Retroactive jealousy 

I found this post on a site called /r/OCD/, by a guy calling himself horned1x. I’m re-posting it here with my own additional commentary because it’s full of stuff that makes me think, much more than anything about sex addiction or generic OCD I’ve previously encountered. Forgive the length and my extensive use of quotations in this post.  By the way, the author acknowledges that many people with retroactive jealousy were, like me, exaggerating their partner’s premarital experiences and minimizing their own.  This irrational hypocrisy, often stemming from conservative views of gender roles, may be part of the problem.

“We’ve all been jealous of our partner’s sexual / relationship history at some point or another, but when ‘normal, relatively healthy’ jealousy extends to constant, unwanted, painful instrusive thoughts about your partner’s past, coupled with excessive questioning and reassurance-seeking, disturbing mental images and ‘videos’, anxiety, and seemingly irrational anger directed at your partner, we’re dealing with something else: Retroactive Jealousy. Also referred to as retrospective or retrograde jealousy, this condition is actually a rare form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and should be treated appropriately.

This is a widely-misunderstood phenomenon, with little useful, practical information regarding treatment available online. Even qualified psychologists / psychiatrists seemingly struggle to provide coherent treatment advice for this condition, let alone the frankly useless information available from online “relationship experts”.

I suffered terribly with RJ (Retroactive Jealousy) myself, it completely took over my life for many years. I know exactly how debilitating, confusing and, frankly, horrifying the unexplained, compulsive visualisation of your partner engaged in sexual / romantic activity with someone else can be.

It really can sap your energy, happiness and willpower, and on top of that the vast majority of people can’t understand what you’re going through. Very few people understand the true nature of RJ, which makes it an extremely isolating condition, as even your own partner can eventually become frustrated at not knowing what they can do to help you. There is an expectation from other people that you should be able to just “get over it” – don’t be angry at them, it’s not their fault, they just don’t understand what you’re up against. It’s not your fault either. Don’t feel ashamed, or in any way weak or incapable, for having RJ. It is not a choice, nor is it any indication of your personal strength or weakness. RJ, like all OCD, is a result of a faulty circuit in your brain. And, like all other OCD, it CAN be successfully and permanently treated given intelligent, targeted psychological treatment methods (see below), coupled with commitment, discipline, acceptance and courage.”

Okay, readers, I interrupt the foregoing quote from /r/OCD/ to seek your reactions. This blogger I am quoting does say a lot of things that sound hauntingly familiar to me. When I try to pinpoint my root psychological problem that preceded my adultery and deceit, I think it was this RJ. I say “preceded,” not “caused,” because there were other causes, including my habit of secrecy, my selfishness and self-centeredness, my lack of true love and compassion, my lack of empathy, and my tardy development of good life management skills. But, I’m making some progress on those issues. RJ, however, is one I still want to understand better. Here’s more from /r/OCD/.

“Some time ago, someone else did a pretty damn good job of summarising the concepts and advice relevant to beating this condition in a .pdf document available [HERE.][http://www.pdf-archive.com/2013/10/05/slaying-the-dragon-partner-s-past/slaying-the-dragon-partner-s-past.pdf]

What I will do in this post is outline practical tips to start curing yourself from this condition straight away, along with a few other things to think about.

RJ can affect both men and women, although it more commonly affects men. Due to the biological differences between men and women, RJ manifests differently for each gender. Men tend to find themselves obsessing about their partners past sexual encounters, particularly those of a casual or promiscuous nature. Whereas women suffering from RJ tend to conjure up mental scenarios in which their partner acted in a romantic and caring way towards an ex-partner.

This difference is fundamentally down to what was important to males and females during the hunter-gatherer stage of our evolution. Males needed to be sure that their offspring was in fact theirs – to ensure that they were passing on their own genes, rather than raising another males children. And females needed to ensure that their mate would be providing to their offspring, rather than that of another female.  This post will focus on how RJ affects the male brain, although the techniques, in principal, would also work to cure RJ as it manifests for women.

