Falling in love is a fantastic feeling. For it gives you a companion to share your sorrows and joys. But what if that love becomes an obsession and starts to suffocate you? What if, out of the fear of losing you, your partner starts keeping tabs on you?
Sometimes, love can go to dangerous levels and become an obsession, and one such extreme condition is obsessive love disorder (OLD). If you suspect your partner has OLD or if you know someone who is in such a relationship, then this post might help you to identify the signs and know the ways to deal with it.
What Is Obsessive Love Disorder (OLD)?
Obsessive Love Disorder is a state of mind where a person becomes overly attached to their loved ones. They become insecure and develop anxiety over small issues, thus resulting in the urge to control and manipulate their partner. They may magnify small issues into large “calamities”. Such disorders do not stem overnight but might develop due to various reasons, such as childhood trauma or past abusive relationships.
OLD could exist along with other mental illnesses, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or borderline personality disorder. People with OLD may seem to be caring and loving individuals until those attributes become unbearable. Read on to find out the signs of OLD.
What Could Be The Signs Of OLD?
It may be challenging to spot OLD early, as people with this disorder would be affectionate and protective. They will be there for you every time, and will also make you feel like the most important person in the world. But soon, all emotions are experienced in extremes, which becomes detrimental for the relationship. Here are a few signs, which indicate that their love and attention is actually an unhealthy obsession.
It is ok if your beloved is sometimes jealous when you talk to your beautiful colleague or your handsome gym coach. But a person with OLD would have extreme jealousy. They would get anxious and paranoid if they spot you engaging in a casual conversation, even with your mailman or a passerby. They would be extremely jealous of anything that takes time and attention away from them, or anything that they feel has the potential to take time and attention away from them.
2. Unhealthy addiction
Poets describe love as a drug, but people with OLD would show it practically. They are so addicted to their loved ones that they cannot do anything without them. They will constantly call and beg them not to leave. In some extreme cases, they might even lock-up people out of fear of losing them. They will show patterns of addiction, namely feel buoyed and ecstatic when in the presence of their loved one, and “crash” or show extreme stress and depression when they are apart.
3. Need for control
People with OLD would want things to go their way. Also, they would not want their loved ones to think on their own due to the fear that they would leave. If your loved one has OLD, then they would want you to sit, stand and eat as they please. They would want to run your life according to their terms. Their demands will become, over time, more detailed and rigid. Demands, over time, will feel more controlling and unreasonable.
One of the characteristics of OLD is low self-esteem. Though these people pretend to be invincible and capable of doing anything, deep down, they would be extremely insecure. They will be in constant fear that their partner will leave them. They would also try to dominate and demean their partners to exert their superiority. They may sabotage or undermine their partner’s achievements as these would be threatening to their already low self-esteem.
If your beloved behaves as if they own you, then they could be having OLD. They act as if you cannot have a life sans their presence. They also want to know too much about your life, be it present or past. They dig into your social media accounts and ask you questions about your long lost ex. They may even call you often to know every minute detail about your life, while some might resort to stalking.
6. Too quick to commit
A person who is obsessed with you would be eager to jump into commitment. Before you could realize, you will find them making plans to move in with you. They would also be overbearing and excessively involved with your life. A person with OLD will do everything to please you, so that you commit to them. They may seem “too good to be true”.
If you find any of the above signs in the person you are dating, then take a step back and evaluate before it becomes too late.
Other signs of OLD include:
- Inability to take rejection
- Repeated calling and texting
- Threats of self-harm
- Stalking or following
- Showing up unannounced
- Difficulty in maintaining jobs or relationships
So, why does someone develop OLD? Let’s look into the various causes.
What Might Cause Obsessive Love Disorder?
While it is not clear why some people might develop OLD, here are some likely causes.
1. Childhood trauma
People subjected to neglect by their parents or a primary caretaker might develop a personality to cling to their loved ones. (1). They always live in fear that they are not good enough and that people they love would abandon them. Children who were subjected to neglect may grow up to develop attachment disorders like disinhibited social engagement disorder (DSED) and reactive attachment disorder (RAD), which could lead to OLD.
2. Ambivalent attachment style
When a person has an ambivalent attachment style, they are said to have unstable behavior and emotions; they tend to be too dependent and are in constant fear of being left out by their loved ones. Often they have anxiety issues.
3. Failed relationships
Sometimes, failed past relationships can cause a person to develop obsessional jealousy, which is a fear of perceived infidelity. It means that they live with the constant fear of their partner cheating on them. It can lead to a fixation towards their loved one’s life.
4. Mental disorders
Studies suggest that OLD could be an additional dimension of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). People with OCD and OLD tend to display similar levels of distress, resistance, attempts, and degree of control towards the subject (person or thing) of their obsession. Therefore, OCD could lead to OLD (2).
People suffering from erotomania might also exhibit characteristics of OLD (3). Erotomania is a psychological disorder where a person will be under the delusion that they are in love with someone famous and well-known. This might result in obsession over that celebrity and lead to stalking and harassment.
Delusional jealousy is a psychological disorder that develops when a person does not get back the love they are giving. They keep obsessing over that person and try to stalk and torture them into loving. When they do not get enough attention from their beloved, these people turn toxic. This could also be an underlying cause for OLD.
If you have a hunch that your loved one might be suffering from an OLD, then it is best to get them diagnosed by a psychiatrist.
How OLD Is Diagnosed?
An experienced psychiatrist diagnoses obsessive love disorder by a series of tests and interviews. The doctor would ask the patient a series of questions regarding their past life and childhood. Then, they might also conduct experiments to determine if the patient has the psychological disorder.
How OLD Is Treated?
Based on the underlying cause for developing obsessive love disorder, the doctor might prescribe medications and psychotherapy.
These medications work to alter the chemicals in the brain that might help in reducing the symptoms. However, the medicines can cause an array of side effects, such as loss of appetite, dry mouth, fatigue, insomnia, weight gain, and sometimes worse. Thus, doctors usually recommend medications only if the patient is exhibiting extreme violence or suicidal tendencies.
A safer approach to treat OLD is psychotherapy. In this, the doctor would train the patient’s mind to deal with their negative and unhealthy emotions. Some of the aspects of the treatment include:
- Cutting all contacts with the thing or person they are obsessed with.
- Helping the patient practice mindfulness and try to get them occupied with other things that might make them think less about their obsession.
- Try and find a hobby that might interest them. This might help develop self-confidence and also make the patient less violent. This can also provide a distraction from the invasive obsessional thoughts.
- Counseling sessions to help them talk about their fears and anxieties and to teach them strategies to cope with the anxiety and obsessive tendencies.
Timely diagnosis and treatment of obsessive love disorder can help minimize the adverse effects of OLD. If you are in a relationship with a person who shows any of the above signs, then take them to a professional. Untreated psychological illnesses, such as OLD, can pose a threat to the patient and also to the people around them.
2. Guy Doron, et al; Relationship Obsessive–Compulsive Disorder: Interference, Symptoms, and Maladaptive Beliefs; Frontiers in Psychiatry
3. Hayak S Arakelyan; Love Syndrome-Erotomania; Academia