OCD can involve obsessions or compulsions of many kinds. But what if your obsessions are towards another person?
Limerence is a term that describes an infatuation or obsession with another person. It stems from romantic attraction that involuntarily develops into obsessive thoughts.
You might feel unable to stop thinking about that person, spending much of your time in thoughts, fantasies, and ruminations that center around that person.
Like other forms of obsessive thoughts, obsessions about another person can be time-consuming, feel very unpleasant, and interfere with your personal life, work, and social life.
Limerence involves obsessive thoughts and feelings — but is it linked with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)?
Obsessions are defined as persistent, unwanted, and intrusive thoughts, images, or urges that cause you a significant amount of distress.
When obsessions occur about a person, some people call this limerence.
In a 2008 study, researchers Albert Wakin and Duyen Vo define limerence as “an involuntary interpersonal state that involves an acute longing for emotional reciprocation, obsessive-compulsive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and emotional dependence on another person.”
In this study, Wakin and Vo connect the concepts of limerence and OCD, describing them as having similar features, but ultimately, the two are not the same.
They describe how, similar to OCD, people experiencing limerence may have obsessions and compulsions that they find very difficult to manage, even when they seem excessive or unreasonable.
Both OCD and limerence involve underlying anxiety. However, while people with OCD aim to remove the anxiety by performing repetitive behaviors, people with limerence aim to have their “love object” reciprocate their emotions.
Some people develop what’s known as obsessive love disorder. This is an extreme obsession with protecting or controlling a person, often framed as “love.”
In obsessive love disorder, a person becomes highly attached to the person that they love. This is a state rather than a physical or mental health condition. It can cause strained and unhealthy relationships, overstepping personal boundaries, and controlling behavior.
How do you know if you are obsessed with someone?
Wakin and Vo’s 2008 study describes some signs and symptoms that indicate limerence, or obsession with a person. Symptoms of being obsessed with someone include:
Intrusive and obsessive thinking about a ‘love object’
This part of limerence may include obsessive thoughts regarding the “love object” — the object of that person’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
As a result, you may find it challenging to focus on anything other than your feelings or thoughts about your love object.
This extreme focus on the love object may compromise other relationships due to being distracted by feelings about the love object. Obsessive thoughts may take up a lot of your time and make it challenging to complete responsibilities.
Replay and rehearsal
Replay and rehearsal involves obsessive thinking about interactions you have had, or wish to have, with the love object.
You might imagine situations in which the object of your obsession reciprocates the same feelings for you. This level of hopefulness may cause you extreme emotional reactions to your love object’s behavior.
Anxiety and self-consciousness
Anxiety symptoms may cause you to present yourself physically and emotionally in the best way possible to attract your love object.
As a result, you may become shy, embarrassed, or anxious around your love object. You may become extremely fearful of rejection from them.
With emotional dependence, there is an intense yearning for reciprocation from the love object. In this phase, you may feel depressed at any sign of rejection from your love object.
You may also feel elated at interactions with the love object with any signs of reciprocation. These symptoms may intensify the yearning and longing for reciprocation from the other person. This may also cause extreme ups and downs in your mood.
Relationship difficulties or trouble completing responsibilities
Due to the extreme focus on one person, you may have difficulty in other relationships because the love object is the main focus of your attention. In addition, you may have trouble completing daily responsibilities due to preoccupation with the person.
Even though managing your thoughts can be challenging, you can learn better ways of reacting to your thoughts. There are treatments available that may help you work on obsessive thinking, including receiving treatment for OCD.
Exposure response prevention
ERP is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) that helps expose you to objects, situations, images, or thoughts that may trigger obsessions or compulsions.
In ERP treatment, a mental health professional, such as a psychologist or mental health counselor, provides education on OCD and then helps you examine relationships between obsessions and compulsions and how they impact your life.
After this phase, the exposure phase involves exposure to the triggers that start obsessions or compulsions. Finally, the response prevention phase involves practicing making a choice not to engage in obsessive or compulsive behavior.
Some individuals with OCD benefit from medication in addition to therapy to improve symptoms. The most commonly prescribed medications for OCD are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
SSRIs are often prescribed as a treatment for depression, but are often helpful for individuals with OCD. Individuals who use SSRIs to treat OCD may need higher doses than what is typically prescribed for depression.
Some common SSRIs prescribed for the management of OCD symptoms include:
- sertraline (Zoloft)
- fluoxetine (Prozac)
- fluvoxamine (Luvox)
- paroxetine (Paxil)
- citalopram (Celexa)
- escitalopram (Lexapro)
There are other treatments that may help manage obsessive thoughts. For example, in 2018, the
TMS is a treatment that needs further research as it is a newer treatment, and the long-term side effects are currently unknown.
If you are experiencing obsessive thoughts about another person that are interfering with your daily activities, you may consider speaking with a mental health professional such as a psychiatrist, mental health counselor, or psychologist.
Mental health professionals can help you learn better ways of managing obsessive thoughts. If you are considering medication, you may talk with your doctor about what medications might be helpful for you. However, you don’t have to manage your thoughts alone.
If you need additional resources to help manage OCD, check out the list below:
- The International OCD Foundation
- The National Alliance on Mental Illness
- Peace of Mind — Culture and Diversity in OCD
- Made of Millions
If you’re considering self-harm or suicide due to obsessive thoughts. Help is available right now:
- Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24 hours a day at 800-273-8255.
- Text “HOME” to the Crisis Textline at 741741.
- The Trevor Project provides crisis support for LGBTQIA+ individuals. Call their hotline at 866-488-7386 or text “START” to 678-678.
- The CALM helpline offers hotline and website support to individuals with OCD.
Not in the United States? Find a helpline in your country with Befrienders Worldwide.