Obsessions are a symptom of an underlying anxiety disorder and materialize as a result of great stress such as a severe emotional injury during childhood. In order to escape a world of intolerable psychological pain and other mental health problems, the person suffering from obsessive love disorder escapes into a world of fantasy and obsession.
The mental health disorder can come about as a result of having experienced a childhood in which the sufferer had chronically emotionally unresponsive parents, and, thus, did not have his/her emotional needs fulfilled when young. In essence, then, the sufferer has, in childhood, frequently been starved of emotional nurturance, love, and acceptance.
However, the object of the ‘obsessive love’ is idealized and misperceived as someone who can supply the emotional nurturance that the sufferer was denied as a child.
A typical dysfunctional childhood the sufferer of the condition may have experienced is to have been rejected early on in life by his/her mother, causing intense psychological pain, and, very often too, to have had a father who was critical and disapproving. As a result of this, the neglected child grows up feeling worthless and inadequate. Indeed, so great is the experience of childhood trauma that psychological and emotional development has frequently become arrested at an early stage (so that, as an adult, the individual still has the emotional needs s/he did at the time his/her development became arrested).
Therefore, as an adult, the emotionally damaged individual is very likely to experience constant failure when trying to form close relationships. Due to the instability of his/her relationship with his/her parents when a child, s/he will tend to be anxious and fearful in relation to attempts to form intimate bonds with others.
A preoccupation with ‘ideal love’ may then develop and the sufferer of the condition can then become fixated on unavailable and emotionally inaccessible objects of this idealized love.
FACTORS RELATED TO LOVE ADDICTION AND OBSESSIVE LOVE DISORDER:
– the sufferer experienced a lack of nurturing and attention when young and is seeking the unconditional love s/he did not receive as a child
– the sufferer feels profound inner emotional pain
– the sufferer craves exhilaration and novelty
– the sufferer is frequently isolated and detached from the rest of his/her family
– the sufferer mistakes ‘intensity’ for ‘intimacy’ in connection to relationships
– relationships the sufferer manages to form tend to be enmeshed and/or codependent.
– the sufferer compartmentalizes relationship, thus keeping it separated from, and unintegrated with, other aspects of his/her life
– the sufferer has a driven, desperate, and intense personality and is prone to being ‘dramatic’
– the sufferer has a need for others to relieve his/her psychological pain
– the sufferer is prone to severe depression
– the sufferer fantasizes that s/he will meet an idealized rescuer who will take away all their psychological pain
– the sufferer has an insatiable need for close emotional attachment as s/he was denied this when young and is likely to be developmentally emotionally arrested at a stage in childhood when the close, dependable emotional attachment was desperately needed (so the need remains unfulfilled)
– the sufferer feels an inner rage over the lack of emotional nurturing s/he received as a child
– sufferer is very likely to have other addictions/obsessions
– the sufferer is driven by the lack of love s/he received in the past but does not gain genuine love in the present as s/he is unable to form healthy relationships
– the sufferer has a deep inner sense of worthlessness and inadequacy.
UNAVAILABILITY AND THE FANTASY OF AN IDEAL RELATIONSHIP:
Individuals who fall victim to feelings of obsessive love tend to focus these feelings on a person who is obviously UNAVAILABLE (e.g. has a different sexual orientation or is in a happy and devoted relationship with someone else).
This means the object of obsessive love is likely to be, at best, indifferent to the attention s/he receives from his/her ardent admirer. Indeed, it is thought to be this very lack of response from the object of obsessive love towards the one afflicted by the obsession that is largely responsible for fueling and perpetuating the obsession. But why should this be?
The answer to this seems to be that because the admirer’s deep feelings remain utterly unreciprocated and no relationship develops, the only way the admirer can have a ‘relationship’ with the admired one is IN HIS/HER OWN HEAD (i.e. a FANTASY RELATIONSHIP).
And, of course, a fantasy relationship (i.e. one that exists only in imagination) can be an IDEAL RELATIONSHIP, something that could never happen in reality (because, of course, no relationship between two people can possibly be ideal and perfect; most, in fact, are very far from it).
AN OUTSIDER WITH WEAK EGO BOUNDARIES:
The type of person who develops feelings of obsessive love tends to be, or perceive him/herself to be, an OUTSIDER and one who DOES NOT ‘BELONG.’ Such a person may be on the fringes of society and feel both unfulfilled in life and vulnerable.
A further characteristic of such people is frequently that they have severely weakened ‘ego-boundaries’ which means that they have a very poor concept of their own identity as unique and separate individuals.
It follows, therefore, that falling obsessively in love can be a desperate attempt to ‘belong’; in fact, one way to view it is as an attempt to ‘merge’ with the other person in an unconscious attempt to make them part of us’ so that we can feel what they feel and obtain a vicarious sense of identity – a desire for the self and the object of obsessive love to ‘become one’.
