by Diane Linsley
Have you ever wondered why you become infatuated with some
people and not with others? What is infatuation all about?
In some ways, adult infatuation is like a regression to infancy - to
the time when we fell in love with our mother. But there is a good
side to infatuation that makes it beneficial for our personal growth.
Let's start with the neuroscience.
The Neuroscience of Infatuation
According to Dr. Gabor Mate, in order for the infant's brain to grow properly, he must experience lots of close contact with his primary caretaker, usually the mother. This includes eye contact, physical touch and caressing, and talking in a soothing voice.
When the baby gets enough of these stimuli, his brain produces endorphins, the feel-good chemicals of infatuation. Endorphins stimulate the ends of the neurons to branch out. A brain with lots of neuronal branching produces plenty of feel-good chemicals, and the baby grows up to be emotionally healthy. Without well-branched neurons, brain function is impaired. Gabor Mate's research focuses on addiction, which is one of the end results of poor neuronal branching.
Unfortunately, many babies do not have mothers who spend enough time with them. Beginning in the 1950's, mothers were actually told by their doctors that holding babies spoiled them. This belief caused tremendous damage to whole generations of people. Lack of holding causes attachment disorder, which is the inability to form healthy connections with other people.
How is adult infatuation similar? During the infatuation stage of a relationship, the brain produces a cocktail of neurochemicals that makes you want to spend as much time as possible with your beloved. The altered brain chemistry causes temporary changes in your behavior and personality. When people are infatuated, they want to gaze into each other's eyes, caress each other, and say loving things to each other - just like their mother did (or should have done).
When infatuated, a person experiences a heightened state of awareness, which creates the perfect environment for rapid learning - just like the infant experienced during the first year of life when his brain needed to assimilate huge amounts of information in order to learn how to crawl, walk and talk.
This heightened state of awareness, along with the feel-good chemicals, creates the belief that your beloved is an amazing human being, and you may even experience the same feelings of worshipfulness that you experienced as an infant when gazing at your parents, who appeared to you as gods. Just like the infant, who is in a state of rapid learning, you may want to emulate your new partner. If you've chosen a partner with admirable traits, this can be good for your personal growth.
"Why is love rich beyond beyond all other possible human experiences and a sweet burden to those seized in its grasp? Because we become what we love and yet remain ourselves." ~Martin Heidegger
The Problems of Infatuation
In The Gift of Shame, Dr. Keith Witt says, "Romantic infatuation is a delicious feeling that boosts erotic polarity and intimate bonding but can also make us blind to a potential lover's shadow (their destructive aspects) through disengaging our mature capacities for interpersonal discernment."
The euphoria of infatuation is temporary, and people usually revert back to their normal selves when the infatuation passes. Then, of course, they blame their partners and accuse them of changing.
I've learned to distrust anything that a person says or does during the first few months of a relationship because they are under the influence of their brain chemistry. The narcissists in my life were nice people at first. So I can't blame myself for getting involved with them. I didn't know that I was with men who would abuse me when their brain chemistry reverted to normal.
This problem makes adult infatuation look like a curse. The infatuation doesn't last, and it's deceiving. But I'd like to make a case that it serves a good purpose - just like it did in infancy. During the infatuation phase, you experience heightened awareness and an increased capacity for learning. This may motivate you to make changes in your life. The infatuation will eventually pass, but if you can discipline yourself to stick with your goals, you will reap the benefits.
Of course, this requires awareness and effort. One of my boyfriends was an alcoholic before I met him (he never told me that, of course). He gave up drinking during the time that we were together. But after we broke up, he went back to drinking. I was shocked to find out that I had been with an alcoholic all that time and never knew it.
This fits with Gabor Mate's theory of addiction. When my boyfriend was no longer infatuated, his brain reverted to low levels of feel-good chemicals because he had poor neuronal branching. He tried to anesthetize the pain of his poorly functioning brain with alcohol.
