Obsession alone is not a clinical disorder and not recognized by the DSM. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is an Axis I diagnosis and Obsessive Personality Disorder is an Axis II disorder (I’ve explained the difference and importance of where on the axes a diagnosis falls. If you want to know, see some of the Borderline/Narcissism posts).
But in non-clinical terms, people talk about obsession about a person or “obsessive love.” True love has nothing to do with obsession so that is why I put love in quotes. So I’m going to talk about obsession in love relationships and it really does come close to satisfying the criteria for obsessive personality disorder with regard to a relationship or other person. True clnicial OPD manifests in all areas not just relationships which is why I’m striving to set it apart from what John Moore called ORP and isn’t in the DSM.
But people like Susan Forward and John Moore and Liz Hodgkinson have written about it extensively and more eloquently about it than I can but I thought I’d share about it since it keeps coming up. Susan Forward wrote two fantastic books on obsession and John Moore came up with the “obsessional relational progression” wheel and coined the phrase “relational disorder.” I’ve actually spoken personally to John about this and his work fascinates me as a academic area, but I think that many of you will find the non-academic explanation I am about to give to be helpful in your application of your obsessive tendencies.
I’ve heard different things but there seems to an obsessional “character” or flavor to a person’s relationships when they are someone who falls into ORP. The personality type prone to ORP is someone who is dependent or may have an addictive personality and tends to get hooked on people as well. I tell many of my clients that these extreme types of relationships put their hooks into you in a way that is destructive because of how DEEP they hook you.
The person becomes almost instantly attracted to a person’s looks and then “creates” the personality or qualities in their mind. In other words, they create a fantasy person and completely disregard the reality. I do not believe you need to suffer from full-blown ORP to do this. I’ve seen people do this over and over again. I like the way you look and now I’ll create someone in my head that goes along with what I’d like you to be.
One of the things I always suggest on here, bootcamps, workshops and seminars is to stand back and evaluate, REALLY evaluate, a person when you meet them. I have no clue if ORP can be nipped in the bud at this stage but if you have a tendency to fall in love based on looks plus what you would LIKE their personality to be, stepping back and learning to evaluate may help.
Keep asking yourself if you’re REALLY seeing this person for who he or she is or are you making the whole thing up? This is also good for people who seem to wind up in relationships with people who seem to be obsessed, overly jealous, controlling etc. When I was dating I heard something in a message left by a guy I had been having a pretty good time with that set off red flags…that he was going to be controlling…and I bolted. Listen for this early “inappropriate” questioning, insecurity or jealousy.
The second phase of ORP is after the two people make a commitment (typically seeing each other exclusively), the person ORP starts to be jealous and/or have an overwhelming sense of abandonment. They can become suffocating or smothering and demand constant contact. Behavior begins to get obsessive.
I’ve written on here about taking some time out in relationships (all relationships, even friendships) for you and to be out of contact and out of touch. If you do this early on and your partner completely freaks out, there is a problem. You may be able to work through it (I had to with Michael who did NOT understand my need for alone time until I just took it and suggested he learn to deal with it or find a new girlfriend) or you may have a crazy person on your hands. Without having taken the time with Michael in the early dates, my willingness to give in to his inability to understand it would have destroyed our relationship.
Either he would not have let go or I would have felt suffocated and left. If he was a looney toon, he would have continued to freak out and we would have dissolved into a very crazy relationship which was the LAST thing either of us wanted. The first few trips were anxious for him (he had a girlfriend who cheated on him when she was on vacation) but he settled in and eventually loved my independence and the fact that he could trust me. So a potentially horrible situation was averted because I took my time outs from the relationship and if he was a nut, I’d been able to figure it out then, not 3 years later.
It is VERY VERY VERY important to see how someone reacts to you taking time for yourself or being out of touch sometimes. And can you talk them out of over-the-top reactions. When we first moved in together, Michael would COME HOME FROM WORK AT LUNCHTIME if I hadn’t answered the phone when he called and knew I was home. I said to him, “A ringing phone is a request, not a demand. I don’t answer the phone all the time. It doesn’t mean I’ve fallen and can’t get up.”
I had to tell him to just chill out and STOP because it was making me crazy. And he did…(and there was much rejoicing.) So you don’t always have a crazy person on your hands just because someone is acting a bit over the top. Michael said he had never fallen in love like that before and was a bit afraid of losing me. Part of me went “awww” but another part said, “Step back Shirley and see if he’s certifiable instead of lovable.” I really had to know if he was crazy or just crazy in love with some bad memories of things that didn’t work out.
But I wasn’t giving him forever. I go by the 3 time rule. 3 strikes and you’re out. When he did it twice, I said to him one more time and I’ll be reconsidering this whole relationship and the review is not going to go your way at all. He suddenly “got it” and it was never a problem again.
People will always tell me they didn’t realize their ex was so crazy. Well if you test the reality and the sanity of some people IN THE BEGINNING, you’ll be able to realize it a lot sooner. If you’re afraid to test the sanity of someone early on (like not being available for a few hours or a night or going out with your friends or whatever) for fear of rocking the boat, just think to later when you are jumping out of the boat like your hair is on fire. In the beginning, test early and often.
When I was dating and I would mention a guy at work and my date would go, “Oh yeah? who is THIS guy? How do you know him?” or other nonsensical questions, red flags went up all over the place. If they were suspicious of everyone and anyone, I was packing it in.
If you’re the crazy person you need to relax and again, come back to reality. Stop badgering, self-soothe, live your own life. Hard, but do it.
The next phase of ORP is when the obsessive person starts to be very controlling and anxious and jealous and freaked out. Usually the other person will end it or it will spiral out of control and the relationship will become wholesale dysfunctional. The ORP person exhibits completely obsessed behaviors and is anxious and neurotic almost all the time. They can’t relax and enjoy the relationship and if the non-ORP has a brain in their head, they will head for hills making the ORP person completey nuts. But the ORP, like the abuser, will calm down and swear it will never happen again. And the non-ORP will say terrific, let’s continue. (BAD BAD IDEA).
If they’re both still in the relationship, it’s completely dysfunctional with control/get away behavior doing a dance all over the place. It can become abusive and dangerous with the ORP swinging between obsession and control and guilt and remorse. It seems, to me, the way abusers and abusers remorse go hand in hand. The anxiety of the ORP can be exhibited by rage and control or weakness and neediness (again, same with abusive individuals).
In phase 4, the destruction phase, the relationship either ends and the ORP person becomes completely depressed or the relationship is destructive to both people.
This is where stalking, control, rage and total destruction plays itself out. It’s ugly ugly ugly. It’s where you are so deep in the weeds, so used to insanity that it just ratcheted up and up and you don’t even realize it.
Because 3 and 4 are such horror shows it is important to guard against this in phases one and two with any new partner.
Again, a guard against this…either getting involved with this or being this…is to work on yourself and live your own life. Becoming the focal point of anyone else’s life is not what you want and don’t allow someone else to become the focal point of yours. And don’t be afraid, in a new relationship, to tell someone to chill out and go live his or her own life. You will learn much by how they respond to that.
Relational Disorder seems to be another thing where the information benefits the partner who can see the behavior and work on getting out of it.
The bottom line once again is that you have to observe early. You have to live your life. You have to not go ga-ga before the data is in. You can’t let chemistry and the desire to just cocoon in the early days to ruin your ability to truly understand who this peson is. Forget physical attraction, forget sexual chemistry, forget “we think so much alike” etc. Forget that.
You have to watch the slippery slope and how easy it is to go down it.
You have to put the work in IN THE BEGINNING to avoid the hell you could experience later on.