Obsessive Passion Leaves You Empty and Unsatisfied
Is obsessive passion driving you when you check your partner’s Facebook page or text messages? When you lose weight and tone up to look more attractive to your partner, is it because you are obsessed with being desired or passionate about being the best you can be? Then you might operate on obsessive passion where you strive to define yourself in particular ways and get rewarded for it. The more you specialize in a type of activity such as cooking the best pie, then you are a slave to the activity rather than the relationships within which pie cooking and eating may be enjoyed.
If on the other hand if you engage in activities that involve others, and are emotionally satisfied by the relationship, then the activity is just the vehicle through which you gain fulfillment. You are probably more flexible and open to a variety of activities and time spans within which you can fulfill your goals. Your passion is based on the exchange of resonance, empathy and your ability to choose what you do and how you do it rather than be a slave to it.
Obsessive Passion is an Attempt to Compensate for Relational Fulfillment
Rose, a 31-year-old dietitian got to work early each morning to deal with emails, and get up to date on policy and procedures of the hospital where she was based. She was obsessed with ensuring that all the patients on her list bought into her advice about their eating habits. She needed their validation in order to make her work life meaningful. Every break in her schedule she researched the latest information on diets for diabetics, Crohn’s disease and those with allergies to lactose, gluten, eggs and nuts. She wanted to bring the latest information into her practice so that she was always one step ahead. Often she followed up with patients by calling to check that they were following their regimens.
But it was rare for her to end her day feeling “full” and accomplished. She focused on the one or two patients who argued with her or the administrative staff who didn’t input information into the database in a timely manner. She doubled down again on spending even more time and energy going to conferences, subscribing to every digital and print publication within her profession and setting up a support group for type 2 diabetics. Stress was with her constantly and her body rebelled with exhaustion. Sadly she was continually disappointed – going around in loops of self-defeatism. Rose suffered bouts of anxiety and depression that fed into her poor sense of self, revealing the inadequacy of using specialized activities to define herself.
Obsessive Passion Develops When Parents Use Activities to Define Their Children
Growing up in a competitive family Rose never felt seen, acknowledged, encouraged or validated, except when she got her college degree. Then she became a trophy daughter. But interest in her as a person with her own sensitivities and her unique spirit were eclipsed by the aura of repressed emotions, judgment, criticism and withdrawal. Rose’s obsessive passion was a way of making her work activities into the validating parents she never had – and of course it failed.
Obsessive Passion and Harmonious Passion – the research
Research published in the Journal of Personality, 2009 indicated that children and teens whose parents place high value on specialized activities to define and value them went onto develop Obsessive Passion. The specialized activities become the vehicle through with those with Obsessive Passion define themselves. They become rigid with an over investment in activities providing emotional satisfaction and personal fulfillment – getting disappointed because the activities fail to hit the spot where they need affirmation, conformation and validation.
People like Rose who approach activities with Obsessive Passion are compensating for what’s lacking in other parts of their lives. Those with Obsessive Passion strive to gain feelings of self-worth, purpose and fulfillment by focusing obsessively on their activities, according to a research report in 2015 Journal of Personality.
Harmonious Passion Develops with Parental Encouragement of Autonomy
Rhys, a 33-year-old engineer loved his job working with construction crews and architects. He looked forward to going home to his 3 children each night, listening to them about their day and sharing his experiences when he was their age. He liked ice hockey and often went to his favorite team’s playoffs. But he could handle their lost matches, and find enjoyment in doing barbecues with his family.
Rhys’s parents encouraged him to make thoughtful choices and validated his ideas, bestowing the right to think differently. His family talked about their feelings, comforted one and another as necessary, while also fighting fiercely for their points of views without withdrawing or retaliating. The research quoted above notes that passion itself is developed when parents encourage and support activities for their children. But those parents who promote passion within activities and within relationships allow for Harmonious Passion. Rhys was lucky enough to develop Harmonious Passion where he got enjoyment from inside his work activities and outside in his own families and hobbies. Rhys didn’t depend on his work activities to fulfill his emotional needs to feel worthwhile or significant. His early and current relationships offered let him know that he mattered just as he was and not just for his engineering accomplishments. So he could enjoy the job for what it was – that was the secret to his success.
Shifting from Obsessive Passion to Harmonious Passion
Rose’s anxiety and depression eventually led her to my therapy office, albeit reluctantly. At first she kept complaining about her hard work and her anger that it didn’t pay off – and to boot, she was in the prime of womanhood, single and alone! Then she moved to tell me that I couldn’t possibly help her and that she was unfairly stuck with her life. I sensed that she was truly afraid that I would take this obsessiveness away from her, and then what would she be left with? – Just an emptiness and no way to boost her self-worth!
Eventually Rose’s depression got so bad that she couldn’t work. That’s when she let me in and allowed me to build her sense of self-worth through validating her core self – give her what she never got in her childhood. Basically I did for her what Rhys’s family did for him. But first I helped Rose to let go of some of the obsession, and put some validation in its place. The process was painfully slow because she was so afraid of losing her obsession – the one thing she relied on for so long. But in the end she felt safe enough to trade the obsession for reliable, consistent, loving support in her therapy, and began to make relationships outside work. She crossed the bridge into the river of harmony. Rose realized she didn’t really want to be a dietitian. Her depression helped her to take a break, and find a more fulfilling work life as a tour guide.
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copyright, Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D. 2017
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