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Delusional jealousy

Delusional jealousy or Othello syndrome is a psychiatric disorder in which a person holds a delusional belief that their spouse or sexual partner is being unfaithful.

It is named after the character in Shakespeare's play Othello, who murders his wife based on his false belief that she has been disloyal.

An affected person typically makes repeated accusations of infidelity based on insignificant or minimal evidence, often citing seemingly normal or everyday events or material to back up their claim. They may also take great pains to test their partner's fidelity and can go to considerable lengths to monitor their behaviour and movements. This may be taken to extremes, such as waiting outside of the partner's workplace during their working day or even following them into the bathroom in case their partner has an illicit meeting with their perceived lover.

Delusional jealousy can occur in both heterosexual and homosexual individuals although it is more often found in males than females.

Unlike other delusional disorders, delusional jealousy has a strong association with violence and in some cases stalking[?] behaviour. At the very least affected individuals tend to be irritable and confrontational.

It can be found in the context of schizophrenia and delusional disorder but is also associated with alcoholism and sexual dysfunction and has been reported after neurological illness[?].

One particularly interesting aspect of delusional jealousy is that the constant accusations and suspicion of infidelity from the delusional spouse has been reported to have driven some partners to actually have an affair.

One of the criteria for a belief to be diagnosed as a delusion is that the belief should be false. In these cases, it would seem that the belief is no longer false and should therefore be considered normal, despite the otherwise disturbed behaviour of the person concerned. This is a paradox and highlights one of the shortcomings of psychiatric diagnosis of delusions.

See also: delusion, erotomania, Martha Mitchell effect, psychosis

External links and references

  • Enoch, D. & Ball, H. (2001) The Othello Syndrome. In Enoch, D. & Ball, H. Uncommon psychiatric syndromes (Fourth edition) pp50-73. London: Arnold. ISBN 0340763884

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