by Mary Lamia, Ph.D.
Lust may be experienced as intense desire, ardent enthusiasm, or unbridled sexual longing. This passionate craving is attention directing and a motivational force as is the experience of any emotion. When untethered, lust can lead to actions that may appear irrational. Even so, it can be regarded as a manifestation of unconscious emotional memories.
Like love, technically lust is not considered to be an emotion, but involves emotions such as bliss, excitement, joy, and interest, as well as the erotic anticipation of sensory pleasure. People who are in the throes of lust may lose their sensibilities, since lust seems unable to recognize the reality of a situation or motivates one to neglect it. Lust is an octane for the relentless pursuit of another person in spite of intellectual reason and sometimes regardless of emotional barriers such as guilt or shame.
At times lust is unbridled sexual attraction that seeks expression, where the physical appearance and attributes of one person ignite emotions of intense interest and excitement in another. Yet whatever is triggered in your psyche regarding the lustful qualities of another person is something specific to your own history. As a result, a friend might confess to you that he lusts after a certain person, and you may be baffled by his interest in someone who seems unattractive to you. Additionally, lust can lead you to fill-in unknown information about the object of your desire, assigning them perfection in your fantasies. This is because such passion is a construct of implicit memory that becomes enhanced by conscious imagination.
Implicit memory plays a primary role in the process of falling in lust and can be considered akin to what resides in you unconsciously—emotional memories concerning early attachment and love that direct your behavior, goals, passions, and interests in the present. Phenomena regarding implicit memory have been reported as early as Decartes’ 1649 work regarding The Passions of the Soul where he observed that childhood experiences remain imprinted on the brain (cited by Schacter, 1987). Since that time, numerous philosophers and psychological researchers have found that people are affected by early impressions that are not consciously remembered. In A General Theory of Love contemporary theorists, Lewis, Amini, and Lannon (2001) describe the limbic connection that occurs in intense human relationships and how we are driven by our implicit memories. Such unconscious emotional connections that are based on attractors—patterns imprinted on the limbic system— can serve to regulate human physiology and emotional health. So limbic resonance, even in the form of reciprocated lust, serves an evolutionary purpose. Psychologist Lynn O’Connor (2002) contends that limbic resonance (unrelated to lust), such as in friendships or the relationship between a therapist and patient, results in physiological regulation.
However, early limbic connections that are less than optimal also tend to be repeated throughout life (Lewis, Amini, Lannon, 2000). Therefore, lust and the implicit memories that determine its object can be the result of either healthy or unhealthy early relationships. It is possible that the nature and outcome of a relationship can illustrate whether a passionate interest is based on implicit memories that resulted from healthy attachments or pathologic ones. However, the fact that relationships involve at least two individuals, each with unique implicit memory, distorts the picture and adds great complexity to deconstructing lust.
The ineffable quality of lust may be the result of another person matching the template within your implicit memory and the emotions associated with it. Lust provides a rare window through which you can view your vulnerabilities as you are swept away by your imagination. And if you are able to face and endure the shame and disappointment that are often the outcome of such attraction and subsequent disconnection, you will have ample opportunity to learn about yourself.
For information about my current book for young adults, Emotions! Making Sense of Your Feelings (American Psychological Association Magination Press, August 2012), see my website: http://www.marylamia.com
Lewis, Thomas L.; Amini, Fari; Lannon, Richard (2000). A general theory of love. New York: Random House.
O’Connor, L. E. (2002). Review of A General Theory of Love by Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini, and Richard Lannon. Human Nature Review. 2: 89-91.
Schacter, D. (1987). Implicit memory: History and current status. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 13(3), 501-518.
# # #
Please visit http://www.marincountypsych.org for more information about our association and membership benefits or to locate a licensed clinical psychologist in Marin County.
# # #
The opinions expressed by the authors are their own and do not reflect the opinions of the Marin County Psychological Association. The information posted on this blog is not intended as, and is not, a substitute for professional mental health services.