxiety
  • Building and learning from relationships with securely attached people
  • Seeking the support of a therapist

Develop Your Self-Worth

People who experience limerence tend to be insecure and have low self-esteem. They base their worth on being loved and approved of by others.

Thus, they’re looking for external sources of validation and may believe that if someone loves them, their loneliness will fade away, and their problems will be solved.

However, a person’s worth isn’t conditional – your worth as a human being is unchanging. Other people can’t resolve your insecurities, loneliness, or problems.

Instead, you should work on being okay by yourself and building your self-worth. A few ways to do that is to:

  • Focus on what you want in life: how do you see your future? What would you like to achieve? What gives you energy and happiness outside of relationships?
  • Find a new hobby or interest and spend time developing it
  • Go on trips on your own
  • Connect with your friends and work on your platonic relationships
  • Spend time in nature
  • Practice daily affirmations (e.g., “I am good enough”)
  • Exercise
  • Practice mindfulness, meditation, yoga, or other grounding exercises


Tennov, Dorothy (1979). Love and Limerence: The Experience of Being in Love. New York: Stein and Day.Willmott, L., & Bentley, E. (2015). Exploring the Lived-Experience of Limerence: A Journey toward Authenticity. The Qualitative Report, 20(1), 20-38.

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Saul Mcleod, PhD

BSc (Hons) Psychology, MRes, PhD, University of Manchester

Educator, Researcher

Saul Mcleod, Ph.D., is a qualified psychology teacher with over 18 years experience of working in further and higher education. He has been published in peer-reviewed journals, including the Journal of Clinical Psychology.

Olivia Guy-Evans, MSc

BSc (Hons) Psychology, MSc Psychology of Education

Associate Editor for Simply Psychology

Olivia Guy-Evans is a writer and associate editor for Simply Psychology. She has previously worked in healthcare and educational sectors.

Anna Drescher

Mental Health Writer

BSc (Hons), Psychology, Goldsmiths University, MSc in Psychotherapy, University of Queensland

Anna Drescher is a freelance writer and solution-focused hypnotherapist, specializing in CBT and meditation. Using insights from her experience working as an NHS Assistant Clinical Psychologist and Recovery Officer, along with her Master's degree in Psychotherapy, she lends deep empathy and profound understanding to her mental health and relationships writing.

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