Real Living: Can't let you go, babe

When does passionate love spill over and become unhealthy obsession? Claire Seeber investigates

The week after I split up with William, I called round to see my best friend. She came to the door flushed and quite obviously hiding something from me. I didn't know it was William."

Jodie, down-to earth and delicate, learnt the meaning of obsession when she finished with her boyfriend. After years of abusive behaviour, leaving him was a struggle - she loved him, but she couldn't live with his neglect any longer. William, however, was determined to get her back. Unfortunately his idea of proving his love to Jodie was fuelled by an obsession that no one else should have her. He scared off her potential lovers with physical threats, attacking one guy in a club, and then systematically began to seduce all her friends. He wrote her poetry - when he'd never written her so much as a Post-it note before - and hounded her socially.

"He got into my house and read my diary - which was hidden. He'd ring me and quote whole chunks back to me," Jodie says. "Then suddenly every time I went out I was met with gossip involving William and his sexual exploits - with my friends. If he couldn't have me, he wanted to rub my face in it. I didn't want to be with him, but I didn't want to keep turning up to places to see him with girls I knew. He was trying to make me jealous and stay in my life any way he could.

"Finally I met someone I really liked and didn't see Will for a while. He turned up at my house really pissed when Jason, my new boyfriend, was away and started screaming that Jason had been sleeping with loads of girls behind my back. I didn't believe him, but it planted seeds of doubt in my mind. It was all so warped."

He had become totally obsessive, refusing to accept it was over simply because he didn't want it to be, and until Jodie moved away, it continued. "The irony was," says Jodie, "if he'd only been half as interested in me when we'd been together, perhaps it would have lasted."

"Love is the sweetest addiction", or so Erica Jong once declared. At least it is until you can't have it any more, and then it is perhaps the most bitter of pills. Recent studies suggest that love is triggered by chemical hormones in our bodies and that it is, like all things nice, addictive. But at what point does acceptable, everyday love spiral out of control and into obsession?

Hollywood has long been the playground of the great lover, but even money and status can't quell a fixation. Singer Sheena Easton recently split from her third husband, director Tim Delarm, a year after they'd eloped. Thrice married Sheena filed for divorce, citing irreconcilable differences and denying Delarm "spousal support". He, by all accounts, refused to accept it was over and, last month, she took out an injunction to keep him away from her. In a recent letter to fans, Easton reassures them that "a lot of therapy" is helping her get through "paying for my mistakes".

So what pushes someone otherwise quite sane into the depths of desperate obsession? Well, fiction, like film, has always taught us that love is blind. The Ancient Greeks believed love was a form of insanity, but from Wuthering Heights to Mills and Boon, we are indoctrinated by the belief that to love unconditionally is aspirational. Cinderella's prince was so infatuated that he was prepared to traverse the kingdom smelling feet until he found the object of his desire, whilst Snow White's kissed a corpse. Heathcliff was undoubtedly obsessed by Cathy, so that even his life after her death was dictated by his love. And Thackeray's Vanity Fair, recently adapted by the BBC, centred around the fair Amelia Osborne, so fixated by the memory of her late husband that she ignored all indications of his unfaithful heart and refused to love another until the spell was broken more than 10 years later. It is not surprising that some of us step over the thin line and into obsession.

Despite our universal celebration of love, we are expected automatically to know our boundaries. The man serenading his love under her window in a sleeping street is a romantic - not so the man who stalks his ex wherever she may go. The first stages of love are meant to be wild, inexplicable and exhilarating. But then it's meant to settle into something more calming - or fizzle out. It is not meant to be totally out of control.

So what drives the obsession? An anxious state, a desire to own, complete delusion, a refusal to accept that something is over. A denial of rejection or change. The obsessed cannot think of anything but their object of desire. It becomes their life's focus. And depending on that person's nature the obsession can be anything from mild to menacing.

Dr Niall Campbell, consultant psychiatrist at Tolworth Hospital, Kingston- upon-Thames, suggests that it is not literature or even society to blame for obsessive love, but the individual. "We believe it's the norm to be in a relationship, but some people can't do it," he says. "The person who becomes obsessed is usually dysfunctional or empty in some way, whether it's an insecurity caused by unstable role models during childhood or previous bad relationships. Displaying inappropriate jealousy or obsessive behaviour is not psychotic, but more likely to be triggered by a personality disorder - some sort of problem coping with life and/or relationships ."

