Love, Lust and Obsession

By Gabrielle Ayoub, Licensed Cognitive Behavioral Psychotherapist


Have you ever met someone with whom you felt a spark, as if you were instantly in sync with each other? Research shows that our feelings are deeply rooted in complex brain processes: Davidson and Begley (2012) explain that our feelings are not just fleeting reactions, but involve sophisticated brain mechanisms that help us navigate our social environments.

Love or Lust?

Love starts as passion and then gradually transforms into a deeper connection characterized by commitment, trust and mutual respect. It is enduring and involves a strong emotional bond. Love involves a deep emotional connection that goes beyond physical attraction. It’s about genuinely caring for the other person’s well-being and happiness. It can survive challenges and grow stronger with shared experiences and life events (Loggins, 2023).
Lust, on the other hand, is primarily sexual and tends to be fleeting, focusing on physical attraction and immediate gratification without the deeper emotional ties. It doesn’t necessarily involve long-term thinking or planning for a future together. It may be intense initially but often fades as quickly as it begins (Loggins, 2023)..

The Brain’s Reaction to Love

Human beings have always felt the need to make deep connections, and the reason behind this occurrence is in the brain. It can easily process these bonds we make with one another, specifically in the ventral tegmental area (VTA), which is the part of the brain responsible for pleasure and reward. Specifically regarding romantic love, experiencing it clearly shows in the fMRI a hyper-activation of VTA (Fisher et al., 2005).
Other parts of the brain apart from the VTA, such as the right thalamus and left substantia nigra, play significant roles in how we experience and process love. They help manage our emotional and cognitive responses during romantic interactions (Partanen & Achim, 2022).
For example, Daniel and Sarah are having a romantic dinner. As Daniel compliments Sarah’s dress, she smiled. But what exactly happened in her brain to cause this reaction? Her right thalamus helped her process Daniel’s compliment as something positive, and her left substantia nigra part of the brain’s reward system, reinforced the positive feeling associated with the compliment, which then helped her choose a response accordingly.

Love in The Eyes of a Stalker

When a stalker experiences love, it’s often obsessive and can lead to disastrous outcomes. This type of love is often characterized by extreme fixation and possessiveness, to the point where one can become dangerous. Stalkers sometimes believe they have a special connection with their target, thus justifying their inappropriate behavior (Paquette et Al., 2020).
An example of stalker love is erotomania, a delusional disorder where the stalker is convinced that their target loves them back even if they’ve never met (Paquette et Al., 2020). This obsessive behavior can escalate to harassment, threats, and even extreme violence.
You’ve probably heard a few celebrity stalker stories that led to horrid outcomes, such as the case of Yolanda Saldívar, a woman who was obsessed with Mexican singer Selena Quintanilla and ended up murdering her in 1995 (Ishak, 2023). Another example is Mark David Chapman, whose fixation on John Lennon, coupled with delusional thinking, resulted in Lennon’s murder in 1980 (Margaritoff, 2022).

Neuroimaging Findings: Why is it so difficult for pathological stalkers to control their impulses and emotions? Studies show increased activity in their orbitofrontal cortex, an area in the brain linked to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). This explains their obsessive behaviors, similar to the symptoms of OCD (Saxena, S. et al., 1996).
Given these factors, the obsessive love of a stalker can be catastrophic, often leading to severe consequences for both the stalker and their victim.

The complexities of love, lust and obsession highlight the profound ways in which our brains and emotions interact. Which category do you fall into?


Davidson, R. J., & Begley, S. (2012). The Emotional Life of Your Brain.
Fisher, H., Aron, A., & Brown, L. L. (2005). Romantic love: An fMRI study of a neural mechanism for mate choice. Journal of Comparative Neurology, 493(1), 58-62
Partanen, J., & Achim, K. (2022). Neurons gating behavior—developmental, molecular and functional features of neurons in the Substantia Nigra pars reticulata. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 16.
Loggins, B. (2023). Am I in Lust or Love? Plus, how to tell the difference. Available on:
Paquette V., Rapaport M., St-Louis A. C., Vallerand R. J. (2020). Why are you passionately in love? Attachment styles as determinants of romantic passion and conflict resolution strategies. Motivation and Emotion 44(4):621-639
Ishak, N. (2023). Yolanda Saldívar Was Selena’s ‘Number One Fan’ — Then She Killed Her In Cold Blood. Available on:
Margaritoff M. (2022). Who Was Mark David Chapman, The Man Who Killed John Lennon? Available on:
Saxena, S., Brody, A. L., Schwarts, J. M., Baxter, L. R. (2018). Neuroimaging and frontal-subcortical circuitry in obsessive-compulsive disorder. Cambridge University Press. Available on:

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