Obsessive love is a hypothetical state in which one person feels an overwhelming obsessive desire to possess another person toward whom they feel a strong attraction, with an inability to accept failure or rejection. Although not categorized specifically under any specific mental diagnosis by the DSM V, some people argue that obsessive love is considered to be a mental illness similar to attachment disorder, borderline personality disorder, and erotomania. Obsessive lovers may feel entirely unable to restrain themselves from extreme behaviors such as acts of violence toward themselves. They may be entirely convinced that their feelings are love, and may reject the idea that their severe obsession is not love.Obsessive love has been frequently used and/or exaggerated in mass media, often with a woman having such affections for a man in either a comical or terrifying fashion. (wikipedia)
Are you falling in love… or are you obsessed, driven by a kind of addiction? Both, according to Dr. Helen Fisher, author of Why Him? Why Her?: How to Find and Keep Lasting Love and Chief Scientific Advisor for Chemistry.com. Is that a problem? Maybe, maybe not.
“Love is an addiction,” Fisher contends. “If you aren’t addicted to someone, you are probably not in love. The brain region that lights up when you are in love is the reward system, the brain system associated with wanting, seeking, craving, elation, focused attention, obsession, motivation and possessiveness. These are the same brain pathways that become active when you feel the rush of cocaine.”
When we fall in love, a “tiny factory” at the base of the brain called the ventral tegmental area (or VTA) kicks in and begins to produce dopamine, a natural stimulant that gives you the feeling of motivation, craving, obsession and other feelings generally associated with addiction. “Suddenly, that person is the center of your life,” Fisher explains. “Everything about your beloved is special. This person’s car, the street he or she lives on — all of these take on a special quality. You feel intense energy, mood swings into despair when things are going poorly, elation when things are going well. You crave contact and are highly motivated to win this person over. You’ll distort reality. If he or she smiles at you, you decide that means this person likes you.”
None of this is inherently a problem. Falling in love is generally considered one of life’s most pleasant and exciting experiences. “Love addiction is a very natural state of being in love with someone,” says Fisher, who goes on to explain that there are three distinct and separate brain responses associated with relationships: lust, romantic love and attachment. While lust can be triggered by any number of stimuli — a book, a movie, a person — romantic love is focused on a particular person. According to Fisher, the experiences of lust, romantic love and attachment “very often go together, but they are distinctly different.”
But if love is “a very natural state,” how can we know if we’re on the right course or we’re getting ourselves into trouble, i.e., into the territory we normally associate with the troublesome idea of addiction? The answer lies in how this obsession plays itself out. “The point is,” says Fisher, “if someone loves you back, no problem. The two of you are off having the time of your lives. The addiction becomes unhealthy when the other person doesn’t love you back.”
CONFUSING LOVE WITH OBSESSION
The Difference Between Healthy and Obsessive Love
The infatuation stage of romantic love usually occurs in the early months in a healthy love relationship. It can involve persistent thoughts of the love object and wanting to spend every moment with that person. A healthy love relationship usually evolves over time such that it no longer involves the near desperate intensity and fervor of infatuation. Healthy love tends to mature over the years to include commitment, friendship, and a solid respect for the other person as an individual and of their needs. Healthy relationships allow both people to feel loved, cared for, and respected and allow for each person’s individuality and pursuit of their own professional lives, recreational activities, and friendships outside of the love relationship.
Unfortunately, obsessive love has been romanticized in literature for centuries, as well as by the media, once the media came into existence. From the mutual suicides of Romeo and Juliet to even many of the most recent romantic movies, being obsessed with the object of one’s love is often held up as something to aspire to rather than having the potentially devastating aftermath of the behaviors when the movies fade to black.
The difference between healthy and obsessive love is that with the latter, those feelings of infatuation become extreme, expanding to the point of becoming obsessions. Obsessive love and jealousy that is delusional is a symptom of mental-health problems and is a symptom that occurs in about 0.1% of adults. Individuals who suffer from delusional jealousy often interpret minor experiences like a coworker saying hello to their spouse or romantic partner looking at a passerby as positive proof that their loved one is being unfaithful. Male alcoholics have been found to be particularly vulnerable to developing delusional jealousy. Females are more likely to develop obsessive love toward people they know rather than toward a stranger. The objects of love for women who love obsessively are often people who have been in the role of helper in their lives. In the uncommon instances that obsessive love involves violence, men and women seem to be perpetrators of such violence at equal rates. Risk factors for developing obsessive love include a lack of full-time employment as well as having family members who have psychiatric problems, particularly a delusional disorder.
Understanding how sex and love addicts define the problem themselves can help you distinguish a healthy love addiction from the not-so-healthy kind and identify the different types of love addicts. The Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous web site describes sex and love addiction as a “progressive illness, which may take several forms — including, but not limited to a compulsive need for sex, extreme dependency on one or many people, or a chronic preoccupation with romance, intrigue, or fantasy.”
