The desire to protect and care for someone you love is natural, but what happens when your feelings become an obsession?
Loving someone usually means you want the best for them. You want them to be happy, to be successful, and to live a joyful existence.
With obsessive love disorder, the desire to see your loved one blossom into something else – a fixation on protecting or even controlling them.
That feeling of love turns into an obsession, and sometimes you start to see the person you love more as an object you own than an independent human being.
Although obsessive love disorder is not an official diagnosis, what you are going through is real and has the potential to impact your relationships.
“Obsessive love disorder explains a condition when a person becomes very attached to another person they are in love with,” explains psychiatrist Amelia Alvin of the Mango Clinic in Florida.
She notes, “In obsessive love disorder, people take their protective nature to the extreme and begin to control the person they love. This can cause dysfunctional relationships. It is not classified as a mental or physical disorder, but is just a condition. Obsessive Love Disorder has symptoms like any other human behavior.
These symptoms can include:
- possessive thoughts
- low self-esteem
- a need for constant contact, such as repeated phone calls and messages
- feelings of intense jealousy
- control behavior
- a feeling of disbelief in the relationship
- extreme emotional manifestations
- ignore the personal limits of those close to them
- constant search for validation
Obsessive love disorder can mean that you are ignoring the privacy and feelings of your loved one. You might feel that your need to protect them outweighs their interests and comments.
No formal cause of obsessive love disorder has been identified, although it is often closely linked to other mental health issues.
“Obsessive love disorder is not recognized as a disease in itself, but it can give rise to multiple mental disorders,” says Alvin. “Being obsessed with a loved one is a sign of a disturbed mental state that can leave someone depressed. “
Although obsessive love disorder can occur alongside many conditions, it is commonly seen with:
Aniko Dunn, PsyD, of the EZCare Clinic in San Francisco, says, “Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a combination of uncontrolled thinking and compulsive behavior. These are harsh enough to disrupt your daily life. OCD can also cause you to need constant reassurance, which can affect your relationship.
Symptoms of anxiety and obsession with OCD can sometimes focus on a relationship, presenting as obsessive love disorder.
According to Dunn, unlike obsessive jealousy, which focuses on the possibility of someone being unfaithful, delusional jealousy involves persistent or false beliefs.
For example, a person with delusional jealousy may say, “I know you were with a friend after work today,” even though their partner has already indicated that they are at the laundromat.
People who have delusional jealousy may also believe that the person they are focusing on has the same feelings of attraction, even if they have made it clear that they do not.
“People with an insecure or active attachment style may feel frustrated for fear of losing a loved one,” says Dunn.
Living with an attachment disorder such as Uninhibited Social Engagement Disorder (DSED) or Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) can make you feel unable to cope without a relationship.
You may feel ready to do whatever it takes to keep your partner by your side.
“Because of the ongoing fear of loss, unprotected attachments often keep people attached to abusive relationships,” Dunn points out. “In some cases, this can result in abusive behavior from someone trying to maintain a relationship.”
Erotomania and delusional disorders
Obsessive love disorder behaviors can go hand in hand with erotomania, a mental health issue in which you experience delusional beliefs about being loved by another person.
In most cases, the subject of your fixation is from a higher social status, such as a celebrity or well-known social media personality.
Other mental health problems, such as schizophrenia, can present with symptoms of delusion. Because there are no rules for altered reality, these symptoms can be targeted at your relationships.
How BPD is linked to obsessive love disorder has to do with the effect that mood swings can have on your feelings towards a relationship.
With BPD, you can feel extremely happy one time and extremely disgusted the next, and those feelings can be directed at someone you love.
“People who have experienced a great trauma sometimes tend to overreact,” says Dunn. “For example, after losing a loved one in a car accident, someone may live in fear of losing their current partner.”
“Therefore, these worries can promote unhealthy habits like texting every time their loved one is on a trip or in the vehicle,” she adds.
However, PTSD does not need to be present for a person with a history of trauma to suffer from obsessive love disorder.
Sometimes the fear of abandonment brought on by past experiences is enough to create signs of obsessive love disorder.
“The only connection between narcissism and obsessive love disorder is ‘obsession’,” says Alvin. “The two conditions share the same level of love, praise, obsession and [intensity]. The difference lies in the subject towards which the emotions are concerned.
Living with obsessive love disorder means that someone else is the target of your intense feelings of protection and possession. Your fixation is on the other person.
With narcissism, you focus on yourself. You may need praise from others, seek validation, or have an exaggerated sense of ego.
If you live with narcissistic tendencies, you might be drawn to someone with traits of obsessive love disorder because they give them constant attention.
Which treatment plan is best for you will depend on many factors, including the underlying mental health issues.
If you feel that your thoughts about a loved one are taking over your daily life, or someone has expressed extreme concern about your condition, a mental health professional can help.
Talk to a mental health professional about the best treatment for your particular situation. They may suggest one or more of the following:
Because obsessive love disorder is not a diagnosis in and of itself, the combination of treatments that work for you may be different than the combination that works for someone else.
Feeling intense emotions towards someone you love doesn’t mean that you don’t really like them or that you are deliberately hurtful.
Obsessive love disorder often coincides with other mental health issues. You may have experienced trauma before or you may be living with a mental health issue that manifests in other areas of your life as well.
Obsessive love disorder can strain relationships. This can make your loved one feel disabled or manipulated, even if it is not your intention.
You can help manage the behaviors and thoughts of obsessive love disorder with professional treatment, but self-care can also be part of your plan.
The following resources can help you: