Obsessive Love Disorder

Medically reviewed by Timothy J. Legg, PhD, PsyD, CRNP, ACRN, CPH on January 10, 2018Written by Kristeen Cherney on January 10, 2018

What is obsessive love disorder?

“Obsessive love disorder” (OLD) refers to a condition where you become obsessed with one person you think you may be in love with. You might feel the need to protect your loved one obsessively, or even become controlling of them as if they were a possession.

While no separate medical or psychological classification exists for OLD, it can often accompany other types of mental health illnesses. Talk to your doctor if you think you or a loved one may have the disorder. Treatment can help decrease the symptoms while also preventing complications with relationships.

What are the symptoms of obsessive love disorder?

Symptoms of OLD may include:

  • an overwhelming attraction to one person
  • obsessive thoughts about the person
  • feeling the need to “protect” the person you’re in love with
  • possessive thoughts and actions
  • extreme jealousy over other interpersonal interactions
  • low self-esteem

People who have OLD may also not take rejection easily. In some cases, the symptoms could worsen at the end of a relationship or if the other person rejects you. There are other signs of this disorder, such as:

  • repeated texts, emails, and phone calls to the person they’re interested in
  • a constant need for reassurance
  • difficulty having friendships or maintaining contact with family members because of the obsession over one person
  • monitoring the actions of the other person
  • controlling where the other person goes and the activities they engage in

What causes a person to develop obsessive love disorder?

There’s no one single cause of OLD. Instead, it may be linked to other types of mental health disabilities such as:

Attachment disorders

This group of disorders refers to people who have emotional attachment issues, such as a lack of empathy or an obsession with another person.

Types of attachment disorders include disinhibited social engagement disorder (DSED) and reactive attachment disorder (RAD), and they both develop during childhood from negative experiences with parents or other adult caregivers.

In DSED, you might be overly friendly and not take precautions around strangers. With RAD, you may feel stressed and have problems getting along with others.

Borderline personality disorder

This mental health disorder is characterized by a disturbance with self-image coupled with severe mood swings. Borderline personality disorder can cause you to be extremely angry to extremely happy within a matter of minutes or hours.

Anxious and depressive episodes also occur. When considering obsessive love disorder, personality disorders can cause switches between extreme love for a person to extreme disdain.

Delusional jealousy

Based on delusions (events or facts you believe to be true), this disorder is exhibited by an insistence on things that are already proven false. When it comes to obsessive love, delusional jealousy can cause you to believe the other person has reciprocated their feelings for you, even if they’ve made it clear this is indeed not true.

According to a 2005 study, delusional jealousy may be linked to alcoholism in men.

Erotomania

This disorder is an intersection between delusional and obsessive love disorders. With erotomania, you believe that someone famous or of a higher social status is in love with you. This can lead to harassment of the other person, such as showing up at their home or workplace.

According to Comprehensive Psychiatry, people with erotomania are often isolated with few friends, and they may even be unemployed.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a combination of obsessive thoughts and compulsive rituals. These are severe enough to interfere with your everyday life. OCD can also cause you to need constant reassurance, which can affect your relationships.

Some people are said to have relationship OCD, where obsessions and compulsions are centered around the relationship. However, this isn’t an officially recognized subtype of OCD.

Obsessional jealousy

Unlike delusional jealousy, obsessional jealousy is a nondelusional preoccupation with a partner’s perceived infidelity. This preoccupation can lead to repetitive and compulsive behaviors in response to infidelity concerns. These behaviors resemble OCD more so than delusional jealousy. This can cause significant distress or impair everyday functioning.

How’s obsessive love disorder diagnosed?

OLD is diagnosed with a thorough evaluation from a psychiatrist or other mental health professional. First, they will interview you by asking you questions about your symptoms, as well as your relationships. They’ll also ask you about your family and whether any known mental health illnesses exist.

A medical diagnosis from your primary doctor may also be needed to rule out other causes. Since obsessive love disorder intersects with other forms of mental health disabilities, it’s not classified on the American Psychological Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

For unknown reasons, OLD affects more women than men.

How’s obsessive love disorder treated?

The precise treatment plan for this disorder depends on the underlying cause. However, it often involves a combination of medication and psychotherapy.

Medications can be used to adjust brain chemicals. In turn, this can reduce the symptoms of the disorder. Your doctor may recommend one of the following:

It can take several weeks for your medication to work. You may also need to try different types until you find the one that works best for you. Talk to your doctor about possible side effects, such as:

Therapy is also helpful for all forms of OLD. Sometimes it’s helpful for families to be involved with therapy sessions, especially if obsessive love disorder stems from issues during childhood. Depending on the severity of the disorder and your personal preferences, you might engage in individual or group therapy. Sometimes a mental health professional will recommend both types.

Therapy options include:

What’s the outlook for a person with obsessive love disorder?

While OLD is gaining more attention, it’s relatively rare. It’s estimated that less than 0.1 percent of people have the disorder.

If you or a loved one has possible symptoms of obsessive love disorder, you should see a doctor. They may refer you to a psychiatrist to help determine whether you truly have OLD. You may also have another mental health illness.

When diagnosed and treated, OLD may have a positive outcome. The key, however, is to not quit therapy or treatment if you think you’re feeling better. Suddenly stopping your treatment can worsen symptoms, or make them return.

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