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Obsessive love is a form of love where one person is emotionally obsessed with another.
Moore, Forward and Buck believe that rejection is the trigger of obsessive love - also known as love addiction or relationship addiction. They state four conditions to help identify it, namely, a painful and all-consuming preoccupation with a real or wished-for lover, an insatiable longing either to possess or be possessed by the target of their obsession, rejection by or physical and/or emotional unavailability of their target, and being driven to behave in self-defeating ways by this rejection or unavailability.
Characteristics indicative of obsessive love are:
- Obsessive lovers believe that only the person they fixate on can make them feel happy and fulfilled.
- Persons close to the love-obsessed can also be greatly affected. Witnessing a friend or family member suffer from the disorder can be distressing.
- The person obsessed cannot accept the other person to be happy when they are suffering.
Forms/stages of obsessive love
- Obsessive love is a form of love where one person is emotionally obsessed with another.
- Love addiction is a process addiction where a person becomes attached to another in an unhealthy, dependent manner.
- Relationship addiction is a process addiction where a person becomes addicted to his or her relationship.
- Codependency is a term used to describe when a person becomes dependent upon another for emotional and physical validation.
Hodgkinson believes several factors create a climate for obsessive love.
- Leisure, because obsessive love almost always coincides with boredom, as stated by Anthropologist Branko Bokun.
- Feelings of vulnerability and a perceived failure to belong because those who feel they do not have a recognized place in the world (e.g., those who are required to perform an unfulfilling job), and/or those undergoing dramatic life changes and the associated fear and lack of self-confidence will seek out an outlet for their anxieties. Hodgkinson believes this is the most important factor.
- An inflated opinion of oneself, as this is believed to ultimately stem from insecurity, with this insecurity driving the obsessed to seek an individual with attributes that they want for themselves.
- Particular childhood experiences, such as deep feelings of unworthiness during childhood that lead the obsessed to seek out one who finds the obsessed similarly unworthy in adulthood.
- Feelings of being special and/or different, as there is an apparent correlation between feelings of distance from peers (whether real or perceived) and obsessive love.
- Inequality between the lover and the beloved, e.g., the beloved may be married/taken, too old or young, famous, far away, from different social class or attractiveness level or otherwise unattainable.
Moore postulates that the way a person "loves" is learned. He suggests that the blueprint of our love styles is passed on to a person through primary relationships during childhood. For example, if a child is not shown healthy love and affection during formative years, the person may go on to gain attention in the form of dysfunctional relationships later in life.
He also suggests that children from alcoholic families may be at greater risk for love addiction (or relationship addiction). Others have suggested that borderline personality types and dependent personality types are at greater risk for relationship addiction.
It is worth noting that almost all of these conditions apply exclusively to the obsessed, and not to the target of their obsession.
Hodgkinson recommends realizing that one who loves obsessively has not fallen in love with a real person, but rather an illusion.
It is estimated that up to 90% of obsessive love is motivated by projection. The obsessed is not falling in love with their target because of any salient properties of the target, but for what that target represents to the obsessed. Hodgkinson suggests regression therapy as the most useful remedy.
Moore suggests that cognitive therapy, which is a type of counseling approach focused on what is happening in the "here and now" is the most effective treatment for love addiction. Challenging irrational thoughts, often based in fantasy is believed to be an important tool in the healing process. He also suggests support groups (such as sex and love addicts anonymous).
The dangers of obsessive love
Obsessive love can lead to dangerous consequences. Extreme obsessive love can be the cause of stalking, rape, and murder, among other things. In one case, John Hinckley’s obsession for actress Jodie Foster caused him to attempt an assassination on then-President of the United States Ronald Reagan, because he believed it would grab her attention. It can also have an unhealthy impact on the person who has the obsession such as self-harm, drug abuse and suicide.
The "Obsessive Love Wheel"
The "Obsessive Love Wheel" (OLW) is a hypothetical sphere originally described by John D. Moore in his book, Confusing Love with Obsession. The wheel illustrates the four stages of Obsessive Relational Progression as part of Relational Dependency (RD). Moore suggests that for people who are afflicted with relational dependency (love addiction, codependency, etc) their relationships often follow the pattern of the wheel.
