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Is leaving the only solution to domestic violence?

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Another Look at the Othello Syndrome

Since the coronavirus lockdown, my High School Alumni WhatsApp group has been one of my favourite pastimes. Over the last four weeks, I have spent some time catching up on chats with my homegirls, and it has been an amazing experience.

About a week ago, I read a personal experience posted by one of the girls on the group, Chinelo. It was a story about her relationship with an abusive partner, and it opened up a whole new dimension to a very much ignored aspect of spousal abuse or Intimate Partner Violence. The overwhelming response to the story from other members of the group recounting their similar experiences got me wondering; how many ladies have been through this, and how many ever got the chance to speak about it? I was also very concerned because I could Identify with Chinelo’s story, it sounded very much like my account but for a few twists.

She described her partner as a loving caring and amazing man who unfortunately had a serious case of delusional jealousy. In her account, he would track her calls, display some unusual, crazy behaviour, accuse her of ridiculous things mostly infidelity and was verbally abusive. Many ladies could Identify with her story.

There are several resources online to help women overcome situations of domestic violence. Research and studies are continuously carried out to encourage and guide women out of these situations. Focus groups, organizations, and associations are also created to help women back on their feet after leaving an abusive relationship; with all the focus on women, we are left with the question, what happens to these abusers?

Do we throw them all in jail; and where there are no charges against them, do we let back into the society, to prey on other women? Or do we look into some of the reasons why cases of domestic violence remain on the increase and work towards a solution?

At the risk of coming off as pro-violence, I need to state that I do not encourage violence of any form, especially violence against women. Having noted that, a quick search online would show that most of the resources available to aid victims of domestic violence or guide them out of these situations are aimed at leading the victim away from the abuser, which is oftentimes in order.

A 2012 report by Sadgun Bhandari, published on Sciencedirect, stated that Delusional jealousy is a major contributor to domestic violence and the study found jealousy/possessiveness to be the primary factor in about 30% of spousal homicide by male perpetrators.

Another study published by the Indian journal of psychiatry – 2010, stated that morbid jealousy is responsible for a significant number of crimes of violence against women. It showed a study of 200 ‘sane’ murderers, which found that 46 had killed because of jealousy, it also quoted a similar study over a two-year period which found that 54 out of 760 murders in Cook County, Illinois, had occurred due to jealousy. Another study of insane murderers admitted to Broadmoor over a period of 20 years found that 12% committed their crime because of morbid jealousy.

This is not different from what we see highlighted as the cause in numerous cases of domestic violence littered across social media, Delusional Jealousy.

Delusional Jealousy, Pathological jealousy, morbid jealousy, also known as Othello Syndrome, is a psychological disorder in which a person is preoccupied with the thought that their spouse or sexual partner is being unfaithful without having any real proof. This disorder is often accompanied by socially unacceptable or abnormal behaviour related to these thoughts. The most commonly cited forms of psychopathology in morbid jealousy are delusions and obsessions.

The MedicineNet describes Othello syndrome as a delusion of the infidelity of a spouse or partner. It is known to affect males and, less often, females, and is characterized by recurrent accusations of infidelity, searches for evidence, repeated interrogation of the partner, tests of their partner’s fidelity, and sometimes stalking. The syndrome may appear by itself or in the course of paranoid schizophrenia, alcoholism, or cocaine addiction. The syndrome can be highly dangerous and result in disruption of marriage, homicide and suicide.

Chinelo’s account of her experience hit close to home; it reminded me of my Ex. I spent close to three years of my life, making excuses for a person that should have been seeking psychiatric help. I would spend hours trying to convince him about my location; even video calls were only a temporary fix; I would walk out of a 30 minutes meeting, and find 43 missed calls from him with a myriad of accusing text messages. When all failed, he would threaten to kill himself. Yes! He did that too. I once took a short official trip, and when he couldn’t reach me, he emailed everyone in my office, these are some just a few of the crazy things he did.

Some may wonder, why didn’t I leave? The word is Smitten; I was crazy about him. When he was not acting crazy, he did the most amazing things. Even my friends were crazy about him too. He never raised his hands on me, but Oh! The emotional abuse was next to none. At some point, I could see that I would not go on like that, and like everyone else, I left.

My point is, these persons are not always all bad, some need as much help as the victims to avoid having more victims.

Pathological jealousy or Othello Syndrome is a serious mental health disorder that requires treatment. However, in this part of the world where I come from – Nigeria, seeking psychiatric help is not very common and is often viewed with some level of reservation. People do not know how to ask their partners to seek help, and most times prefer to walk away, thereby creating an avenue for more women to experience abuse.

Helping these abusers to seek professional help could save more lives from being taken due to domestic violence. Of course, this does not encourage victims to stay with the abuser, but to find a way to help them get the help they need.

Can they get better? Yes; seeing a Psychologist is a good place to start.

How do you know your partner may have a case of Othello Syndrome? MedicineNet has highlighted some common symptoms as follows:

  • Accusing partner of looking or giving attention to other people – Extremely possessive.
  • Repeated questioning and interrogation of the partner’s behaviour.
  • Interrogation of phone calls, including wrong numbers or accidental phone calls, and all other forms of communication.
  • Constant monitoring or preventing partner’s access to any social media, including Facebook, Twitter etc.
  • Snooping or going through the partner’s belongings.
  • Monitoring the partner’s movement, asking who they are with or stalking them.
  • Isolating partner from their family, and / or controlling the partner’s social circle.
  • Preventing partner from having personal interests or hobbies outside the house.
  • Repeatedly accusing their spouse or partner of infidelity, based on insignificant, minimal, or no evidence.
  • Verbal and / or physical violence towards the partner, the individual who is considered to be the rival or both.
  • Blaming the partner and establishing an excuse for jealous behaviour.
  • Denying the jealous behaviour unless cornered.
  • Threatening to harm others or themselves.

This disorder also has a strong association with stalking, cyberstalking, sabotage, or even violence. It can be found in the context of schizophrenia, and delusional disorder, such as bipolar disorder, but is also associated with alcoholism and sexual dysfunction. It has been reported to occur after a neurological illness.

The name “Othello Syndrome” comes from the character in Shakespeare’s play Othello, who murders his wife as a result of a false belief that she has been unfaithful.

The overwhelming response to Chinelo’s story shows that at some point in our lives, we may have come in contact with someone who is suffering from the syndrome or living with the effects of it.

It is our first obligation to assist a victim abuse, and that should never be compromised. However, we can do a little more towards preventing more cases if we can create more awareness about it and assist those, suffering from “Othello Syndrome”.

Before we can transcend, we must accept – recognizing the signs of Othello Syndrome is an important step and getting the person to accept to seek help is another. We will discuss this on a later date.


By Boma Benjy – Iwuoha

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