The tragedy of obsessive love is that it's often the very obsession which drives the beloved away. Carol met Oliver and everything was going well until Oliver started to become obsessive about her. "I couldn't understand why," Carol says "but he suddenly became really paranoid. We were commuting to see each other, and Oliver would write really long vivid letters, full of drawings of me. When he came to stay, he'd expect to see the letters pinned above my bed. Then during one visit we went to the pub with Pete and Joe, my flat-mates. As we walked home Oliver took a key to Pete's new car - just because I'd mentioned Pete's name.

"The next day I went shopping. I returned to find Oliver had burned every single photo of me with my ex, in the middle of my floor, plus a shirt that I'd been wearing in one of the photos. After that I started to feel scared of him and when I went away to college, I called it a day."

Dr Campbell suggests that the obsessive type is "prone to other negative emotions, such as depression or feelings of inadequacy, and likely to be very black and white about relationships. They will have unrealistic ideals of any affair whilst simultaneously looking for something to go wrong." Carol was fortunate that Oliver accepted things were through - often the end is only the beginning of the trouble.

The last woman to be hanged, Ruth Ellis, famously depicted by Miranda Richardson in Dance With A Stranger, was so haunted by her selfish lover that the only way she could be sure to cure the problem was to shoot him. We all know the story of Othello, whose obsession became pathological, deluding himself to such an extent that the only relief was to kill the woman he loved. Modern-day cases of such jealousy include men who have installed secret mirrors to spy on their wives and one City broker who carried a machete in his briefcase to use against his wife's imaginary lovers.

But the most serious form of obsessive love comes in the form of De Clerambault Syndrome, or erotomania. This is the belief that someone, usually unattainable - ie your doctor, lawyer or even Rod Stewart - loves you passionately - although you may not feel you love them back. It's very often a female illness and is generally accompanied by other problems such as depression, schizophrenia or alcohol-related disorders. Sufferers will pester the object of their desire - and it's the form of obsessive love most likely to turn violent when the victim feels rejection.

Dr Campbell maintains "there is no real connecting cause between cases of obsessive love". It is down to the individual. So if you're at the end of your tether when your ex has just turned up outside your window again, the best thing to do is "make no contact. No communication whatsoever - the obsessed will only thrive on anything you feed them, and will misinterpret your words or actions to suit their delusion. If the worst comes to the worst, take out an injunction."

Not every tale of obsessive love ends in high drama. Like Proust's hero Swann, who obsessed about his courtesan until he married her, obsession can sometimes be simple delusion, fuelled by nothing much better to think about. So if you've ever caught yourself dropping your loved one's name needlessly into conversation, just for the thrill of hearing the word, do not fear. Plenty of us have rung answerphones just to listen to those special dulcet tones, and some of us have written unposted letters to the one that jilted us. It's fine to wallow in memories of when it was still good as long as you can start afresh when your next lover comes along. The day, however, that you wake up and find pleasure in the pain of obsession, is the day to seek help.

Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind-the-scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
i100(and it's got nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off)
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
peopleAsked whether he was upset not to be invited, he responded by saying he was busy with the Emmy Awards
Bill Kerr has died aged 92
peopleBill Kerr appeared in Hancock’s Half Hour and later worked alongside Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers
news It's not just the world that's a mess at the moment...
footballPremiership preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's matches
Keira Knightley poses topless for a special September The Photographer's issue of Interview Magazine, out now
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
Life and Style
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    C# Algo-Developer (BDD/TDD, ASP.NET, JavaScript, RX)

    £45000 - £69999 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Algo-Develo...

    Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, Apache Mahout, Python,R,AI)

    £60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

    Data Scientist (SQL,Data mining, data modelling, PHD, AI)

    £50000 - £80000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: Data Sci...

    Java Developer - 1 year contract

    £350 - £400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Cent...

    Day In a Page

    Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

    The phoney war is over

    Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
    From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

    Salomé: A head for seduction

    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
    From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

    British Library celebrates all things Gothic

    Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
    The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

    Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

    The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

    In search of Caribbean soul food

    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
    11 best face powders

    11 best face powders

    Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
    England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
    Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone