Understanding Obsessive Love Disorder and How it Can Affect Your Life
By: Mason Komay
Updated August 04, 2020
Medically Reviewed By: Chante’ Gamby, LCSW
When we think of love, we generally think of something sweet and beautiful. We picture a happy, caring situation that is healthy and rewarding for the couple. Unfortunately, that's not always the case. Even though our society tends to idealize romantic love, it can have a dark side. You might not have known that love disorders even exist. In the case of obsessive love disorder, it can be a big problem that can have serious consequences.
Obsessive love disorder is a serious condition that can be damaging to the victim by preventing them from having a healthy relationship. These obsessive behaviors are considered mental health disorders, along with bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder. It can also lead to negative consequences for the person who is the target of the obsession. While it might seem like a nice idea to have someone put you up on a pedestal, this type of love disorder is quite counterproductive. While many popular love stories glamorize obsessive, intense love, or delusional jealousy, in reality, this type of obsessive focus is anything but desirable.
Source: Camdiluv via flickr.com
Understanding Obsessive Love Disorder
So what exactly is obsessive love disorder? Obsessive love disorder, O.L.D., refers to a condition concerning a complete focus on an individual to the extent that it is all-consuming. Being in love with someone can be healthy, and it leads to positive things for your future. On the other hand, being obsessed with someone (or something) is extremely unhealthy. Of course, it's important to note that something similar to obsessive love disorder is actually common at the beginning of relationships. You might know this as the "New Puppy Phase" or the "Newlywed Phase." Not all people who have an obsession over one person or obsessive thoughts and behaviors have bipolar disorder or suffer from obsessive love disorder. Jealousy and obsessive actions about a new love interest are not necessarily a disorder when love and attention are sought. However, obsessive jealousy can become problematic.
When a relationship first starts, there's usually a period of being overwhelmed by the partner, of being interested in everything that they do, say, think, want, and more. As the relationship continues to develop and grow, however, this type of overwhelming obsession starts to decrease and mature into friendship, commitment, and respect. There's still an interest in the other person, but the level of intensity has lowered significantly. It’s different than being obsessed with one person. This is a healthy process in a relationship, but when it doesn't occur, it can cause trouble with the relationship over time.
Obsessive love disorder does not have a distinct classification in the DSM-V but is recognized by many mental health professionals and they can help to treat obsessive love disorder. It can also be a part of other mental health disorders that may need to be diagnosed before the symptoms of obsessive love disorder can be fully managed. Therefore, it’s reasonable to seek medical advice or behavior therapy for obsessive love disorder or to treat obsessive love disorders.
Symptoms of Obsessive Love Disorder
- A strong attraction to one specific person
- Possessive and clingy behavior
- Out of control jealousy
- Inability to handle rejection
- Obsessive thinking involving the person of interest
- A feeling of needing to "protect" that person from real or imagined harm
These symptoms appear in many ways, depending on the person. They may send excessive tests or Facebook messages to the object of their affection. They may lose interest in interacting with anyone else in their lives, including their friends and family, and focus only on the person they have feelings for. In addition, they may keep constant tabs on the person, which can become serious if things progress to stalking and/or harassment. They might experience delusional jealousy. In some cases, obsessive love disorder can even be dangerous.
Why It's a Problem
Just what is it about this disorder that makes it such a problem? Well, the first thing is that in any relationship, the people involved should have their own identities and should be able to follow their interests and friendships. However, when a partner has obsessive love disorder, it leads to difficulty in pursuing that separate identity and those interests.
That's because the disorder itself often leads to delusional jealousy and overwhelming intensity. The partner who is suffering from it will generally become extremely jealous of everything the other partner does. They may claim to see proof of unfaithfulness in anything and everything that their partner does. A healthy relationship is built on trust and mutual respect, as well as the ability for each person to have their own independence. Obsessive love disorder makes these elements very difficult to achieve.
