From @kittensofInstagram to Kate Bush, our fleeting obsessions should be indulged and delighted in, says Hannah Rand. They probably mean you are a genius.
What are you obsessed with right now? Toto’s comeback; Michy Batshuayi’s transfer from Chelsea to Dortmund; Trump’s tax reform; Gucci Bloom slides? How about the perfect shade of just-right sage/olive green for your walls, and the Rolodex of paint charts that goes with finding it. (Ok, just me then.)
Obsessions get a bad rap. They distract us from real life, who wouldn’t prefer to scroll through @beigecardigan’s Instagram memes rather than sorting out the mortgage? And, unrestrained, they can be more creepy that curious. After all, it doesn’t take much for some innocent sexting to become persistent stalking, or habitual cleanliness to become dermatitis-inducing obsessive hand-washing.
It’s about knowing where to draw the line. We are all capable of obsessive tendencies. Even most OCD type behaviours are pretty common, says clinical psychologist Bhavna Jani-Negandhi. “For instance, in all cultures, people have superstitions, which could be construed to be obsessive behaviours. No one is offered treatment for avoiding walking under a ladder or saluting a single magpie unless it seriously affects that individual’s life.”
Obsessions become a problem when we use them to fill a void, says Dr Alex Lickerman writing in psychologytoday.com. “Obsession makes us feel potent, capable, and purposeful,” he says. “But like all addictions, with time obsession unbalances us. We often begin to neglect parts of our lives we shouldn’t. If allowed to become too consuming, obsession causes us to devalue important dimensions of our lives and tolerate their atrophy and even their collapse.” When we are obsessed with something – anything, it can be like a circular thought that repeats itself over and over again.
Our social media-soaked lives don’t help of course. “I live my life through a series of micro obsessions,” says Julie Danger, a 33-year-old emergency nurse. “One minute it’s running gear, the next it’s finding the best beach holiday rental. Pinterest, Instagram, Google: they all allow me to deep dive into these worlds but for a short amount of time and I’m not sure I actually gain anything from it. It can be therapeutic escapism but it can also be distracting and, if I’m honest, takes me away from the real issues in my life that I’m not so happy about, like doing my finances or dealing with relationship issues.”
But for many of us, the domination of our thoughts by a persistent idea can be extremely helpful, and something we should learn to embrace. Without dogged fixation on a task or person, we wouldn’t have Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, Picasso’s Barque de Naiades et Faune Blesse, or David Bowie’s Hunky Dory. The Police would have never written Every Breath You Take, nor would Heathcliff lure Cathy over the moors and Kate Bush sing about their mad passion 132 years later. When it comes to the creative community, the line between genius and insanity are famously blurred.
“Passions or obsessions are not bad per se,” says Jani-Negandhi. “Just look at any successful athlete, scientist, business tycoon or an artist. Success is not possible without passion or focused dedication. However, taking time out and rest from these activities is also important for success. Otherwise, there may be burn out.” After all, she says, Archimedes ‘Eureka’ moment came when he was relaxing in the bath.