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Mental Health

Can't Stop Obsessing About the Guy That Gave You HIV?

Can't Stop Obsessing About the Guy That Gave You HIV?


Our expert advice on how to understand and move on.

Being newly diagnosed with HIV brings up a lot of questions. The first one is “Why me?” And that often leads to “How did this happen?” or “Why did I let it happen?”  

Some of my clients have no idea how they became HIV-positive. They find themselves going back over past sexual encounters and trying to figure out when and from whom they acquired the virus. Others know exactly who passed HIV on to them. And they find themselves going back over that specific encounter and obsessing, as you may be, which is a normal reaction. 

To be honest, I am not sure which obsession is hardest to deal with, but I see the results of both. A lot of self-criticism, along with feelings of anger, regret, and shame. Those are also normal, especially when someone is new to being HIV-positive. But those emotions are keeping you stuck. My clients who share youra aaexperience often talk about wanting to understand how this person could have been unaware of his or her HIV status. And if they were aware, why they would make the choice not to disclose their status. They tell me about how they search their memory to recall if there were any signs along the way, something that was said or done that they might have missed, along with asking themselves what they could have done to prevent this from happening. Our minds want answers. How? Why? And a big part of all that obsessing is trying to get those answers. In the absence of real information, our minds are all too willing to create stories. And our minds tell us that if we keep mulling over these stories, we can get some kind of resolution. But for what purpose? 

Some of my clients have gone back and confronted the person who infected them. Or they have warned others about them. Others have not been able to contact them again, because they couldn’t locate them or because they couldn’t bring themselves to initiate any more contact.

I don’t know what your plans are. But I can say that the majority of the time, the only closure is to not have closure. In other words, the resolution may be to accept that you may never know exactly why the guy who infected you placed you in this situation. You may never get the apology you want. You may never have the opportunity to hurt him back. And if any of these scenarios came about, all those feelings wouldn’t magically disappear. 

In the meantime, keeping that person front and center is also causing you to suffer. So a question for you: What if you moved on? I am not saying the two of you need to sing “Kumbaya” and hug it out. But on the other hand, unless he is sending you a fat rent check every month, he is also occupying a big chunk of prime real estate in your brain that could be better used. 

So what can you do? I encourage you to gradually fill up that space with what’s really important. The people you care about. Your health. Your job. The things you enjoy doing. Your community. Your future. This might be a great time to add to your life—new interests, new people. I’m not saying success is the best revenge, because this is not about getting revenge. But I am saying it’s time to push that old tenant out into the street. Choose to make your life about what’s inspiring, what’s exciting, and what’s next.

Mental health editor Gary McClain, Ph.D. (, is the coauthor of several books, including The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Breaking Bad Habits and Empowering Your Life with Joy.

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Gary McClain