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, 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, and the end result is anxiety, depression, addiction and other disorders.
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 they would abuse me when the infatuation wore off and 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 can 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.
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 Drs. Hal and Sidra Stone, creators of Voice Dialogue. But first, 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 shadow. The shadow consists of 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 told 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. 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, 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 disowned parts of myself - like the ability to relax and have fun. I repeatedly forgave them for being dysfunctional because I'd 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. As an oldest child, I was trained to take care of my younger siblings. I actually got punished when my brothers broke the rules because somehow it was my fault. With such thorough training in codependency, attraction to narcissists was inevitable.
But infatuation, even for a codependent, isn't all negative. There were some positive traits in the men 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 lacked. When the relationship ended, I realized that the only way to avoid another fatal attraction to a highly independent but emotionally disconnected man was to develop my own independence - instead of looking for it in someone else.
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 enlightenment, which I did in 2009. Ken Wilber - I started reading Ken's books in 2009. While I was trying to understand what he was saying about enlightenment in The Spectrum of Consciousness, my mind finally reached a tipping point. My old map of reality collapsed, and I had my own experience. Hal and Sidra Stone - The Stones are a great teaching couple. I idealized their relationship because I wanted a soulmate relationship like theirs. Now I have it. Loreena McKennit - Her beautiful voice sends me into states of blissful ecstasy. Listening to her, I became aware of my own voice so I could develop my auditory skills. This is important for someone who records guided meditations and coaches by phone, using the sound of a person's voice to interpret what's going on with them.
Using Infatuation For Personal Growth
Now that we have demystified infatuation, you can consciously begin using it as a way to stimulate your personal growth.
Unfortunately, infatuation is short-lived. The solution to this problem isn't to change partners or teachers every time it 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 shows that Holosync technology creates lasting changes in the brain by increasing neural connections. 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!
You can also find great people to admire and emulate. We all need substitute parents - people who can teach us things that our own parents couldn't.
Let your desires be your guide. I chose substitute parents who were already doing what I wanted to do, like get enlightened or develop my talents. Nobody is born doing amazing things. People who succeed do so by emulating those who went before them.
Infatuation and Awareness
As your awareness grows, you begin to see the psychological reasons for your infatuation. Those who don't understand the reasons think that infatuation is something that just happens to them. Any attraction or repulsion that you feel is an opportunity to look for shadow material.
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 those traits in themselves. This is the adaptation that the child makes when he realizes he cannot control his mother. He switches to imitating his parents, and he learns how to do things for himself like crawl towards a toy.
Infatuation is an opportunity for learning. If I'm attracted to someone, it's because there's a hidden part of myself waiting to be discovered. As soon as I notice the attraction, I ask myself these questions:
What character trait or talent in this person am I attracted to?
Is this something I want to develop in myself?
How can I do that?
Am I willing to pay the price required to develop this character trait or talent?
People who lack awareness don't ask these questions. Instead of feeling the desire to learn from another person, they become jealous. This is an immature 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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