Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Twisted Tale of Peter Braunstein

Anxiety Disorder

An obsessional disorder is recognized as a subcategory of obsessive compulsive disorder, albeit based in obsessive thoughts rather than compulsive behaviors or rituals. 

It is considered a psychiatric condition based in overwhelming anxiety, and it often develops as a protective reaction to a stressful situation. Sufferers have recurrent and intrusive or inappropriate thoughts and may seek relief in fantasies that reassure them that they're safe, in control, connected, and even special. When they attach to another person, let's say, a woman in high heels, they may grow so anxious about losing her that she comes to symbolize the source of life itself. Their fantasy world can take on the feeling of reality such that everything else gets filtered through its frame. The obsession controls everything else.

Psychoanalysts might say that such people are experiencing a severe wish deprivation, triggered by something reminiscent of an early experience of perceived parental neglect. As these people grow up, they may then transfer this fear onto others, which can then become an obsession with preventing the person from abandoning them. The fantasy world forms around being loved, with rehearsal scenarios that involve seducing the person believed to be the one who can provide for all needs. If sufferers venture outside this fantasy, anxiety and even terror may drive them back in. It matters little what the target person is actually like; she will be perceived in whatever way the obsessed person needs her to be. The person with this obsessional disorder lives with constant tension between what's real and what isn't, between feeling good and being gripped by the possibility that he may never quite be okay. Drugs may quiet the obsessions or the mood swings that accompany them, but there will still be some degree of anxiety and rumination.

The intrusive thoughts are often aggressive and sexual, with delusional qualities. The average age of onset for this disorder is between 20 and 24, and may occur as the result of a stressful event or a series of stressors that finally overwhelm the person. They may become part of his or her strategy for maintaining a sense of control in a life that feels too chaotic to be endured. In extreme cases, sufferers may become enslaved to their intrusive thoughts, spending hours in a disabling condition that prevents them from working or engaging in normal social relationships. They may also experience severe depression. The most common obsessions are repetitive thoughts of violence, of being contaminated, and of the certainty that they have left something undone that must be done.

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