The initial phase of ORP is characterized by an instantaneous and overwhelming attraction to another person. It is at this point the relationally dependent person becomes "hooked" on a romantic interest, usually resulting from the slightest bit of attention from the person they are attracted to.
Phase one: Attraction phase
- An instant attraction to romantic interest, usually occurring within the first few minutes of meeting.
- An immediate urge to rush into a relationship regardless of compatibility.
- Becoming "hooked on the look" of another, focusing on the person's physical characteristics while ignoring personality differences.
- Unrealistic fantasies about a relationship with a love interest, assigning "magical" qualities to an object of affection.
- The beginnings of obsessive, controlling behaviors begin to manifest.
Phase two: Anxious phase
This phase is considered a relational turning point, which usually occurs after a commitment has been made between both parties. Sometimes, however, the relationally dependent person will enter into this phase without the presence of a commitment. The relation can be severed here, resulting in a depressing time for the controlling party. If not severed by this time, psychological help will be required. This happens when the afflicted person creates the illusion of intimacy, regardless of the other person's true feelings. The second phase of ORP behaviors can include :
- Unfounded thoughts of infidelity on the part of a partner and demanding accountability for normal daily activities.
- An overwhelming fear of abandonment, including baseless thoughts of a partner walking out on the relationship in favor of another person.
- The need to constantly be in contact with a love interest via phone, email or in person.
- Strong feelings of mistrust begin to emerge, causing depression, resentment and relational tension.
- The continuation and escalation of obsessive, controlling behaviors.
- Feeling the other partner doesn't and shouldn't need to contact, meet, bond and/or speak with others.
- Violent reactions (verbal and physical) directed to the loved one and/or to oneself if the controlled person starts denying the obsessive demands.
Phase three: Obsessive phase
This particular phase represents the rapid escalation of this unhealthy attachment style. It is at this point that obsessive, controlling behaviors reach critical mass, ultimately overwhelming the RD person's life. It is also at this point that the person being controlled begins to pull back and ultimately, severs the relationship. In short, Phase Three is characterized by a total loss of control on the part of the RD person, resulting from extreme anxiety. Usually, the following characteristics are apparent during the third phase of ORP.
- The onset of "tunnel vision," meaning that the relationally dependent person cannot stop thinking about a love interest and required his or her constant attention.
- Neurotic, compulsive behaviors, including rapid telephone calls to love interest's place of residence or workplace.
- Unfounded accusations of "cheating" due to extreme anxiety.
- "Drive-bys" around a love interest's home or place of employment, with the goal of assuring that the person is at where "he or she is supposed to be."
- Physical or electronic monitoring activities, following a love interest's whereabouts throughout the course of a day to discover daily activities.
- Extreme control tactics, including questioning a love interest's commitment to the relationship (guilt trips) with the goal of manipulating a love interest into providing more attention.
Phase four: Destructive phase
This is the final phase of Obsessive Relational Progression. It represents the destruction of the relationship, due to phase three behaviors, which have caused a love interest to understandably flee. For a variety of reasons, this is considered the most dangerous of the four phases, because the RD person suddenly plummets into a deep depression due to the collapse of the relationship. Here are some of the more common behaviors that are exhibited during phase four of ORP:
- Overwhelming feelings of depression (feeling "empty" inside).
- A sudden loss of self-esteem, due to the collapse of the relationship.
- Extreme feelings of self-blame and at times, self-hatred.
- Anger, rage and a desire to seek revenge against a love interest for breaking off the relationship.
- Denial that the relationship has ended and attempting to "win a loved one back" by making promises to "change".
- The use of drugs, alcohol, food or sex to "medicate" the emotional pain.
- Suicidal thoughts may manifest. Without emotional counseling, suicide could become a reality.
- Moore, John D (2006) "Confusing Love with Obsession: When Being in Love Means Being in Control"
- Hodgkinson, Liz (1991) "Obsessive Love. How to Free Your Emotions and Live Again."
- Forward, S. & Buck, C. (1991) "Obsessive Love. When It Hurts Too Much To Let Go."