Chloe is in a too-close-to-call competition to become valedictorian of her high school. Her nemesis is the perfect girl in town, who also happens to be the principal’s daughter, Sharla. Chloe and Sharla spent high school locked in a competition that brought out their best academically and much less desirable personal attributes. When Sharla disappears on prom night, Chloe feels that winning valedictorian because Sharla isn’t there wouldn’t be worth it. She wants Sharla back so she can beat her fair and square. Chloe becomes obsessed with finding Sharla.
Today we’re going to talk about the good, the bad, and the ugly of obsession. Why will we talk about the positives? Well, sometimes, the increased energy, determination, mental effort, and drive associated with tunnel vision can be an adaptive way to achieve significant personal or professional goals. Think about the way a professional athlete trains in the week before a big game or the way you prepare in the days before a job interview. That’s likely on the more positive side. (Likely…Not certainly).
So, how do you know when your obsession has crossed the line from productive toward big and important goals/adaptive to…needs attention? When it’s infringing on other life domains to the point that the negative consequences are untenable. Think: Is this impacting my friendships? Family? Academics? Work? Health? Mental health?
Let’s look back at Chloe. Before she became obsessed with looking for Shara, she could maintain healthy relationships with friends, keep up with her academics and maintain open and authentic communication with her parents. Once the search was on, Chloe ignored her friends, fell behind on her schoolwork, and started lying to her moms – many untenable negative consequences. (Note: if you’ve read the book, you understand that there was some light at the end of the tunnel. But remember, I’m not giving away the ending).
Here are some skills to move past an obsession and stopping obsessive thoughts:
Intermittently distract yourself from the obsession with fun, exciting or important activities. For example, make sure you spend time with friends, go to a concert you’ve been looking forward to, and finish your term paper.
Create smaller goals within the larger objective and celebrate achieving these milestones with breaks.
Actively seek out other diverse interests. If you’ve become obsessed with schoolwork, go on bike rides; if you’ve become obsessed with a friend group, schedule some alone time.
When people you love express concern, take them seriously. It can be hard to recognize our obsessions. If someone who truly knows you points out a problem, take a hard look at your behaviors.