I began to lose control.
I didn’t mean to hurt you.
I’m sorry that I made you cry.
Oh no, I didn’t mean to hurt you.
I’m just a jealous guy.
A recent UK news item – where a sufferer of Othello Syndrome talks about why she makes her boyfriend take a lie detector test whenever he goes out -made me reflect on the dynamic of extreme jealousy within abusive relationships.
We all know that the green-eyed monster can rear its head from time to time in any relationship. Often, it’s fairly normal to feel that spark over someone you care about. However, most of us have healthy ways of dealing with jealousy.
Abusers – who often suffer deep-seated confidence and control issues – don’t, and they use it to fuel emotional or physical abuse. That’s why jealousy is often a recurring theme in an abusive relationship.
For me, jealousy was present right at the start of my relationship, although I didn’t spot this as a red flag at the time. Instead, I saw this as evidence that he loved me and didn’t want to lose me.
He was from a patriarchal culture, where a woman’s virtue is seen as an extension of a man’s worth. So, I expected the possessiveness that I experienced early on in the relationship. He’d warn me that other men weren’t to be trusted. If another guy approached me, he’d get in his face. Then, he picked fights with anyone he suspected of looking at me (even if they weren’t). I felt embarrassed, but also cherished.
But, before too long, I felt persecuted. I wasn’t allowed to look in the direction of another man. I couldn’t have a male friend: even gay guys were just staging an elaborate act designed to lure me into bed.
He’d take me to see his friends, and afterwards I’d be grilled endlessly about what they said to me, how they looked at me, what they meant when they said this or that. Eventually, he stopped speaking to a lot of his pals because he imagined that they had made a move on me.
He monitored my every move, and pored over my texts and emails. He kept a watchful eye on my phone and would dial any number he didn’t recognise.
Once, he answered an weekend call to my work mobile and heard a man’s voice. I had to beg for the phone – cutting him off mid-rant – to have a flustered colleague explain that I needed to come in to support the emergency response to a local fire.
Pregnant, and already giving Dumbo’s mother serious competition, I was regularly interrogated and accused of sleeping with just about everyone he could think of. He didn’t seem to notice that it took all the energy I could muster to heave myself off the couch. These sessions would go on for hours, and whatever I said made absolutely no difference. At times, I was so exhausted that I considered a false confession – though I’m pleased to say that the survivor in me recognised that this would be a wrong move of monumental proportions.
Even though his spies in the neighborhood had nothing to report on my alleged extra-curricular activities, it became easier just to withdraw from the world. After all, if I didn’t go out without him, he would have nothing to accuse me of – right? Wrong. He passionately believed I had another, hidden, mobile phone which I’d use to communicate with my lover. Searching for it, he turned the house upside-down, emptied my car, and subjected me to strip-searches.
I realised that this was not ‘normal jealousy’, and I started looking for other explanations. At first, I thought that cannabis was the culprit. He started smoking around the time his jealousy deepened, and drug-induced paranoia seemed a likely suspect. But then, I heard about morbid jealousy syndrome.
What is morbid jealousy?
Morbid jealousy – also known as Othello Syndrome or delusional jealousy – is jealousy taken to dangerous extremes:
Morbid jealousy describes a range of irrational thoughts and emotions, together with associated unacceptable or extreme behaviour, in which the dominant theme is a preoccupation with a partner’s sexual unfaithfulness based on unfounded evidence (Cobb, 1979)
Often linked to psychological disorders, whilst sufferers of morbid jealousy arguably may not be abusive, Othello Syndrome in an abusive partner is very serious indeed because it fuels all aspects of abuse – emotional, physical, sexual and financial. Drink and drug use, common amongst abusers, are known to worsen the symptoms of morbid jealousy.
Emotional abuse may include haranguing or continual accusations of infidelity, and using emotional blackmail to stop you from going out with friends. You may experience ‘punishments’ for perceived transgressions, or ‘red mist’ beatings, slaps, shoves – and he may lock you in the house. You could be expected to ‘prove’ your love through sexual acts, with refusal to have sex being used as evidence that you are ‘getting it’ elsewhere. The children may be asked to report on who you have been calling. A morbidly jealous abuser will almost certainly increase financial control over you – poring over your bank statements, and limiting the money available to you.
Crimes of passion
The scariest thing is that in many countries – including the UK until fairly recently – men who have beaten or killed women in a pique of (founded or unfounded) jealous rage have been able to plead provocation for ‘crimes of passion‘. The abusive behaviour is implicitly sanctioned in the courtroom, with the defence focussing on proving the woman’s infidelity.
Jealousy and control are often interlinked in an abusive relationship – a very dangerous mix.
© Avalanche of the Soul, 2013-14 https://avalancheofthesoul.wordpress.com