A desire to protect and care for someone you love is natural, but what happens when your feelings become an obsession?
Loving someone generally means you want the best for them. You want them to be happy and successful, and to live a joyful existence.
With obsessive love disorder, the desire to see your loved one thrive turns into something else — a fixation on protecting them, or even controlling them.
That sense of love turns into an obsession, and sometimes you start to view the person you love as more of an object you possess than an independent human being.
While obsessive love disorder isn’t an official diagnosis, what you’re experiencing is real and has the potential to impact your relationships.
“Obsessive love disorder explains a condition when someone gets extensively attached to another person with whom they are in love,” explains psychiatrist Amelia Alvin from the Mango Clinic, Florida.
She notes, “In obsessive love disorder, people take their protective nature to lengths and start controlling the person they love. It can cause dysfunctional relationships. It is not classified as a mental or physical disorder but is just a state. Obsessive love disorder has symptoms like any other human behavior.”
These symptoms can include:
- possessive thoughts
- low self-esteem
- a need for constant contact, such as repeated phone calls and messages
- feelings of intense jealousy
- controlling behaviors
- a sense of disbelief in the relationship
- extreme emotional displays
- ignoring loved ones’ personal boundaries
- seeking constant validation
Experiencing obsessive love disorder can mean you ignore your loved one’s privacy and feelings. You might feel as though your need to protect them overrides their interests and input.
No formal cause of obsessive love disorder has been identified, though it’s often closely linked to other mental health conditions.
“Obsessive love disorder is not recognized as a disease itself, but it can give origin to multiple mental disorders,” says Alvin. “Obsessing over a loved one is a sign of a disturbed mental state that can leave someone in depression.”
While obsessive love disorder can occur alongside many conditions, it’s commonly observed with:
- obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- delusional jealousy
- attachment disorders
- erotomania and delusional disorders
- borderline personality disorder (BPD)
- post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Aniko Dunn, PsyD, from the EZCare Clinic in San Francisco, states, “Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a combination of uncontrolled thoughts and compulsive behaviors. These are hard enough to disrupt your daily life. OCD can also make you need constant reassurance, which can affect your relationship.”
OCD symptoms of anxiety and obsession can sometimes be focused on a relationship, presenting as obsessive love disorder.
According to Dunn, unlike obsessional jealousy, which focuses on the possibility of someone’s infidelity, delusional jealousy involves persistent or false convictions.
For example, a person with delusional jealousy may say, “I know you were with a friend after work today,” even though their partner has already indicated they were at the laundromat.
People who have delusional jealousy may also believe the person they’re focused on has the same feelings of attraction — even if they’ve made it clear they don’t.
“People with an insecure or active style of attachment may feel frustrated for fear of losing a loved one,” says Dunn.
Living with an attachment disorder such as disinhibited social engagement disorder (DSED) or reactive attachment disorder (RAD) may cause you to feel unable to cope without a relationship.
You may feel willing to do whatever it takes to keep your partner on your side.
“Because of the ongoing fear of loss, unprotected attachments often keep people attached to abusive relationships,” Dunn points out. “In some cases, it may result in someone’s abusive behavior trying to maintain a relationship.”
Erotomania and delusional disorders
Obsessive love disorder behaviors may go hand-in-hand with erotomania, a mental health condition in which you experience delusional beliefs of being loved by another person.
In most cases, the subject of your fixation is from a higher social standing, such as a celebrity or well-known social media personality.
Other mental health conditions, such as schizophrenia, may present with symptoms of delusion. Because there are no rules when it comes to altered reality, those symptoms might be targeted toward your relationships.
The way BPD relates to obsessive love disorder has to do with the effect mood shifts may have on your feelings toward a relationship.
With BPD, you may feel extremely happy one moment and extremely disgusted the next, and those feelings may be directed toward someone you love.
“People who have endured great trauma sometimes have a tendency to overreact,” Dunn states. “For example, after losing a loved one in a car accident, someone may live in fear of losing his or her current partner.”
“As a result, these worries can promote unhealthy habits such as texting every time when their loved one’s traveling or in the vehicle,” she adds.
PTSD doesn’t have to be present for someone with a history of trauma to experience obsessive love disorder, however.
Sometimes, the fear of abandonment that past experiences cause is enough to create signs of obsessive love disorder.
“The only link between narcissism and obsessive love disorder is the ‘obsession,’” indicates Alvin. “Both conditions share the same level of love, praise, obsession, and [intensity]. The difference lies in the subject emotions are concerned towards.”
Experiencing obsessive love disorder means someone else is the target of your intense feelings of protectiveness and possession. Your fixation is on the other person.
With narcissism, your focus is on yourself. You may crave praise from others, seek validation, or have an inflated sense of ego.
If you live with narcissistic tendencies, you may be drawn to someone with traits of obsessive love disorder because they provide consistent attention.
The treatment plan that works best for you will depend on many factors, including underlying mental health conditions.
If you feel your thoughts toward a loved one are taking over your daily life, or if someone has expressed extreme concern with your affection, a mental health professional can help.
Talk to a mental health professional about the best treatment for your unique situation. They might suggest one or more of the following:
- psychotherapy, such as talk therapy and behavioral therapy
- medications, such as antidepressants, mood stabilizers, and antipsychotics
- family therapy
- couples therapy (when abuse is not present)
Because obsessive love disorder isn’t a diagnosis on its own, the combination of treatments that works for you may be different from what works for someone else.
If you’re concerned about domestic abuse, immediate help is available. You can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline online, or call or text “START” to 800-799-SAFE (7233). This resource is completely confidential.
Feeling intense emotions toward someone you love doesn’t mean you don’t really love them or that you’re being deliberately hurtful.
Obsessive love disorder often coincides with other mental health conditions. You may have experienced past trauma, or you may be living with a mental health condition that shows up in other areas of your life, too.
Obsessive love disorder can put significant strain on relationships. It can cause your loved one to feel invalidated or manipulated, even if this isn’t your intent.
You can help manage the behaviors and thoughts from obsessive love disorder through professional treatments, but self-care can also be a part of your plan.
The following resources may help: