Falling into a prolonged inferior Fe “grip experience”
aka “How to get so deeply trapped inside your subconscious that you don’t even realize how and when you got yourself there”
I’m slowly recovering from the anxiety-provoking experience of having to return to my old lab yesterday. It’s been just over two months since I last laid eyes on LO and just a bit longer than that since I asked for “no contact”. I guess the fact that I’ve been safely hiding away and slowly rebuilding my life separate to all that (with a very understanding husband) had given me the false sense of security that I might be able to feel the much sought after “indifference” towards him. However, having read a variety of posts on limerence/emotional affairs/affairs in general I knew deep down that I just wasn’t at that stage yet. Whereas my “conscious self” is happy that I was able to extricate myself from the situation without going further down the affair road, my “subconscious self” still maintains a lot of the emotional memories that can be triggered by just about anything related to the experience– being back in the same city, being in the lab, a look, a civil “hello” or “goodbye”. Just being back in the building immediately increased the adrenaline, making my hands shake, my stomach rumble, my heart race and even made me overly talkative (but not in a good way) in meetings with my boss. Combine this with the urge to somehow dispel all this anxiety by running up to LO and trying to repair the “friendship”, and I really didn’t have a very good day. I’m not sure if this means I still have “feelings”, but the best I can do at the moment is check my behavior (continue to enforce the no contact), and hope my subconscious slowly follows suit. I’ve heard that it can take up to a year for the memories to completely die out. Since it might be in the nature of the INTP to ruminate on past experiences (can anyone confirm this?), basically using Si to re-live the memories (even when the emotional “meaning” of the memory has since faded) and then applying Ti logic to the experience to dissect every event, every sentence, every action to figure out when and where your normally logical decision-making process went completely astray and then in comes Ne to help you brainstorm ways to help you prevent the same thing from happening again in the future. And in circles it goes… I’ll be lucky if the experience fades from memory in under a year. My husband is accusing me of holding us back since I’m dwelling on the past– I have to resist the urge to say, it’s not me, it’s my mind that is keeping us back!
So, how did I land myself in this mess in the first place?
It all started in January 2009. A new guy joins the lab as an undergraduate student. He seems genuinely interested in science and learning new things, is hard-working, enthusiastic, fun-loving and an all-round people-person (definite ENFP). I, of course, being completely absorbed in work and wedding planning pay little conscious attention to him but sense an instantaneous Fe-driven feeling that this was someone I could respect and trust. I think this “feeling” fueled some pretty emotional (for me) outbursts when I was trying to convince him to continue as a graduate student in the lab. At this point I considered telling him that I was being selfish for making such a big deal about it, that it was only because I LIKED having him around to talk science with. I didn’t end up saying anything.
Fast-forward to the end of 2009. By this point my husband had moved away and we were having infrequent and short phone conversations (we are both terrible on the phone) and probably seeing each other maybe once every 2-3 weeks. ENFP and I sat having a conversation about his future, again, and how he wanted to go sailing, to be away from everyone in order to think and write. This dream kind of resonated with my introverted side, but since I had recently come to the conclusion that my own mental health issues were readily solved by close connections with people, I said something like “but won’t you get depressed out there all by yourself”. Anyway, I think that conversation flipped a switch in him, because the next day he couldn’t even string two words together to say to me. This kind of inexplicable, out-of-nowhere behavior stressed me out but since I had little experience in these matters (and low self-esteem/self-doubt), I didn’t confront him on it, as maybe I should have. I just let it be and didn’t talk to ANYONE about it. And unfortunately, probably due to the additional stress from this unwanted attention (or was it secretly wanted?), my subconscious Si-Fe went into overdrive putting 2 and 2 together and dissected all past actions for more “clues” (hand on the shoulder, hugs, looks, etc). And then Ne-Si went on the hunt for any future signs of “meaning”, slowly adding events, actions and words to a growing list of evidence for his feelings towards me. Sure enough, within about 2 weeks of the aphasia incident I was now “consciously” hooked on the guy– I had what people would call a “crush” or an “attraction”. I had somehow converted what would normally be a “stressful” situation to me, into a very “pleasurable” situation (I don’t know what it is about our minds that make us do this– but it’s pretty clear that people are more susceptible to addictive/obsessive behaviors when they are stressed).
Now I did what any self-respecting adult would do, and immediately told my husband about it. His reaction was just to laugh it off and tell me it was normal to have attractions towards other people (probably a bad idea on his part, in retrospect).
