Have you ever heard of Obsessive Love Disorder (OLD)? I wish I could definitively cite where I first read about this. But I can’t. I accidentally stumbled upon this term while researching something else and fell down a rabbit hole. If you want, you can check out psychcentral.com, healthline.com, or any other prominent mental health publication to learn more. What follows is my interpretation of what I learned, so don’t sue me for not citing more specific sources!
First of all, Obsessive Love Disorder (OLD) is not currently classified as a distinct mental health disorder in the DSM-5. Don’t know what the DSM-5 is? Don’t worry – I got you. The DSM-5 is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition, a book by the American Psychiatric Association. So basically, it’s like the psychiatric Bible of mental diseases. It’s the official last word on whether a condition is considered by the professionals as a specific mental health disorder. Back in the day, being LGBTQIA+ was considered a mental health disorder and listed in earlier editions of the DSM. Hence the need for a 5th edition, which is the most current.
Anyway, OLD isn’t a distinct mental disorder, though some mental health professionals think it should be. So stay tuned for later editions of the DSM-5. In the meantime, while it’s not considered an official mental illness, it is a serious condition that can be diagnosed, and often accompanies other mental disorders. More on that in a bit.
When a person has OLD, they become fixated on someone with whom they believe they’re in love. But symptoms of OLD go way beyond the boundaries of healthy relationships. A person with OLD becomes obsessive and controlling to the point where it not only adversely affects their own life, but also the life of the object of their fixation. This person feels an overwhelming need to “protect” and control the object of their obsession and often feels jealous and insecure. They become possessive and can even socially isolate themselves so that they can focus all of their time and attention on the person they believe they love. These feelings can lead to stalking, harassment, abuse, and even murder. Especially when the object of their desire rejects them.
Symptoms vary, of course. However, there are some commonalities among people diagnosed with OLD. Here are a few:
- An overwhelming feeling of love and attraction to someone, whether they’re in a relationship with them or not.
- A reduced ability to function and live a normal life.
- A need to constantly contact the object of their obsession, like sending constant texts, dms, etc.
- A total disregard for boundaries, including time, physical space, social life, work, etc. (like showing up to your job).
- Extreme insecurity requiring endless reassurance.
- Low self-esteem.
- Jealousy and an overwhelming need to “protect” and control.
- Extreme possessiveness and a need to control who the object of their fixation sees, wears, and engages with; as well as a need to control where and when the subject of their obsession goes and why they do.
- An inability to maintain normal relationships.
As I said earlier, people with OLD often have other mental illnesses, the most common of which include Borderline Personality Disorder, Delusional Jealousy, Obsessive Jealousy, Reactive Attachment Disorder, and Disinhibited Social Engagement Disorder. I don’t have the time or space here to define all of these for you, but feel free to use context clues to get a general idea of the kinds of mental disorders often accompany OLD. Or Google them like I did.
The most interesting thing to me is that while very rare (it only affects about 0.1% of the population in the US), it affects women more than men, and no one knows why. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve watched too much “You” on Netflix, too many true crime videos, or because of all my research on domestic and intimate partner violence. But I was totally shocked to learn this affects women more than men. Who knew?
Anyway, that’s what Obsessive Love Disorder is all about in a nutshell. Have you ever experienced anything like this in your life? Ever been stalked? Ever done any stalking? Let us know in the comments below. And if you answered yes to either question, help is available!
(No, really. Please seek help if you or someone you know displays any of these symptoms. Please.)
Until next time, stay safe out there!