Obsession is a trait that does not discriminate. This is likely why you can’t go too long without hearing a song about it, reading a book dedicated to obsessive characters and behaviors, or seeing marketing campaigns targeted to evoke this emotion in consumers.
But what about when you do not know how to stop obsessing? Or what about the people who cannot fight this compulsion they cannot get through their days efficiently? The good news is since obsessive thinking is so common, there is no shortage of resources or therapists available to help you combat this issue should you need help.
What dictates obsession?
Before you can learn how to stop obsessing, you must first understand what it is. In the most basic form, obsession pertains to someone losing control of their emotions and behaviors due to their affinity for someone or something. This can also mean that the person is experiencing an inner struggle between their desire to feed their obsession and their understanding that they need to take a step away from it to function in a healthy way.
The root of obsessive behavior
Now that you know the ‘what’, it’s time to understand the ‘why.’ If someone develops an obsession, it could be due to early life traumas with unstable caregivers, one of several related mental health conditions, or an underlying control issue. A great deal can go into an obsession, so it is essential to understand the difference between strong feelings and obsessive thoughts.
Signs that point to obsession
Millions of people suffer from varying degrees of obsession, but how can you tell if you are one of them?
This feeling is typically reserved for romantic relationships, but it does not exclusively apply to them. Jealousy can occur in platonic relationships and professional ones, in addition to its presence in romantic partnerships. Jealousy can trigger obsessive thoughts because it is coming from a place of suspicion and insecurity, two upsetting thoughts that can encourage impulsive and obsessive behavior.
2. Low self-esteem
If your self-worth is exceptionally low all the time, then it might be because you have an unhealthy obsession with something or someone that you have hinged your self-worth onto. This could be anything from a toxic relationship to body image issues.
Do you constantly feel like you are treading water and are overwhelmed more than usual? It could be obsession raising itself once again. If you are obsessed with one thing, it is only natural to have an inability to tend to the other areas of your life, and you can see why this has the potential to be detrimental. When you ignore parts of your life that require attention for long periods, getting back on track can be so overwhelming that you do not know where to start to deal with it.
4. Inability to unplug
If you find it physically or emotionally uncomfortable to unplug and unwind, this is one of the adverse effects of an obsession. If you cannot unplug, literally and physically, because you are too fearful of missing something as it relates to your obsession, then you need to evaluate this honestly. Sometimes, the things we are plugged into, such as work, conversations, social media, and television, are causing our obsessive actions and thoughts.
Clinical and medical situations
Some do not know how to stop obsessing because they have an undiagnosed mental health condition that prevents them from doing so. These can be outliers or extreme cases, but you must be aware of this information to recognize these things in yourself or someone you love. Mental disorders do not discriminate, so turning a blind eye to the possibility that you’ll encounter one in your life, in some way, would be doing yourself a disservice.
This is a cognitive illness in which sufferers have irrational thoughts and fears that force them into compulsive rituals and impulsive behaviors. This is something that typically requires cognitive behavioral therapy or possibly medication to overcome or regulate.
A mental health professional is also one of the best lines of defense against this disorder taking over your entire life. If you cannot stop obsessing on your own, that is one sign you may be afflicted, but that is vague. Here are a few others that are common among sufferers:
- Germophobic tendencies
- Overly aggressive ways of thinking
- Thoughts centered around traditionally inappropriate choices to gain attention
- An inability to tolerate any amount of disorder or chaos
Obsessive-compulsive disorder typically has the highest rate of being overcome by those who seek professional support. There is a significant difference between OCD symptoms popping up in your life occasionally and said symptoms taking over your life, causing you intrusive thoughts that decrease your overall quality of life. Professional help traditionally has a stigma attached to it, but if your choices are to suffer in silence or reach out for help, love yourself enough to pick the latter.
When can obsessive thoughts be a good thing?
When it comes to personal growth and improvement, obsessive thoughts are not always bad. Certain mindfulness techniques can mirror obsessive behaviors. One area where this can be apparent is someone’s health journey. Suppose you are dedicated or obsessed with lifestyle choices that support an overall healthy life. In that case, so long as they do not spiral or become unhealthy and chaotic, this is an example of a good obsession.
Eating disorders can stem from obsessive thoughts, so be incredibly careful and stay self-aware enough to know where the line is and if you are close to crossing it. The National Institute of Mental Health suggests that eating disorders are actually about more than food, so speaking with a professional can be a good resource for you if you are having trouble determining where you land on the issue.
How to stop obsessing and relax
Sometimes, we obsess over something or someone and cannot find a way to pull ourselves out of it. Sometimes, the energy spent thinking about relaxing can cause even more turmoil. Here are some relaxation suggestions when you acknowledge you need to slow down but do not know where to start.
- Take a long, warm bath or shower
- Read a book
- Cook a new meal or try a new restaurant
These are all actionable examples, but what about when your body is calm, but it’s your mind that needs settling down?
- Acknowledge and understand what triggered these obsessive thoughts
- Name the thought and label it as an intrusive thought
- Talk through the situation with someone in your support system
- Focus on intentional deep breathing to release the thoughts with each breath
- Try writing down your thoughts, and depending on the thought, also write down the solution or resolution.
If you try any of these tactics and still find that you cannot stop obsessing, it is time to switch strategies. Give these remedies enough time to determine if they are or are not successful for you, but recognize when they are not, and move on. Time spent on inefficient solutions is just more time wasted with intrusive thoughts.
When obsession and romance collide, the combination can be pretty heavy, and obsessive love is something that can sweep you up so fast you might not even realize what is going on until you are too far into it. Pay close attention to the actions and words of you and your partner so that you can objectively recognize whether any obsessive tendencies have found their way into your relationship.
When you cannot stop yourself from checking in on someone, to the point that you are doing so without them knowing, it could be considered stalking. Such as driving by their home to see if their car is there or compulsively looking at their social media accounts to analyze their activity; this is not a sign of a healthy relationship.
If you have begun to be threatened or blackmailed by your partner emotionally, or visa versa, you should reconsider the relationship. When love is used as a tool for manipulation and one person is troubled, and at the same time, the other is either happy or emotionless, this can put the person involved at risk for developing an obsession around pleasing the control seeker.
Signs of a healthy relationship
On the flip side, not every partnership is doomed to experience obsession. Here are a few examples of things that exist within healthy pairings between two people.
- You are both comfortable being yourselves
- You do not fear communication
- You have evidence of healthy and respectful solutions to disagreements
- You both work to meet each others’ needs while also communicating your own
Of course, this list is not complete, and there can be hundreds, if not more, signs that point to the level of health within a relationship. But this shortlist is a good place to start if you are curious about where yours stands.
There is such an extensive range of considerations in terms of obsession. How to acknowledge it, how to deal with it, and how to stop it. It is also important to note that you are certainly not alone if you are not experiencing obsession. Many people feel and experience similar thoughts in similar scenarios.
It is important to give yourself credit if you recognize this behavior in yourself and are working to stop or decrease it in your life. Anything from a simple nature walk to professional help can provide relief depending on the severity and nature of your specific obsession. Your health and wellbeing should always be a top priority and taking care of yourself and what you need is an admirable quality in anyone.