The Differences Between Love and Obsession

Distinguishing love from obsession is essential to strengthen emotional intelligence, establish healthy relationships, and promote well-being. In this article, we explain the differences between the two.
The Differences Between Love and Obsession

Last update: 07 July, 2022

Love often tends to be confused with certain pathological personality traits. One of them is obsession. It’s characterized by a strong romantic attraction and the obsessive need for it to be reciprocated in the same way.

Not knowing how to recognize the differences between love and obsession can harm relationships, as well as your own emotional health. However, it can be quite a difficult task. Indeed, it’s often common to believe that love has the same kinds of manic characteristics as obsession.

In this article, we’ll show you the main differences between love and obsession so you know how to recognize them.

Obsession doesn’t mean love

The first thing to bear in mind is that love and obsession are two absolutely different states. Although obsession may seem like the exaggeration of love, in reality it isn’t.

Obsession doesn’t imply loving someone, but rather feeling that you can’t live without them. Psychologist, Dorothy Tennov, states that obsessive behavior lies in:

  • Desire. Above all, the well-being of the desired person.
  • Changing your agenda to match theirs and adopting stalker-like behavior.
  • Focusing only on their plus points and ignoring their flaws.
  • Falsifying your own attitudes to portray the kind of personality that they like.
  • Feeling a kind of relief when you think, speak, see, or sense their presence.

Tennov also describes a series of physical effects of obsession,. For example, palpitations, tremors, inconstant sweating, and eating disorders.

Couple kissing in bed
With obsession, it’s understood that partners are each other’s property.

The main differences between love and obsession

It’s essential to know how to distinguish between love and obsession, otherwise, you could easily find yourself in a toxic relationship and feeling emotionally uncomfortable. So read the following carefully.

Your idea of them

When you feel love for someone, you see them as your complement. On the other hand, with obsession, you feel a sense of loss. In fact, you feel empty when they’re not around.

With obsession, you feel that you can’t live without your partner, that you need them. However, when you’re in love, your happiness and fulfillment don’t depend on them.

Possessiveness

Another difference between love and obsession is possessiveness. If you’re obsessed, you believe that your partner belongs to you, so you exercise constant and obsessive control over them. For example, you have a need to know their plans down to the last detail as well as who they’re with and what they’re doing at all times.

When you’re obsessed, you reserve yourself exclusively for your partner, losing sight of your own life. It’s as if your whole world revolves around them.

On the other hand, love is based on acceptance, freedom, and respect. When you love someone, you allow them to cultivate their own individuality and be free to follow their dreams. In addition, you assume that they’re responsible for themselves, and you recognize that you don’t have to monitor their actions or try to control them obsessively.

Jealousy

When you love someone, you respect their personal and intimate spaces. There’s no room for irrational jealousy or obsessive possession. In addition, you trust in the fact that they’re in a relationship with you because they want to be, and they’re free to end it if they choose to.

On the contrary, obsession is based on the need to fill an intrinsic void, for fear of being abandoned and feeling helpless. If you’re obsessed, any indication that your partner is cultivating their own life and relating to others makes you feel jealous, afraid, and insecure. Consequently, you resort to controlling them and demanding their presence at all times.

Woman looking at her husband's cell phone.
Jealousy indicates feelings of insecurity.

Self-esteem

If you’re obsessed with someone, you’re probably suffering from low self-esteem. That’s because if you’re not capable of loving yourself, you experience a great emptiness, which you seek to fill and satisfy with another person. This is why you feel that you can’t live without them.

To love another genuinely, it’s essential to love yourself. Only then will you be able to respect subjectivity and accept the freedom of your partner. You must remember that your partner isn’t there to fill a gap but to complement you.

Grief after a breakup

Finally, when talking about the differences between love and obsession, we should mention the experience of a breakup. In the case of love, grief usually develops normally, without lengthening or becoming pathological.

However, grieving is usually much more difficult when an obsessive relationship ends. That’s because other psychological problems such as low self-esteem, emotional dependence, fear of loneliness, and personal insecurities come into play. It’s always best to visit a psychologist to help overcome these kinds of conflicts.

Finally, it’s quite common for an obsessive person to ‘fall in love’ with another person shortly after the end of a breakup because they need someone to fill that emotional void.

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