Infatuation and Narcissism
Narcissists are unable to maintain relationships past the infatuation phase. As soon as the infatuation wears off, they revert to their normal selves, and their relationships deteriorate.
One theory says that narcissism is caused by an inborn brain defect, which would explain why narcissists rarely change (although infatuation can cause temporary changes in behavior). Another theory is that narcissism is caused by neglect or abuse in early childhood, which causes a person to create a "false self" in order to function in a world where the inner child has been rejected. My belief is that the brain defects seen in narcissists aren't necessarily inborn. As Gabor Mate explains, the infant's brain has the capacity for healthy neuronal branching. But it needs to be stimulated by interaction with the mother. Without adequate stimulation, the neurons fail to branch enough to produce all the neurochemicals that the brain needs to create happy feelings. The end result is anxiety, depression, addiction and other disorders.
The adult brain is not as malleable as the infant brain and is unlikely to make permanent structural changes from a temporary state of infatuation. A person with poor neuronal branching is unlikely to develop better branching in adulthood because that stage of development is past. Does this mean that people who were not cared for properly as infants have no hope? We'll get to that later....
The Psychology of Infatuation
Now that we understand the neuroscience of infatuation, let's explore the psychological side.
Thich Nhat Hanh says, "Often, we get crushes on others not because we truly love and understand them, but to distract ourselves from our suffering. When we learn to love and understand ourselves and have true compassion for others, then we can truly love and understand another person." Once again, we come back to the importance of self-compassion. Why do we choose certain people to become infatuated with and not others? I'd like to draw on the work of Hal and Sidra Stone, the creators of Voice Dialogue. In order to understand what I'm about to say, you may want to watch this series of videos. The first video explains the theory of Voice Dialogue, and the second video, Finding the Right Partner, explains the phenomenon of infatuation.
We are attracted to people who embody our own shadow material. The shadow consists of the parts of ourselves that are repressed, disowned, or never developed in the first place. Here's an example.
The Cinderella Script
When I was a little girl, my mom was constantly telling me what "good girls" were supposed to do. I was often confused because my brothers were allowed to do all sorts of things that I was not allowed to do. When I wanted to roughhouse with them and have fun, my mom said, "Good girls don't roughhouse. They are quiet and polite, and they do their housework."
Apparently, boys didn't have to work. So while I did all the housework, my brothers got away with being hellions. I was angry and disappointed, but I couldn't express how I felt because, as my mother taught me, "Good girls don't talk back, and they never get angry." Ultimately, I developed what has been called the Cinderella complex, and I ended up becoming codependent. According to Claude Steiner, author of Scripts People Live, parental injunctions keep us trapped in a life script. My script was the story of Cinderella, which is a common script that psychologists working with Transactional Analysis have identified.
My upbringing set the pattern for all my future relationships. As I grew up, I was attracted to one narcissistic boy after another. On the day I met my ex-husband, I actually had a psychic experience. The first time I laid eyes on him, I saw the face of a seven-year-old boy superimposed over his face, and I instantly fell in love with him. The thought that popped into my mind was, "Poor little boy needs a mommy." And I was it.
Attracting Our Shadow Material
The men in my life represented the disowned parts of myself. I repeatedly forgave them for being dysfunctional because I had been taught to believe that boys are supposed to be bad, and girls are supposed to be good.
I also thought it was my job to fix them. I had been trained as an oldest child to take care of my younger siblings. I actually got punished when my brothers broke the rules because somehow it was my fault.
Codependents cannot tell the difference between love and pity. They are fatally attracted to pitiable people. At the same time, the codependent is trying to fix them. It's a no-win situation.
But attraction, even for a codependent, isn't all negative. There were some positive traits in the men that I dated. One of my boyfriends was very athletic, which impressed me because I had never been athletic (probably because I was discouraged from roughhousing). His athletic abilities inspired me to be more dedicated to my own exercise program.
Another boyfriend was extremely independent. I respected him because he had the independence that I never developed during my repressive marriage. I practically worshipped him because he represented a part of me that I desperately needed to develop.
