Content warning: The below article includes mentions of topics such as abuse and self-harm. The information found in the article is not a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have.
Perhaps one of the deepest desires that many 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 for a sense of belonging.
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 healthy relationships. Whether an inability to understand what makes a relationship healthy or a disregard for what behavior is considered acceptable in a relationship is present, this can cause a significant impact on everyone affected.
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.
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 needs for the relationship and put forth mutual effort to nurture them.
It’s important for couples to understand their own emotions and to be able to effectively communicate with one another for a relationship to be strong and thrive. This is especially true during what is called the infatuation stage of love, or the honeymoon phase, which generally occurs during 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, have persistent thoughts of their partner, or to idealize them.
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 may learn about one another’s individual hopes and dreams and can be supportive of them without necessarily feeling set aside or neglected. Healthy relationships typically need to have a mutual respect for one another, a foundation of friendship, open communication, and a willingness to put in the effort and make compromises, among many other things.
Unhealthy Love Relationships
Unfortunately, not all relationships are always healthy. Being able to identify signs of unhealthy behavior in a relationship and knowing when seeking support can be helpful may prevent long-term problems such as mental health concerns or continued relationship issues for one or both partners.
While healthy relationships involve showing love, respect, and encouragement for a partner, unhealthy relationships may appear one-sided or exhibit other toxic traits. Warning signs that a relationship is unhealthy can include the following:
You may have difficulty identifying ways that you have had a positive impact on one another’s lives
One or both partners seem to value the other for what they can get out of the relationship such as sex, a place to live, or financial support but do not offer anything in return.
One partner seems to have a sense of superiority over the other.
When you talk about the relationship, you are able to point out more negatives than positives.
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.
In some cases, an individual 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 seem to mask themselves as love and may be 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 logical and healthy thought.
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 inability to accept rejection from their object 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 a comorbidity 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 another medical condition.
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, having a family or personal history of mental illness, and/or a history of troubled relationships may often be linked to the disorder.
Neglect. When children experience neglect from parents or primary caregivers, they may have difficulty developing the ability to form secure attachments to those they love. As a result, their ability to develop healthy attachments to others as they become adults 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. Similar to neglect, abuse from a caregiver or loved one may violate 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 often caused by abuse and neglect may leave a person feeling the need to seek ways to fill any holes in their life brought on by the abuse. Having someone to focus their “love” on may be a way that they try to cope with their trauma. If the child developed an anxious attachment due to an abusive caregiver, they may become anxious in their adult relationships causing them to have a fear of separation, resulting in them latching on to loved ones, such as a partner or desired partner, intensely.
If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse in a relationship, it’s important to seek help right away. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is completely free and available for support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They can be reached by online chat or by calling 800.799.SAFE (7233).
Low Self-Esteem. An individual experiencing obsessive love disorder may lack a strong sense of self or even feel a deep sense of worthlessness. Because of this, they may have poor boundaries in relationships or may constantly look to find affirmation from the object of their love. They may want the person they love to fill the void and build them up because they may feel they cannot do it themselves, or do not know how to.
Often, obsessive love disorder may occur along with a mental illness. Here are some of the disorders which most often accompany obsessive love disorder:
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) may impact an individual with a pattern of repeated, intrusive thoughts and compulsive, often ritualistic behaviors. Common obsessions may include a 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 an individual’s obsessions and compulsions become centered around a person or a relationship, this can result in 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.
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 themselves or others and can impact the way they relate to others. Emotions are generally intense and, without help, may be difficult to manage. Moods may shift from one extreme to the other, often rapidly and for no apparent reason. Those with BPD have great difficulty in managing their emotions and moods, which may lead to destructive behaviors or self-harm.
If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts or behaviors, it’s important to seek help right away. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is free and confidential, and available for support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They can be reached by calling 1.800.273.TALK (8255).
Individuals with borderline personality disorder may have a weak sense of self and not really know who they are, which may result in them experiencing fear of abandonment and may 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.
As humans, we have a natural desire and need to love and be loved. However, those experiencing obsessive love disorder may have an altered perception of what love is and what makes a relationship healthy. Obsessive love is distinctly different from a healthy love relationship in that it is characterized by addictive qualities.
An individual living 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 at work because they spend most of their time obsessing over the person whom they are experiencing feelings of obsession for. 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 the individual they have obsessive feelings for or may even 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.
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 interest.
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 or possess the loved one.
Manipulating a partner by withholding things like food or money to keep them closer.
Dependence on the love interest.
Addiction to the loved one.
Constantly asking the loved one for affirmation and reassurance.
Codependency or difficulty setting boundaries.
Close monitoring of the loved one's whereabouts and activities.
Repeated phone calls and text messages to the love interest.
Stalking behaviors, 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 their love interest.
If you or someone you love exhibits any of these symptoms of obsessive love disorder, it may be beneficial to seek support from a licensed professional.
The difference between obsessive love and healthy or “real” love is that the former generally involves feelings of extreme infatuation that may lead to obsessive thoughts and behaviors. Delusional jealousy is often 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 typically not jealous or envious. Individuals experiencing real love may accept the other person as a unique individual and celebrates the person for who they are. Obsessive love, on the other hand, may be referred to as having more self-serving and manipulative behaviors. Obsessive love may involve shifting focus and actions toward achieving the end goal of having the object of affection return those feelings, often at any cost.
Helping Yourself Heal
If you feel you may be experiencing obsessive love disorder, it’s important to understand that you are not alone. With support it is possible to overcome the emotions you feel and the actions you pursue or consider pursuing. Here is a list of some things you can try to help overcome obsessive love disorder.
Avoid the object of your love. Obsessive behaviors may 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 may be best to avoid contact with them if possible. Like any addiction, the more you expose yourself to it, the greater the need may become. Separating yourself from anything that has to do with the person you feel the obsession for and purposefully shifting your focus to other things may help you learn to control your obsessive thoughts and behaviors regarding this individual.
Journaling. Keeping a journal may be an effective way to keep a record of your thoughts and behaviors so you can recognize a pattern. This may allow you to become 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 may also be helpful to analyze the feelings associated with your love by referring back to the journal. 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 do you idealize them?
Find a hobby. It may help to take up an activity that you have always wanted to try, such as surfing, playing the saxophone, or creating pottery. Hobbies often 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.
Seek the help of a professional. A licensed counselor or therapist may be able to help you work through these obsessive thoughts and behaviors and find healthy ways to cope. Although leaning on your friends and family is important, an unbiased professional with years of experience may be able to give you tools to help you build lasting, fulfilling relationships in the future.
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 may take place.
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 may be recommended.
Having obsessive love disorder does not mean that developing healthy love relationships is impossible. Seeking help is an important step that may help you learn how to effectively communicate with others and to address any personal issues that may have led to the feelings of obsession.
BetterHelp is an online therapy platform that can match you with a licensed therapist to best suit your needs. They can provide tools and guidance to help you overcome any mental health concerns or negative thought patterns you may be experiencing. You can easily access online therapy platforms from the comfort and convenience of your own home, or anywhere you have an internet connection, at an affordable price. Read below for some reviews of BetterHelp therapists, from people experiencing similar issues.
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Obsessive love disorder may seem difficult to manage; however it can be highly treatable. If you or a loved one want to seek help to resolve the underlying causes of the disorder, such as neglect or trauma, you may learn healthy 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 with BetterHelp today.