If You're Too Hung Up On Your Ex, You Could Have A Mental Disorder


Still being in love with the guy who broke your heart is one thing, but being outright obsessed with him is something entirely different.

According to research conducted by psychologists Albert Wakin and Dorothy Tennov, you actually can be obsessed with your ex to the point where it becomes dangerous. It's called "limerence."

Limerence is, according to Wakin and Tennov, when someone spends a large amount of time trying to get over their ex, but, for whatever reason, are completely unable to move on. It's more than just a bad heartbreak; it's a pathological problem.

This problem isn't recognized by a large community, but Wakin is hoping one day, limerence will actually be included in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) so specific treatment plans can be made for it.

But because it's so difficult to quantify, Wakin isn't sure if it will ever be classified as a disorder.

Social psychologist Elaine Hatfield believes passionate love and limerence are "much the same." That is, they both create a sweeping "high" effect.

It's a widely known fact that whenever the pleasure centers in our brain light up, they create dopamine (the chemical that makes us feel that euphoria). This dopamine-induced euphoria is the same kind of high we get when we get the first taste of a food we like — and fall in love.

Notably, dopamine triggers a craving in our brains, and with it, a desire to fulfill said craving. So when we're falling in love, we feel lovesick and obsessed. We constantly crave our significant other.

With limerence, the sensation is similar, but it's so much worse.

After you break up with an ex, your brain still needs to fulfill the craving that it felt in the beginning of your relationship when you were falling in love. But you don't get the reward because you never get to see your ex again.

The craving isn't satisfied, which makes you miserable... and can give you limerence.

Wakin told New York magazine, “If a person is addicted to alcohol, you don't worry if alcohol will be available. When you're addicted to another person, you can't control whether they'll be there for you. It drives you nuts.”

When you're addicted to another person, you can't control whether they'll be there for you.

It turns out that limerence is a universal feeling, despite not being very scientifically understood. In fact, there are entire internet forums dedicated to people confessing their limerence, saying things like “What's the point of living if 1) I can never have him and 2) I can never get over him?”

Wakin and Tennov wanted to know: Why do some people get over breakups relatively easily, while others dwell on their exes for months (or even years) following a breakup?

In a regular relationship, passionate love calms down and turns into companionate love anywhere between four to six months after the relationship takes off. In limerent relationships, though, the need for the other person only becomes stronger with time, even when a breakup happens.

In limerent relationships, the need for the other person only becomes stronger with time.

Wakin and Tennov noticed from their research that people in "limerence" suffered from obsessive thoughts, mood swings and the need for the person they were obsessing over to get back to them. The people Wakin spoke with told him they think about their partners or exes as much as 95 percent of the time.

Wakin and Tennov also noticed those feelings abnormally lasted more than a year for their subjects, and those feelings always negatively impacted their romantic relationships.

Wakin also says the OCD-like tendency to long for someone isn't as uncommon as you'd think it would be. This could explain why you just can't stop thinking about "the one that got away," or why your best friend continues to Facebook stalk the guy she swears she loves, despite the fact that he never responds to her outreach.

I believe I've personally fallen victim to limerence. I once spent an incredibly long time trying to get over someone, and I never thought I would. The time spent trying to get over someone can be dangerous, indeed, but I found erasing any and all traces of this guy from my life (both over social media and IRL) was the most effective way to gradually quell my thoughts of him.

Wakin says, “We are confident of this: It can happen to anyone.”