Breaking the Idolatry of “Love”

May 22, 2024

If you listen to popular music, you are no doubt more than familiar with overly sentimental “love” songs. The problem with many of these tunes is that they are actually about limerence and not so much love. Limerence is a mental state where one has an obsessive longing for someone’s affection. Over and above that, this kind of longing has a dark characteristic—it makes you idealize another person so much so that you ignore their flaws. It is as if you mentally worship an unattainable ideal of a human being every time your thoughts drift into flights of fantasy about them. You probably won’t look at your playlist the same way again, knowing now there is an unfavorable term for this kind of obsession.

Limerence may make you feel sweetness and captivation, but it should not be confused with love. A person who is “lovesick” can easily make this mistake. But to love is “to will the good of the other.” Love is not a mere sentimental emotion. It involves the will. Anyone in a successful marriage will attest that love entails sacrifice. Cultivating stable, harmonious family bonds is a life-long challenge. While love is something to be embraced, limerence is something to be discarded.

Once differentiated from all our other emotions, it is also helpful to understand that limerence may have its origins from early relationship attachments that were traumatic. Psychoanalyst John Bowlby (1907-1990), a pioneer in child development psychology, observed that young children or infants who have experienced the trauma of separation from their caregivers will be adversely affected in how they form relationships as they mature. Since they did not develop a secure, healthy relationship bond with one or both parents during a critical stage in their life, they will unconsciously replay their emotional insufficiencies in their subsequent relationships. This explains why some people are clingy and emotionally needy or why some are overly submissive. So even if they cannot remember any distressing event, the effects of the trauma still appear.

From social media, we see various unproductive limerent behaviors such as obsessing over a person who can’t or won’t be emotionally available; pursuing a fantasy affair rather than fostering real-world connections; falling madly in love to distract oneself from psychological pain; or pining for a glimmer of romantic hope to sustain obsessive daydreams. And there is non-romantic limerence as well, when people unconsciously worship pop culture and political celebrities. In the end, when the illusion fades, many cringe over their long-held limerence.

Most of us do not realize we “accurse” ourselves in this way, and the mental state of limerence is very much like living under a curse. It is like begging for a fantastic provision that will never arrive, and if you get any bit of good, then you won’t even recognize it. Jeremiah 17:6 describes those under a certain curse: “They shall be like a shrub in the desert and shall not see when relief comes. They shall live in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land.

 

In a way, limerence makes idols of human beings. Worshipping idols is one way to attract curses rather than blessings as this is a transgression of moral law—refer to the extensive list of curses in Chapter 28 of the Book of Deuteronomy. When obsessing over someone, you place them as the center of your world, a place where only God belongs. Inevitably, when priorities are not in proper order, life becomes disordered and troubled.

When life becomes accursed, the most reasonable thing to do is turn to God’s grace so you can enter a life of blessings. Currently, there is an epidemic of depression and loneliness in our nation. For some people, they get a blessing when God sends them a good therapist for their healing journey, and they turn their lives around. And for those who do not have good help for their sad emotional longing, there is no reason to despair because all faithful Christians know that the ultimate victory has already been won for us by our Savior. The sacrifice of Christ is the most astounding love. It was not just physical wounds that He took on; He took on emotional wounds as well. We have to remember that Jesus was abandoned and rejected by His own people. He knows everything about our traumas, and He wants to heal our emotional pains as well.

So how can you tune into grace so that there can be blessings in place of curses, and healing instead of limerence? Prayer and the sacraments provide this healing and can protect us from the idolatry of limerence. Consider them from this angle:

  • Take up your cross as Christ commanded. This entails forgiving those who have emotionally hurt you—including those who have abandoned or neglected you. Keep in mind that forgiveness is an act of the will, meaning that you don’t have to feel the emotion before you choose to forgive. If you lack the will to forgive, receive strength by pondering the life of Christ when praying the Rosary or reflecting on His mercy when praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet. When your mind and heart are engaged in these prayers, you orient your life towards His restoration, strength, and support.
  • Go to Confession. One cannot stress enough that participating in the Sacrament of Reconciliation has a powerful grace. No amount of secular thinking will free you of sin or from the effects that stem from it; however, in Confession, you will encounter Christ’s mercy and be forgiven.
  • Praise God! Praise Him through Scripture. Even the secular world acknowledges the power of words in positive affirmations to soothe the self psychologically or to change a behavior. However, secular affirmations do not have the supernatural authority that the Word of God has. For example, Psalm 91 can expel evil spirits or dispel intrusive thoughts. So, instead of vainly repeating something from the latest best-selling positive affirmation book, you can praise the Lord based on a biblical verse. Try Psalm 23:1 to dispel obsessive longing: “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.” You will find that declaring divinely inspired verses counteract the negative stimuli that are constantly replayed in our minds. Remember that even Christ used Scripture to defeat the temptations of the devil.

Do these regularly enough, and you will live firmly under the care of our Lord, rather than under the mirage of limerence and misplaced “love.”


Reprinted with permission from Catholic Exchange.

Oliver Oliveros is a revert to Catholicism. He fell away from the Church when he went to university. Twenty-seven years later, the grace of God brought this prodigal son back to the faith. He is an editor in the Los Angeles area and volunteers at his parish’s teen ministry.
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  1. JOSEPH CARMEN CASCARELLI (Josep Carmen Cascarello de Adan) says

    Because I am Hispano-Siciliano who is very active in an Hispanic National Catholic Church, I feel the need to ask you this important question: How it is that a person with an apellido like Guzman would be brought up in a Baptist Christian community? This is an important and very relevant question because, as time moves on, I see many Mexican, Puerto Rican especially, and Central and South American Hispanics in our Catholic community become Evangelistas. Why is this? Do they join the Evangelical Protestant churches to obtain capital to start their businesses (e.g., restaurants)? What can we Spanish Catholics do to keep our Spanish brothers within the Catholic Community? I saw something like this happen when I was very young, growing up in an Italian National Catholic Community: The Italians who left the Catholic Church to become Evangelistas were promised $5 for a bucket of coal during the Depression if only they would leave the Catholic Church and become Evangelical Protestants (we called them “cinque pezzi” – literally “five pieces”, translated into English as “five bucks” [which was the cost of a bucket of coal during the Depression], or “cinco pesos” in Spanish). Is that what happened to your Spanish family? More important, what can we European Spanish do to prevent our New World Cousins from abandoning the Catholic Faith for a financial promise? If you know, please help! In the meantime, thank you for writing your excellent book, The Catholic Gentlemen. I am a catechista for the Confirmation Class in my Spanish Catholic parish and I strive to make my students become Men, then Gentlemen, then Soldados de Cristo. This is my mission that I promised Reina Isabel la Catolica. If you can help with a suggestion, please do reach out.

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