Othello Syndrome

Othello Syndrome describes a type of delusion characterised by irrational jealousy. The delusion is based upon the idea that your partner is having an affair. The groundless, the idea takes hold and it can’t be shaken off. In Shakespeare’s play ‘Othello’, the emotion of jealousy is fuelled by a principal character (Iago) who spreads misinformation. In Othello syndrome the suspicious partner becomes convinced that he can’t trust his partner. There is a constant searching for proof that the partner is being unfaithful.

I became jealous. I was going through a difficult time, my partner was working away for a few months and we were only seeing each other occasionally.  We knew it would be difficult but we were trying to save some money so we could buy a place together.  At first it was ok, but then I started to think that she was losing interest in me.

We used to speak to each other most evenings and suddenly that changed.  I was left sitting on my own quite a bit at night when I’d finished work and because I hadn’t heard from her, and because I was lonely and bored I was drinking a bit more than was usual. I started to spend more time on social media. I began to look through her Facebook and Instagram pages and I started to become preoccupied with the idea that she was having an affair with an old boyfriend.

Once this idea had started it really took hold of me, and before I knew it I became very suspicious of her.  It developed into a kind of paranoia. We would talk about it when we met but because we were apart so much of the time it just kept coming back in back in my mind. I could not leave it alone.  In the end I created a big scene and the relationship ended. We had so many plans but now it was all over.   It took me a long time to get over what had happened.  It was such a waste.

I don’t want my next relationship to go the same way. I don’t want to be plagued by these kinds of insecurities and fears, I don’t want to be a suspicious man. I want to trust my partner. If I get another chance at something as good as I had, I don’t want to let it slip through my fingers again.

Anonymous client

Men and women and the Othello Syndrome

The Othello syndrome, a form of jealousy, may affect men more than women. It tends to be identified by recurrent accusations of infidelity, and as in the case above, the constant searching for evidence. 

O, beware, my lord, of jealousy;
It is the green-ey’d monster, which doth mock
The meat it feeds on.

Shakespeare, Othello

The jealous partner simply cannot take his or her partner’s word to be true and repeatedly interrogates them, testing for any side of infidelity.  This can lead to stalking, which can, in some cases can become the basis of court action.

I was dreaming of the past
and my heart was beating fast
I began to lose control
I began to lose control

John Lennon, Jealous Guy

It is not unusual for people to become jealous in relationships

A certain amount of jealousy is probably a natural thing.  If it is managed and controlled then it may be something that doesn’t spoil relationships or lives, but if it gets out of hand it can be very destructive.

An English psychiatrist, John Todd, spoke of the Othello syndrome in 1951. Todd took the name from the Shakespeare play ‘Othello’ in which Othello murders his wife having become convinced that she is being unfaithful to him. 

In the play, a tragedy, the audience knows that this is not true, and that Othello is becoming caught up in a web of deceit spun by a colleague, Iago. It is the worst kind of outcome leading to murder and suicide.

The Othello Syndrome – Jealousy of this kind becomes an insidious problem 

Once it has got hold of the person’s mind it can become very difficult to get rid of it. The delusion that your partner is being unfaithful tends to feed off itself. The more the mind is caught up in the Othello syndrome the worse the problem becomes.

Gradually the jealous fantasies will become caught up with erotic ideas.  The jealousy will take on a kind of morbid quality.  It is very easy for it to increase levels of anxiety and if it is left untreated and results in the end of relationships, the end of future dreams as in the case above, then depression may well set in.

When this kind of morbid jealousy takes hold it is a good idea to get some help

In psychotherapy, in many cases what we find is that the basis of the jealous ideas, the emotional instability that is inherent in them, are actually part of the persons earlier life. It isn’t that there is a problem in your current life.  Odd though it might sound the basis of the problem may be in your own past.

The child psychoanalyst Melanie Klein viewed envy as an early developmental impulse. One of the key maturational phases that the individual has to negotiate is from the envious desire of things it cannot have through to a more mature balanced capacity to appreciation and show gratitude.

  • Often these problems relate to emotional discontinuity’s in our own families, early homes, and environments.  In relationships that were not fair and balanced when we were much younger.

I was feeling insecure
You might not love me anymore
I was shivering inside
I was shivering inside

John Lennon, Jealous Guy

It is often found that people who suffer from morbid jealousy such as Othello syndrome have an intolerance of uncertainty and are very quick to pick up on unpredictability in relationships.

  • They respond to this by constantly craving proof and reassurance that there is not a problem.  But the very nature of Othello syndrome is that it becomes harder and harder to trust the evidence.
  • So, the perception is that the relationship is under threat, the experience is that the person feels very unsure and unsafe, and so the relationship starts to disintegrate.
  • Once this happens in one relationship it is all too easy for it to happen in another, so a negative cycle of jealous anxious reactions is triggered.  It becomes a kind of learned response.

Oh I didn’t mean to hurt you
I’m sorry that I made you cry
Oh my I didn’t want to hurt you
I’m just a jealous guy

John Lennon, Jealous Guy

One of the reasons that psychotherapy can be helpful, is that within the therapeutic relationship trust can be developed in the therapist.  And as that trust in the therapeutic relationship becomes internalised, so the person may be able to hold the internal sense of emotional safety and predictability and security in other relationships.  In this way the negative cycle is broken.

Contact me to discuss further

Talking confidentially in psychotherapy may be a route to relieving your jealous feelings.  It may make it easier to start to relax with your partner.

Contact me to arrange a free 15-minute conversation to discuss how my work might be useful to you.

I have a lot of experience of using telephone and online platforms and I would be pleased to hear from you.

Mobile: +447980 750376
Email: toby@tobyingham.com