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Understanding Obsessive Love Disorder: Causes and Treatments

African couple sitting on sofa at home smiling having conversation

There’s a reason most songs on the radio are about love. From rom-coms to dating app culture to the craze for Valentine’s Day, love is everywhere. It’s a traditional, expected part of life. But, sometimes, it goes too far. While pop culture may romanticize obsessive love, it doesn’t always equate to a healthy relationship in real life. 

Wanting to protect someone you love is natural. But if your fixation on love has driven you to feel a desperate need to control your loved one, you may be experiencing obsessive love disorder. 

What Is Obsessive Love Disorder?

Obsessive love disorder is a psychological condition where you become obsessed with the person you love or the idea of love itself. It compels you to have extreme thoughts and behaviors toward the person you’re infatuated with. You start to view your loved one as a possession more than a human being. 

It’s an intimacy disorder, which refers to an inability to properly form connections, typically stemming from trauma. Intimacy is a natural closeness that builds between people in a relationship. It reflects trust, emotional vulnerability, and mutual acceptance. Intimacy makes people feel seen and understood by others.

When you’re afraid to get too close to others, it creates barriers in your relationships. While the disorder may seem like an opposing issue, it involves similar symptoms and causes. 

Rooted in a fear of rejection or abandonment, intimacy disorders cause you to feel a block in how you interact with others. You don’t know how to reconcile your feelings, so you act out of fear of losing the person. 

Obsessive love disorder is characterized by extreme jealousy, overprotectiveness, and an inability to accept rejection. 

What Causes Obsessive Love Disorder?

Obsessive love disorder develops from an attachment disorder, which is a term to describe the struggle or inability to form and maintain relationships. Typically developing in childhood, attachment disorders are often a reflection of interaction with initial caregivers such as a parent or primary caregiver. If you’re unable to have a consistent emotional or physical connection with your caregiver, you may struggle with relationships later in life.

Learning to form healthy relationships requires a positive model. If you grew up in a household watching loving, supportive relationships, you’re likely to mimic that behavior. Feeling safe and secure in relationships is called having a “secure attachment style.” But in living situations with turbulence, inconsistency, and neglect, you’ll likely carry that behavior into adulthood. 

Children require love, nurturing, and care to thrive. When there’s a disconnect between the child and their caregiver, it can lead to attachment troubles. The bond between child and caregiver typically establishes between the first six to 12 months after birth. If the child isn’t receiving proper care and attention, it can lead to behavioral issues as they age. 

Insecure attachment styles stem from a lack of bond between a primary caregiver and an infant. It creates uncertainty and instability that affects how you form connections, not just as a young adult, but throughout your life 

Similar to love addiction, obsessive love disorder causes your self-esteem to feel dependent on your partner providing the fulfillment you crave. 

Everyone needs to connect and be understood by others. When a caregiver intentionally doesn’t or can’t fulfill that need, it causes an “attachment wound.”

Examples of attachment wounds include:

  • Neglect
  • Physical, emotional, or sexual abuse
  • Unstable living conditions
  • Witnessing addiction
  • Witnessing domestic violence
  • Divorced parents
  • Witnessing mental health issues
  • Loss in the family
  • A caregiver experiencing chronic illness
  • Postpartum issues
  • Lack of affection 

Obsessive love disorder can overlap with other mental health concerns. It’s commonly associated with:  

  • Borderline Personality Disorder. BPD is a mental illness that severely hinders your ability to manage emotions. Intense mood swings, low self-esteem, and unstable relationships with friends and family characterize it. You may feel intense, contrasting emotions from one moment to the next, and it affects your feelings toward your relationship and how you treat your partner. 
  • Erotomania. This is a paranoia disorder where you falsely believe that someone else is in love with you. It can be a person you know in real life, but more often, it’s a celebrity or an authority figure. This altered reality can make you lash out if your real-life experiences don’t match up with the delusions your mind has created.
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. OCD causes you to experience uncontrollable thoughts and compulsions that disrupt your daily life. It can manifest in intense anxiety and distress and make you obsess over details, interactions, or feelings with another person, putting strain on the relationship.

The Effects of Attachment Trauma in Adulthood

Attachment trauma makes your body and brain act in ways that are out of your control. It responds on instinct — an impulse that was likely drilled into your body from infant or toddlerhood. You can go into fight or flight mode or react in surprising emotional or physical ways, such as sudden crying, nausea, or feeling panicked. 

It can make you feel extreme jealousy, even if under false pretenses. You may feel a persistent belief that your partner is cheating on you, even if there isn’t evidence to validate it. 

Obsessive love disorder doesn’t only happen in a formal relationship. Sometimes, the relationship is one-sided, meaning the other person is unaware of the relationship’s existence. You may have been rejected, but convince yourself that the relationship is real. 

Obsessive Love Disorder Symptoms

Love disorder can be difficult to identify. That’s why it’s helpful to understand the symptoms to know if your experience matches up. It’s easier to unpack the root causes of the disorder once you know what you’re dealing with.

Symptoms include:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Possessive thoughts
  • Controlling behaviors
  • Need for constant contact with your loved one
  • Extreme jealousy
  • Sensitivity to criticism or even constructive feedback from your partner
  • Inability to accept rejection
  • Feeling overwhelmed with emotions 
  • Need for constant validation
  • Ignoring your loved one’s personal boundaries
  • Extreme anxiety surrounding your relationship
  • Devoting all your time and energy to your loved one
  • Spying on your loved one
  • Stalking
  • Constantly tracking your loved one’s whereabouts, who they’re with, and their behavior 

Obsessive Love Disorder Treatment

Treating this disorder requires uncovering the root cause of the issue. If the disorder stems from childhood trauma, a mental health professional can guide you through understanding the trauma so you can start the healing process. 

Focusing all your energy on obsessing about someone else is exhausting and debilitating. Sometimes, the best route for healing from an intimacy disorder is through a residential treatment program. At Begin Again Institute, we offer a variety of programs, including intimacy disorder treatment, that allow you to overcome the disorder in a safe, judgment-free environment. 

We offer treatment methods like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which allows you to identify harmful thoughts and behaviors that are affecting your mental health and relationships and learn healthy techniques to overcome them. We encourage journaling, meditation, and other avenues for reflection during this time. Remembering how and why you started treatment is crucial for long-term healing. 

Through working with our treatment team and engaging in individual and group therapy, you’ll learn to build your self-esteem, change harmful behavior, and form and maintain healthy relationships. 

Reclaiming the Future

If you think your feelings toward another person have grown obsessive, controlling, or extreme, you may be experiencing obsessive love disorder. It can feel debilitating, and these thoughts and compulsions may seem beyond your control. You may have resigned yourself to a life without loving relationships. But with proper treatment, a future of healthy, fulfilling relationships is possible. 

Begin Again Institute specializes in treating intimacy disorders. We help those dealing with obsessive love disorder uncover the root cause, heal from existing trauma, and work on healthy relationship building. We know that each person’s experience is different. That’s why we offer individualized treatment plans specifically suited to address your needs. Your future starts now. Give us a call to take the first step toward healing.

  • Category: Intimacy Disorders
  • By Begin Again Institute
  • May 27, 2024

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