“Love gives naught but itself and takes naught but from itself, love possesses not nor would it be possessed: For love is sufficient unto love,” wrote Kahlil Gibran in his book The Prophet. However, many a time, our love for someone could easily incline towards possessiveness. In our relationships–romantic or non-romantic–we may have inadvertently suffocated the other person by intruding his/her personal space. Or we may have felt stifled and controlled by others in a similar way.
The phrase ‘to possess’ literally means ‘to own’. While it is relatively easier to own materialistic things, it is downright impossible (and wrong) to own another’s free will. We may already know that, and yet, we attempt to do just that, albeit unintentionally. According to clinical psychologist Tishya Mahindru Shahani, we often get carried away by emotions caused by a deluge of hormones. We start feeling vulnerable, and therefore, as a self-defense mechanism, we look for ways to prevent getting hurt. “The wish to possess arises because of an illusion that if we display ownership of our loved ones, we would be able to prevent the other person from distancing themselves,” she explains.
Of course, it never works that way. We cannot control the way people choose to express themselves in a relationship. An old saying goes ‘The more we try to hold sand in our fist, the more it slips out.’ Similarly, when we exert control over our loved ones out of our own insecurities, we only end up pushing them away.
Software engineer Santhosh Swaminathan can relate to this. He recalls how his girlfriend’s possessiveness added spice to their relationship during the initial days of dating. “Her attention even made me feel special,” he says. But over the months, Santhosh began to feel smothered. The more possessive his girlfriend got, the more distant he became. “I consciously started working late hours. Although, I did feel terribly guilty for ignoring her,” he confesses.
While possessiveness might play out more intensely in romantic relationships, it does occur in non-romantic relationships as well. For instance, best friends may be possessive about each other. Either or both may feel threatened when a new friend comes along. Varsha Vardan, a college student, recalls feeling jealous when her childhood friend started making new friends. “I felt ignored, but I did nothing to fix the issue. Maybe I had ego issues. So, I simply watched us grow apart. One fine day, I could not stand it any longer and I confronted her. We ended up having a nasty fight,” she shares.