Hi, I’m a 20-year-old girl. I’m writing because I easily form child-like attachments to women older than me. When I was 17, I was in an IOP day program for an eating disorder/vomit phobia. My psychologist was a 28-year-old woman. I didn’t think much of her at first. Then we did an exposure therapy for my vomit phobia and things changed. I have a fear of throwing up in front of people. we went to a populated area and she wanted me to pretend I was about to throw up and I refused. It was too weird for me. So she did instead and said I had to watch. I was extremely uncomfortable and wanted to run away. I was embarrassed for her. She saw how uncomfy I was and we stopped. I couldn’t make eye contact with her for a week or 2 after that. And then all of a sudden, I had this intense attachment towards her. I thought she was super pretty, I looked up to her and greatly admired her, I wanted her attention, I wanted to know about her real life, I wanted to be her favorite patient, I wanted her to treat me little kid. Sometimes I’d even get jealous of how she would treat actual little kids. I was dependent on her and wanted her around for every meal when I had to face my fears. But at the same time, she made me nervous too because I wanted her to like me. Let me stress that this was in no way sexual or romantic. The best way I can describe it is child-like. Like how a little kid clings to an older kid they like. And when I couldn’t see this doctor anymore, I was so upset. I’d cry at the thought of her and have dreams about her. I’d look her up online. But I got over it. Then, when I was 19 I joined a collegiate EMS department. The caption was a senior at my college and I immediately started to look up to her and greatly admire her. I thought she was super pretty too. I wanted her attention and praise and friendship. I wanted her to take me under her wing. Still do. These are the most noteable accounts. So why do I do this? (I have a theory, but I’m at the word limit).
Without knowing a great deal more about your personal history, it is very difficult to answer your “why” question.” With limited information, I can only provide general information.
When your therapist threw up in public and did so despite the embarrassment it may have caused, you might have felt that was a great sacrifice on her part. Her sacrifice may have increased your intimate feelings towards her to the point of being in love with her. You denied that it was a romantic love but even if you do not think it was, it still may have happened.
A similar situation may be present for the individual in the EMS department. Perhaps she did something that you found noteworthy and increased your attention or love towards her. You admitted to greatly admiring her. You find her attractive. You want her attention and friendship. This seems to be another instance of you falling in love with someone, even if you do not call it that.
The love you feel for these individuals seems to go beyond the normal elements of love that one sees in relationship. You seem to have become obsessed or fixated on these individuals. There are two possible explanations for this.
Regarding your therapist, that could have been an example of transference. In counseling settings, there are times when a client develops strong feelings towards their therapist. When the therapist develops strong feelings towards their client, it’s called countertransference. Transference involves unconscious feelings that are transposed onto another significant individual, in this case, your therapist. These feelings can be love, sexual or negative in nature. These feelings can be irrational, intense and can be disruptive to the client-therapist relationship.
The nature of transference is often linked to past relationships. As children, we have positive or negative attachments to caregivers. Those past relationships with our caregivers can impact how we relate to others in the world. If those relationships were positive and supportive, then how we relate to others is positive and healthy. If those relationships were disruptive or negative, then relating to others can be difficult and problematic. It’s possible that you had disrupted early attachments and that may explain why you tend to become fixated on individuals who seem to be showing you attention.
Regarding your attachment to the EMS worker, that would not fall into the category of transference because is not a therapeutic relationship. Again, perhaps something from your early childhood attachments is affecting how you relate and connect with others.
It’s also important to mention that individuals who have a tendency to become fixated and unhealthily attached to others in the world sometimes engage in stalking behavior. Female stalkers often pursue prior acquaintances, often mental health professionals. Many have borderline personality disorder, among other disorders.
Individuals with borderline personality disorder are often emotionally intense, unstable and have an extreme fear of abandonment. Researchers theorize that this fear of abandonment stems from unstable early attachments in which they tend to vacillate between idolizing others and having a negative emotional feeling towards themselves and others.
I’m not suggesting you are a stalker but you did engage in a number of behaviors that are consistent with individuals who go on to engage in stalking behavior. One is that you became obsessed and fixated on these individuals. Another is that you spent time tracking them online. Perhaps you did this because of the love you felt for them or because of some other reason.
The manner in which you become fixated on others, and become dependent on their praise and attention, is outside the norm. Since you are aware this problem, you can work to change it. You’ve undergone counseling in the past but it’s not clear that you are currently in treatment. If not, you should be. You might try working with a therapist who specializes in dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT). It might help to eliminate these unhealthy attachments you admittedly form with older individuals.
Again, I cannot provide a specific answer because I do not know your personal history. My response is general and based on the minimal amount of information provided. Hopefully, you can resolve this problem with an in-person therapist. Good luck with your efforts. Please take care.
Dr. Kristina Randle