To begin with, jealousy is a normal emotion which we all feel from time to time. It can actually be healthy to some extent in a relationship. It would be a bit worrisome if one’s partner did not feel jealous once in a while. Feelings of jealousy are usually because of the presence of a rival vying for your partner’s attentions. If you spot this and express your feelings of jealousy, this may eliminate the threat to your relationship with your partner becoming more cautious around the so-called rival. Therefore, jealousy evolved so we can sense when our relationship is threatened and do something about it. This keeps our partner, ours. When this is taken too far, however, problems ensue.
Morbid jealousy describes jealousy which has been taken to dangerous extremes. Aspects of morbid jealousy syndrome include irrational thought patterns and emotions, acting in extreme even dangerous ways to eliminate the threat and maintaining the belief that one’s partner is unfaithful but having little or no evidence to support this. People with normal jealousy only feel jealous when presented with solid proof. If accusations are unfounded, they will drop their claims. People with morbid jealousy, however, create the evidence in their minds with no reference to reality. If confronted with contradictory evidence, they will remain adamant about the idea that their partner is having some sort of affair.
It is rare to find morbid jealousy in its pure form. It is usually found in combination with an underlying mental disorder. People with paranoid personality or borderline disorder are more susceptible to morbid jealousy. Also people with an insecure attachment style are more prone to this syndrome. They are more likely to feel inadequate, insecure and inferior which may prompt morbid jealousy. Drug and alcohol abuse are common among people with morbid jealousy. Although these are not the causes of the jealousy, substance abuse would exacerbate the syndrome.
Many suffering from this syndrome realize that their feelings of betrayal are unfounded and yet cannot free themselves from the intrusive barrage of thoughts relating to their partners infidelity. Their behaviours, such as checking pockets, emails, drawers, bed linen, medicines etc. of their partner become compulsive. Stalking or hiring a private detective are also common things people with morbid jealousy do.
People with morbid jealousy are a risk to themselves and to others, especially their partner. Depression and anxiety are likely to accompany morbid jealousy, as well as suicidal ideation and self-harming behaviours. Also those suffering morbid jealousy may use violence against a partner in order to extract a confession of unfaithfulness. When taken to extremes, homicide may be the result.
It is clear that people with morbid jealousy are a dangerous threat. Hospitalization may be required for the morbidly jealous individual. Medication and psychotherapy would also be necessary. Couples therapy and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) are effective, especially if the individual has constant obsessions of their partner cheating. Therapists who are CBT oriented draw attention to faulty and irrational thinking. They try to replace these thoughts with more rational and realistic ones. While this may help, people with morbid jealousy tend to relapse into their previous delusional state if not being monitored constantly. It is also essential to realize and treat the underlying mental disorder. Overall, early identification, treatment and constant vigilance are key to helping those who suffer the delusions, obsessions and irrationalities of morbid jealousy.
Kingham, M., & Gordan, H. (2004). Aspects of morbid jealousy. Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, 10, 207-215. doi 10.1192/apt.10.3.207
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