understanding how obsession works

the Buddha had many terms for things that stir up the mind.
anusayas are fixations, thought habits, ideas that arise constantly
kiriya means mental agitation
papanca is the sheer proliferation of thought that is obsession

anusayas or obsessions have seven types. we become obsessed about
1) people and things that make us feel good, that stir passion
2) people and things that make us feel uncomfortable, that stir aversion
3) our views and opinions about life, people, the world
4) our fears of the future
5) our self centered ideas; "who am i"
6) our craving to attain higher states of being, to "become better person, more equipped to tackle the world"
7) our tendency to blame external forces for our stress and unhappiness, to avoid seeing the role our mind plays in creating stress and suffering for ourselves (we tend to objectify our experience, rather than see it as a subjective process)

the buddha teaches in the anusaya sutta that the purpose of spiritual practice is to learn how to drop and abandon these obsessions when they appear, and that we will be diligent with our actions to deprive our obsessions of the conditions of development.

any anusaya, or obsessive tendency, can turn into mental agitation (kiriya) and obsession (papanca) when we start to think about about it, or feed (upadana) off of it.

to be rid of obsessions, we have to understand the process behind it
in two great suttas, the ball of honey sutta (MN18) & sakka's questions (DN21) the buddha explains the process:

in the Sakka's questions sutta (DN21), the process is explained from a social perspective of competition with others:
—we're in a world of competition for external things that make us feel happy and secure, and this ongoing competition for things creates an outsized desire for things and views that triggers repetitive thought.

in the ball of honey sutta (MN18), the process is explained from a more internal psychological perspective:
—we start out with the idea of being a subject, carrying around our body, our thoughts and the things we own, moving about in an external world of people and objects; when a notable experience occurs, if there is a strong underlying current of vedana, or gut feeling, this highlights and focuses the mind on the idea.

this idea of being a subject, carrying around stories of our past, worries about our future, creates patterns of thinking: "Based on what a person obsesses about, the various types of obsession assail one with regard to past, present, & future forms" (mn 18)

The root of all obsession is the core perception 'I am the owner of my thoughts/they are mine'
The experience a "self," with "I" that owns our thoughts, creates the proto ideas that begin the process of obsession: what is me and what is not-me? what is mine and what is not-mine?

From the duality of me in a world of other people and things, the idea of being a victim of the world arises: I am being assaulted by other people, etc.

From these basic ideas, we become vulnerable to the seven anusayas—what makes me feel good, what i don't like, my views and opinions—derived from these basic ideas.
When identify closely with our external experience, strong feelings arise, some comfortable, some uncomfortable.
—These feelings create desire, which causes conflict with others. My inner beliefs about the goodness and badness of external things creates conflict

How can this stop the process of obsession?
We change the way we perceive our external experience and the way we relate to our gut feelings (vedana), by using an approach called "appropriate attention." (yoniso manasikara)
—rather than abandon our internal sensations and moods, identifying entirely with external experiences and our thought commentaries, we maintain a wider awareness that notices underlying moods and the changes of feelings
—we notice when craving and aversion tends to arise; what tends to trigger us
—we notice how such mental energies pass on their own if we don't feed off them (ie give them full attention)
—instead of experiencing things and people as inherently good or bad, wanted or unwanted, we practice calming the body and breath, seeing how much of the attraction or aversion is really based on the person or thing, and how much of the aversion and/or attraction is based on the underlying body state
—the more we see our experience as process born of internal states, the notion of being a victim of the world is reduced, and thus self-reflexive thinking is lessened.
—There still is a distinguishing between unskillful and skillful, but its a distinction made between processes without ones self centeredness being brought to bear.