Now, ladies and gents, this is the point where I made
BAD CONSCIOUS DECISION #1: Allowing myself to create Ne fantasies and to create positive expectations for future encounters (and to keep searching for “clues” that would allow me to discern how LO was feeling towards me).
I’m not sure about the other INTPs out there, but I’m pretty sure that the only time I fantasize/daydream about people (instead of ideas and science) is when I’m actively “crushing” and the fantasies (sexual, romantic) are only ever directed at ONE person.
Crushes or infatuations feel good, since they fill the brain with adrenaline, dopamine and serotonin. Those “happy feelings” gave me increased energy, a boost in self-confidence and allowed me to be more focused at work. And since I wasn’t taking any time away from my relationship with my husband, I rationalized it in my head, “well, a small crush is nothing to worry about”.
BAD CONSCIOUS DECISION #2: Allowing myself to make LO a “friend” while inadvertently creating the elusive “intellectual connection”
Well, out came my innate Fe caring behaviors. Since LO was less experienced and less knowledgeable in the lab, I took it upon myself to teach him things, to discuss with him my ideas and thoughts on science, to share with him interesting blog posts. My manipulative (?) food sharing behaviors were positively reinforced as it became easier and easier to coerce him away from his computer for a conversation. He brought out my playful side and I started to engage in teasing, flirting and affectionate behaviors. On the rare occasion I paid him a compliment or two when I thought he deserved it (which I subconsciously knew he was always fishing for– and being rare, my compliments were apparently well-received by this ENFP).
Even if he wasn’t ready to be my proper “mindmate” (evidently, all INTPs are looking for mindmates http://forums.intpcentral.com/showthread.php?18143-Mindmates-for-INTPs) I was darned going to “believe” he was one. And maybe he was– he could hold his own in a good debate/discussion and since I’d often get tied up in my thoughts I sometimes let him win. I was much better with the email-sparring and could go back-and-forth endlessly (although this rarely happened– he usually stopped replying). But, at the same time, looking back, I think that my mind, hyped-up on drugs as it was, ended up projecting a lot of my own intelligence, my own competence and strengths and my own values onto him (isn’t this how love always starts?). He is intelligent and full of interesting and divergent ideas and obviously provided endless entertainment for my mind. But, at the same time, I down-played the real facts that he is unreliable, bad at planning ahead, more interested in people and living life than working and bad with long-term commitments, amongst probably many other things. Yet, it did feel addictive at the time– I felt happier, more confident, more intelligent and especially, less bored. I wasn’t interested in all those other little personality “details”– what interested me was his mind, and probably, more importantly, how he was able to so easily and comfortably bring out all my own interesting thoughts and ideas (some of which I hadn’t even consciously realized I had!).
BAD CONSCIOUS DECISION #3: Once I consciously realized the “mindmate” connection had been forged, allowing myself to continue to “feel”.
This was quickly rationalized as “well, it’s rare that I ever get to feel this way, to feel human, to feel so connected, so understood, so I’ll let it be”. And, I foolishly thought– well, it can’t last forever, we will eventually fall into that “friend zone”. And my mind’s best line, “well, the more I talk to him, the more I’ll find things I don’t like about him, so getting to know him better should resolve this situation”. It did occur to me, sometimes, that I had to stop interacting with this person. I made New Year’s resolutions to “be a better wife” and told myself that there would be no more emailing, that I’d stop interacting with LO so much, that I’d stop sharing so much. That worked, but only for short time periods, it wasn’t long before I fell back into my bad, addictive, habits. And although at the beginning I was forthright with my husband about my interactions and conversations, as the intensity of the relationship with LO grew, I gradually became less reluctant to talk about LO (at no point did I ever consider talking to anyone else about this). It was clear in my mind that somehow I’d created an entirely fictional “love story” inside my head– I could easily distinguish between “fantasy” and “reality” but was trying frantically to restrain myself from trying to bring the fantasy into real life. When I finally realized the emotional bond with my husband was at stake (started to find him less attractive, started fighting about petty things, started growing resentful of my marriage and being so settled) and that the preservation of this emotional bond (or at least attempting to get it back) was what was most important to me, I knew I had to extricate myself from the whole situation.
