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Maybe You’ve Already Experienced Impossible Love?

impossible love

Relationship advice for men

Maybe You’ve Already Experienced Impossible Love?

What is possible in impossible love?

Impossible love is desire for someone that has little likelihood of fulfillment. Typically, the object of impossible love is thought of as someone who can appease your desires, but for various reasons is beyond your reach. Since humans are motivated to savor and maximize positive emotions and minimize negative ones, experiencing impossible love is stressful.

The obstacles in impossible love may vary

The object of your affection may be attached to someone else, unmanageable geographically, disinterested in your gender, deceased, or incapable of returning your affection. These obstacles can lead you to experience distress, anguish, grief, or anger. However, since an everyday relationship is not possible, the participants in a situation of impossible love may be safe to experience intensity that otherwise would be threatening.

Impossible love is shaming

Shame experienced in impossible love is not ordinarily how you would expect shame to feel. As I’ve noted in other posts that have to do with intimate relationships, in such situations shame is felt as disengagement, as a letdown, a disappointment, or as a frustration (Catherall, 2012). Beginning in early childhood, shame is activated whenever an anticipated outcome—the expectation of excitement or enjoyment—is impeded and leaves one crestfallen (Tomkins, 1963).

Impossible love fantasies

Fantasies of the love being realized may activate moments of enjoyment and excitement. However, when your attention turns to reality, such fantasies are negated. Humans have a need to experience and express what they feel, and thus such suppression of emotion is punishing or unpleasant (Tomkins, 1963). The inability to express emotion in situations of impossible love turns a positively directed emotion into a distressing negative one.

Why would we stay with love that is impossible?

Emotionally laden scenes in one’s life later become personality features, a process which Silvan Tomkins (1963) referred to as psychological magnification. Through socialization experiences, the emotional life of some individuals becomes monopolistic; that is, dominated by a single emotion, such as distress, anguish, or shame. Children who experience trauma related to broken interpersonal connections may, as adults, enact conditions that perpetuate the sense of an undeserving self. Consider a child who hungers for a parent’s love or acceptance, for example, and instead continuously experiences shaming disinterest that is interspersed with occasional exciting and hoped-for moments of engagement. As an adult, an impossible love becomes a proxy that revives shame-laden emotional memories and evokes childhood longing. One hundred years ago, Freud (1914) described how unconscious memories become repetitions; the repetition compulsion was the means by which memories are avoided through action in the present that serves to keep them unrecognizable. However, given that the experience of intense emotion in the present will activate emotional memories, perhaps we repeat so that we can remember.

What’s possible in impossible love?

The potential to remember the past, and, in doing so, recognizing what we may need to reflect upon in the present in order to learn.

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References Catherall, D. (2012). Emotional Safety: Viewing Couples through the Lens of Affect. New York: Routledge. Freud, S. (1914). Remembering, Repeating, and Working Through. Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. London: Hogarth Press. Tomkins, S.S. (1963). Affect, Imagery Consciousness. New York: Springer.

Author’s Books- Click for Amazon Reviews

Dr. Mary Lamia is a clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst who works with adults, couples, adolescents, and preteens in her Marin County private practice.
She is a professor at the Wright Institute in Berkeley, California. Extending psychological knowledge to the public has been her endeavor for thirty years.
Dr. Lamia’s opinion has been sought in hundreds of television, radio, and print media interviews and discussions, and for nearly a decade she hosted a weekly call-in talk show, KidTalk with Dr. Mary, on Radio Disney stations.
Her books include: Emotions! Making Sense of Your Feelings; Understanding Myself: A Kid’s Guide to Intense Emotions and Strong Feelings: and, The White Knight Syndrome: Rescuing Yourself From Your Need to Rescue Others.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Darlene Lancer, LMFT

    Apr 27, 2014 at 4:16 pm

    Right on, Mary. So glad you cite Tomkin’s work. Sadly, the shame we experience in childhood can perpetuate our recreating shaming relationships and experiences. We continue to shame ourselves without anyone else around! My new book explains how this starts, how it manifests personally and in relationships, and how we can heal.
    Darlene Lancer, LMFT
    Author of Conquering Shame and Codependency: 8 Steps to Freeing the True You”
    http://www.whatiscodependency.com

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