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Obsessive love is a hypothetical state in which one person feels an overwhelming obsessive desire to possess another person toward whom they feel a strong attraction, with an inability to accept failure or rejection. Such a state should be differentiated from relationship obsessive–compulsive disorder (ROCD) that commonly includes doubts regarding one's own feelings towards an intimate partner, preoccupation with the partner’s feelings towards oneself, doubts about the “rightness” of the relationship and preoccupation with the perceived flaws of the partner. For most of history, "obsessive love" was called perseverance, but in the late 20th century, love simpliciter was suggested to be a mental disorder. Although not categorized specifically under any specific mental diagnosis by the DSM IV, some people argue that obsessive love is considered to be a mental illness similar to "attachment disorder, borderline personality disorder, and erotomania." [Peabody] Obsessive lovers may feel entirely unable to restrain themselves from extreme behaviors such as acts of violence toward themselves. They may be entirely convinced that their feelings are love, and may reject the idea that their severe obsession is not love.
The "Obsessive Love Wheel"
The "Obsessive Love Wheel" (OLW) is a hypothetical sphere originally described by Dr. John D. Moore in his book, Confusing Love with Obsession (2006). 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. It is currently unknown if the same principles apply for a sudden attraction to anyone who bears a friendship, but can be speculated that this is something different entirely.
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 dependant on a romantic interest, usually resulting from the slightest bit of attention from the person they are attracted to. Sometimes it can take as little as a single glance or a smile to form an attachment.
Phase one: Attraction
- An instant attraction to romantic interest, usually occurring within the first few minutes of meeting.
- An immediate urge to rush into a romantic 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 one main love interest, boyfriend/girlfriend assigning unrealistic qualities to an object of romantic infatuation and 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 of the relationship in favor of another person.
- The need to be in constant contact with a love interest via phone, email, social-networking 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. 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 requires his or her constant attention.
- Neurotic, compulsive behaviors, including rapid telephone calls to love interest's place of residence or workplace.
- Unfounded accusations of infidelity 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 where they're 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 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 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 a sense of emptiness 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.
- The use of drugs, alcohol, food or sex in an attempt to heal the emotional pain.
- Suicidal thoughts may manifest. Without emotional counseling, the subject is at risk of suicide.
- Shaef, Anne. Escape from Intimacy. 1989, Harper Collins.
- 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."
- Belton, Monique (2011) The Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love
- Peabody, Susan 1989, 1994, 2005, "Addiction to Love: Overcoming Obsession and Dependency in Relationships."
- Arterburn, Stephen, 1991, "When you love too Much."
- Hall, Jim, 2010, "Surviving Withdrawal: The Break Up Workbook for Love Addicts- Overcoming Obsession."