There were times, over the 2 year episode, when I was very consciously aware that the whole “mind affair” was extremely wrong. I was often angry at myself, my mind was in conflict and I was stressed. I frantically racked my brain for what could have caused such a rapid, natural and close emotional tie– but I couldn’t really come up with any. Ti could not come up with any logical reason for it. There wasn’t much involvement of feelings, past experiences, present experiences, discussions of marital issues, alone time outside of work. However, on the odd chance that I did reveal personality traits about my husband, I could sense jealousy in LO’s reactions. And that stressed me out to the point where I abandoned even talking about my husband in his presence. Effectively, LO and I created our own “affair bubble or connected-mind bubble” far far away from the realities of life. It was an escape for me, an escape from boredom. Did I pride myself at my restraint for not getting into a full-fledged affair? Did I ever think I was acting as just a “close friend”? Not really. I knew what was going on, it was pretty clear. But, at the same time, it was magical, I got to a depth of caring/emotional affection that I’d never experienced before; I just wanted to be able “to love” quietly and in my own way. Reciprocation didn’t even really matter. I started thinking about monogamy, its roots and its meaning. Maybe humans weren’t meant to be monogamous since I was clearly capable of loving two people at once? But, at the same time I knew I wanted to remain loyal to my first emotional bond. This was clear– I instinctively knew, when I was fully in my addictive grip, to force my mind back to reality– to think about concrete things, to remember how it felt when I fell in love with my husband, to think of the future I wanted for myself, to think how I wouldn’t be able to take myself seriously if I let this go any further…
I had created a giant mess of emotional connections inside my head, I just didn’t know how to get out of it.
And, I mistakenly thought I had my mind under pretty good control (I wasn’t overtly obsessing, after all). I was resolute to finish up my experiments in the lab by December 2011 so that I could move home to be with my husband, yet at the same time there was this growing dread of how I was going to feel when I left the lab. The last month in the lab was uneventful, LO was barely around and I was pretty stressed out with experiments. Then, out of nowhere, in my final week in the lab, LO suddenly started acting really weird and spewing some really odd thoughts. All of a sudden, he wanted to be around me all the time (we even went to dinner twice– very very bad idea in retrospect), said I was part of his decision to stay in the lab, said he thought I married too young!, said two friends of the opposite-sex couldn’t be close without some romantic attraction, even if not acted on!, called me up after we said our final goodbyes to see me one more time the next day, made imaginary plans to see me after Christmas, etc. His words, his actions, the visible emotion he displayed on his face all made my neurons scream RECIPROCATION (and, oh crap…what do I do now?)! I somehow managed to collect myself for the final goodbye so that I didn’t give away any visible signs of my own emotional turmoil (I was crying and my hands were shaking out of control), but couldn’t stop the cheesy “I’m going to miss you” and inappropriately long hug I gave him at the end of the evening (I know, I know, bad idea).
Over Christmas I didn’t quite come to a decision about what I was going to do next. So, when the emails from LO started arriving (maybe once/twice per week) detailing his vacation, asking me a bunch of personal questions, asking me a bunch of work questions, for the first time sending me articles I might be interested in, I kind of felt bad to leave him in the lurch, and it felt good to be needed, and so, in true INTP fashion I sent back detailed, but largely impersonal emails dealing with my thoughts on the articles, lab protocols, etc. It’s at this point that I’m pretty sure I went “limerent” as they call it– obsessively checking my inbox for messages, eagerly awaiting the next email, contemplating for hours responses to the emails. It felt good! I was connecting with someone on a deep, personal level and I felt so UNDERSTOOD. There was no way my mind wanted to give that up. But then, my corrupt mind started putting 2 and 2 together. He would send long emails with lots of details about his adventures and experiences and I would feel BORED. Then he would send his response to a blog post I’d sent him and I would get riled up and excited just thinking about a clever, and logically reasoned, response. WTF??? I wasn’t in love with LO, I was in love with the feeling I got while discussing science with LO (in retrospect there were a lot more instances of this tuning-out effect whenever he talked about anything besides science). Oh no, this was not good at all. How do I get myself out of this mind-fuck (of my own doing)?
I planned a face-to-face meeting. I had many ideas about what I was going to say, but nothing quite stuck. I was, for the first time, extremely shy in his presence and almost on the verge of tears. Apparently my subconscious knew better than me what I should do. Out of nowhere a little voice in my head told me what to say and after a few false starts this is how it came out (almost in tears):
Up next: The long and painful road out of inferior Fe (and the story is almost done– feeling better already!)