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Why do I obsess over people?

It’s common for people to develop intense feelings towards others, particularly romantic partners or celebrities. But when does admiration cross the line into obsession? This article explores the psychology behind obsessive fixation and provides tips for gaining perspective.

What causes obsessive thoughts about a person?

There are a few key factors that can lead someone to become obsessed with another person:

  • Loneliness – Lacking close relationships can cause someone to desperately latch onto a new person who shows them attention.
  • Insecurity – Struggling with low self-esteem makes it harder to maintain balance in relationships.
  • Unmet needs – Obsession can stem from an unfulfilled need for love, validation, excitement, etc.
  • Attachment style – Having an anxious attachment style often manifests as needing constant reassurance from relationship partners.
  • Idealization – Obsessive people tend to put their fixation on a pedestal and ignore any flaws.
  • Biology – Brain chemistry and hormones like oxytocin and dopamine play a role in attachment.

In many cases, the object of obsession represents something the obsessed person feels is missing in their own life. The obsession fills an emotional void or provides distraction from internal issues.

Signs of an unhealthy obsession

When does a crush or fascination with someone cross over into obsessive and potentially dangerous territory? Here are some key signs:

  • Constantly thinking about the person – They occupy your thoughts from the moment you wake up.
  • Feeling out of control – Despite negative consequences, you cannot shake your intense feelings.
  • Idealizing the person – You put them on a pedestal and cannot see their flaws.
  • Making unreasonable sacrifices – You prioritize the obsession over obligations.
  • Repeated failed attempts to stop – You cannot take steps to distance yourself emotionally or physically.
  • Physical symptoms – Loss of appetite, insomnia, headaches, stomachaches.
  • Intense jealousy – You feel territorial and envious of others in their life.
  • Crossed boundaries – You ignore social norms, violate privacy, make unwanted contact.
  • Obsessive information seeking – You cyberstalk them online and fish for details from mutual friends.

If the obsession is disrupting your daily life, damaging other relationships, or prompting risky behavior, it’s a sign you need to regain control.

Common targets of unhealthy obsession

While potentially anyone can become the subject of obsession, statistics reveal certain patterns:

  • Ex-partners are the most common targets, especially if the relationship was emotionally volatile or ended abruptly.
  • Co-workers are another prevalent target due to the convenience of daily contact and intensity of workplace interactions.
  • Celebrities make up a disproportionate number of obsession targets because fans develop parasocial one-sided relationships.
  • Authority figures like teachers, doctors, coaches, or clergy can become targets due to the power dynamic.
  • Strangers like waitstaff, baristas, receptionists, or cashiers may interact regularly and represent themselves perfectly to the obsessed person during brief exchanges.

Obsession targets often share traits like charisma, confidence, talent in their field, and responsiveness to the obsessive person’s interest. However, the most significant factor is the idealized fantasy the obsessed person projects onto them.

Dangers of obsessive fixation

Left unchecked, the impacts of obsession can be extremely destructive. Potential dangers include:

  • Damaged mental health – Obsession can trigger or worsen anxiety, depression, and other issues.
  • Stalking behaviors – Nearly a third of stalking perpetrators have a history of mental illness.
  • Violence – In rare cases, obsessive fixation leads to violence against the target or their loved ones.
  • Criminal charges – Stalking, harassment, and assault charges may stem from obsessive acts.
  • Ruined relationships – Preoccupation ruins the obsessed person’s relationships and reputation.
  • Wasted time and missed opportunities – Hours spent obsessing prevent pursuing meaningful goals and activities.

Unhealthy obsession must be addressed quickly before it has devastating personal and legal consequences.

Is it love or obsession?

Given the potential dangers of obsessive fixation, it’s important to discern it from healthy love. Some key differences include:

Love Obsession
Desire for closeness Need for control
Accepts flaws Idealizes obsessive target
Wants the best for them Wants what’s best for yourself
Encourages relationships Jealous/threatened by others
Respects boundaries Disregards boundaries
You maintain self-esteem Your self-esteem depends on them
Enhances your life Causes preoccupation/anxiety

True, healthy love coexists with respect for the other person’s autonomy. If the relationship causes you to lose independence or rationality, it’s likely crossed into obsession.