Other symptoms include thinking excessively about the partner, need for constant reassurance, doing anything they can to constantly be in contact, limiting other social interactions or recreational activities, spending as much time as possible with the partner, and becoming extremely codependent or dependent. In some cases, they may not be able to keep a job because of how obsessed they are with being near their partner. Losing contact with family members, difficulty having friendships, or complications with relationships outside the romantic one in general can be problematic for everyday life.
There may be moments they don’t need attention, it’s relatively rare, but it can happen especially in the beginning. Watch how it escalates. As the disorder gets worse, it could lead them to begin controlling the partner and attempting to keep them close at all times to control who they spend time with. If activities they engage in are centered around possessive thoughts that are acted upon, it can be dangerous for anyone involved.
How Obsessive Love Differs from Healthy Love
Not all of us are clear about what a healthy relationship is supposed to look like. We receive a lot of mixed messages from our everyday media, and it's common for an obsession with a crush or love interest to be seen as cute or romantic. Family members can often be the primary factor in your understanding of a healthy relationship. If you grew up without a model for a healthy relationship, you may grow up without a clear idea of what a good relationship should look like.
With a healthy relationship, there is always some form of common ground. Both parties contribute emotionally to the relationship and do what is needed to strengthen the bond. With obsessive love, one partner experiences stronger feelings of affection, which causes the relationship to become unbalanced. Sometimes, the obsession can develop even if the couple is not in a serious relationship. This may lead to delusional thinking that causes the person with obsessive love to have a distorted view of reality without even realizing it.
What Causes Obsessive Love?
There are a few different things that could lead to the development of obsessive love disorder. Though there is no one definitive reason that it occurs, there are things that could lead to a predisposition toward this disorder. Some of those things include:
- Low self-esteem
- Obsessive focus on objects of individuals
- Repeated contact with the subject of their love
- Unwanted attention towards a love interest
- An intense focus on only good or bad aspects of the love interest
- Difficulty focusing on anything other than the love interest
- Constant attempt to control the love interest
- Extremes when it comes to feelings about individuals (good or bad only)
Attachment issues may also be behind obsessive love. Attachment theory claims that as we grow and develop, we will have one of a few attachment styles, depending on how our parents raise us. The main attachment styles include: secure, anxious-preoccupied, or avoidant. If a parent shows consistent love and support for their child while freely allowing them to explore, the child might end up with a secure attachment style that will carry over into their adult relationships.
If the child is not shown consistent love and support, or if a parent restricts their exploration with overprotective behavior, the child may develop a different attachment style that makes adult relationships more challenging. Those with an anxious-preoccupied attachment style may be more likely to have obsessive and clingy tendencies. They might need constant reassurance, or experience delusional jealousy. While your attachment style is not set in stone, it can take a commitment to self-awareness and developing new skills to change it.
If you are suffering from obsessive love disorder, help is available to you. Whether you seek out advice, diagnosis or treatment, you can talk with a professional who will be able to help you better understand your version of love and where it comes from. They will be able to help you focus on the things that led you to develop this method of showing and feeling love for those who are important to you. They can provide medical advice, diagnosis or behavioral therapy. And they will also be able to help you with other aspects of love, including how to form a new relationship, how to maintain a healthy love for yourself and others, and how to balance your relationships.
If you're already in a relationship, it's a good idea to get psychotherapy for both you and your partner. It can help both of you to create a new relationship that is healthier and more positive for the future. These types of counseling will allow you and your partner to learn more about self-esteem, affirmations, and treatments for any possible mental illness. One type of therapy technique that you can see in counseling is Cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT. CBT can sound scary, but comprehensive psychiatry just seeks to address mental health struggles in ways most suited to your needs. All of this together can help to change behavior before it gets too uncontrollable.
If you're not in a relationship but parts of this article resonate with you, there are still benefits to speaking with a licensed professional. At the very least, you can learn to understand what your needs are for romantic issues, and where your needs come from. Most importantly, you can decide if your attachments to love are healthy, or if they have the potential to cause you harm later on. Despite these benefits, access to counseling can be a hurdle. Sitting in traffic, accidentally running into someone you know in a waiting room, the list of issues goes on. Phone calls can be much easier to make. This is where online counseling services like ReGain offer solutions. You may access ReGain's platform from the comfort and privacy of your own home, at whatever times work best for you. Below are some reviews of ReGain counselors, from people experiencing similar issues.
