Are you enthusiastic – or are you obsessed?
If you’ve ever lost an hour (or five) scrolling through your ex’s social media feed, turned down a brunch invitation because you just had to get your daily workout in, or spent an evening sitting alone in the dark, wondering why everything in your life seems to go wrong, you might have toyed with the idea you’re prone to a little obsessiveness.
On the other hand, if you tore through all four Elena Ferrante Neapolitan novels in a month, devoted a whole week to baking bread in pursuit of mastering the perfect loaf, or started watching DIY videos on YouTube in your spare time so you could learn to remodel your bathroom yourself, you might be more inclined to think you’re an ambitious, industrious person who knows how to follow through on a task. But all of these behaviors have something in common: they can easily spiral into obsession. What’s so wrong with being obsessive, anyway?
“Obsessives tend to miss out on the joys of family life. They have a hard time connecting with others,” explains America’s Obsessives: The Compulsive Energy That Built a Nation author, Joshua Kendall.
“They are control freaks who are uncomfortable unless they are in a dominant position in a relationship.”
So how do you know when you’re just super enthusiastic about something, versus being unhealthily obsessed? If any of the following signs sound familiar, it might be time to curb your enthusiasm, before it spirals into something much more destructive…
1. You make impulsive decisions
People with obsessive personalities often act impulsively, writes neuroscientist Dana Smith, PhD, in Scitable. Smith says impulsivity is linked with poor self-control, which is in turn an indicator that you’re prone to addictive or obsessive behavior. If you struggle with impulsive behavior, try taking a nap: a research study at the University of Michigan showed that a one-hour nap helped adults curb their impulsive behavior.
2. You take a lot of risks
Like impulsivity, risk-taking also indicates a lack of self-control. For risk-takers, “life feels empty and boring when risks are not being taken,” explains addiction therapist Candace Plattor. So if you’re prone to taking a lot of risks, whether it’s drinking too much or Facebook-stalking your boyfriend’s ex, the best thing you can do for yourself is to try to find a new, safer stimulation to replace the thrill of taking risks; something that makes life interesting – like taking up tennis, or learning to paint.
3. You’re alone a lot of the time
It’s hard to engage in obsessive behaviors when you’re with other people; binge-eating, exercising past the point of exhaustion, and working until 3a.m. are best done when you’re all alone. So if you’re solo much of the time, you’re more vulnerable to obsessiveness, almost by default. Which means next time you feel a binge of some sort coming on, you should call a friend or go somewhere you’ll be with other people.
4. You struggle with anxiety and depression
“When excessive stress, loneliness, or other difficult issues are present and there is a lack of coping skills, people often turn to behaviors that they perceive to be self-soothing,” says Plattor. That’s why people who live with chronic anxiety and depression often veer into obsessive territory. If you’re anxious or depressed, talk to a doctor who can advise you about whether prescription medication, talk therapy – or both – might be helpful.
5. You constantly overthink things
Overthinking is, actually, a form of obsessive behavior in itself – whether you’re fixated on worrying about the future, or you’re constantly revisiting regrets. And it’s a vicious circle, explains Bruce Hubbard, PhD, director of The Cognitive Health Group in New York City. “Worry reinforces anxious feelings – you literally scare yourself – which, in turn, only leads to more worry.”. Hubbard advises cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, to help people prone to overthinking, by giving them strategies to reduce “the intensity and urgency” of obsessive thoughts.
6. You’re not good with change
What’s the difference between a habit and an obsession? It’s a fine line, but if you’re someone who needs things to be a certain way and flips out when presented with a change in routine, plans, or surroundings, you might have an obsessive personality. “When [a behavior] begins to take over a person’s life and a feeling of dependency develops, then this has outgrown its potential as a habit and is moving swiftly into addiction,” explains Plattor.
7. You change your mind a lot
On the other hand, frequently changing your mind can also be a sign of an obsessive personality. That’s because people who obsess about things often doubt themselves, and are terrified of making the wrong decision. “The ultimate goal of treating obsessive thoughts is to ‘get out of your head’ and into your life,” says Hubbard. Besides therapy, journaling is a helpful tool if you find yourself struggling to make decisions and stick with them.
8. You often feel bad about yourself
Addiction therapist Plattor says that while some obsessive behaviors might not seem dangerous because they don’t cause us physical harm, they can still harm us. “One of the biggest dangers, in my opinion, is the loss of self-respect,” says Plattor. “When we don’t feel good about ourselves, the inclination to hurt ourselves physically or emotionally skyrockets.” Our sense of self, says Plattor, is “hard to develop and far too easy to lose.”
If you see yourself in any of these scenarios, and napping, journaling, taking up a hobby, or reaching out to a friend isn’t helping you get a handle on your obsessive tendencies, make an appointment with your doctor or a therapist. You deserve to live a life free of obsession – so take a risk, and ask for help.
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Comment: Do you have an obsessive personality? How do you keep it in check?