When the relationship ended, I grieved for a long time because I was still attracted. But at least I knew why. I never want to experience another fatal attraction like that again. The only way to avoid getting involved with another highly independent but emotionally disconnected man is to develop my own independence, instead of looking for it in someone else. My job is to integrate my shadow.
Healthy Adult Infatuation
Have you ever been infatuated with a teacher, writer, singer or other celebrity? Why do you feel such intense feelings for someone you don't even know personally? What does this tell you about yourself?
Here are some of the people I've been infatuated with, and how these attractions changed my life:
Eckhart Tolle - In 2008, a friend sent me The Power of Now. I listened to the book on CD over and over, and I decided that I wanted to have a similar experience of awakening. In 2009, I achieved this goal. I actually woke up one day in the Third Rank of Tozan, just like Eckhart Tolle did. Ken Wilber - I started reading Ken's books in 2009, and I fell in love with his mind. While I was trying to understand what he was saying about enlightenment in The Spectrum of Consciousness, my brain finally reached the point at which it could no longer hold onto its old paradigms. My map of reality collapsed, and I experienced my awakening. Hal and Sidra Stone - Sidra was my first female teacher. I've had a hard time finding female teachers whom I can respect and "fall in love with" because I have a strong rational mind, and many women disown the rational mind. The Stones are a great teaching couple.
Using Infatuation For Personal Growth
Now that we have demystified infatuation, you can consciously begin using it as a way to stimulate your own personal growth.
Unfortunately, infatuation doesn't last long with a new flame. The solution to this problem isn't to keep changing partners every time the infatuation wears off. You need something that will stimulate your brain over a long period of time.
Remember the problem with poor neuronal branching in babies who didn't get enough parental attention? Is this brain damage permanent?
Bill Harris's research with Holosync shows that binaural beat technology creates lasting changes in the brain by increasing neural connections. With this brainwave technology, you can experience increased awareness, blissful feelings, and rapid learning every day of your life. And you don't have to wait for Prince Charming to show up! Holosync is endorsed by Ken Wilber and other experts in human development. I started my kids on it when they were teenagers, and it made a big difference in their lives. The famous psychiatrist and neuroscientist, Dr. Daniel Amen, recommends it for anyone who wants to improve their brain health. Other famous Holosync users are Jack Canfield, John Assaraf, Genpo Roshi and Christy Whitman.
Another thing you can do is seek out great people whom you can admire and emulate. Hero worship can be a good thing. We all need substitute parents - people who can teach us things that our own parents couldn't teach us.
Let your desires be your guide. I chose substitute parents who were already doing the things that I wanted to do someday - like get enlightened or develop my talents. Nobody is born doing amazing things. People who succeed do so by emulating other people who went before them.
Infatuation and Awareness
Infatuation can be a painful and frustrating experience, especially if the other person doesn't love us back, loses interest, or turns out to be an abuser.
The desire to possess and control the object of infatuation is an infantile impulse. Healthy adults can admire the good traits of others and learn how to develop these traits in themselves. This is the adaptation that the child makes when he realizes he cannot control his mother. So he switches to imitating his parents, and he learns how to do things for himself like crawl towards a toy he wants.
I've learned to cope with the painful side of infatuation by seeing attraction as a learning experience. If I'm attracted to someone, it's because there's a shadow part of myself waiting to be discovered. When I become aware of the attraction, I ask myself these questions:
What character trait or talent in this person am I attracted to?
Is this something that I want to develop in myself?
How can I do that?
Am I willing to pay the price that is required to develop this character trait or talent?
People who lack awareness don't ask these questions. Instead of feeling admiration and the desire to learn from another person, they become jealous. This is a narcissistic reaction, which accounts for why narcissists switch from adoring people to abusing them when the infatuation wears off.
Awareness is everything. We don't have to be victims of our fatal attractions. Infatuation loses its dark and mysterious power over us when we understand how it works and what its purpose is.
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