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Hello Dr. Robert,

I was searching through the internet on the subject of ex-girlfriends and people experiencing similar situations as mine. I came across one of your posts from October 11, 2008 where you were writing about "Simple Obsessional Behavior." I must say that reading it was a shock to me, because I believe it described many of my recent actions towards my ex.

I am 34 years old and I was dating a woman who is 39 with two children. We have known each other for about 10 years and always had an interest in each other. She was married for 9 of those years and though we had an interest, there was no sexual contact but definitely meetings and talks that were not appropriate given she was married. She was separated from her husband for about 3 months when we started to talk again. We then saw each other for about 9 months when things started to get rocky between us. She was still not divorced and it was time for her to begin the process. She decided to break up with me, because there was too much stress of our relationship and also dealing with the divorce.

I was not happy with her decision and we had a few heated arguments. At first I really thought she had found someone else and I asked her about it with the expected response of "no" from her. She assured me that she hoped I was still around when her divorce was settled but she didn't expect me to wait for her. I did eventually started to see her side of it and so I agreed we both needed a break.

Then, it happened. In the following weeks, a certain fear came over insecurity to be more precise. That she could possibly work things out with her husband, or even find someone else. So I tried to contact her. She was first receptive of my contact, which was email only, but she kept the messages very void of her feelings towards me then. It gave me a strange feeling to be talking to her on such a sterile level. She kept her messages short and it was obvious she didn't want to keep the conversation going back and forth even though it wasn't arguing. Again, this made me feel insecure. So in the following weeks, after about 7 days of no contact at all, I would send her an email or a text just asking how she is. I would get no response, or just a one line message saying "I'm fine, how are you?". But she wouldn't respond any further.

Then about at the 1 month period after breaking up, I really messed up. I sent her texts when I was drinking. I did this on a few occasions and the texts were not pleasant at all. Very embarrassing. So, I wrote an email to her apologizing for the times I was being rude and disrespectful. Again, no response at all. About a week ago I sent my last email, telling her I would not contact her further and I apologized for harassing her with messages.

It's clear to me that I was exhibiting Simple Obsessional Behavior. If I had not contacted her at all, I believe she probably would have contacted me first. I messed that up good though. I still believe that maybe months down the road she will check to see how I am doing, but I know I cannot be waiting for or even expect this. It's hard not to do.

What is your advice for me not repeating this type of behavior? Of course the drinking is an obvious thing to avoid, especially when my emotions are running high. I just don't want to slip into that obsessive mode again, the longing for any response from her, even if it's a negative one. I had reached that point but don't want to again. I think she knows that's what I was doing was just trying to get a response, even a negative one, just a response. She knows it's best to just avoid me completely though instead of getting into an argument. It's embarrassing to say the least. I feel horrible for writing hurtful things to her and I wish I had never acted so childish as I did.

Any advice would be helpful. Thank you.

Greg, 34

Cartersville, GA

ask dr-robert

Hello, Greg--

As you will have read, An obsession is a preoccupation with a fixed idea or an unwanted feeling or emotion. In this case your preoccupation consisted of the idea that you just had to have this woman, combined with your constant replaying of the painful emotions involved in desiring someone who did not seem to be returning your interest.

Now, obsessions are simply ideas, but ideas often generate behaviors which, if an obsession is strong, may become compulsive behaviors, meaning that one feels obliged, pressured, or forced to carry them out even though wishing not to carry them out. In other words, one cannot seem to avoid the compulsive behaviors, although knowing full well that they are ill-advised, counterproductive, or otherwise misguided.

In 1993, Zona and colleagues, in cooperation with the Los Angeles Police Department Threat Management Unit, carried out a study of stalking (following and harassing of another person who does not welcome the attention) which described three different types of compulsive behaviors stemming from romantic or sexual obsessions. It is from that study (Journal of Forensic Science, vol. 894) that I got the term simple obsessional behavior. According to Zona, simple obsessional behavior is characterized by three criteria:

A prior relationship exists between the victim and the stalker (the stalker is acquaintance, neighbor, customer, professional relationship, dating, or lover.)

The stalking behavior begins after either the relationship has gone sour, or the stalker has perceived some mistreatment.

The stalker begins a campaign either to rectify the schism, or to seek some type of retribution.

So I think your self-diagnosis of simple obsessional behavior is right on the money. Now, what to do about it?

You did not say whether you have problems with compulsive behavior in other aspects of your life. If so, then the problem is not so much obsession with this particular person, but a generalized case of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

ask dr-robert

The best treatment for OCD is, in my experience, a combination of medication and cognitive behavioral psychotherapy. If you are not normally troubled by obsessions and ensuing compulsive behaviors--if this situation with the girlfriend was a special and unusual kind of behavior for you--then I would not recommend the medication, but the psychotherapy certainly is indicated. Whenever one feels out of control to the extent that you have described, some therapy to try to understand the deeper roots of the behavior seems to me to be a good way to go. When I say "deeper roots," I mean, for example, that you might learn through therapy about some earlier emotional abandonment which primed you to feel abandoned by this girlfriend, so that when she asked for some space, you felt that your world was coming to an end (this may not apply to you; it is only an example).

If you like the idea of therapy, an approach called "self-psychology," seems particularly successful in treating feelings of neediness, emptiness, or emotional dependence such as yours, and I often recommend it in such cases.

Thank you for writing, and be well.

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