It’s a tale as old as time — you meet someone, and the world turns upside down. A horde of butterflies starts flapping in your gut, and suddenly, that person is always on your mind, day and night. You’ve got a crush! However, liking someone isn’t the only reason a person may be occupying your thoughts.
The human mind is a complex thing, and there are plenty of psychological explanations for sudden obsessions. So, if you’re wondering, ‘why can’t I stop thinking about someone’, here are all the possible causes and what you can do to address those thoughts.
Why Can’t I Stop Thinking About Someone? Top 6 Reasons
Do you know that the average person has a staggering 6,000 thoughts a day? With so many things going through your brain, you’re bound to think about someone at least a couple of times. But there is a fine line between thinking about someone once or twice and thinking about them 24/7.
While having someone in your head doesn’t necessarily have to be negative, it can end up being bad for your health. Obsessive thoughts frequently turn destructive. They can interfere with your ability to concentrate and perform day-to-day tasks.
Therefore, if you’re having trouble getting someone out of your head, here are some psychological explanations you should consider.
The most obvious reason why you’re constantly thinking about someone is that you’re attracted to them. Though many think attraction is almost always romantic, this isn’t necessarily the case. Psychology defines attraction as an interest, desire, or affinity for something.
It can be emotional, physical, sexual, and aesthetic, and it isn’t just reserved for people. You can be drawn to an exceptionally beautiful piece of art if the painting is aesthetically pleasing. Likewise, you can also be attracted to someone’s emotional intelligence or sense of humor.
Nevertheless, physical attraction, or attraction to someone’s appearance, is the most common type. This emotion is instant and can make you feel energized, excited, and desperate to interact with the object of your affection.
Unsurprisingly, it’s the most common reason you can’t stop thinking about someone.
There are many theories as to what causes attraction. Evolutionary psychologists suggest it’s a way for humans to identify a suitable mate. Others claim that social factors like society and culture also play a huge part in who someone will find attractive. Nevertheless, it’s important to distinguish between pure attraction and romantic love.
Attraction is mostly surface level. While it can lead to deeper feelings, it’s definitely not as strong as a full-blown romantic love. Therefore, if your obsession is a case of physical attraction, then it’s unlikely to last unless you’re around that person a lot.
2. Romantic Love
If you haven’t seen someone in ages, yet they’re still on your mind, then you may not just be attracted to them. Instead, what you may be experiencing is true, romantic love.
Centuries of romantic poems, folk tales, and songs have presented love as the most magical feeling in the world. However, as much as art tries to elevate romantic love, the scientific explanation for it is even more fascinating.
For starters, science describes romantic love as a powerful combination of attraction, compatibility, and idealization that can result in a bonded relationship. As outlined previously, romantic love can happen when attraction combines with lust and attachment.
Psychologists define lust as the physical need for sexual gratification. It happens because humans are biologically hardwired to reproduce and spread their genes. But, the reason humans don’t just reproduce and move on like most of the animal kingdom has to do with attraction and attachment.
Both emotions trigger a release of dopamine which targets the reward center of the brain. These neural pathways are directly responsible for habit formation in humans. So if you can’t stop thinking about that special someone, blame your brain for trying to get another hit of feel-good hormones!
However, it’s important to flag that, unlike physical attraction, romantic love can make you obsess over someone intensely. What’s more, the obsession is unlikely to stop once the person goes away. Nonetheless, these feelings are totally natural. Plus, they can be a sign you may want to shoot your shot with this person.
Another emotion that can make you constantly think about someone is attachment. Like attraction, people often believe that attachment is exclusively romantic. However, this isn’t the case.
Psychologists define attachment as a desire for affection and connection with people. It occurs as a result of two hormones — oxytocin and vasopressin. The body releases both hormones to trigger bonding between two individuals.
So, rather than it being romantic, it’s far more common for attachment to be wholly platonic.
It happens between parents and children, close family members, and dear friends. This emotion serves as one of the building blocks for healthy human relationships. Attachment is motivated by the basic human need for safety, comfort, security, and social interaction.
What’s more, it exists on a purely emotional level, which is why so many confuse attachment for romantic love.
However, the two emotions have several key differences. Love makes you feel and do things that don’t just feel good to you but to the object of your affection. In other words, it’s all about the person you have feelings for.
Attachment, on the other hand, is all about you. It’s purely about how the other person makes you feel, the safety and comfort their company provides you. This is why you can replace a person you’re attached to with someone else if the same emotional needs are fulfilled.
