Dear Dr. G.
I just read your post from June 14 ("My Daughter's Boyfriend Seems Obsessive") and the original inquiry, as well as your response, concerned me greatly.
Before I elaborate on the cause of my concerns, I should mention that I write this not as a concerned parent, but rather as a male in his late teens describable as anxious and intense. The details of my past and present relationships with females struck me as being scarily similar to those described in that inquiry. My actions in that regard always struck me as being very, very wrong, hence my reading that post to begin with. I describe it as being almost addiction-like, with very real withdrawal symptoms.
Can you tell me what causes such behavior especially at a younger age? Does one grow out of it? Is it a result of any specific disorder or is it just something that happens?
An Anonymous Teenage Boy
I am very impressed that you are so self-observant and concerned that you may be doing something that is harmful to both yourself and the females in your life. Just so that the readers out there know what was written about in the earlier article to which you refer, I'd like to fill everyone in. In that letter, a mother was concerned that her teenage daughter's boyfriend was obsessed with her daughter, extremely jealous and overly-possessive. In my response, I shared and validated the mother's concerns.
You are absolutely right that becoming obsessed with girlfriends and becoming possessive and jealous are problems. Relationships are supposed to be sources of joy, not sources of anxiety. You mention that you are anxious and intense and it is very likely that these two traits lead you to feel insecure about your relationships. As a result, you likely become frightened about losing your girlfriends and your behavior probably does, in fact, contribute to relationships turning sour and break-ups. You see, you may inadvertently be causing the very thing that you are afraid of. My guess is that the girls get frightened when you get excessively needy and clingy and it sounds like you are not happy about this behavior, either.
You ask what causes such obsessive behavior in relationships. This is both an excellent question and one that has many answers depending on the individual. I can tell you, however, that one does not outgrow these behaviors. You need to recognize (as you already have) these behaviors as a problem now and begin to get to work on changing them. I suggest that you focus not only on relationships but that you also re-engage life on other levels and find other passions. These could include hobbies that you enjoy. You will lead a much happier life if it is a balanced one that does not focus exclusively on relationships. I know that this is easier said than done, but you must work on this. It would be dreadful if your feelings become more intense over the years and you feel the need to harass or stalk girls. I can tell by your thoughtful letter that you don't want that for yourself or your relationships.
It might be very helpful for you to see a therapist. You sound like you would do excellent work in therapy because you are thoughtful, self-observant and concerned about doing the right thing. Perhaps you have experienced abandonment in your life and you are afraid of this happening in relationships. Your anxiety and intensity also may be related to self-esteem and perhaps even depression issues. Only good things will come out of you figuring these issues out with a therapist. My hope is that you will learn to change your patterns and go on to enjoy a well-balanced life that includes healthy relationships that cause you and your girlfriends less pain.
I wish you the best of luck.
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