"Sessions with Natalie are very insightful and give practical advice on implementing new habits and changes. Be prepared to engage and be challenged to think in a different way. I know that my partner and I can already see improvements in our relationship and feel more positive about working through our issues together."
"Austa has been wonderful thus far. She has helped my partner and I during an unimaginably difficult time... She has also guided us in communicating effectively and setting appropriate boundaries in our relationship. I was hesitant to pursue counseling at the beginning, but I truly believe that it is making a difference for our relationship. Austa is easy to talk to and she is a great listener. I would wholeheartedly recommend her as a counselor."
You don't have to let your obsessive love disorder control your feelings. A stronger, healthier love is right around the corner. Our counselors are here for you to provide all the tools you need to get there. Take the first step.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What are the symptoms of obsessive love disorder?
Signs and symptoms of obsessive love disorder include:
- Extreme jealousy
- Overwhelming attraction to an individual
- Obsessive thoughts about said individual
- An intense urge to protect your loved one
- Excessively contacting someone, even when they don't reply
- Controlling thoughts or behavior
- Poor self-esteem, whether internalized or known
- Repetitive need for reassurance
- Abnormal difficulty with rejection
People with obsessive love disorder often feel as though their world revolves around the object of their obsession. A person with obsessive love disorder may take tabs on the object of their love and cling to the object of their love past the point that could be excused as potentially normal or healthy. Obsessive Love Disorder (OLD) is not in the diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM), and therefore you might not think to seek medical advice, diagnosis or treatment, but it's recognized by care providers such as counselors and therapists. It can impact a person's life severely, harm relationships, and can cause extreme distress for the person experiencing it.
What causes obsessive love disorder?
A singular cause of obsessive love disorder isn't known, but it's often seen in individuals with a co-occurring personality disorder or other mental health diagnoses. If you have an attachment disorder or personality disorder, you might experience obsessive love disorder. This is particularly true for those with a personality disorder diagnosis like borderline personality disorder or BPD. Signs of borderline personality disorder such as a tendency toward intense, unstable relationships, impulsivity, extreme emotions, and fear of abandonment may all make obsessive love or romantic obsession more likely to occur. Borderline personality disorder has some overlap with other conditions such as bipolar disorder, but they are not the same.
Similarly, obsessive compulsive personality disorder, OCPD, can be another co-occurring disorder: obsessive compulsive refers to a condition in which someone needs to control things or people in their surrounding environment in an obsessive way. Perhaps for a person feeling obsessed with one person, this might not be the only place in their life where obsessive tendencies take place.
If you think that you have a personality disorder, a mood disorder, obsessive love disorder, or another mental health disorder and would like an appropriate diagnosis, it is crucial to see a mental health professional who can evaluate and diagnose you accordingly.
Is obsessive love disorder dangerous?
Obsessive love disorder has the potential to be dangerous. If harassment, stalking, or controlling behavior ensues, obsessive love disorder can absolutely be dangerous. Additionally, if behavior affiliated with obsessive love disorder is ever paired with any form of abuse, it is inexcusable and must be taken seriously. For the person with obsessive love disorder, The condition can be incredibly painful. They might focus on the object of their love so much that they isolate themselves from others that are not involved in a relationship. They might obsess to the point where they engage in behaviors that they aren't proud of. If they experience delusional jealousy, friends or other loved ones in the object of affections’ life might be at risk. They might experience obsessions and compulsions related to the person they love, which can be extremely toxic for everyone involved. Depending on the severity, the other person may become rightfully fearful. They may experience harassment and may even fear for their safety. If you ever feel unsafe, it is vital that you reach out to emergency services right away.
People with obsessive love disorder are not always dangerous, but their behavior can be. Actions correlated with the symptoms of obsessive love disorder will be different for every person with obsessive love disorder, just as a person with a personality disorder will vary in terms of the behaviors and traits they display. However, a person with obsessive love disorder must get treatment for obsessive love disorder so that they can have healthy relationships.