This is an intense, primal need (which can be, one theory suggests, due to a dysfunctional relationship with our primary caregiver during our very early development leading to a lack of healthy bonding) we failed to have fulfilled for us when very young. This is thought to be why it is so intensely painful when the object of obsessive love remains resolutely indifferent to and non-reciprocating of, our ardent yearnings.
Developing feelings of obsessive love can, then, be seen as a type of REGRESSION (i.e. a return to a childlike state).
OTHER POSSIBLE CAUSES OF OBSESSIVE LOVE:
More research needs to be conducted on the causes of obsessive love, but, as well as the possible causes referred to above, other contributory factors are currently thought to include :
– having a distant father when we were a child
– a lack of emotional support in general when we were a child
– the absence of a parent when we were a child (e.g. because of divorce)
– the death of a parent when we were a child
– role-reversal when we were a child (e.g. as a child, we had to act like a parent’ to our mentally ill mother – a position I myself was in)
– rejection as a child by parent/s
ADDICTIVE LOVE CAN BE A FORM OF DISSOCIATION AND ACT AS AN ADDICTIVE DRUG
Addictive love may act in a similar way to addictive drugs used to ameliorate emotional pain. Indeed, some researchers regard addictive love as a form of DISSOCIATION.
According to Schaeffer (1987), when love becomes an addiction and is unconsciously motivated by unresolved childhood needs and the need to alleviate overwhelming psychological pain, it traps the sufferer at the developmental stage at which their trauma occurred.
In the initial stages, a new relationship produces a dopamine rush that gives rise to a temporary feeling of bliss. However, this feeling quickly disappears as the sufferer becomes disillusioned and trapped in an endless cycle of desperate need (looking for the next fantasy rescuer) followed by the dopamine high of a new relationship and, finally and inevitably, intense despair when yet another relationship fails. And thus the cycle starts again and repeats and repeats…
THE REPETITION COMPULSION:
If we were rejected by those who were supposed to care for us when we were children, it has also been theorized (Freud, 1914) that WE UNCONSCIOUSLY SEEK TO REPEAT THE EXPERIENCE OF REJECTION WE SUFFERED DURING OUR CHILDHOOD (in a desperate attempt, again unconsciously, to gain ‘mastery’ over the feelings of utter devastation that it originally engendered in us).
Therefore, those who fall victim to painful feelings of obsessive love often have a profoundly entrenched perception of themselves as unworthy and essentially unlovable; such an abject self-view has been conditioned, frequently, by their unhappy childhood experiences.
THE JUNGIAN INTERPRETATION OF OBSESSIVE LOVE DISORDER: PROJECTION AND NARCISSISM:
Jungian psychologists (i.e. psychoanalysts strongly influenced by Carl Jung’s theories) view obsessive love disorders as resulting from the projection of the inner self’ onto another person. The term ‘projection’ in psychology refers to the attributing of one’s own characteristics and personality traits (or, in this case, the characteristics and personality traits of one’s inner self) to another. In this sense, it may be viewed as narcissistic. Another psychoanalytic interpretation of obsessive love disorder also relates the condition to narcissism; specifically, to the narcissistic need to distract oneself from one’s anxieties.
FOUR TYPES OF LOVE ADDICTS:
According to Peabody, an expert in the field of love addiction, there are four types. These are as follows:
Obsessed love addicts
Codependent love addicts
Narcissistic love addicts
Ambivalent love addicts
Let’s look at each of these in turn:
OBSESSED LOVE ADDICTS:
The obsessive love addict, as the term suggests, becomes obsessively attached to the love object and finds it extremely difficult to separate from him/her.
CODEPENDENT LOVE ADDICTS:
The codependent love addict uses his/her partner to bolster his/her fragile self-esteem and to gain approval and validation. They expect their partners to give their lives meaning but are unable to receive or accept love.
NARCISSISTIC LOVE ADDICTS:
The narcissistic love addict exploits his/her partner and uses him/her as someone over which to exert power and control, to boost his/her ego, and from whom s/he can gain attention.
AMBIVALENT LOVE ADDICTS:
Also referred to as ‘avoidant’ love addicts who may absorb themselves in memories of a past relationship, are drawn to unrequited love, and sabotage their own relationships.
Therapies that can help those suffering from love addiction include:
- cognitive behavioral therapy
- compassion-focused therapy
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Freud, S Beyond the Pleasure Principle in On Metapsychology (Middlesex 1987).
Forward, S and Buck, C (2002). Obsessive Love: When It Hurts Too Much to Let Go. Bantam Books. ISBN 978-0-553-38142-9.
Hodgkinson, L (2013). Obsessive Love: How to Free Your Emotions & Live Again. Endeavour Press Ltd.