RJ is a form of OCD and needs to be treated as such. As outlined in my other post about [how to tackle OCD in general][https://www.reddit.com/r/OCD/comments/3oy4k5/beat_ocd_top_tips_and_resources_repost/], the most effective treatment for OCD is Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP).”

Another interruption from MindlessCraft here. Dear readers, what do you think about this ERP treatment, both in general and as applied specifically to RJ? I’ll return us now to the /r/OCD/ post.

“The Compulsions in Retroactive Jealousy do seem somewhat hard to grasp, meaning that applying ERP seems initially confusing. RJ is what experts would call “Pure-O” OCD. This stands for “Purely Obsessive”, implying that there are no Compulsions, but this is actually a misnomer. Essentially, Pure-O type OCD is just the same as normal OCD, it’s just that the Compulsions are all MENTAL.

Reassurance, and ‘thinking through’ thoughts or memories until they feel ‘complete’ etc. are all mental compulsions. I believe that the compulsion in RJ is ‘thinking through’ the sexual scene that your partner engaged in in the past, until you have a feeling of ‘completeness’ or reassurance. Why, indeed, would we spend so much time torturing ourselves with these disturbing images/videos, unless they were a compulsion? And why would we do it over and over again?

For example, I used to be sitting at my desk at work when, out of nowhere, I would get an Intrusive Thought – the memory that many years ago, my girlfriend had met a guy in a nightclub in Cuba, and run outside and had sex with him in an abandoned building nearby. Difficult to process at the best of times, as I’m sure you can imagine. When this Intrusive Thought appeared, I would feel a very strong need to rush off to the toilets (quiet space and alone) to ‘think through’ the scene which she described to me. I would think it through in a very detailed, OCD way… slowly and visualising every last detail, making sure I got it ‘right’. This in itself was painful and time-consuming. . . .

Now, it’s important to note here that Doubt is a huge element of OCD. Essentially, due to my childhood value system, and “core beliefs” about women, sexuality, and the type of girl I’d like to end up settling down with, the fact that my girlfriend at the time had had sex in an abandoned building made me DOUBT that she was the right person for me. If she hadn’t done it, or I had no desire to stay together with her, or I didn’t love her, there would have been no problem. But she had done it, I did want to stay with her, and I did love her – that was reality and I needed to accept that. It’s the doubt. . . . . The thoughts and visualisations that you engage in are Reassurance to quell these doubts. But as we know now, engaging in Reassurance only worsens the problem, as it strengthens this neural circuit in your brain.

So, I should get to the point – how do we apply ERP to RJ?

Standard OCD Cycle: 1. Intrusive Thought 2. Anxiety 3. Compulsion (to reduce Anxiety) 4. Temporary Relief 5. Intrusive Thought returns – back to step 1.

Retroactive Jealousy: 1. Intrusive Thought about partner’s past sexual experience(s). 2. Anxiety. 3. Mental compulsion, to achieve ‘Reassurance’. This could be picturing the sexual scene in your head, playing a mental video of it, ‘thinking it through’ or analysing it somehow. Or it could be ‘seeking Reassurance’ by asking your partner questions. 4. Temporary Relief. 5. Intrusive Thoughts return – back to Step 1.

Exposure and Response Prevention works by short-circuiting the above Cycle. You resist performing your Compulsion, and force your brain to develop a tolerance to the anxiety you are experiencing.

For RJ, ERP goes like this:

Firstly, write “Triggers” on post-it notes, and stick them all around your bedroom, kitchen, car, and anywhere else you’re likely to see them. A Trigger is anything that will trigger you to think about your partner’s past sexual activities. Like a phrase to do with something they have done in the past, or a picture of her with her ex.

