EnQuire now
Why would we stay with love that is impossible? by Mary C. Lamia, Ph.D.

Posted by admin 8:53 pm, 23 April 2014



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).


When you are in a situation of impossible love, fantasie 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 perspnality 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 is the potential to remember the past, and, in doing so, recognize what may need to be reflected upon in order to learn.


(For information about my books, please see my website: www.marylamia.com)