When I first encountered the word “limerence”, I equated it with a crush or infatuation – some small, sweet thing. It was a word I tried on for size for certain unsettling feelings that occasionally stirred in me. At almost 37, I have not fallen in love in my 30s, not even once – a feat for the perennially single and poetically-bent. But in limerence – sure.

            Later, when I discovered the vocabulary that helped me frame what I had suffered from for my whole life, and was healing from anew, the word took profound significance. In the language of experts who work on complex PTSD and narcissistic family systems of abuse, “limerence” is a toxic experience that adult survivors often have in the romantic and sexual realms. I first came across it in this connotation through Anna Runkle (aka “Crappy Childhood Fairy”).

Limerence is an intense, unfounded longing for an unavailable person. It is neither romantic nor whimsical, but is powerful, painful and sometimes bittersweetly beautiful. It is a state of mind that is ultimately harmful to the person experiencing it, and potentially harmful to the object of their affection.

I learned of a related concept, “euphoric recall”, through Dr. Ramani Durvasula, probably the world’s most popular expert on the subject of narcissistic abuse. This is when we erase our painful memories, instead elevating selective glimpses or incidents of tenderness or potential, self-flagellating by skewing our own realities.

The deep-rooted cause of limerence is yearning for the family that one deserves, which is transferred onto others. Its trauma-informed application has helped me understand my romantic personality, and the disappointments and devastations I was wired for.

I have begun to see better some of the darker valleys of my heart because of the illuminative power of having the right concepts. I see how, then or now, it was not that lover or that leaver I ached for, but perhaps for my little sister to care about me, my uncle to support me, my mother to be more like the imaginary figment I needed her to be and less like who – or what – she is. I have been limerent for familial love, and projected that onto those I desired romantically or sexually. Grieving my father’s demise brought severe bouts with euphoric recall, from which I would repeatedly talk myself down with the facts. But my cognition has changed now.

            The truth is that one longs for unavailable people because one is themselves also, actually, unavailable. The emotional bandwidth it takes to survive abuse and its after-effects leave very little left for deep engagement. Limerence means you never have to do the work; you just daydream. Euphoric recall means your pain addiction keeps being fulfilled (there is much relatable, digestible expert information on the neuroscience of abuse available on social media). Seeing these dangerous traits in myself is liberating. It doesn’t absolve anyone I have ever loved or been limerent over of their roles in the hurt I had known. But it takes away my illusions and delusions – and lets me see what’s really in front of me, and clears my vision of both the past and the path ahead.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express in July 2022. “The Venus Flytrap” appears in Chennai’s City Express supplement.