Mental Health Monday–Othello Syndrome

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There are several psychiatric syndromes with some, well, intriguing names. Today, I’d like to comment on Othello Syndrome.

Aptly named after Shakespeare’s Othello (where Othello murders his wife because he believed she cheated on him), Othello Syndrome is a delusional (fixed, false belief) disorder whereby the sufferer believes their spouse or partner is being unfaithful. Often times, there is little to no evidence to substantiate this belief.

It can be associated with other mental illness such as, schizophrenia, delusional disorder, bipolar disorder, alcohol dependence, sexual dysfunction, and other neurological illnesses. It can also be associated with stalking (which can include multiple “interrogations” of the partner, repeated phone calls to work, surprise visits, and hiring a PI to follow the partner) and, at times, violence (either in the form of suicide attempts to harm toward others).

Different theories have arisen regarding the cause of this disorder. Some believe it is morbid jealousy whereby the sufferer’s memories are subconsciously changed and their partner’s actions are misinterpreted. Or, those with an “insecure attachment style” may be fearful and extremely anxious about their partner’s commitment.

Treatment includes anti-psychotic medications for the delusions as well as anti-depressant medications if there’s associated depression or anxiety. It is also important for the sufferer to engage in psychotherapy.

What examples of Othello Syndrome have you seen in the books you’ve read?

Be sure to check out Lydia’s Medical Monday and Sarahs’ The Strangest Situation!

Remember, these posts are for writing purposes ONLY and are NOT to be construed as medical or psychiatric advice or treatment.


28 comments on “Mental Health Monday–Othello Syndrome

  1. Donna Hole says:

    I read a book titled “Love me or I’ll Kill You” that probably fits.

    I don’t have a character in my women’s fiction with this disorder; but I’d love to explore it for a villian. What a complicated, interesting character he coud be.


  2. Kendall Grey says:

    Wow, I didn’t know there was a name for this. I know some obsessive married people who should probably read this post. HA!

  3. Sarah Fine says:

    Fascinating, Laura. I only work with children, so don’t deal with delusions really, and therefore tend to think of this ailment in terms of a broad category–it’s neat to see it broken down so specifically, by content/theme of delusion. Thanks!

  4. salarsen says:

    I’ve heard of this before. It kind of gives me the creeps. Thanks for spotlighting it, though. I could make for an interesting twist with any character.

  5. Cool stuff! There are probably a lot of people suffering from this delusion. Of course, there are also a lot of people cheating on their spouse.

  6. Lydia K says:

    OMG, I think I know someone who has this. Seriously.

  7. Justine Dell says:

    Sleeping with The Enemy? Maybe?

    And like Lydia, I think I seriously know someone who has this, too. Scary stuff.


  8. Ciara Knight says:

    I think I dated a guy with this disorder in college. Yikes. I just thought he was paranoid.

  9. Catherine Johnson says:

    Gosh imagine living living with someone with all of those tendencies, the mind can be a scary place.

  10. Leigh Moore says:

    wow! I didn’t know this was a real thing. How interesting, and I wonder if it’s been explored with relation to abusive spouses or stalker-boyfriends. I don’t think I’ve read any books where the character has this disorder, but I really like the possibilities here for scariness~ :o) ❤

  11. I remember reading this on Lydia’s site – never knew there was such a thing!

  12. My mom developed Othello syndrome when she started having dementia. It has made it exceptionally difficult to deal with her.

  13. Indigo says:

    Mental Mondays are always interesting. I wonder if someone suffering from Othello Syndrome could have at one time had a valid reason for being suspicious (partner did indeed cheat on them). Would they then develop Othello Syndrome unable to trust or get past the discretion imagining something that is no longer a threat, or is the disease based on unfounded suspicions with no real proof in the afflicted’s mind? (Hugs)Indigo

  14. Karen Lange says:

    I’ve heard of this, but don’t recall any characters in recent books having it. Good to know, thanks for the additional info.

  15. Lynn Rush says:

    Ohhhh. Nice. What an interesting disorder!!!! I think I feel a spark of a story starting to flicker now… LOL

  16. Fascinating! I imagine it must be hard on convince people with Othello Syndrome that they need treatment.

  17. Fascinating.
    Hmm, What about Wuthering Heights? I don’t know if Heathcliff has Othello syndrome, but he seems to have a big jealousy problem.

  18. Nas says:

    Fascinating! I think this is the syndrom with abusive partners.

  19. I’ve never heard of it before. Pretty scary stuff. Is there a typical age of onset.

    • Dunno! I guess it depends on the person’s experiences and/or the onset of mental illness.

      I can say that men tend to be more violent than women who have the syndrome.

  20. julie f says:

    I believe I’m acquainted with a descendant of Othello. This is freaking fascinating!

  21. J E Fritz says:

    Interesting. I’ve never heard of this one before, although it makes sense for paranoid people. I remember in Their Eyes Were Watching God, after Tea Cake got sick, he became convinced that Janie was cheating despite her constant loyalty to him. Of course, it wasn’t really his fault. It was the whole disease ravaging his brain thing. I didn’t realize there was a name for it.

  22. Vicki Tremper says:

    Oh this one is just begging to be used in a novel!

  23. The movie Fatal Attraction maybe? Actually, I think I know someone who has this problem.

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