How do you deal with obsessive love disorder?
If you have obsessive love disorder, know that you're not alone and that you're not broken. There are many ways to deal with obsessive love disorder. One of the most important things to do is to disengage from the obsession, though that can be hard at first. There are organizations and support groups such as Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous that you can go to for additional information, or to find support for obsessive love disorder or love addiction. You can also go to a therapist to talk about obsessive love disorder.
What is romantic obsession?
Romantic obsession is when you are obsessed with a person that you have romantic feelings toward to the point that it's detrimental to your mental health and/or to the relationship. It is not the same as real love; look at the obsessive love disorder symptoms to see if you may be struggling with love obsession or something similar. Some people use the term infatuation to describe this feeling.
Various circumstances can lead to obsessive love disorder, and if it is something that you battle with, know that treatment for obsessive love disorder is out there. The best thing that you can do is talk to a counselor to become more self-aware about how your circumstances were cultivated and how you can develop healthy connections in the future.
Is obsessive love healthy?
Obsessive love is not healthy. Obsessive love can feel addictive and intense, which can elicit intoxicating emotions that make it hard to get out of the obsession, but it is not healthy in any way, shape, or form. If you've experienced obsessive love, it can warp your perception of what love really is. This is particularly true if you've never experienced real love without obsession. It is important to remember that getting treatment for obsessive love is possible and that you can have healthy relationships in the future even if you are currently experiencing obsessive love.
Is obsession a mental illness?
Obsession itself is not a mental health disorder, but obsession is a symptom of multiple mental health diagnoses. These mental health diagnoses vary significantly, and obsession will look different in different diagnoses just as it'll vary from person to person. One type of obsessive-compulsive disorder ocd is actually relationship OCD. Diagnosis treatment is available. It's important to note, however, that not everyone (or even the majority of people) with obsessive-compulsive disorder ocd will have relationship OCD or any obsessions surrounding romance at all. There are multiple forms of obsessive-compulsive disorder, and the condition varies heavily from person to person. Other mental health diagnoses that can include obsession related to other people include borderline personality disorder and attachment disorders.
People with personality disorders like borderline personality disorder or BPD are more likely to experience obsessive love. Borderline personality disorder is one of the cluster b personality disorders listed in the DSM. Cluster b personality disorders include BPD, narcissistic personality disorder, histrionic personality disorder, and antisocial personality disorder. NPD or narcissistic personality disorder is a mental health disorder characterized by extreme self-importance, lack of genuine care for others, and an extreme need for affirmation. Someone with NPD is likely to surround themselves with people who sing their praise but will not call them out on their faults, and yes, someone who is obsessed with them or who will do what they say is likely to get tied up in a toxic connection with them.
They may treat you poorly and resort to "love bombing" so that you stick around if you start to disengage, which can contribute to push and pull, confusion, or unhealthy obsession in and of itself. These connections are addictive and are not real love. People with narcissistic personality disorder need to get help to cultivate a healthy relationship. There are three clusters of personality disorders in the DSM 5; cluster a, cluster b, and cluster c. Cluster b personality disorders are marked by erratic actions. It's also important to note that obsessive-compulsive personality disorder is a potential personality disorder diagnosis. Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder is considered a cluster c personality disorder (a cluster of personality disorders categorized by anxiousness), and it is a separate diagnosis from OCD that could lead to obsessions related to romance.
Is love an obsession?
If you have real love, it will not be an obsession. When you experience a real love relationship, you will feel more secure than you would in a love addiction or obsession. The addictiveness, obsessive feelings, and anxiety that are present when you experience obsessive love will not be present with real love. You will love your partner and experience feelings of love without the toxic or addictive component that comes with obsessive love disorder symptoms. The obsessions and compulsions that come with obsessive love disorder can be uncomfortable, as can the obsessive feelings that come with the condition. It feels like your emotional state is contingent on the relationship, but like the other person has the reigns.
Is obsession a form of love?
