I'm pleased to welcome guest blogger Shannon O'Farrell for a great post on bad love. Read on to learn how to portray obsessive love realistically in your fiction.
Obsessive love is certainly one of the more disturbing directions that love can take. It involves a degree of emotional intensity that can be anxiety-arousing for both the sufferer and those around them. Those who suffer from it will become quite jealous and controlling, often stalking the object of their affections so that they can watch what they do. Threatening letters to the love interest or their friends, reading their emails, opening the love interest’s mail or even forbidding the love interest to leave the house are all possible manifestations of obsessive love.
John D. Moore talks about obsessive love (or relational dependency) in his book, Confusing Love with Obsession, and has devised a wheel that illustrates the four stages of Obsessive Relational Progression which the relationally dependent person constantly cycles through.
It begins in the Attraction Phase with an instant, romantic attraction to a person and a powerful urge to form a relationship that ignores any personality differences, compatibility issues, or even marital status. The individual starts creating an array of unrealistic fantasies about the wonders of that love interest and the amazing qualities of their ‘beloved’. It is at this stage that the obsessive, controlling behaviors first start to manifest though they are far more subtle than at later stages.
This is followed by the Anxious Phase which is normally triggered by a commitment between both parties (though sometimes it occurs regardless of any commitment). An illusory intimacy is formed regardless of any presence of trust between the two individuals. The relationally dependent (RD) individual grows increasingly fearful of both abandonment and infidelity which develops into a need for reassurance through constant contact and demands for the love interest to explain their movements each day in detail. The original obsessive, controlling behaviors escalate – sometimes into stalking, harassment of the love interest’s friends and family and an attempt to cloister away the love interest from interacting with other people. After all, the RD person doesn’t see the need for the ‘love interest’ to deal with other people – isn’t the RD person enough for them? Any rejections of these demands by the love interest are likely to be seen as rejections of the RD individual as a person and this can lead to verbally and/or physically violent reactions.
The Obsessive Phase is the time when the rapid escalation of the unhealthy attachment leads to the love interest withdrawing from the relationship and ultimately attempting to sever it. The RD person suffers extreme anxiety as a result and makes increasingly desperate attempts to take control of the victim. The RD person attempts to gain reassurance through demands for constant attention and neurotic, compulsive behaviors of checking up on the love interest whenever they’re away by telephone calls or dropping by become more frequent and sometimes supplemented by staking out the location to make sure they are where they say they are.
The Destructive Phase represents the relationship’s destruction once the prior behaviors cause the love interest to flee, causing the RD person to plummet into a deep depression. They lose self-esteem, blame themselves, feel anger and a desire for revenge against the love interest, and perhaps self-medicate through drugs and alcohol. They might even deny that the relationship is over and put increased efforts into trying to save the relationship by promising to change. They may also become suicidal due to the intensity of their emotional pain and if left untreated may actually make an attempt.
This is obviously a very intense and painful experience for all parties involved and can make for some very interesting situations in novels. The hard part is remembering that relationally dependent individuals act from a position of extreme anxiety and while their behaviors can sometimes be quite terrible and scarring for the victim, that is not generally their intention. Thus, the relationally dependent can make for quite sympathetic antagonists.
Shannon O’Farrell is a psychology honors student with a keen interest in existing psychological research. She is an unpublished author in the Fantasy genre who updates regularly in her blog: On Writing.