Caroline Cranshaw: Is it love or obsession? What to do when infatuation goes too far

Recently in the news, there’s a story of a woman from the U.S. who has been charged for sending over 65,000 unwanted text messages as well as harassing and stalking. Jacqueline Ades, 31, from Arizona met a man through online dating website Luxy, which endorses itself as being the “leading luxury millionaire dating app for wealthy, successful, beautiful and attractive men and women.”

Ades and the man had one date before he told her he didn't want to see her again. This rejection seemed to trigger Jacqueline off who started to send him up to 500 texts a day, with lovely messages like: “I want to bathe in your blood…” “Don’t ever leave me because I will kill you and I don’t want to be a murderer.”

She broke into his home several times, and the police even caught her having a bath at his house, she was arrested and charged with trespassing. After her release, she continued to send threatening messages, and would show up at his business claiming to be his wife, telling everyone he was her soulmate, they would get married, and everything was going to be fine. Being arrested, dealing with the police, and the courts didn't seem to stop her obsession.

So why do people become romantically obsessed, even when they’re told no and their passionate feelings are not reciprocated?

Being obsessed with a personal relationship and a certain person, and calling that preoccupation love, is a mental health issue and brain studies now show is a form of addiction. When they do a brain scan of people who have been rejected by someone they have romantic feelings towards, the pain centres of the brain as well as the addiction centres are activated. The brain scans look very similar to people withdrawing from a drug addiction.

Like all addicts, spurned lovers demonstrate an intense motivation to have their drug: the object of their affection. They think obsessively about the person, unable to focus on other things. When the rejected parties were asked what percentage of the day and night they thought about their beloved, most replied that they thought about the person around 85 per cent of the time that they were awake and others said they never stop thinking about him or her.

The two phases of romantic rejection:

Psychologists have categorised romantic rejection into two phases. The protest phase and the resignation/despair phase. During the protest phase, the rejected lover obsessively tries to win back their love. Once resignation/despair starts to set in, the lover loses hope and falls into despair, and eventually comes to a place of acceptance and hopefully moves on.

Scientists believe the protest phase is hardwired into our biology to keep us safe. The answer lies in our DNA. We are social creatures and being rejected from our clan or community in our pre-modern past would have meant losing food, family, partners and protection. This would have made it very tough to survive, so being banished was the same as receiving a death sentence. Since the magnitude of being on our own was so life-threatening, we have evolved a hypersensitive alarm system to warn us if we are in danger of being ostracised. It does this by causing pain and anxiety whenever we perceive a rejection.

When rejected, people can crash down into severe mental and physical pain as well as withdrawal. And long after the relationship is over, even the slightest reminder, such as a certain song or place, can re-trigger their intense craving for the person.

For some of us, we get stuck in the protest phase and our nervous systems become so activated in the fight or flight response, we develop what's called frustration aggression, which is also known as abandonment rage.

What to do if you’re obsessed with someone:

  • Get help

A lot of times, we become obsessed in relationships due to unresolved trauma. From childhood, from previous relationships, and mental health issues which are not easy to resolve by yourself. There is no shame in getting help from someone with experience in helping people deal with relationship issues. Like a personal trainer for your mind. I highly recommend seeing an experienced therapist who is also trained in hypnotherapy for the fastest results in resolving your obsession both consciously and subconsciously (which is where your obsession stems from.)

  • Create aversions to the person you keep thinking about

If you are having a hard time letting go, you may be thinking of only the positives about the person and conveniently forgetting the negatives. We move away from pain and towards pleasure, so it helps to focus on the negative aspects of the person you're trying to forget. If you can’t think of any, I want you to make some up.

Imagine them naked with horrible hygiene, the most unattractive body type you can imagine and the worst case of multiple STD’s you can think of. Rotting teeth, terrible breath, sores and pus oozing from their genitals - at least the ones you can see through the masses of body hair. Most of us can think of a person who fills us with disgust, imagine that person’s face super-imposed over the person you want to forget. Your brain will want to change the channel and think about something else instead.

  • See other people

Everyone is different, but I find meeting someone new, is one of the most helpful things you can do to move on. There is truth to the saying, “The best way to get over someone, is to under someone else.” It’s completely wasted energy pining for someone who doesn't want to be with you. If you're meant to be with them you will be, but moping around by yourself, thinking about someone you're not with - will not make you feel better.

You deserve to be with someone who loves and adores you and staying home and making out with your misery isn’t sensible, it’s being a martyr. Just make sure you don’t talk about the other person you’ve been thinking about. You will come off much more attractive if you are discreet about your past lovers. Open yourself up for someone who will be just as madly in love with you, as you are with them.

What to do if someone is obsessed with you:

  • Be very clear that there is no hope for a relationship

People don't like hurting other people's feelings. Rather than being honest and saying there is no hope of ever having a relationship, sometimes we can lead people on by not being upfront. It's nice when someone likes you, and sometimes even when we are not that interested, we can lead people on. And that hot and cold game, tends to be a big trigger for people becoming obsessed. If you have someone you know is holding out hope for a relationship with you and you are not interested, you need to tell them in a very upfront way to help them move on. Be honest.

  • No contact

If you are aware that someone is obsessed with you, you need to block them in every way possible. This is not being mean. This will help them get over it faster. You need to block them from your phone, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, What’s app, email and any other way of contacting you possible. Seeing you or any information about you will continue to trigger their obsession. Our biology has not caught up with technology, and every photo, message, and information about when you're online or if you’re messaging someone prolongs their suffering. Block their arse for their own good!

I understand in some situations like when you have children, you still have to have contact with them but you can still put boundaries in place. For instance, only allowing contact through email or text, and if they abuse that, it has to go through another person as a mediator. You do not have to put up with being abused.

  • Contact the authorities

Stalking and harassment are illegal. Intimate stalkers are the most common type of stalker and also the most dangerous. The risk of violence from an intimate stalker is about 75%. Violence could be anything from pushing and shoving to more severe violence and sexual assaults. Many domestic violence murders have a stalking element. Go to the police, get a protection order, tell your friends and family as well as your workplace so people are aware.

People do what they know they can get away with and a big part of why stalking behaviour escalates is it's not nipped in the bud soon enough. The police are here to help you, ask for their help, it might just save your life.

Find out more ways to get help here

Caroline Cranshaw is a hypnotherapist, founder and trainer at the New Zealand  Integrative Hypnotherapy Training Institute and the author of The Smoking Cure. Find out more about her at Listen to Caroline's new podcast WTF Stories & Advice.