Close your eyes and think of the word “love” – what comes to your mind’s eye? Is it an image of you holding a loved one close or a picture of your beloved pet that you see? Now erase that from your imaginary whiteboard and think of the word “obsession” instead. You probably imagined a popstar being chased by their crazed fans or perhaps, you thought of a fandom you proudly take part in.
The difference between love and obsession is often blurred, due to the feeling of extreme passion and emotional attachment to the subject of attention being a key component of both. However, obsession can lean towards being an unhealthy and dangerous expression of love when taken to extremes – regardless of the type of relationship in mention, whether it be platonic or romantic.
Here are 8 signs to warn you that what you or someone else may be feeling is obsession, not love:
Threatened by Independence
A relationship thrives when both parties involved are encouraged to maintain their own relationships with themselves, first and foremost. Healthy relationships consist of two healthy individuals who acknowledge and accept responsibility for themselves and are therefore capable of contributing to an external relationship from a grounded and centered place.
An obsessed lover would have difficulty allowing their significant other the space to build on their independence, due to a lack of security within themselves. Some examples include: not allowing a partner to pursue a hobby individually, feeling threatened when a partner wants to hang out with friends individually, or not allowing a partner to pursue their own career path without consulting them first.
Boundaries Are Ignored
While love is about inevitably melding two lives, hearts, and being into one, the most healthy expressions of love always allow for boundaries to be respected between said two. If you choose to speak up about needing space for your well-being, note the kind of response you receive after expressing your need. Is it supportive and understanding, or is it angry and defensive?
Love involves patience and willingness to allow your loved ones what they believe they need, especially if they truly believe that need will be of benefit to their health and well-being – even if it goes against your own belief, desire, or direction for the relationship. Obsession is choosing to ignore the needs and boundaries of another in favor of your own.
Extremely Controlling Behavior
According to psychologist Holly Richards Ph.D., controlling behavior occurs when a person is feeling insecure within themselves, therefore, causing them to exert control over others to regain a sense of control over their environments. This is caused by the belief that having control over their environment would allow them to direct the results to their liking, preferably one that fuels their false sense of security.
Dictating what you’re allowed to wear, choosing the friends you’re allowed to spend time with, or even monitoring where you go throughout your day are all examples of controlling behavior. In obsessive friendships, a “friend” who keeps you from making new friends or becomes upset when you hang out with other existent friends might be exhibiting signs of controlling behavior as well.
Disengagement in Activities (that does not include the object of attention)
During the early phases of a relationship or newfound friendship, it may seem normal to be caught up in a honeymoon bubble of sorts – one that disconnects you from the day-to-day world. Spending time with this person might be the only thing on your mind and vice versa. However, losing your sense of groundedness and detaching from your existing support systems – such as friends and family – might be a sign of obsession, rather than love.
Notice if you’re becoming disinterested in aspects of your life that have little or nothing to do with your new beau or friend, like school, family, or hobbies for example. If you find yourself distracted to the point of losing care for how the rest of your life is progressing, be sure to reassess and readjust.
Blocking Out Others
A supportive lover or friend could be a breath of fresh air when you need time away from stressful family members or friendship drama. An obsessed lover or friend, however, might take advantage of your dependence upon their support and attempt to convince you that they’re the only one you need and that no one else should matter.
This may seem harmless on the surface, but in actuality, behavior like this consists of controlling undertones with selfish motives. In time, obsessed lovers/friends want to train you to believe their attention is the only one you desire, which allows them to keep you under their control without interference from your friends or family who might express concerns for your well-being due to your relationship with said person.
Moving Too Fast in Relationship
On the contrary, if you notice that your new significant other is in a rush to progress your relationship together, this may be a warning sign of obsession on their part. Are you feeling pressured to officiate your relationship with them publicly too quickly? Or perhaps, they’re asking serious questions about the future, involving marriage, kids, and joint finances, at a rate that makes you feel uncomfortable.
Someone who is in love with you will understand the weight of the questions they’re posing, and won’t rush you because they understand you deserve to have the time to decide for yourself if they’re the right ones for you. A person that is obsessed with you will attempt to bypass your logical reasoning and corner you into rushing in with them, in turn, making them feel secure without consideration of an appropriate pace for your comfort.
Demanding Constant Contact
Feeling restricted in personal agency and being pressured to keep in constant contact with your friend or significant other can be a red flag. A person who is obsessed with you might not outwardly demand that you text them throughout the day or report on your whereabouts from hour to hour, but they may condition you to believe that it’s the best thing to do for your relationship with them through passive-aggressive behavior.
They may convince you that they’re ridden with anxiety with concern for your safety or guilt trip you into feeling as if you’re a bad significant other or friend for not talking to them enough throughout your day. While it’s normal for everyone to experience bouts of separation anxiety within a relationship, be sure you understand the difference between a person who is sharing their anxieties with you but are willing to take responsibility and a person who expects you to accommodate them without any effort on their part.
Tracking Without Consent
On the extreme end of obsession, behaviors that disregard boundaries and trespasses on privacy such as keeping track of another being without their consent can be seen as threatening and dangerous to the well-being of the person being tracked. If you or a loved one is concerned this may be occurring to yourself or someone you love, please be sure to notify the closest help you can find.
Unless you or your loved one are a super spy working for an undercover agency, know that finding tracking devices on your being, accessories, or transportation vehicles should not be accepted as normal or appropriate behavior. You deserve privacy and free will!
Obsession can be a harmless component of a healthy relationship, but honest assessment and reflection are required to determine whether extreme levels of passion and admiration are causing unease for either party. Love without respect for another’s personal needs and growth is not shared love, but selfish and demeaning at the core. Learning to love yourself and allowing others the space to grow into self-love is one way to help your relationship develop healthily.
Be sure to check out our Psych2Go YouTube channel for more videos like the one below on signs of a healthy relationship!
08, June. “Love vs Obsession: 20 Main Differences.” MomJunction, 7 June 2021, https://www.momjunction.com/articles/love-vs-obsession-differences_00725888/.
Dodgson, Lindsay. “Love and Obsession Are Two Different Things – Here’s How to Tell Them Apart.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 27 Feb. 2018, https://www.businessinsider.com/how-to-tell-if-youre-in-love-or-just-obsessed-2018-2.
“Obsession vs Love: 12 Critical Differences You Should Know.” Her Norm, 1 Dec. 2018, https://hernorm.com/obsession-vs-love/.
Ohwovoriole, Toketemu. “What to Know about Obsessive Love Disorder.” Verywell Mind, Verywell Mind, 1 Nov. 2021, https://www.verywellmind.com/obsessive-love-disorder-definition-symptoms-causes-5203954.
Regan, Sarah. “Do You Have ‘Control Issues’ in Your Relationships? This Might Be Why.” Mindbodygreen, Mindbodygreen, 4 Nov. 2021, https://www.mindbodygreen.com/articles/are-you-controlling-person-this-could-be-why-experts-say.