Are obsessions always a bad thing? | INFJ Forum

Are obsessions always a bad thing?


Sep 5, 2009
Found an interesting article on "positive obsessions." Not sure i agree with everything he says, but what do you think?

In Praise of Positive Obsessions
by Eric Maisel, PhD

Here are a few quotes from the article:

The common wisdom of therapy has it that obsessions are always bad things. As a feature of its namesake disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or as a feature of some other disorder, an obsession is a sign of trouble and a problem to be eliminated.

But the main reason therapists find themselves obliged to consider obsessions invariably negative has to do with language: an obsession is invariably negative because clinicians have defined it as negative.

Clinicians define “obsession” in the following way: an obsession is an intrusive thought, it is recurrent, it is unwanted, and it is inappropriate.

Defined this way, it is obviously always unwelcome. But suppose a person is caught up thinking day and night about her current painting or about the direction she wants to take her art?

Thoughts about painting “intrude” as she balances her checkbook or prepares her shopping list. She can hardly wait to get to her studio and her rhythms are more like Picasso’s on painting jags than like the rhythms of a “normal” person.

This artist is obsessed in an everyday sense of the word--and more than happy to be so!

But a clinician has no word to employ to describe her state. He may call it anything from a passion to a preoccupation to a sublimation, even though it is exactly an obsession.

He can’t call this welcome (albeit edgy) state an obsession, because he has caused “obsession” to be stand for something invariably negative.

Negative obsessions (like fearing that your door isn’t locked and checking it a hundred times a day, or fearing that your hands aren’t clean and washing them over and over again) are a horror.

No one would want them or no one needs them. Positive obsessions, by contrast, are the fruit of a creator’s efforts to make meaning. Without positive obsessions, life is dull, dreary, and meaningless.

Because we rarely consider the distinction between positive obsessions and negative ones, we’ve thrown the baby out with the bath water and missed the chance to think about the value of positive obsessions and--as they are valuable--what would help a creator nurture them.

What exactly do I mean by a positive obsession?

A fair working definition is as follows: positive obsessions are insistent, recurrent thoughts or sets of thoughts, pressurized in feel, that are extremely difficult to ignore, that compel one to act, and that connect to one’s goals and values as an active meaning-maker and authentic human being.

For Van Gogh, for a period of time, sunflowers obsessed him. For Dostoevsky, for decades, the question of whether an innocent--a “saintly man”--could survive in the real world haunted and obsessed him.

Georgia O’Keeffe obsessed about how to represent the desert, thrilling herself when her imagery of bleached bones satisfied her for a time.

It is no accident or coincidence that effective artists harbor preoccupations that rise to the level of positive obsession.

For an artist, the absence of positive obsessions leads to long periods of blockage, repetitive work that bores the artist himself, and existential ailments of all sorts.

What is a creator to do? The long answer requires more space than I have here, but the short answer is that he must take himself more seriously in the realm of meaning.

He must reconvince himself--or convince himself for the first time--that his creative efforts matter, not cosmically and not as mere ego massage but as a primary way that he will make personal meaning during his time on earth.

Much of what we call normal behavior is simply based on fear. Indeed, the average person might even prefer a negative obsession, despite its horrors, to a positive obsession rooted in excitement, passion, and active meaning-making, so wild and unafraid would he feel if he were obsessed that way.

Last edited:
Interesting read. Thanks, Res.

I don't have much to add that's objectively relevant, but you've definitely given me something to think about.
After all, no one can say how normal ought to be defined. In what sense is it normal to work at a job that constricts you and bores you rather than risking everything on a life that challenges you, even as it frustrates you?

love that line ^

but this article really speaks to me and reaffirms the amount of effort i put forth into creativity everyday. positive obsession might also be called perfectionism for anyone attempting to create something worthwhile who knows how much it costs to do so. i definitley agree with what he's saying here, thank you for this thread :)
Thank you Res.

I liked this topic's summary. Summary is after all summary. :D

So i am going with positive obsession. Positive thoughts are never harmful and always thing makers.
I'm glad i found this article as well. I find that we're always feeling bad or guilty about our obsessions, and it was nice to read something which didn't label them as only negative, but giving us another perspective - having a positive effect on our happiness or satisfaction with our lives.
Last edited:
I find that we're always feeling bad or guilty about our obsessions, and it was nice to read something which didn't label them as only negative, but giving us another perspective

yes this is exactly it!