Obsessive love disorder (OLD) is a condition in which an individual becomes overly involved and preoccupied with another person, often to the point where it interferes with their daily life and mental well-being. This level of infatuation goes beyond typical romantic love; the obsession can be so intense that it feels impossible to focus on anything else. Although the term is not officially recognized in medical manuals, many mental health professionals acknowledge the existence of this condition.
Obsessive love disorder (OLD) manifests as an all-consuming preoccupation with someone, involving intense emotions and persistent thoughts centered around that person. This fixation goes beyond normal romantic feelings and can severely disrupt daily life and well-being.
Unresolved attachment issues, past traumas, or a history of unstable relationships are recognized as potential causes that contribute to the development of OLD.
Symptoms of OLD commonly involve extreme jealousy, possessiveness, manipulation, and an inability to focus on other important aspects of their lives. These symptoms can impair overall functioning and relationships.
Diagnosing obsessive love disorder involves psychological evaluations and the assessment of symptoms that overlap with recognized mental health conditions.
Treatment options for OLD include therapy, medication, self-help strategies, setting boundaries, and support from mental health professionals
In this article, we will explore what OLD is, its causes and symptoms, and ways to address and manage this overpowering attachment.
What is obsessive love disorder?
Obsessive love disorder (OLD) is a term used to describe a condition where a person's romantic feelings for someone else escalate into an unhealthy obsession. This fixation can be so intense that it consumes their thoughts, emotions, and daily lives.
There is a considerable difference between OLD and healthy romantic love. A cornerstone of healthy love is built upon a deep sense of respect for one another, where both partners value and honor each other's perspectives, boundaries, and individuality. In contrast, OLD is characterized by an overpowering need for control and possessiveness, persistent thoughts about the other person, and a fear of rejection.
Identifying the causes
Here are five potential factors that can contribute to the development of OLD.
- Attachment issues. People with OLD may have attachment issues stemming from childhood. Insecure or disorganized attachment styles can contribute to the development of an obsessive pattern in relationships.
- Mental health disorders. OLD can often be associated with other psychological disorders, such as borderline personality disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), or depressive conditions. These comorbidities have the potential to amplify or even initiate the obsessive tendencies experienced by individuals with OLD.
- Past traumas. People who have experienced traumas such as abandonment, abuse, or significant loss may develop OLD as a way of coping with life.
- Low self-esteem. People with low self-esteem sometimes seek validation through relationships. When they attach themselves to someone, they can do so obsessively to fill a void in their emotions.
- Neurochemical imbalance. Biological factors such as an imbalance in serotonin levels are linked to obsessive behavior.
Recognizing the symptoms
Recognizing the symptoms of obsessive love disorder can help in its early diagnosis and treatment. These symptoms often interfere with the person’s daily functioning and can include the following:
- Overwhelming attraction. A person with OLD may feel an intense attraction towards the person they are obsessed with, often to the point where it consumes most of their thoughts and feelings.
- Control and manipulation. There can be an extreme need to control and manipulate the person they are obsessed with, including their social interactions and personal activities.
- Intrusive thoughts. People with OLD often struggle to control persistent and intrusive thoughts about the person of their obsession, leading to difficulties in concentrating on other tasks.
Extreme jealousy. They might feel excessive jealousy, even in the absence of a real threat, and may perceive any attention their love interest receives as a potential danger to their relationship.
- Emotional turbulence. There is often an emotional roller coaster, with highs when the person of their obsession reciprocates attention and devastating lows when they show disinterest.
- Difficulty in maintaining relationships. People with OLD may struggle to maintain other relationships as their obsession takes priority over everything else.
- Fear of rejection. There can be an intense fear of rejection or abandonment, leading to anxiety or depression.
Diagnosis and treatment options
Diagnosing obsessive love disorder is a complex process that involves comprehensive psychological evaluations to identify obsessive patterns of behavior and thoughts. Although not officially recognized as a distinct disorder, symptoms overlap with those of other recognized conditions. For this reason, it is important to get a professional's opinion.
Cognitive behavioral therapy is an effective treatment because it is aimed at changing thought patterns and managing emotional distress. In some cases, medication may be recommended by a qualified healthcare provider. It is important to consult with a licensed healthcare professional, such as a psychiatrist or a prescribing psychologist, who can assess the situation and determine if medication is appropriate.
Tips to deal with obsessive love disorder
When dealing with obsessive emotions, it is important to begin with acceptance. Recognize and acknowledge that the emotions you are experiencing are ruining your life. Accepting this reality is the first step towards transformation and finding healthier ways to cope.
Journaling can be an effective tool to help you deal with the overwhelming power of obsession. Writing down your feelings allows you to identify and better understand the emotions that are taking over. It is like holding a mirror up to yourself, giving you a clearer picture of what is going on inside.
Next, be conscious of the thoughts and behaviors that these emotions are driving. This is the essence of cognitive behavioral therapy, a strategy used by therapists to help us see the link between our thoughts, emotions, and actions.
After recognizing these emotions and their impacts, you need to find a way to refocus your energy. Picking up a challenging activity, like mastering a new skill or engaging in a high-intensity workout, can provide a healthy and constructive diversion.
Physical activity serves a dual purpose. It not only bolsters us physically, but also aids our psychological well-being. The flood of endorphins we experience during intense exercise acts as a natural stress reliever.
Finally, mindfulness techniques and meditation can be very beneficial for managing the intensity of your feelings. By focusing on the present moment, mindfulness enables you to observe your emotions without judgment.
How to manage obsessive love directed at you
When someone you care about has obsessive love disorder and their obsession is directed towards you, it can be a particularly delicate and stressful situation to deal with. Here are some steps you can take to minimize the harm caused:
- Recognize the signs. First, be sure that what you're witnessing are signs of OLD and not just being overly affectionate. If they are excessively jealous or possessive, or if their life seems to revolve entirely around you, these could be red flags.
- Set boundaries. Establishing clear boundaries is a must. Be direct and assertive about what kind of behavior you find acceptable and what makes you uncomfortable. Be firm but compassionate in how you convey this.
- Encourage them to seek help. Often, someone with OLD may be in denial of the issue. Encourage them to see a psychologist. Express that it's not only for their own well-being, but that you care deeply about them and that you feel that their behavior is damaging the relationship.
- Maintain your own support system. Having a friend or loved one with OLD directed towards you can be emotionally draining and stressful. Try to find a person you can confide in so that you can let off steam.
- Educate yourself. Study the symptoms of OLD to better understand what they are going through. This can make you more empathetic and help you make positive decisions about how to handle the situation.
- Reevaluate the relationship. If setting boundaries and encouraging them to get help does not lead to changes, or if their behavior becomes threatening, it will be necessary to reevaluate the relationship. Sometimes, for your own mental and emotional well-being, distancing yourself may be the best course of action.
Remember, while it's important to be supportive, it's equally important to protect your own mental and emotional health. If you feel threatened or that your well-being is at risk, don't hesitate to seek help or advice from a mental health professional or authority.
- Procedia- Social and Behavioural Sciences. Prevalence of Obsessive Love and its association with attachment styles.
- Psychiatria Danubina. Obsessive versus delusional jealousy.