What Is Obsessive Love Disorder?

By: Mary Elizabeth Dean

Updated October 08, 2021

Medically Reviewed By: Whitney White, MS. CMHC, NCC., LPC

Perhaps one of the deepest desires people share is the desire to feel love and acceptance.   In fact, from the time an infant is born, there seems to be this invisible force from somewhere within that reaches out to connect with others.  While the desire for emotional connection and intimacy is typically normal or unproblematic, there are times when personality disorders may affect one’s ability to develop a healthy relationship.  Whether an inability to understand what makes a relationship or a disregard for what behavior is considered acceptable in a relationship is present, this can cause a significant impact on everyone affected.

One example of this is referred to as obsessive love disorder.

Television shows, movies, songs, literature and even the media seem to promote a romanticized view of what love should be.  Often, love is portrayed as an all-consuming emotion and the person in love is characterized as doing anything within their power to secure the kind of love they want or think they deserve.

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Healthy Love Relationships

Undoubtedly, most people who pursue a relationship with someone do so with the hope of being wanted or to feel needed.  In healthy relationships, partners learn to understand one another’s desires for the relationship and put forth mutual effort to nurture it. 

It’s important for couples to understand their own emotions and to be able to effectively communicate with one another.  This is especially true during what is called the infatuation stage of love, which generally occurs the early months of a healthy love relationship.  In this period of the relationship it is common for the couple to want to spend every possible moment together or to have persistent thoughts of their partner.

In time, a healthy love relationship seems to shift from having an intense need to be with one another constantly and from infatuation to a more mature commitment.  The longer a healthy love relationship lasts, a couple can learn about one another’s individual hopes and dreams and can be supportive of them without feeling set aside or neglected.  Healthy relationships should involve mutual respect for one another and a foundation of friendship. 

Unhealthy Love Relationships

Unfortunately, not all relationships are healthy.  Being able to identify signs of unhealthy behavior in a relationship and knowing when seeking help can be helpful and may prevent long-term problems such as anxiety, depression or continued relationship trouble.

While healthy relationships involve showing love, respect and encouragement for a partner, unhealthy relationship may appear one-sided with one partner being more demanding.  Warning signs that a relationship is unhealthy include the following.

  • You can’t identify ways that you have had a positive impact on one another’s lives
  • When one partner seems to value the other for what they can get out of the relationship such as sex, a place to live, or financial support but does not offer anything in return
  • One partner seems to have a sense of superiority over the other, as if to say they are smarter or better than their partner
  • When you talk about the relationship, you are able to point out more negative than positive
  • One partner tries to involve the other in uncomfortable or unethical behaviors such as being dishonest or using others for personal gain
  • If you feel worse about yourself the longer the relationship lasts, there are likely some serious issues that need to be addressed.

 Psychological Disorders Related to Love

In some cases, a person may be affected by a psychological disorder that seems to skew their view of what a relationship should be or that alters their ability to relate to a partner in a healthy way.  Being in a relationship with someone who is experiencing a love disorder can be difficult and may feel overwhelming.

Because symptoms of love disorders are similar to what one experiences in a healthy love relationship, they may be difficult to recognize at first.  One of the significant differences in a love disorder and a healthy love relationship is that the feelings of infatuation and the persistent need to always be together usually fades with time in a healthy relationship.  That’s not to say that being together as much as possible and feeling intense emotions are always unhealthy.  However, when a love disorder is present, the need to do so usually overpowers every thought or sense of reason.

So, What Is Obsessive Love Disorder?

In general terms, obsessive love disorder is a condition that is characterized by a person feeling an overwhelming obsessive desire to protect and/or possess another.  This desire is coupled with an ability to accept rejection from the objection of affection and an inability to accept failure when trying to establish a relationship with the other person. 

Although it is not listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, it is believed to exist as comorbidities to other mental illnesses in some individuals.  It may present with conditions such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, delusional disorder, borderline personality disorder or a medical condition.

The Causes 

The exact cause of obsessive love disorder is unknown.  However, many mental health professionals believe that some of the same risk factors for developing other mental health conditions, especially personality disorders and attachment disorders, may play a significant role.

Experiencing abuse or neglect, low self-esteem, family or personal history of mental illness and a history of troubled relationships are often linked to the disorder.

Neglect. When children experience neglect from parents or primary caregivers, they never develop the ability to form secure attachments to those they love. As a result, their ability to develop healthy attachments to others may be hindered, as well.  Their attachments to others can become anxious, obsessive, possessive, or   insecure.  When these characteristics are already present in a person, if they become involved in a relationship, the symptoms may worsen and result in symptoms of obsessive love disorder. 

