Obsessive love disorder (OLD), also known as obsessive-compulsive love disorder, is a condition characterized by obsessive thoughts about a love interest and compulsive behaviors to try to gain their affection. While having intense feelings for someone is common, especially in new relationships, OLD goes beyond healthy infatuation and becomes unhealthy and disruptive.
Symptoms of Obsessive Love Disorder
Some key symptoms of OLD include:
Intrusive Thoughts About the Love Interest
People with OLD are preoccupied with thoughts about their love interest for most of the day, every day. Their object of affection constantly dominates their thoughts. They may fantasize extensively about future scenarios involving their love interest, like getting married, having children, or growing old together.
Idealization of the Love Interest
Individuals with OLD tend to idealize their love interest, putting them on a pedestal and viewing them as perfect. They may feel their love interest is their soulmate or the only person who can complete them. This idealization overlooks flaws and glamorizes the love interest’s positive attributes.
People with OLD obsessively analyze any interaction, or lack of interaction, with their love interest. They read deeply into texts, social media posts, or chance encounters, finding supposed hidden meanings. They may replay these events over and over in their minds.
Jealousy and Possessiveness
Extreme jealousy is common with OLD, even when there is no evidence their love interest may be interested in someone else. They view their love interest as “theirs” and may try to monopolize all their time and restrict outside relationships. They may stalk their love interest online or in person.
Compulsive Efforts to Be Near the Person
Individuals with OLD engage in compulsive actions to be closer to their love interest or gain their attention. This could include showing up uninvited and unannounced at their home or workplace, constantly calling or texting even when asked not to, sending gifts, and excessively posting on their social media.
Difficulty Accepting Rejection
When their romantic advances are rejected, people with OLD have great difficulty moving on. They persistently pursue their love interest despite clear signs of disinterest. Rejected advances may increase obsessive and compulsive behaviors as they desperately try to change the outcome.
Neglect of Health, Hygiene and Responsibilities
In severe cases of OLD, self-care often deteriorates as pursuing the love interest becomes all-consuming. People may skip meals, stop showering, call out sick from work or school, or shirk responsibilities to family and friends. Their entire life revolves around the object of their affection.
Causes of Obsessive Love Disorder
While more research is still needed, obsessive love disorder appears to stem from multiple factors including:
- Biology: OLD may involve irregularities in brain chemicals like serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin which regulate emotional bonding. Genetics may also play a role.
- Attachment issues: Insecure attachment styles from childhood, like anxious or avoidant attachment, increase OLD risk. These attachment issues get replicated in romantic relationships.
- Personality disorders: OLD commonly co-occurs with disorders like borderline personality disorder, dependent personality disorder, and histrionic personality disorder.
- Addiction: The obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors resemble behavioral addictions. People may develop addiction-like brain changes in response to the reward of fantasizing about their love interest.
Treatments for Obsessive Love Disorder
While challenging to treat, a combination of psychotherapy and medication can help manage OLD:
Cognitive-behavioral therapy helps patients identify and change obsessive thought and compulsive behavior patterns. Interpersonal therapy focuses on unhealthy attachment styles driving the OLD. Talk therapy also improves underlying issues like depression, anxiety, and personality disorders.
Antidepressants like SSRIs can relieve obsessive thoughts and compulsive urges. Anti-anxiety medications help with unhealthy attachment behaviors and jealousy issues. Medications like naltrexone that treat addiction may also curb obsessive reward-seeking thoughts.
Emotion Regulation Skills
Dialectical behavior therapy, mindfulness practices, and distress tolerance techniques help patients better manage and regulate intense emotions related to OLD. This reduces their vulnerability to obsessive thoughts and compulsive actions.
Healthy Coping Skills
Lifestyle changes like sticking to a schedule, engaging in hobbies, exercising, sleeping regularly, maintaining social connections outside the love interest, and joining OLD support groups promote healthy coping. This provides an outlet for obsessive thoughts and compulsions.
While the intensity of early infatuation fades in healthy relationships, obsessive love disorder persists and escalates. Ignoring obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors around a love interest can wreak havoc on psychological health and quality of life. But with professional treatment combining psychotherapy, medication, emotion regulation skills, and healthy coping strategies, patients can overcome OLD and regain control. The first step is recognizing when healthy romantic passion crosses the line into unhealthy obsession, and then seeking help.