We can define obsession as a “persistent, disturbing preoccupation” with something or — in this case — someone.
It’s one thing to find it hard to get someone out of your head; it’s another thing when you find yourself actively dwelling on that someone and looking for ways to feed an insatiable hunger to be near them — if only in your imagination.
You want to know how to stop obsessing over someone. But so far it’s been easier said than done.
You obsess over the details of every casual encounter with this person.
- That distracted smile on his face (What did it mean?)
- That look in his eyes when they locked with yours for a full two seconds
- The way he suddenly straightened in his chair when he saw you walk in
Your identity has gotten tangled up with your imaginary relationship with this person, and you want to break free. So, where do you begin?
How to Stop Obsessing over Someone
If you’re committed to learning how to get over an obsession, start with the following steps:
1. Be honest with yourself.
Admit to your unhealthy obsession. Call it what it is. Only then can you begin the process of liberating yourself from it.
If you’re exhausted and looking to finally break free, one or both of the following is probably true:
- You’ve picked up enough clues that the interest or infatuation is one-sided.
- You’ve picked up enough clues that a close relationship with this person would not benefit either one of you.
You’re more observant than you realize, but as a human, you may have become adept at self-deception, clinging to the slightest reason to hope that your attachment to this person might lead to the close relationship you want.
If you were an impartial third person, acting as an advisor to yourself — someone who sincerely cared about your well-being — what would you say to yourself, given all the same information?
2. Identify the cause of your obsession.
Barring the possibility of mind control, the other person did not make you obsessed with him or her. You chose to take an interest and to deepen it by finding ways to connect with or to watch this person.
No matter what else you can point to as a contributing factor, you were ultimately the one who made the choice each time to pursue this person in your mind.
You found ways to refresh your memories of this person, to embellish those memories, to create new ones, and to create alternate realities where your interest is reciprocated.
And it’s intoxicating. You don’t want to leave this world you’ve created. You feel what you feel when you’re in love, and you don’t want to lose that.
As much as it hurts to admit it, though, it’s not real. It’s a prison of your own invention, and you can be free of it.
But breaking free starts with you.
3. Stay (physically) away from the object of your obsession.
You’ll want to put real, physical distance between yourself and the person you’re obsessing over. The fewer interactions you have with this person, the fewer you can relive in your mind over and over and over again.
So, no “stopping by” a familiar haunt and hoping you run into each other. Try to avoid the places where that could happen. Or if you can’t avoid the places, avoid the person. Or if you can’t do that, at least keep yourself detached and seize upon the first available excuse to get away.
The more time you spend around this person, the more conscious you become of your attraction and the more you seize upon the slightest clue that he or she might feel the same way.
As humans, we’re great at deceiving ourselves and seeing what we want to see. Don’t give yourself the chance to “see” something that will justify your obsession.
4. Eliminate your ability to cyber-stalk him/her.
If the object of your obsession has an internet presence, it’s all too easy to take advantage of this to get your daily fix.
You tell yourself you just want to see a recent picture to cheer you up or refresh your memory. Or maybe you’re curious about how a recent event has affected this person, and you’re looking for an excuse to reach out to him or her.
Do yourself a favor and delete every link you have to any part of this person’s online presence. And remember the following:
- Don’t check their social media activity.
- Don’t look them up to see pictures, writings, etc.
- Don’t reach out to a mutual friend or acquaintance to ask questions about them.
It doesn’t work to just “cut back.” Once you allow yourself to start checking into their online activity, it’s too easy to just keep going — at least until you’ve exhausted your sources.
5. Avoid contacting this person.
Whatever you do, don’t directly reach out to this person by contacting them. Unless they are contacting you for good reason, keep those lines of communication closed.
- No calling
- No texting
- No email
- No instant messaging
- No social media (comments, likes, retweets, etc.)
While it may seem healthier than cyber-stalking this person, you’re still feeding the addiction — giving yourself “just a taste” and justifying it however you can. And as long as you can justify it, you’ll keep going back for another taste.
6. Focus on yourself, your needs, and your growth.
You can’t see past your obsession, so you don’t see how it’s holding you back. Your identity has become tangled up with the object of your obsession, and you can’t imagine life without it. You can’t imagine your self without it.
Related: 10 Steps To Being A Nicer Person
Part of the solution is to spend some time alone with yourself — apart from the object of your obsession. And ask the questions you’ve been avoiding (because you’re afraid the answers might ask too much of you):
- What was I like before I met this person? What did I like about the person I was then?
- How is this person I’m obsessing over helping me become the person I want to be?
- Or have I just tricked myself into thinking that the alternate reality I’ve invented with this person makes me more interesting than I am without him or her?