Abuse. Like neglect, abuse from a caregiver or loved one violates a person's basic need to feel safe and loved. The long-term effect of emotional or physical abuse can be far-reaching and may last for many years.  The emptiness that is caused by abuse and neglect often leaves a person feeling the need to seek ways to fill those voids.  Having someone to focus their “love” on seems to be a way that they try to cope with the void. 

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Low Self-Esteem. The sufferer may lack a strong sense of self or even feel a deep sense of worthlessness. Because of this, they have poor boundaries and constantly look to find affirmation from the object of their love. They want the person they love to fill the void and build them up because they feel they cannot do it themselves.

Other Mental Illnesses or Disorders. Often, OLD occurs along with another mental illness. Here are some of the disorders which most often accompany OLD:

  1. Delusional Disorder: Delusional disorder is a mental health condition that causes an affected person to experience beliefs that are not delusional, or not reality-based.  It can cause feelings of paranoia as well as delusional thoughts.  Delusions of grandeur are characterized by an exaggerated sense of self-worth or self-esteem or a belief that one has a superpower or special talent.  People with delusional disorder who experience these delusions may believe that someone is in love with them, even if the person doesn’t know them.  Delusions that are rooted in love or romance can cause worsening symptoms and may result in the development of obsessive love disorder. 
  2. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) impacts a person with a pattern of repeated, intrusive thoughts and compulsive, often ritualistic behaviors. Common obsessions include fear of germs or a need for symmetry and order; common compulsions might be excessive cleaning or repeating the same word or phrase over and over. If your obsessions and compulsions become centered around a person or a relationship, the result can be Obsessive Love Disorder. Constant intrusive thoughts about the loved one and the persistent need to be with them, know where they are, or monitor their behaviors are characteristics of obsessive love disorder.
  3. Cluster B Personality Disorders:This group of personality disorders includes behaviors that can be highly emotional, dramatic, and erratic. Such behaviors can have a profoundly negative impact on relationships. There are four main kinds of Cluster B personality disorders: Borderline, Narcissistic, Histrionic, and Antisocial.

The personality disorder that is most often associated with obsessive love disorder is borderline personality disorder.  Borderline personality disorder is a mental health condition that affects the way a person thinks about or perceives himself or others and can impact the way they relate to others.  Emotions are generally intense and, without help, can be difficult to manage. Moods may shift from one extreme to the other- rapidly and for no apparent reason. Their inability to manage these emotions and moods can lead to destructive behavior and self-harm. Because of their weak sense of self, they also have a fear of abandonment and will look to a love object to fill what is missing.  If the object of one’s affection does not seem to reciprocate those feelings, a person with obsessive love disorder and borderline personality disorder may exhibit aggressive, impulsive or dangerous behaviors.

Symptoms

People in general feel a natural desire to love and be loved.  People with obsessive love disorder, however, have an altered perception of what love is and about what makes a relationship healthy. 

Obsessive love is distinctly different from a healthy love relationship in that it is characterized by addictive qualities.  The person with obsessive love disorder may think about the person who is the object of their affection constantly or initiate behaviors that create opportunity for frequent or excessive contact with the person. 

They may have trouble performing in school or work because they spend most of their time obsessing over the person for whom they are obsessed.  It’s not uncommon for a person with obsessive love disorder to become isolated from others as all their focus is on their love target. 

In extreme cases, a person with obsessive love disorder may use manipulative measures to try to employ psychological control to have the other person close to them or to have them comply with their demands for a relationship.   They may stalk their other person or use violence to gain a sense of control.  They generally disregard boundaries and may become violent if they don’t feel that the love they feel is reciprocated.

Common symptoms of obsessive love disorder include:

  • Thinking obsessively about the object of your affections resulting in an inability to think about or focus on anything else
  • The desire to spend all your free time with the love object
  • Compromising relationships with friends and family members to pay more attention to the object of your love
  • Neglect of other daily activities, such as work or hobbies to focus on the other person
  • A willingness to inconvenience oneself just to be in contact with the person who is the object of affection
  • Feeling a territorial desire to protect the loved one
  • Manipulating a partner by withholding things like food or money to keep him/her closer
  • Possessive behaviors and thoughts
  • Dependence on the love object
  • An addiction to the loved one
  • Constantly asking the loved one for affirmation and reassurance
  • Codependency and difficulty setting boundaries
  • Close monitoring of the loved one's whereabouts and activities
  • Repeated phone calls and text messages to the person you're obsessed with
  • Stalking him/her physically or via social media
  • Extreme and delusional jealousy
  • In some cases, those with obsessive love disorder might even resort to violence to control the behavior of the object.

