Psychological disorders can have different themes, and love and relationships theme is just one of them. Being in a relationship with someone who suffers from these disorders can be extremely difficult and exhausting. Today we are going to discuss four “love disorders”: erotomania, obsessive love, relationship OCD, and attachment disorder. As you will see, some of the signs can be easily mistaken for real love, particularly in the beginning stages of the relationship. To make things worse, since the days of Romeo and Juliet art and culture often seem to promote many forms of unhealthy love as if it were something to strive for. This makes us more likely to form relationships with people who are truly ill, ruining our personal lives in the process.
(de Clérambault’s syndrome)
It feels great to be loved, doesn’t it? The only issue is that many of us do not get that feeling every single day of our lives — perhaps our partners are not as passionate about us anymore, or maybe we are single and lonely. It’s not unusual to crave for love and attention, but people with erotomania take it to the whole new level: They actually believe that there is that one special person who is deeply in love with them.
To make things even more attractive, that special person often happens to be a celebrity or someone with a much higher status than the sufferer. Supposedly, they confess their love via telepathic messages, special glances and secret messages through the media.
If someone with erotomania decides that you are their secret admirer, it is pointless to deny your “feelings” — they won’t believe you. Instead, they will decide that you are trying to hide your true feelings from the world. Another thing to be prepared for is that they will want to reciprocate: Expect phone calls, text messages, midnight visits, anything to keep “your love” alive. Even more disturbingly, they might intentionally put you in danger so that they can offer you a rescue.
This obsession with you may last very long, much longer than a “regular” love. Madonna’s stalker’s delusion (he believed that Madonna is meant to be his wife) was still alive and kicking even after serving 10 years in prison (source). Margaret Mary Ray stalked David Letterman for over ten years before shifting her attention to Story Musgrave. About ten percent of stalkers suffer from erotomania, and most of them are aggressive.
Having the image of your love object burnt to the back of your eyelids and intense feeling of passion are normal in the beginning stages of romantic relationship, but as the time passes, your love for each other evolves into something less intense but more sustainable.
Healthy love is typically associated with a commitment and respect for each other’s needs, including the need for privacy. Unfortunately, people with obsessive love disorder do not seem to get over the infatuation stage and remain overwhelmed by an obsessive desire to possess another person while being absolutely unable to handle any kind of rejection. If rejected, they might hurt or even kill themselves.
In some cases, people who love obsessively may stalk their victims, become manipulative or even physically control the victims (e.g., food and money control). They may become unable to concentrate on anything else, which will obviously affect their social and professional lives.
At the moment, obsessive love is not categorized under any specific mental diagnosis, but some suggest it must be considered a mental illness due to its disruptive nature.
Attachment disorder affects people who didn’t experience a proper bond with their primary caregivers as children. To form a healthy attachment, newborn’s primary needs have to be satisfied; they include nourishment, touch, eye contact, movement and smile. In some cases, children fail to form normal relationships with adults. This can be due to
- separation from primary caregivers between six months and three years of age,
- frequent change of caregivers.
As a result, the child (and later adult) doesn’t feel safe around others, and abandonment issues and a number of mood and behavioral disorders occur.
When it comes to romantic relationships, an adult with attachment disorder may choose one of the two extremes (depending on their personality):
- avoid close relationships altogether or
- become an overly anxious people pleaser.
The first type is usually characterized by
- the fear of intimacy,
- compulsive self-reliance,
- lack of trust,
- and anger.
The second type is characterized by
- being clingy and insecure,
- compulsive caregiving,
- jealousy and possessiveness.
Relationship OCD (ROCD)
At the core of OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) is an imaginary fear (obsession) and a ritual to neutralize that fear or prevent it from happening (compulsion). This becomes a vicious cycle where the affected individual is caught up in unwanted intrusive thoughts about her fear followed by attempts to either prove the fear wrong or neutralize it in some way. Unfortunately, the fear doesn’t go away, and the attempts to prevent or neutralize it tend to make the problem even worse.
Common OCD themes include the fear of germs, the fear of harm to one’s self or others, excessive orderliness and, you guessed it right, relationships (ROCD). Relationship obsessive compulsive disorder can be either
Relationship-focused OCD could involve doubting
- whether or not you love your partner or vice-versa,
- whether or not you are in the right relationship,
- whether or not you did the right choice when you rejected someone.
Partner-focused OCD is usually about doubting your partner:
- whether or not your partner is committed to you and only to you,
- whether or not they have a particular flaw.
To feel better, a person suffering from relationship obsessive compulsive disorder will constantly check on her fears and repeatedly seek for reassurance. OCD by its nature is extremely disruptive to normal life and well-being of the person affected and anyone close to them, even more so when the theme of their obsession is their very relationship.