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.

Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
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

    Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

    £600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

    Commercial Litigation Associate

    Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

    Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

    £65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

    Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

    £40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

    Day In a Page

    Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

    The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

    What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
    Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

    Finding the names for America’s shame

    The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
    Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

    Inside a church for Born Again Christians

    As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
    Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
    Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

    Incredible survival story of David Tovey

    Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little