Confusing Love with Obsession -- John Moore -- 02/06/03
By John Moore
How can you tell the difference between a healthy relationship and one that is destructive or emotionally harmful? We discussed the line between love and obsession with John Moore, author of Confusing Love With Obsession.
The opinions expressed herein are the guest's alone and have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.
Moderator: Hello John. Welcome to WebMD Live. How can you tell the difference between love and obsession?
Moore: I'll take the latter part of that question first. Obsession is when you cannot function as a person on a daily basis without thinking about an object of affection. Love is mutually supportive, caring, and giving.
Moderator: What are some of the key warning signs that someone is obsessed?
Usually these red flags will occur within days of meeting someone new. The attraction on the part of the obsessed person is instantaneous.
Member: Why shouldn't our thoughts turn to a person of affection, especially more often than not when a relationship is new and fresh?
Moore: When you are unable to work, take care of yourself, or go about normal daily activities because your mind is constantly on "them," that is the obsession. This is different than infatuation.
Member: Who wouldn't want to receive jewelry, flowers, or clothing?
Moore: You're right; those are wonderful things to receive. But ask yourself, the day after meeting someone new, is it appropriate to be receiving these kinds of gifs? Usually these gifts all come together in a successive way and happen several days in a row because the obsessed person is trying to buy love, or what I call "trap love."
Moderator: So money can be used to manipulate someone?
Moore: Money can be used as a tool of control.
Member: Well if I went out on a date and clicked well with someone and they sent me flowers is that obsessive?
Moore: Not necessarily. However, if you follow those flowers up with jewelry, emails, faxes, telephone calls, and love letters that is obsessive.
Member: Perhaps they know a potential good chemistry when they see it and want to attract your attention.
Moore: If you receive on the same day, or even in two days in a row, a myriad of flowers, candies, telephone calls, faxes, emails, or other forms of communication, that should be a red flag.
Member: What, besides money, can be considered controlling? Could behaviors such as being in public and always having to grab the partner's hand, etc., to make known that he is with her -- could that be controlling? What are other ways of controlling exist in an emotionally harmful relationship?
Moore: That can be one way. Also, psychological violence, meaning restrictive behaviors can be a tool of control. If you are made to feel uncomfortable with a partner because they are restricting your behavior and/or whereabouts, that is controlling.
Member: If a person threatens suicide if the partner leaves, do you believe that it could be isolated incidents, or do you consider that to be a warning sign?
Moore: That is a serious warning sign. In the book I present a concept called Obsessive Relational Progression. The threat of suicide or actual act indicates that the person can no longer function because the relationship has ended.
Member: Do you consider suicide threats to be psychological violence?
Moore: I consider suicide threats to be serious and should be taken seriously. Anytime a person threatens to commit suicide, this is a cry for help. If someone threatens to commit suicide take the threat seriously and encourage her or him to get help. Being in love should not mean living in agony.
Member: I have been dating a guy on and off for several months, even got the police involved when he was threatening suicide and he was forced to see a counselor (but hasn't completely followed through). He has no friends and talks to no one but me. How can I encourage him to make other friends and have other focuses besides me?
Moore: The simple answer is you can't. If he is obsessed with you the only thing you can do is encourage him to continue with counseling and to join a support group for people who are addicted to another. You can remain supportive, however, you must be careful in how you attempt to help him, as he may mistake your actions as a form of love.
Member: What do you think of a 36-year-old man that calls constantly? If I have a friend over and he calls he wants to know who it is. If I tell him that I can't talk right now, he will continuously call back until I either take the phone off the hook or give up and talk to him.
Moore: That's a good warning sign of an obsession. You need to set a boundary, meaning that you tell the person that his behaviors are unacceptable. If he cannot respect your wishes you may have to take more drastic means, including going to the police. Obsessive behaviors do not get better on their own. Usually, the person who confuses love with obsession needs a wake-up call in order to realize what they are doing.
Member: Don't restraining orders sometimes make it worse?
Moore: In some cases there is no doubt, they have. But in order to protect yourself from a stalker, this tool must be considered. It really depends on the situation. I've seen people change their telephone numbers and, in some cases, move, in order to escape a stalker.
Member: Do you think serious issues of obsession -- threats, etc. -- are fixable? Can counseling help or should you just completely leave a situation like that?
Moore: There is hope. Counseling in conjunction with support groups and a commitment on the part of the obsessed person to change their behavior does bring about results. The onus, however, is on the obsessed person to make that person and change and not on the person being obsessed over.
Moderator: Do women stalk men or is it always men stalking women?
Moore: Women do stalk men, and in fact, according to the National Center for Victims of Crime 370,000 men are stalked annually. This means one out of 45 men will be stalked during his lifetime. Women are stalked at a rate of over one million a year, which means one out of every 12 women will be stalked during her lifetime. Stalking need not be in the physical form to qualify as "stalking." Cyber-stalking is another serious form of stalking behavior.
Member: My sister and her husband (they have only been married a year) are being stalked by his ex-girlfriend on a daily basis. The police have even arrested her, and then she told the police they were stalking her. The police arrested them, they all got out in a few hours, but this ex-girlfriend is a psycho. They have taped phone calls and letters that she has sent to them threatening to kill them. It's a nightmare for our family
Moore: According to what you've said, this person sounds like a rejected stalker. And in fact, this is the most serious kind of stalker because their goal is to seek out revenge. I encourage you to keep working with the police and other law enforcement officials. You may want to call the National Center for Victims of Crime at 800-FYI-CALL.
Member: Granted, each relationship is different. But if a guy tells you that he loves you, within a week or two of dating, I assume that would be a red flag? Also, gifts, constant communication, etc., can be signs. Are there any other that I have missed?
Moore: In addition to that are restrictive behaviors. For example: Refusing to or making it very uncomfortable to communicate with life-long friends and/or family members. The goal of the obsessed person is to make all of the attention that you give to be directed toward her or him. Again, you need to look at all of the behaviors together and reach a conclusion.
Moderator: In your book, one of your case studies deals with a man who used food to purposely keep his wife overweight -- why would a person do that?
Moore: In the chapter entitled, 'The Tools of Control," one of the case studies deals with a man who uses food to purposely sabotage his wife's appearance. He first restricts her ability to go to the gym by playing the guilt card, in other words, making her feel guilty for wanting to work out. He then takes over the cooking duties at home. Secretly, he begins to add fattening ingredients to healthy foods. For example, adding lard to fish. Also, he knew that his wife liked chocolate, and so he always made sure there was plenty of that in the house. She ballooned from a 139 pounds to over 200 pounds in a short period of time.
Why would he do this? Because he was afraid that her good looks would cause her to meet someone new and thus abandon the marriage. As I say in the book, people that confuse love with obsession will do anything to keep another shackled to the relationship.
Member: My husband will sabotage any diet I'm on. Is that obsessive?
Moore: I want people to know that there is a difference between co-dependency and relational dependency, which I define in the book. Co-dependency means that a person is dependant upon another to function normally; relational dependency is a dependency upon a relationship or the illusion of a relationship.
Member: In an issue of dependence and co-dependence some people thrive on being the center of another's attention constantly.
Moore: Yes, that is true. And that would be more of a co-dependency issue. Sometimes, people love being surrounded by chaos.
Member: Can you change someone who has relational dependency? What kind of therapy helps?
Moore: I encourage and believe in various kinds of therapy, including psychotherapy, because the root cause of these obsessive behaviors can usually be traced to traumatic childhoods where love and support from family members was usually a myth. People who confuse love with obsession often come from horrific childhoods where the need to control another in adulthood occurs through no fault of their own.
Member: What do you do with a man that is obsessive but you love him?
Moore: That's a good question. I would encourage that you seek out the guidance of a marriage and family therapist.
Member: Since Valentine's Day is on the way do you predict that obsessive behaviors are about to peak?
Moore: Valentine's Day often times serves as an emotional "trigger," reminding many people of their loneliness. But what's important to remember is that love and obsession are completely different. What we're talking about, really, are attachment styles. The Greeks would call someone who has an unselfish love for another as a Agape and they would also call a person who's obsessed as having a manic love style, meaning they literally have a mania for an object of affection.
Member: Where is the line between being cared for and being controlled?
Moore: The line is sometimes difficult to see, but there are a few bright lines. When a person refuses to let a partner have any friends, they are confusing love with obsession. When they make you quit your job or don't let you work at all, fearing infidelity, they are confusing love with obsession. And when a person uses physical violence to exert control over another, they are absolutely confusing love with obsession.
Member: We all want to control our lovers to an extent to fit the mold of our needs.
Moore: Control should never be apart of the definition of love.
Member: So what is healthy love?
Moore: Healthy love is mutually supportive, giving, trusting, and caring. It is the opposite of controlling.
Member: I agree that we have to let the person we love continue to be the person we fell in love with.
Moore: For people who confuse love with obsession, they're not falling in love with a person, but with the fantasy of the relationship. It's an illusion. Consider this analogy: Imagine a damsel in distress and a knight in shining armor gallantly riding into her life and saving her from overwhelming terror. It is this mythical illusion or emotional illusion that people who confuse love with obsession find themselves involved with. Rather than finding happiness from within, an obsessed person looks to others for happiness, thereby denying them one of the greatest gifts of all, self-love.
Member: How do you know the difference between a dangerous obsession and an innocent one?
Moore: All obsessions have a certain amount of danger. In the book, I present a concept illustrated through the obsessive love wheel. There are four stages represented in the wheel:
The obsessive and destructive phases are the most dangerous. This, of course, is explained in great detail in the book.
Member: Do you feel that Hollywood and the media have romanticized obsessive behaviors? I think of such stories as "Endless Love" and say, "Hey, it comes with such nice music, but did it give anyone ideas about how to get a lover's attention?"
Moore: I think the problem of obsessive behaviors has become compounded by societal messages. A case in point might be music. The song "Every Breath You Take" by The Police is an example. And look at "Joe Millionaire." Here we see a group of individuals throwing themselves at a man based on his status -- money. That's a form of relational validation. Our society is such that we have come to believe that the woman or man attached to our arm somehow validates us.
Moderator: John, we are almost out of time. Before we wrap up for today, do you have any final comments for us?
Moore: I want people to know that the way we love is learned, and that understanding how we love and we attach ourselves to relationships is important. You can also visit my website at www.johndmoore.net.
Moderator: Our thanks to John D. Moore. For more information, please read Confusing Love with Obsession by John D. Moore.
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