Addiction can express itself beyond chemical dependency, and we can even become addicted to/obsessed with another person.
I’m not saying all forms of addiction are the same by any means, but they do share certain features.
I discuss how broad addictions can be in “Extinguish Addiction With Mindfulness”:
Addictions can be born out of a series of moments when we sense that void in the form of discomfort or anxiety and quickly reach for something to fill or numb it. That something could be a cigarette, a drink, sex, anger, food, energy drinks, pain pills, the Internet, etc. Again, our behavior cannot always be generalized to pathology.
People can also be used to fill that void.
A continual thought, concept, image, or urge that is experienced as invasive and consuming and results in significant fear, distress, or discomfort.
When does an obsession with a person become an addiction?
Based on the definition of obsession above, by itself, it can handicap one’s life. However, if it evolves into an addiction, then we have a serious multi-dimensional problem on our hands.
You will know when an obsession crosses over into an addiction when:
- their obsession interferes with their ability to eat, sleep, and groom themselves regularly
- they slip into isolation, and the quality of their relationships are deeply affected
- it interferes with their financial stability or professional life
- they continue to engage in anti-social and destructive behavior, craving attention from the other person any way they can get it
In other words, it’s when a person loses the ability to function normally.
Another signature of the crossover to addiction is when close friends and family offer concern and care towards the obsessed, and any help or suggestion is not well-received.
Understanding the Obsessed
Some of you may have been the target of both personal and professional obsession, where someone has exhibited obsessive behavior towards you. It often expresses itself as irrational and destructive, almost a seemingly outward projection of self-hatred.
To get a better perspective on this, let’s look at ourselves first. Many of us have experienced being obsessed with someone to some degree.
On the subtle end of the spectrum, it can look like a mild crush; on the more extreme end, it mirrors true addiction. The person who becomes obsessed eventually become truly devastated and convinced they’ve lost their last chance at happiness.
Even though this belief is a delusion, it is very real for the obsessed.
Imagine feeling like you will never be happy again; it’s a dark, insidious place that many of us will never experience, because we know our ultimate happiness doesn’t depend on any one thing.
Now, if you’ve ever had a crush on a guy/gal, go back in time and recall the feelings and features of the experience.
Spend some quiet time in mindful contemplation, holding the sensations of this experience (the crush) in your awareness.
This way, you can use a typically harmless form of obsession to relate to and understand the inner workings of obsession better.
The reality for the human condition is that emotions aren’t logical and sometimes they can take on a life of their own. And just like there are thousands/infinite shades of love, there are just as many expressions of obsession.
That means it can start for different reasons (e.g. fear of abandonment, idolization, etc.), and continue for different reasons (e.g. low self-esteem, emotional vampirism, etc.), while still showing similar traits between the “species” of obsession.
What should I do if I’m mildly obsessed?
- Therapy and surrounding yourself with good people whom you trust to tell you the truth can be a potent antidote in this situation.
- Meditate and keep a journal. Awareness of your inner thoughts and feelings and shining a light on your internal environment can be invaluable. It also empowers you to take further action.
- Recognize the dysfunction of the situation and aim to change destructive patterns.
- Set healthy boundaries for yourself. Those who are obsessed with another person tend to not respect their personal space; you will therefore need to learn to set these limits and hold yourself accountable. It may be helpful to ask a best friend to help hold you accountable as well.
- Accept that this will be a tough road ahead and there may be three steps forward and two steps back frequently. Keep reminding yourself that true happiness is never contingent on one person/relationship. Stay strong, focused, and on the path.
What if my obsession starts to get more serious?
Seek professional help. Since obsession can mask and/or involve a host of other issues (abuse survival, an addiction to substances and alcohol, anxiety, depression, etc.), a trained therapist can be of great help. All levels of obsession can be greatly served well with regular sessions.
In a related article, I mention:
The most popular therapy is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which seeks to enlighten a patient that how what they think and how they behave are intertwined. CBT can be very helpful in helping people recognize the thought patterns that get them embroiled in negative situations, and in teaching them to identify these at an early stage before they manifest themselves in aggression or addictive behavior.
Obsession (with people), like any addiction, is not only vastly misunderstood by the general public, we also tend turn our noses up with disgust towards those struggling with it. They are not bad people who need to be punished (unless they break the law), they are unwell and need our help in the form of healthy boundaries and compassionate presence.
On the other hand, certain kinds of obsession (e.g. profession and recreational passions, etc.) can even be beneficial if we channel that energy to focus on a task or goal. This article posted in Psychology Today offers some ideas of how we can make our daily obsessions work for us:
I’m not arguing here that we should seek to extinguish obsession; I’m arguing we should seek to control it. Our ability to bend our emotions to our will is poor, but not our ability to manage them. We can make our obsessions work for us rather than work us over. And we can learn to let them go when the time comes.