Attachment is also closely linked with feelings of familiarity and a need for emotional dependency. It’s easy to grow attached to people if you’ve been familiar with them for a long time. Familiarity breeds comfort and security, and gives you a steady supply of emotional dependency to lift you up when you’re down.
Therefore, it’s easy to see why you’d constantly think about someone you’re deeply attached to. However, it’s important to recognize that while attachments are a necessary part of human interaction, relying too much on someone else for emotional comfort isn’t ideal.
Always relying on someone else for happiness and support can seriously damage your mental health and self-esteem. Moreover, it can leave you unable to function on your own in the event you end up losing that person.
4. Emotional or Psychological Problems
While thinking about someone a lot can be harmless, it can also stem from some deep psychological issues. There are several mental health disorders that can cause obsessive thoughts. The three most common ones include — obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, and depression.
Neurotic thoughts or unwanted ideas are common symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder.
While most people associate OCD with being a germaphobe, it can actually be any kind of repetitive behavior. A lot of OCD patients report symptoms like body hyperawareness, where they can’t stop obsessing over a particular body part or bodily function. Other, less common obsessions include a fixation on morality, delusions about emotional contamination, and fixating on the possibility of harming someone.
Constantly fixating on one person is also a common symptom of OCD. However, these thoughts are usually accompanied by other unpleasant emotions such as anxiety, fear, and stress. Furthermore, they trigger compulsive behaviors. These behaviors can be directly related to the obsessive thought or have nothing to do with it at all.
So, if you’re obsessing over someone in a way that is causing you emotional distress, you should consult with a mental health professional to see if you have OCD.
Apart from OCD, there are other mental health conditions that cause obsessive thoughts. Anxiety disorder is one of them. This disorder is one of the most common mental health issues in the US, with over 40 million sufferers. While it’s a major part of OCD, on its own, it can also cause hyper-fixation.
Psychology defines anxiety as a persistent fear or worry in situations that shouldn’t trigger those emotions. The fear can be related to everyday tasks like leaving home, doing work, or chores. However, it can also be specific to certain situations, like those involving social interactions. This type of anxiety is called social anxiety, and it’s most commonly associated with hyper fixating on people and social situations.
Subsequently, if you’re constantly thinking about someone, it may be because you have anxiety, and the person is triggering it somehow. Once again, the best course of action is to talk to a professional to get a potential diagnosis.
Alongside anxiety, depression is also incredibly prevalent among US citizens. Over 21 million adults reported having at least one depressive episode in their lifetime, with people aged 18-25 being the most vulnerable. The most common symptoms include prolonged feelings of hopelessness and despair, loss of appetite, sleep disturbances, and a general disinterest in daily tasks.
Intrusive thoughts are also a common sign of this disorder. People with depression frequently hyper-focus on one event or problem in their life, replaying it over and over again in their minds. These ‘ruminations’, as they’re called, result in overanalyzing and catastrophizing, which can make the depressive symptoms worse.
Thinking about someone too much also falls under the umbrella of ruminating, especially if a particular person is a source of the problem. Therefore, it’s vital to consult with a psychologist about your feelings. Ruminations can quickly become obsessive and consume your daily life.
They can also force you to obsessively focus on the problem rather than finding a solution. The hyper-fixation can exacerbate depressive symptoms and lead you to develop other mental health problems like anxiety and OCD.
5. Unresolved Interpersonal Issues
As common as it is to think about someone you’re in love with, it’s just as common to obsess over them if they’ve hurt you in some way. In fact, research suggests that humans are hardwired for negativity.
Called negative bias, this phenomenon shows that humans are more likely to focus on the negative aspects of their life. For example, people often remember embarrassing life moments, painful breakups, and insults, even if these experiences are few and far between.
Psychologists theorize that this obsession with negativity is an evolutionary trait. Always hyper-focusing on what could go wrong allowed prehistoric humans to survive better and avoid dangerous situations. However, in an age where basic survival isn’t so important anymore, this predilection toward negativity can be a huge issue.
Negative experiences can have a severe impact on your day-to-day life. They can directly influence your motivation to pursue life goals or establish relationships for fear of what could go wrong. Likewise, it can also prevent you from moving on after a disastrous life event.
