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As humans, we are hardwired to love. We develop a fundamental need and desire to be nurtured and loved from infancy. This desire is further espoused by the countless books, movies, sonnets, and plays depicting the glories of love and the decry of heartbreak it leads to. While these works mainly romanticise love, this is only one side of the picture. The reality is that love is not always healthy; it can sometimes become an ailment, perpetuating obsessive love disorder(OLD).

Fortunately, many resources, including helplines, temporary housing, and rehabilitation services, are available for such people to fight this rare psychiatric issue. This article will explore OLD in detail, primarily focusing on its symptoms, causes, and management.

As humans, we have a natural desire to love and be loved. However, those with an obsessive love disorder usually develop an altered perception of love and the concept of a healthy relationship. What they experience is obsessive love which is markedly different from healthy love due to its addictive qualities.

Individuals with obsessive love disorder may obsessively think about their object of attraction and often initiate behaviours that create multiple opportunities for excessive contact with them. Such people have difficulty performing at work or school since they spend most of their time obsessing over their love interests. It is also not uncommon for a person with OLD to become isolated from others and solely focus on their target of obsession.

In extreme cases, a person with OLD may use manipulative measures to control the other person psychologically or have them comply with their demands. They may stalk their partners and sometimes use violence to gain a sense of control over them. Disregarding boundaries and experiencing angry outbursts when they realise that their love is not reciprocated are also common in this disorder.

Some other common symptoms indicating an underlying obsessive love disorder include the following:

  • Obsessively thinking about the object of affection to the extent that impairs their ability to focus on anything else
  • Neglecting other daily duties, hobbies, and personal chores
  • Compromising relationships with other family members and friends to pay more attention to the object of obsession
  • Experiencing a territorial desire to possess or protect the loved one
  • A willingness to go out of the comfort zone to be in contact with the object of affection
  • Addiction to a loved one or dependence on them
  • Extreme or delusional jealousy
  • Constantly asking for reassurance or affirmation from the loved one
  • Codependency
  • Facing difficulty setting boundaries
  • Stalking behaviours, either in real life or through social media
  • Closely monitoring the loved one’s daily activities and whereabouts

If you or someone you know exhibits any of the symptoms described above, seeking support from a licensed professional may be beneficial.

The obsessive-compulsive disorder mostly arises from an already existing mental health illness. Sometimes, it is also due to childhood trauma, such as neglect or abuse. Let’s look at some of the main causes of OLD:

Neglect

Childhood neglect can negatively affect the ability of an individual to form healthy attachments in adulthood. It may create anxiousness, possessiveness, and insecurity around relationships, which only worsens the symptoms of obsessive love disorder.

Abuse

Past emotional or physical abuse can generate long-term feelings of pain and emptiness. To cope with these symptoms, some people eventually fall victim to OLD.

Low Self-Esteem

A persistent lack of self-worth or a solid sense of self may blur the boundaries to feel loved, leading to obsessive love disorder.

Borderline Personality Disorder. 

This psychiatric illness affects how someone thinks and feel about others and themselves. It may trigger problems related to daily functioning and cause issues related to self-image, making emotional management much harder. Many people with borderline personality disorder suffer from an intense fear of instability or abandonment, which only perpetuates OLD.

Erotomania

As a rare delusional disorder, erotomania causes a person to believe a particular individual is their destiny. This obsessive love intensifies the delusions of a healthy or non-existent relationship the victim seems to be living.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

People suffering from OCD sometimes develop a condition known as relationship OCD. A relationship OCD includes obsessive behaviours and thoughts towards an ongoing relationship that eventually allows them to establish obsessive love disorder eventually.

Obsessional Jealousy

Obsessional jealousy refers to a fixation on the idea that your partner might be betraying you in some way. This concern can lead to persistent compulsive behaviours closely mimicking those seen in OCD. Some examples of these behaviours include constantly monitoring where your partner is all the time or checking on them to see what they are doing.

Delusional Jealousy

Delusional jealousy involves believing in false events or facts. For example, someone with this issue may falsely accuse their partner of being engaged in something even though they provide sufficient evidence to prove them wrong. Sometimes, people with delusional jealousy may also believe their partner is equally in love with them even if the partner has clearly denied it.

Attachment Disorders

People with a reactive or insecure attachment style may feel overwhelmed by the mere thought of losing a loved one. They may struggle to cope outside of the relationship and are willing to go to any lengths to keep their partners by their side. Due to this persistent fear of loss, some people become abusive in an attempt to keep their relationship going. Others may become victims of an abusive relationship and cannot get out.

If you feel you might be experiencing obsessive love disorder, know that you are not alone and that treatment for this issue exists. With the right kind of support from wellness professionals, overcoming the emotions you feel and the actions you take are possible. Here is a list of things you can try to overcome OLD and any other related health conditions:

Avoid the subject of your love

Obsessive behaviours will likely worsen if you do not stop or manage them in time. So if you are in an obsessive relationship and your partner does not wish to pursue it, it might be best to avoid any contact with them if possible. OLD is just like an addiction; the more you expose yourself to it, the greater the obsession may become. Separating yourself from your partner and anything that has to do with them and purposefully shifting your attention to other things can help you control the obsessive symptoms.

Start journaling

Start maintaining a journal to keep a record of your behaviours and thoughts. Doing so daily can help you recognise any patterns in your emotions and become more aware of what triggers your obsession and how you manifest this obsession in real life. Some pointers to record in your journal include:

  • Do your symptoms intensify when you are feeling lonely or rejected?
  • Do you wish for the best interests of your loved one, or do you want to control them?
  • Do you love them for who you are, or do you idealise them?

Find a new hobby

Taking up a new activity you have always been interested in is another way of shifting your attention from the object of your obsession. This new hobby can be anything like surfing, creating pottery, or playing the saxophone. Hobbies can consume a lot of attention and energy you may otherwise be putting into your loved one. Additionally, you also get to enjoy increased self-esteem and confidence as you acquire a new skill.

Seek help from a professional

A licensed therapist or counsellor can help you work on your obsessive behaviours and thoughts and develop healthier ways to cope with them. While leaning on family and friends for support is equally essential, working with an unbiased professional with decades of experience is an invaluable service that can equip you with the right tools to build fulfilling relationships in the future.

Because OLD is almost always secondary to a mental health illness, its treatment largely depends on the underlying issue triggering it. In general, professionals may combine medication and psychotherapeutic elements to make a recovery possible for such individuals.

Therapy

Therapy is one of the most important and beneficial tools to manage all types of OLD, regardless of what’s causing it. Sometimes, a therapist may involve family members, friends, or other loved ones to attend these therapy sessions. This family therapy is particularly indicated in situations where the disorder has prevailed since childhood. On the contrary, if the relationship in question is abusive, individual therapy is usually the best way.

Some different types of therapy options to manage obsessive love disorder symptoms include:

  • Cognitive behavioural therapy
  • Talk therapy
  • Dialectical behavioural therapy

Medications

Sometimes, a doctor may recommend certain medications to control the signs of obsessive love in a better way. Some commonly used drugs for this purpose are listed below: 

  • Anti-anxiety medication
  • Mood stabilisers
  • Antidepressants
  • Antipsychotics

It may take several weeks for these medications to kick in. Moreover, finding a suitable medication may involve closely working with a doctor and undergoing trial and error before finding the best medicine.

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