The obsessive passion: is it a way of escape?

By Dr. Jassam

I’ve always had difficulty comprehending the intense, obsessive love that some people express for someone or something.

Personally, I believe that any love to anything or anyone should be regulated and be free from obsession. In my view, anything beyond that might be an escape. Even those who obsessively strive for managerial or leadership positions; I perceive it as possibly stemming from a desire to avoid something else rather than a pure pursuit. This escape could be from someone or something, whether in the present or the past.

Whenever people express their love for something, like a sport, job, or anything else, and I see their obsession in what they like or love, I take it as an indirect invitation to dig deeper and find out if they are running away from something or someone.

John was obsessed about cycling so much that he suffered fractures and bruises many times but never gave up. Even when travelled to anywhere he spent the whole time cycling. Although his wife was not my patient, I met her once when she came with him, and it didn’t take long to see why he used cycling as a way to escape from his problems, which he confirmed to me later.

Susan, who came to me with signs of burnout several times, always answered that she loved her work and could never imagine her life without it. However, I realized that her obsessive love for work was a way for her to escape from her marital problems and to deal with her over-controlling husband.

Salem, who had a doctorate and traveled by himself frequently for conferences and studies, expressed his extreme passion for more studies and more certificates stated that he doesn’t feel good about himself if he doesn’t attend new conference or engage in new learning opportunities, had an emotional breakdown one day and revealed that he was unable to tolerate his wife anymore, and that his travels a way to escape from his problems at home.

I have a colleague working in a small group, and one of her teammates, who takes on a boss-like role, is a control freak, self-focused, and narcissistic. I can see that she grapples with significant challenges in this work environment, yet she’s unable to leave. Interestingly, she has recently developed a passion, or rather, an obsessive interest in birds, which was never apparent before. She even created a website to support this newfound fascination, evident in the way she talks about birds and the tone of her website. I fully comprehend the origins of this interest, but she appears oblivious to these roots. It seems she is seeking refuge from her tense work environment through her newfound, almost obsessive passion for birds.

While some colleagues may disagree with me and want more researches and statistical analyses, But I believe that our daily work experience can be a good source to create an analytical capacity for a tangible reality.

We may need to check if we are running away from something else unknowingly when we find ourselves constantly engrossed in something, and when we observe our patients persevering in something and immersing themselves in it relentlessly, we may need to take it as an invitation to dig deeper and knock on another door that may ultimately benefit our patients.

There is a big difference between passion and obsession, and it is the obsessive passion that what I am examining. It is not necessarily bad for people to be passionate about certain things, but when it becomes an escape from a reality, then it becomes something else.

Unfortunately, since this article was written, more than a year ago, there have been some significant and sad events. John, the cyclist, passed away from a heart attack, and Salem filed for divorce, as expected.

        J. Jassam