Breaking the cycle of obsession

Ending the obsessive cycle requires gaining awareness and making a concerted effort to refocus. Strategies include:

  • Examine your underlying needs – Understand what emotional needs this person symbolizes so you can get those needs met elsewhere.
  • Challenge distorted thoughts – Counteract idealization and other irrational thoughts with logic and facts.
  • Limit obsessive behaviors – Avoid stalking on social media, driving by their house, etc. Reduce stimulation.
  • Refocus on your own life – Immerse yourself in hobbies, career goals, and relationships unrelated to the obsession.
  • See a therapist – An obsession that persists despite your best efforts calls for professional counseling.
  • Avoid too much contact – Limit interactions with the target person as you work to become less emotionally dependent.
  • Practice mindfulness – Meditation and yoga calm the mind’s tendency to fixate.

With consistent effort and support, you can break free of the obsessive cycle and redirect your energy in a healthier direction.

When to seek professional help

You should consider seeking mental health treatment if:

  • Your obsession lasts 6 months or more with no sign of lessening.
  • It’s severely negatively impacting your work or personal life.
  • You’ve made threats or engaged in criminal stalking behavior.
  • You have symptoms of a mental health disorder beyond the obsession.
  • Self-help efforts to redirect your thoughts have failed.

A combination of medication and psychotherapy can help manage underlying conditions contributing to obsession, provide coping strategies, and monitor risky behavior. Don’t hesitate to get outside support.

Cognitive behavioral therapy for obsession

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is an effective psychological treatment for breaking the obsession cycle. Some of the main techniques include:

  • Cognitive restructuring – Identifying and challenging irrational thoughts.
  • Exposure therapy – Gradually facing feared obsession triggers in a safe setting.
  • Response prevention – Choosing not to engage in obsessive behavioral urges.
  • Relapse prevention – Planning coping strategies to avoid reoccurrence of obsessive thoughts.

This action-oriented therapeutic approach provides customized tools to stop unwanted thoughts and behaviors and adopt healthier responses.

Medications to treat obsession

In some cases, a psychiatrist may prescribe certain medications as an adjunct treatment for obsession, including:

  • SSRIs like Prozac, Zoloft, or Luvox to correct serotonin imbalances associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder.
  • Anti-anxiety medications like benzodiazepines to reduce overall anxiety levels.
  • Antipsychotic drugs like Seroquel or Zyprexa for obsession related to mania or schizophrenia.
  • Mood stabilizers like lithium or Depakote for obsession linked to bipolar disorder.

It’s important medication is used cautiously under medical supervision, as side effects can be significant.

Alternative approaches for obsessive thoughts

Some alternative therapies and lifestyle habits can also help temper obsessive fixation, such as:

  • Mindfulness meditation – Helps accepts thoughts non-judgmentally then let them go.
  • Hypnotherapy – May help “reprogram” subconscious thought patterns.
  • Acupuncture – Can assist with anxiety, insomnia, and other symptoms.
  • Regular exercise – Releases mood-boosting endorphins and reduces stress.
  • Sufficient sleep – Lack of sleep exacerbates psychological issues.
  • Healthy diet – Proper nutrition supports mental health.

While not cure-alls, these self-care practices can support your recovery when combined with primary treatments.

When obsession improves

With effective treatment strategies, your unhealthy obsession can transform into:

  • Indifference – The person may still cross your mind periodically, but without strong emotions.
  • Cordiality – You can interact politely and not feel a compulsion for more contact.
  • Well wishes – If you hear of them succeeding, you feel happy for them rather than jealous.
  • Wisdom – Looking back, you recognize the obsession stemmed from personal issues to resolve.
  • Self-confidence – Your self-esteem no longer depends on someone else’s presence.

With time and distance, sanity returns. The fixation that once dominated your thoughts recedes to make room for meaningful life pursuits.

Preventing obsessive thoughts

While anyone can develop obsessive tendencies under the right circumstances, certain principles can help safeguard your mental health:

  • Cultivate diverse relationships so your happiness doesn’t depend on just one person.
  • Don’t idealize others – remember their flaws and realistic compatibility.
  • Keep your schedule full to avoid excessive time fixating.
  • Maintain regular social contact to avoid isolation.
  • Don’t lose touch with your own identity, needs, values when dating someone.
  • Journal thoughts and feelings to process them in a healthy way.
  • Limit alcohol and drugs that lower inhibitions.
  • Develop your own interests, hobbies and passions.

While we cannot fully control when an obsession develops, establishing solid mental health hygiene makes you more resilient.


In summary, developing an intense fixation is quite common, especially in romantic contexts. However, if left unchecked, such obsessions can take over a person’s life and lead to dangerous behavior. The path forward lies in understanding your emotional needs, challenging irrational thoughts, establishing healthy boundaries, and seeking professional support if needed. With time, effort, and the right help, you can move past obsessive preoccupation to regain balance and perspective.