If you or someone you love exhibits any of these symptoms of Obsessive Love Disorder, then you may need to get help from a professional.

Obsessive Love Vs. Real Love

The difference between obsessive love and healthy or “real” love generally involve feelings of extreme infatuation that leads to obsessive thoughts and behaviors.  Delusional jealousy is a symptom that may occur.  Delusional jealousy occurs when a person interprets simple words or deeds as proof that the object of their affection is being unfaithful to them. 

Real love focuses on caring for and supporting the other person.  It is not jealous or envious.  Real love accepts the other person as a unique individual and celebrates the person.  Obsessive love, on the other hand, can be referred to as self-serving and manipulative.  It involves shifting focus and actions toward achieving the end goal of having the objection of affection return those feelings, often at any cost.

Helping Yourself Heal

It's important to understand that if you are experiencing symptoms or feel you are the object of obsessive love disorder, you are not alone.   You can overcome the emotions you feel and the actions you pursue. Here is a list of some things you can try to help overcome OLD.

Avoid the object of your love.  Obsessive behaviors usually only worsen if they are not stopped or managed.  If you are experiencing obsessive love disorder, especially if the other person does not wish to pursue a relationship, it is best to avoid contact with them if possible.   Like any addiction, the more you expose yourself to it, the greater the need becomes.  Separating yourself from anything that has to do with the person you feel the obsession for and purposefully shifting your focus to other things can help you learn to control your thoughts and behaviors. 

Practice mindfulness. Be aware of what is happening at moments when you begin thinking about the object of your love. Does it happen when you are feeling rejected or lonely for other reasons? It's also a good idea to analyze the feelings associated with your love. Do you want the best interests of your loved one, or do you desire to possess and control them? Do you love who they are as a person or just your idea of them

Find a hobby. Take up an activity that you have always wanted to try, such as surfing, playing the saxophone, or creating pottery. Hobbies will consume much of the energy and attention that you've been putting into your loved one. Another benefit is the increased confidence and self-esteem you gain from acquiring a new skill.

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Seek the help of a professional. A trained counselor or therapist can help you talk through the feelings of worthlessness and low self-esteem that led you down the path of Obsessive Love. Although leaning on your friends and family is important, an unbiased professional with years of experience will be better able to give you tools to help you build lasting, fulfilling relationships.

Treatment Options 

Before any treatment regimen is prescribed or recommended, it is likely that a physician or mental health professional will perform an assessment to determine if there are any medical or mental health reasons that are contributing to obsessive love disorder.  If the presence of other health issues is discovered, implementing a plan of care to manage or remedy that issue should begin.

Treatment for obsessive love disorder typically involves psychotherapy, often referred to as talk therapy.  If the person who is obsessed and the object of the obsession are in a committed relationship, couples counseling may be recommended.  If they are not, individual counseling is recommended. 

How BetterHelp Can Help

Having obsessive love disorder does not mean that developing healthy love relationships is impossible.  Seeking help is an important step to help learn how to effectively communicate with others and to address any personal issues that may have led to the feelings of obsession.  Reach out to your doctor or a mental health professional as soon as possible to discuss your concerns and for help to begin a treatment plan. Some people prefer talking about their lives and relationships in-person, while others prefer the privacy that online therapy offers. You can access online therapy platforms like BetterHelp from the comfort and convenience of your own home. Read below for some reviews of BetterHelp counselors, from people experiencing similar issues.

Counselor Reviews

"The longer I work with Dr. Simon, the more grateful I am to have found a counselor who strikes such a kind balance between supporting and empathizing as well as challenging and coaching. She's been invaluable to the progress I've made individually and in my relationship."

"In one session Douglas has helped me realize and find a way to break a pattern that I've been having for the last few weeks and probably lifelong. This is going to help me improve my relationships and my life will be more fulfilling. I'm glad I got to talk to Douglas, I can sense he is a great professional."

Conclusion

Obsessive Love Disorder is a very real and very treatable condition. If you seek help to resolve the underlying causes of the disorder, such as neglect or trauma, you can learn ways to effectively manage the disorder and begin to develop healthy relationships. If you are willing to trust and invest in the process, enjoying fulfilling and lasting relationships will be possible. All you need are the right tools. Take the first step today.


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