Obsession is not a form of love, especially when the object of affection does not feel comfortable with receiving that attention. Love disorder (OLD), refers to a personality disorder medically reviewed and therefore is not a true example of unadulterated love. Actions of extreme jealousy, excessive calls to the person, and constant need for reassurance are examples of how obsession is not the same as love.
How can you tell the difference between love and obsession?
Do you feel the need for constant reassurance, do you need to know where your partner is at all given times, and need them to be near you? Do you make excessive calls, texts, or get unreasonably jealous at other people or things that your partner gives their attention to? You might be facing an issue of obsession, rather than love.
Does obsession go away?
By seeking treatment for the disorder, medically reviewed therapists, such as those at ReGain.Us can help decrease the symptoms of obsessive love disorder, and help you establish healthy habits that will benefit both your current and future relationships.
How long does obsession last?
There is no magic length of time to explain how long obsession might last. Depending on how aware you are of the issue, and how willing you are to make a change will determine how quickly you are able to take control of your obsession.
How do I stop obsessing over someone?
To stop obsessing over someone, the best thing to do is to cease all contact with them. Get them out of your peripheral. Block them on social media, and if you can't do it, ask your friend to do so. If you have children with this person, disengage as much as you can outside of communication regarding your children or shared custody. Make sure not to let your conversations surpass it, and make sure that you're not talking to this person about the kids more than you need to just to have communication with them. Seeing a mental health provider can be extremely helpful in this situation because they can help you to develop tangibly useful coping skills and to understand how to stop an obsession of any kind, whether it's the most extreme obsession or one that's more minor. They can also help you to understand the psychology behind an obsession like obsessive love.
How do you treat obsessive love disorder?
For treatment, it is best to seek professional mental health assistance. Though it might seem intimidating, there are experts ready and willing to help you cultivate a healthier mindset and a healthier lifestyle. If you’re especially nervous to start, or new to therapy, visit ReGain.Us for approachable, professional advice.
What is Erotomania disorder?
In the DSM, Erotomania, a disorder medically reviewed, is categorized as a type of delusional disorder. Erotomania refers specifically to the delusion that someone is in love with you when, in reality, it is clear that they aren't. Often, a person with erotomania will think that someone who has a higher social status is the person that is in love with them. This does not apply to situations where someone tells you that they love you or sends you mixed messages. If someone has this delusion, they will hold a deep-seated belief that someone is in love with them and will believe that the person is in love with them despite anything they say. They may engage in stalking or harassment and often believe that a person is sending subliminal messages of love and affection toward them despite the fact that the person is telling them they aren't interested. Erotomania can be dangerous and should be taken very seriously.
What causes obsessive love?
A variety of things can cause you to develop obsessive love or obsessive love disorder, including low self-esteem, a tendency toward obsession or extreme emotions, and black and white thinking. A personality disorder such as borderline personality disorder makes it more likely that you'll experience or develop obsessive love. Sometimes, attachment disorders can play into the development of obsessive love. If not an attachment disorder, wounding or previous experiences related to attachment can impact a person severely and can be part of why they experience obsessive love. Attachment issues are common, and it is possible to develop a more secure attachment if you struggle with insecure attachment.
How do you know if you're obsessed with someone?
If you exhibit the signs of obsessive love disorder, you may be experiencing obsession. If you can't stop thinking of someone and your emotional state relies on what a person does and how close the relationship is on that particular day, it could be obsessive love. Are your emotions surrounding your connection with this person extreme? Do you feel the need to text them compulsively and reach out even when they don't reply due to obsessive thoughts and obsessive feelings? Do your actions, in general, feel compulsive as they are related to this person and relationship? Asking yourself these questions and looking at the obsessive love disorder symptoms above can help you to determine if this is something you face.
How do you stop thinking about someone who hurt you?
The most important thing to do is to disengage from the person entirely. Stop interacting with them or following them on social media. If they attempt to reach out, set a firm boundary. It can be difficult to stop talking to someone who hurt you, but it's important to remember that you deserve real love and that a toxic relationship will never be able to give you what real love can. If you are having difficulty ceasing contact with someone who hurt you or if you can't stop thinking about someone, therapy can help.
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