Write down your answers, and describe your life as you want to see it three years from now. Assume that the person you’re obsessing over will not be a part of your life, and describe what you want to be doing and who you want to be.
7. Socialize more with others.
Go out for a coffee with a friend or family member. Or give one of them a call. Send an email checking up on them and updating them on your life.
Spend more time socializing with people who remind you of who you are without the person you’ve been obsessing over. Get reacquainted with the way they see you and what they love about you — and what you love about them.
Rebuild important relationships that have suffered as a result of your obsession. Show gratitude to those people who have stuck by you no matter what, and make amends for anything you’ve said or done that hurt them.
And forgive yourself for not seeing people as clearly as you’d like to. You’re human, and you’re learning. So, don’t waste time dwelling on your mistakes.
Related: How To Get Out Of Your Head
Celebrate your ability to learn and to take the next step forward.
8. Try new adventures.
Investigate opportunities to stretch yourself and to explore something you’ve been curious about but have never tried.
- Travel to and explore a new place, and write about your experiences there.
- The next time you buy coffee, ask if you can leave enough to cover a large coffee (or a coffee and a sandwich) for someone who can’t pay for one.
- Go on a whitewater rafting trip with a friend or with a new group of people.
- The next time you see a stressed-out parent with young children, ask if there’s anything you can do to help.
- Join a Toastmasters group to learn public speaking.
- Look for an opportunity that excites you and write a letter to the person in charge.
Look for ways to not only expose yourself to new experiences but also to contribute in some way: bring a smile to someone’s face or remind someone he’s not alone. The more you do to help others, the more you help yourself, too.
9. Realize that this person is not perfect.
When most of your interactions with the object of your obsession are imaginary, you don’t get to know them well enough to see their faults — which are still there. So, what could you do to make yourself more aware of them?
Think about what they’ve said and done up to this point — and what their friends have said about them — that could indicate particular faults.
You’re not out to condemn this person or to prove that he or she is a terrible person. You just need to see that the one you’ve been obsessing over is as flawed as you are and that their failure to reciprocate your interest isn’t about you or your shortcomings.
10. Don’t try to stop yourself from thinking.
When your thoughts stray to the object of your obsession, allow yourself to acknowledge that he or she has come to mind again, and don’t scold yourself for it. The thoughts will come, and you can’t stop them.
But once they have, you can process them in a way that helps you overcome your obsession.
- Accept that your thoughts have strayed to this person.
- Mentally wish them a day of continued growth and ultimate joy.
- Then nod them a “goodbye” and move on to something else.
This isn’t a one-and-done process. You’ll be doing this probably several times a day for a few days at least.
Think of it as good practice for letting go of things that aren’t serving you.
The temptation will be there to let those thoughts linger a while. Get used to recognizing them and processing them as efficiently as possible and moving on to thoughts that do you good. Try any of the following:
- Take a mindfulness/how-to-practice-mindfulness”>mindfulness moment, paying attention to your breath or to something in your immediate environment.
- Think about something you’re grateful for and allow yourself to feel the emotions that go with that something.
- Think about someone you need to forgive — for something big or small — and consciously forgive them from your heart.
Write out what you’re thinking if you can, but at least take your mind to a place where obsession can’t survive. Mentally leave the object of your obsession in the hands of someone who wants their ultimate good, and move forward on your own separate path.
Addicted to “Love”
Overcoming obsession isn’t easy, but it is possible — even for those who have an addictive personality. In fact, the more you know about how your mind works, the more effectively you can process the thoughts that keep coming back to taunt you.
When you’re obsessed with someone, it’s similar to chemical dependency. When you’re addicted to alcohol, you either give it up entirely, or you trick yourself into thinking you can have “just a little.”
And maybe you succeed a few times in stopping yourself at two, three, or four shots. But eventually, you find yourself drinking as much as or more than you did before you resolved upon limiting yourself.
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You might think you can keep yourself at arm’s length — keep yourself “safe” — but it doesn’t take much to justify your desire for more. Once you let yourself have a taste, and you experience the warmth that goes with it, you find it harder and harder to back off.
And like an alcoholic, you don’t break free by telling yourself not to think about your obsession. When each temptation comes — and you can only deal with one at a time — you acknowledge it for what it is, accept that you’re human and still tempted to enjoy something familiar and comforting (or exciting), and steer yourself in a better direction.
In the meantime, you don’t put yourself in harm’s way. You stay out of the other person’s reach. You create new routines and new responses to old triggers.
And you keep this up one day at a time — one moment at a time. Because that’s all you can do.
And because you know you’re worth the effort.