Rebecca Syndrome

Rebecca Syndrome is an alternative name for Retroactive Jealousy, and it describes the problem people have who have become fixated upon their partners’ previous partners. Rebecca Syndrome is an obsessional problem. 

The key to unlocking the problem and being able to enjoy your present relationship is to find a way to look beyond your jealousy, beyond your obsession, to stop seeing it as relating to your partner, and to look at the roots of your worries and fears instead.

In the last five years, I have probably had more inquiries concerning Rebecca Syndrome and Retroactive Jealousy than anything else. It was this interest that led me to write my book on the subject; Retroactive Jealousy, How to Manage it. Invariably I have found that the fuel that is driving the obsessional, thinking and anxiety is much older than our current relationship. This is a very important point, because if we fail to grasp this, there is every chance that our jealous and possessive anxieties will destroy our new relationship.

It is worth remembering that in Daphne du Maurier’s novel, Rebecca, it turns out that the husband had been betrayed by his former wife, Rebecca. Rebecca was idealised, the old relationship had significant problems. The truth was more complicated than the idealisation.

Starting to Assess Rebecca Syndrome

It is helpful to take an assessment of the client’s life at the start of psychotherapy. When we do this, we can establish a picture of the client’s family of origin, and when we look at that, we can generally find the attachment problem that may have become the foundation, for what is now Rebecca Syndrome or Retroactive Jealousy.

Rebecca Syndrome and Obsessional Neurosis

Obsessional neurosis describes a condition where the mind is intruded upon by compulsive words, images, or ideas. These uncontrollable obsessional thoughts dominate the mind.

Rebecca Syndrome and Early Attachment Problems

The attachment problems that we suffer in childhood, as part of growing up in our families occur before we start to have romantic relationships. When we start dating, what we find is that our early attachment wounds resurface and become projected into our love relationships. This can be misleading and confusing.

We tend to think that the problem is to do with something that our partner has done wrong, but really our problems are older than that. They may relate to abandonment issues.

Avoid asking questions about your partner’s past

I think it can be helpful at the start of a new relationship to avoid asking your partner all about their previous partners. Naturally, we want to be our partners only one, but in the long run, the details we find out about our partners’ past can come back to haunt us, rather like in the novel Rebecca, and cause great anxiety. We can project all kinds of ideas onto them.

I think it is also a good habit to avoid going through your partner’s phone. If we find that we are becoming caught up in controlling coercive impulses to know all about our partner, to know all about their past, and all about their activity on social media, that’s a good time to try to step back.

Social media has contributed to a rise in Rebecca Syndrome and Retroactive Jealousy. Now we can all find out things about our partners former lovers.

Start to monitor yourself and consider that the problem you are caught up in may be older than your current relationship.

Psychoanalysis, Rebecca Syndrome and Obsessional thinking

Although psychoanalysis may be out of fashion, the insights Freud developed into obsessional problems have stood the test of time and have relevance to anyone suffering from Rebecca Syndrome. His seminal case study The Ratman (1909) explored the way his patient was obsessed with something going wrong in the present, that had in fact all ready happened. This is what happens in Rebecca Syndrome, we worry about our partner’s past, when really the fuel that drives that worry relates to things that went wrong for us long ago.

We have not yet worked through our own psychological wounds and because of that we keep suffering from them. We project our past injuries into our present love life.

Rebecca Syndrome and Obsessional Ideas

If we allow ourselves to become caught up in obsessional ideas that promise that if we find the answer to certain questions about our partner’s past, then that will be the end of it, we will be disappointed.

If you suffer from obsessional tendencies, then the more you ask about your partner’s past, the more you find out about it, the more your questions will multiply.

This is because Rebecca Syndrome is an obsessional type of problem and obsessional problems tend to create deep rabbit holes that we can disappear down and lose ourselves in. We can use up inordinate amounts of energy, making mountains out of molehills when we could be enjoying our new relationship.

When obsessional problems like Rebecca Syndrome occur in our relationships, however, well-meaning our attempt may be, it is difficult for our partners to try to solve the problem with us, and all too often our attempts to discuss the issue only create further arguments.

Instead of being able to appreciate our current love relationship and plan for the future, people in the grip of Rebecca Syndrome and Retroactive Jealousy become haunted by doubts. They fall into a downward spiral, it becomes impossible for them to see the good possibilities.

All they can think about is their partner’s past and what they have missed out on. This is an illusion and means that what could be a good thing in the new relationship is destroyed.

Psychotherapy is a confidential relationship, a place to discuss anxieties that are personal and sensitive in an atmosphere that might create space to shed light on the origins of the problems. It might be the beginning of getting some control over the problem.

Contact me

Having the chance to speak in a confidential setting is often the key to developing a clearer understanding of Rebecca Syndrome or Retroactive Jealousy.

By giving yourself a safe space to look at these things you may start to discover a greater sense of possibilities, and this may be the beginning of developing a greater sense of understanding how to relate to yourself and others, how to start living more fully again, and how to start to have healthy relationships with yourself and other people.

The chance to reflect on ourselves, our feelings and experience can be powerful and transformative. Out of this, you may be able to develop a clearer understanding of how you and your sense of your problems have developed, and what you can change.

I have been working with people on issues such like this for more than twenty years.  My work is built around helping you to develop greater insight into who you are, and how you live. 

Contact me to arrange a free telephone consultation to discuss how my approach might help you.


Email: toby@tobyingham.com