LSAA literature generally categorizes love addicts into the following types:
- Codependent Love Addicts — These are people attached to one particular partner and unwilling to let go, even when the relationship is destructive. Codependent love addicts’ behavior is often characterized by caretaking, enabling and rescuing.
- Relationship Addicts — Those who are no longer in love with their partners but still refuse to let go.
- Narcissistic Love Addicts — These people use dominance, seduction and withholding to control their partners. Often they appear aloof and uncaring until the other person threatens to leave.
- Ambivalent Love Addicts — Those who desperately crave love but fear intimacy.
- Torch Bearers — People who obsess about someone who is unavailable.
- Saboteurs — Those who destroy relationships before they can reach the attachment phase.
- Romance Addicts — People who tend to have a number of short-lived liaisons because they crave the excitement they feel during the initial courtship phase.
What are the signs of obsessive love?
Aside from delusional jealousy, obsessive love can be differentiated from a healthy love relationship by having addictive qualities. For example, the person who suffers from obsessive love tends to want to spend excessive time with their love object, such that they think excessively about and engage in behaviors that put them in touch with their love object to an extreme degree. They may limit how much they engage in recreational activities or other social relationships, even becoming incapacitated to the point of being unable to work. A person who obsessively loves may engage in tools of psychological control, or other forms of control, in an effort to keep their love object close. Examples of that include controlling money or food and in extreme cases, stalking or using violence. The individual who is obsessively in love, as well as the object of that love, may be dependent and codependent on each other, respectively. The person who loves obsessively may behave as if addicted to their love object. In turn, the object of obsessive love may have difficulty setting clear limits and boundaries on the obsessive behaviors.
Susan Cheever, author of Desire: Where Sex Meets Addiction, offers another clue about heading down the wrong path: broken promises. “One primary characteristic of addiction is always a broken promise, whether it’s a promise made to oneself or to another person. Addicts are people who promised not to do something again and again and inevitably find they have done it anyway. The most recognized symptom of addiction is that it causes us to do things we wish we didn’t do,” says Cheever.
Fisher points to other signs of unhealthy love, noting that people with a pattern of short-lived relationships may be experiencing the dark side of obsession rather than love. “The moment the intense romantic high wears off, they dump that person to go get that high with someone else, looking for that intense romantic experience. These people can’t be comfortable in the attachment stage of a relationship,” says Fisher. Or, at the other end of the spectrum, extreme possessiveness: “Once you’re stalking someone, the addiction’s gone over the edge,” warns Fisher.
What causes obsessive love?
The process that mental-health professionals engage in to assess obsessive love includes evaluating the person to ensure that mental disorders that may present with this symptom are considered and treated if present. Examples of some such disorders include schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, delusional disorder, or organic (caused by a medical condition) brain syndrome. Warning signs that someone is suffering from obsessive love may include the following:
- Low self-esteem/a tendency of needing excessive reassurance
- Obsessively talking about their loved object
- Making repeated calls, texts, and/or faxes to the love object
- Unwanted intensive attention to the love object
- A tendency to have extremely good or bad (not balanced) feelings about someone
- A tendency to focus on only the positive or the negative aspects of their loved one
- Trouble focusing on work, recreation, socializing, or other aspects of their lives outside of the object of their affection
- Attempts to monitor or otherwise control their love object’s life and activities
- Excessive joy, to the point of relief, when able to get in touch with or be with their love object
How is obsessive love treated?
Treating obsessive love often involves psychotherapy for the sufferer and for their love object, particularly if the two people are currently in a relationship with each other. Counseling can help and may involve helping both people visualize their relationship in a healthier manner, as well as using affirmations and other techniques to enhance their self-esteem. If the individual with obsessive love has begun to manifest threatening or otherwise dangerous behaviors, then legal interventions like involving the police and implementing restraining orders may be necessary.
An example of Obsessive love in real life
New York legend: The crime of passion and subsequent marriage was documented in 2007’s ‘Crazy Love’
24 January 2013, Linda Pugach, whose whirlwind ‘fairy tale romance’ with Burt Pugach became the subject of the 2007 documentary ‘Crazy Love,’ died at the age of 75 in Queens, New York.
Delving deeper into the dimmest parts of the human psyche, Crazy Love, which criminally understates the nature of the relationship between Burt Pugach and the late Linda Riss, a fantastically dysfunctional New York couple, whose relationship has spanned a 50-60 year period. It starts with their affair (Burt was married when he first met Linda) in 1959 and begins a gruesome trajectory when the beautiful Linda is permanently disfigured by lye in 1960, after thugs hired by a jealous Burt attack her in her home. This, however, does not spell the end to their twisted liaison, when the seemingly unthinkable happens in 1974.