Othello Syndrome - Uncontrollable and Pathological Jealousy

Othello Syndrome - Uncontrollable and Pathological Jealousy
Sergio De Dios González

Written and verified by the psychologist Sergio De Dios González.

Last update: 28 July, 2022

Jealousy is pretty normal in romantic relationships. The problem is when it becomes uncontrollable, constant, and unhealthy. When that happens, jealousy stops being a concern and turns into a real problem that leads to so-called Othello Syndrome. 

This syndrome gets its name from the Shakespearean play “Othello: The Moor of Venice.” Psychologists also refer to it as delusional jealousy. In the play, the main character, Othello, becomes extremely suspicious about the supposed infidelity of his wife, Desdemona. He is so convinced by his own theories that he murders her and then commits suicide.

Like Othello, there are people who fall into these vicious and obsessive cycles of suspicion and mistrust towards their partners. There is no factual basis or motivation for it, other than their own imagination. People like this tend to suffer from Othello Syndrome. Next, we will take a closer look at the characteristics, possible causes, and treatment of the syndrome.

Characteristics of Othello Syndrome

According to the DSM-5, Othello Syndrome is a delusional disorder- jealous type. That means that the fundamental axis of the disorder is pathological or extreme jealousy that supports the idea of a partner’s infidelity.

A person suffering from Othello Syndrome behaves in a completely irrational way. In other words, the individual sees what they want to see, without considering if there is or isn’t proof of their beliefs. Their biggest concern in the relationship is to meticulously search for evidence that gives their partner away. They will look through their partner’s cell phone and computer and constantly question them about their routine. Their delusion might even lead them to believe that their partner has changed their habits since they became unfaithful.

couple with mobile

Othello Syndrome is a condition that can have serious consequences due to the uncontrollable and irrational jealousy that traps sufferers. In some cases, the individual thinks they are the victim of a conspiracy and feels betrayed by their partner.

Other people can also play a role in encouraging jealousy. That is the case of Iago in the play, and today is often the case with different means of communication. Anything that confirms the individual’s suspicions becomes important.

Here are some aspects of the condition that can help identify if an individual suffers from this syndrome:

  • Constant interrogation and checking in on the partner’s habits.
  • The sudden suspicion that there is another person without any kind of proof.
  • Inability to control jealousy due to a lack of awareness.
  • Inability to control impulses.
  • Constantly searching for explanations that justify the suspicions and mistaken interpretations of the significant other’s behavior.

Causes of Othello Syndrome

To-date, there aren’t any studies that fully explain the cause of this syndrome. There are, however, plenty of factors that influence the development of the condition. Some of those are alcoholism, schizophrenia, or addiction.

Other studies related Othello Syndrome with neurodegenerative diseases like  Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s. Some experts believe there is a relationship between the syndrome with brain lesions. What that means is that the cause of the syndrome might be physiological.

It isn’t just a question of behavior. There is also an emotional component associated with self-esteem that we shouldn’t forget about. Researchers still have a lot of work to do to fully understand the causes of this syndrome.

What is the treatment for pathological jealousy?

Treatment for pathological jealousy is possible with professional help. With assistance, the individual can learn to control their jealousy and recover their personal serenity. In addition, they can even restore harmony to their relationship. To do this, it’s important to exhaustively evaluate the patient to figure out the origin of their jealousy. Identifying the gravity of their condition and the consequences it is having on their life is also important.

sad woman

The most successful and most-utilized therapy for Othello Syndrome is cognitive-behavioral therapy. On one hand, psychologists use behavioral techniques like exposure and response prevention, and on the cognitive side, they use cognitive restructuring. That being said, for extreme cases, experts also recommend anti-psychotic medication for impulse control.

Family and couples therapy is also important. That’s because jealousy is sometimes related to the life story of the person affected by Othello Syndrome.

As you can see, Othello Syndrome is a disorder that can have serious consequences. As a result, it should be addressed as soon as it is detected, and the individual should seek the help of a specialist.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.