For example, it’s normal to think about your ex after a breakup. However, if the separation was particularly turbulent, or if you still have unresolved issues, then those thoughts can become obsessive. You can get so stuck overanalyzing what went wrong that you’re unable to accept the breakup and move on.
6. Toxic Relationship
It may seem strange to obsess over someone who is causing you harm. However, it’s a lot more common than you think.
Toxic relationships are a type of relationship that can cause emotional distress, anxiety, and depression. They feed on the negativity bias and convince you that your worst insecurities are true.
Though toxic partnerships are the most frequent type, these relationships aren’t always romantic in nature. Toxic friends, coworkers, or family members are equally common, and they can cause just as much hyper-fixation.
So, if the person you’re thinking about causes you distress, ask yourself whether they’re truly good for your mental health.
How to Stop Thinking About Someone: 5 Tips
Thinking about someone a lot can be a normal, healthy part of life. However, these thoughts become an issue when they start causing you psychological distress. So, in order to preserve your mental health, here are a few tips on how to get someone off your mind.
1. Understand Why You’re Thinking About Them
Before you can solve a problem, you first have to identify what it is. In the case of obsessive thoughts, that means figuring out the reason you’re always thinking about someone. Is it a crush, attraction, attachment, unresolved emotional issues, or a disorder? Understanding the root cause of the thought will directly influence the kind of strategy you employ to fix it.
2. Accept These Thoughts
When you experience something painful and traumatic, it’s not uncommon to shut down. Humiliation, rejection, unrequited love, or a nasty breakup can cause an overwhelming amount of distress. As a result, you may feel unable to cope when the wound is fresh. Therefore, many people opt to avoid facing their emotions altogether because dealing with them is too painful.
However, ignoring the problem won’t make it go away. Rather, it can have the opposite effect and make you obsess over it even more. In the case of a breakup, or a toxic interpersonal relationship, it can make you hyper-fixate on the person who hurt you.
So as frightening as it may seem, it’s actually far healthier to confront these thoughts and feelings head-on.
Acknowledge the intrusive thoughts, identify why they’re occurring, and accept the pain and distress they’re causing you. Recognizing that these thoughts exist makes them into a real, solvable problem. This, in turn, can help you take the necessary steps toward healing.
Activities like meditation, journaling, or adult coloring are immensely helpful ways to identify and organize your feelings.
3. Focus on Fulfilling Your Own Needs
As previously mentioned, emotional dependency is a big reason for obsessive thoughts. If you’re convinced you need someone to function, then it’s going to be hard to get them off your mind. What’s more, these feelings can hinder your ability to form other relationships and accomplish goals on your own.
In any case, the best way to stop thinking about this person is to focus on yourself. First, identify the need they fulfill. Do they provide you comfort, support, or safety? Do you use them to make yourself feel better about particular insecurity? If that’s the case, explore why you have these beliefs. Furthermore, ask yourself if you can fulfill these needs on your own.
If you find out that you can’t, think of an alternative. Maybe you can take up a hobby, do a confidence workshop or make new friends in order to satisfy your needs. As difficult as it may be, recognize that your friends, family, or significant other can’t fulfill all your emotional needs. When it comes to mental stability, the person you most have to rely on is yourself.
4. Speak to a Loved One
Sometimes, the best kind of therapy is opening up about your feelings and struggles to someone else. Be it a close friend or family member, just talking to someone about your struggles can help you achieve catharsis. It can also give you an outsider’s perspective on what these thoughts could mean.
Since you’re emotionally invested in these thoughts, you’re not likely to view them objectively. In that case, having someone else give you an unbiased view of what’s happening can be instrumental in helping you move on.
Perhaps, they can help you realize that you’re obsessing over someone because they’re toxic. Alternatively, they can lead you to understand that these obsessive thoughts are part of a disorder. Not only that, but they can encourage you to seek help.
Therefore, as difficult as it is to open up, it is sometimes the best thing you can do for your mental health.
5. Speak to a Professional
As great as talking to your friends is, it often isn’t enough. When it comes to serious psychological issues, the best course of action is to speak to a professional.
General attitudes toward mental health have drastically changed in recent years. Therapy is no longer a shameful topic. What’s more, people are actively encouraged to seek help if they feel like they’re struggling.
So, even though your brain may try to convince you that constantly thinking about someone isn’t a big deal, remember one thing — if these feelings are causing you distress and impacting the quality of your life, then they are real and valid. Therefore, you should give yourself the treatment you deserve and discuss the issue with a professional.