Today I want to write about obsessions. I am not just referring to obsessions with ex-lovers or teenaged romantic crushes. People become obsessed with all sorts of things. They can become obsessed about getting even if they feel they were aggrieved. They can become obsessed about their looks and become convinced that they need plastic surgery or to lose weight when they actually look just fine. Yes, people can become obsessed if jilted by their partner and become convinced they need to get that person back if they are ever going to be happy again. Basically humans are capable of becoming obsessed about all sorts of things. Why?
Have you ever heard a record that gets stuck on a turntable and keeps playing the same bar of music again and again? That is effectively what our mind does when we become obsessed with a situation or person. Some counsellors believe we become obsessed to suppress underlying emotions, like grief, loneliness, anger, emptiness, sadness, shame and fear. It’s an avoidance tactic.
In this blog I want to focus on the nature of obsession.
Obsessions are leaches that suck out positive emotions
Obsessions rob us of our joy for life. I’ve heard obsessions referred to as leakage. We are not functioning properly because energy is leaking out of us as we obsess. We replay conversations and scenes in our head and change the ending. We cease to live in the moment, and do not pay enough attention to our friends and family.
Obsessions come in varying degrees of strength. When mild, we’re able to work and function. When intense, the object of our obsession is always in our thoughts. As with addictions, they are outside our conscious control and do not respond to reason.
Our thoughts turn in circles. We worry, fantasize and become that record player stuck on the same bar of music. We lose sleep, stop eating or over-eat, become less productive at work and cease to enjoy what is happening around us. Obsessions can lead to obsessive behaviour. We check our phone constantly for messages or our emails. If we are obsessed with the idea of being hurt, we may constantly check that the door is locked.
Obsessions are fuelled by fear or loss
Fear or grief is often at the core of obsessions, but rather than dealing with these deep and intense emotions it is easier to obsess. Obsessions feed compulsive attempts to control others, but the truth is that you need to control your obsession, not another person.
Obsessions can feel good at first
Obsessions can offer short term pleasure, when we fantasise about romance, sex, or power. We may imagine how we’d like a relationship to be or how we would feel if we had power over someone. Do your fantasies say something about what you are missing in your life?
Some people with a co-dependent personality disorder are obsessed by romantic love. They might call their partner often, seeking attention, and feel easily slighted. This isn’t love, but an expression of a desperate need to escape loneliness and inner emptiness. Real love accepts the other person and respects their boundaries.
Denial is a major symptom of obsession
When obsessed, we fail to see it as obsession and instead think everything will be fine if we get justice, or that person apologises, or if we have plastic surgery and become beautiful and loved, or the person who dumped us comes back, etc, etc. No, these things are not the answer, true obsessives instead find another obsession! The inability to tolerate painful emotions is why some people tend to obsess. It is a defence to pain.
As torturous as an obsession can be, it keeps away emotions, like grief, loneliness, anger, emptiness, shame and fear.
Some people are more prone to obsession than others. Some people want to make sense of a situation, but can’t seem to understand or accept it, so they keep replaying the situation. Other people want reassurance that they did the right thing (especially if they feel on an unconscious level that they were wrong). Some people are trying to solve the problem or prevent similar things from happening in the future, but can’t figure out how. Ultimately, it matters less why people obsess over things, and more how they can stop.
Obsessions work as blinkers stopping us from seeing the big picture
At its worst, obsession is like a telescope and only allows us to focus on one small area, meanwhile we miss out on lots of other great parts of life. Remember, we can become obsessed with a person, a place, a goal, a subject—but obsession amounts to the same thing – it is a form of addiction, and like all addictions, at first it is intoxicating. It fills us up, and how good that feeling is (especially if we felt hurt or empty before). An obsession can at first make you feel strong and purposeful, before it starts to eat away at your mind.
Like all addictions, obsessions unbalance us. We neglect parts of our lives. We don’t really listen to what our children or friends are saying. If allowed to become too consuming, obsession causes us to devalue important parts of our lives (other relationships) and they may in turn collapse.
Remember, your happiness never depends on just one thing, no matter how important that one thing may seem.
Now that I’ve looked at what obsession is, in my next blog I want to look at how to overcome it … that is no easy feat. It takes work. It is no good telling an obsessed person to stop being obsessed. That is about as helpful at shouting at a person with anxiety to, “Stop feeling anxious!”. Sheedding an obsession takes time and work.
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ABOUT PAT MESITI
Pat Mesiti is a best-selling author, coach and educator in the area of personal development. Having built some of Australia’s largest people-driven organisations, Pat understands the power of harnessing human potential. He has shared the stage with some of the world’s great business minds and has sold over millions of copies of his books and materials.