Here’s an example ERP:

1.Trigger// Post-It note: “Her One-Night Stand with that guy” 2.Intrusive Thought// E.g. the thought of her in bed with an ex. 3.Response Prevention// DO NOT follow up the thought by imagining the scene, or analysing what happened, or reassuring yourself. Do not respond in any way… simply continue what you were going to do, e.g. going downstairs to make breakfast. 3a. (Optional) SPIKE – Say to myself mentally ‘This really does matter, and ignoring it is going to result in me ending up in a terrible situation’. Believe it for a second. 4.ANXIETY// Feel that anxiety coursing through your body. Fast heartbeat, short breaths, hands shaking, uncomfortable feeling of things being “not right”. 5.Ride it out! After about 15 mins the anxiety will subside.

So, if the [Response] is to think through the sexual scene, visualise it, and give yourself reassurance, then what is Response Prevention, in this case? It’s: don’t follow up the intrusive thought with visualisation or any further analysis whatsoever. When the Intrusive thoughts (examples below) pop in to your head, simply briefly recognise it, and continue on with what you’re doing. You’ll notice that this is extremely uncomfortable. Every fibre in your body will be urging for you to “reassure yourself” that it doesn’t matter that she did what she did, that she’s still the girl for you etc. Your mind will be screaming for you to visualise what happened… but you must not. You must just continue with what you were doing, and live through that “uncomfortable” feeling that this produces.

Example Intrusive Thoughts: – The time your girlfriend had that one night stand. – She must have given her ex a BJ at one point. – Am I sure she’s the right girl for me? – I wonder if she’s ever slept with a football player? – Did her ex give her a better time in bed than me?
When any of these thoughts pop in, simply feel the anxiety and keep on doing what you were doing without following the thought up.

OCD craves CERTAINTY. And to beat it you must become comfortable with UNCERTAINTY. Becoming comfortable with uncertainty is the stake in the heart of the OCD Vampire. That means being OK with not knowing: – How many guys she has slept with. – Whether she’s the right girl for you. – Whether she has ever done X or Y with Guy A or Guy B. – Whether her ex was better than you at X. . . .

This probably seems like a terrifying proposition at the moment. How on Earth could I be comfortable NOT knowing for sure whether she is the right girl for me, or how many guys she’s been with?

The thing is, this fear is an illusion produced by the malfunction in your brain. I’m not going to lie, doing ERP is truly terrifying to begin with. But the more you do it, the more the fear just… disappears! It must seem so strange at the moment, but you genuinely will gradually just be less and less bothered about being ‘sure’ about these questions. The more ERP you do, they will seem less important, and the Intrusive Thoughts will gradually just stop appearing.

Each instance of OCD, at it’s core, is about Fear. . . . Fear that your partner’s ex’s or past encounters were somehow “better” than you sexually, or “more masculine” than you. Fear of not being “enough” for your partner. . . .

These fears are very similar and seem to all be part of ‘the same thing’. I recommend that you discuss with a trained psychotherapist the possibility that you hold these fears, and that they are the ‘Source’ of your OCD. He/she should be able to use psychotherapeutic techniques to work on these fears and change your “core beliefs” about yourself, your partner, relationships, and life in general.

Once you have completed your ERP, there may still be some, albeit mild, remnants of your RJ left. My understanding at the moment is that dealing with these fears will extinguish these remnants of your RJ.

Finally, some additional resources on RJ:- – [Udemy Course][https://www.udemy.com/draft/147342/] – [Overcoming Retroactive Jealousy][http://www.retroactivejealousy.com/what-is-rj/ – [Book: A Guide to Getting Over Your Partner’s Past and Finding Peace][http://www.amazon.co.uk/Overcoming-Retroactive-Jealousy-Getting-Partners-ebook/dp/B00EZWPHFW] . . . [Retroactive Jealousy Crusher][http://www.retroactivejealousycrusher.com/]”

Okay, readers, MindlessCraft here again. Thanks for your patience reading these extensive quotes. What do you think of this RJ concept and the use of this ERP to address it? I’m not yet sure what to think of it, but it is intriguing.

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6 thoughts on “Retroactive jealousy 

  1. I’m wondering if the same goes for someone after their spouses affair? Would that be considered the same? Something I may look into. Thanks for this.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Just my 2 cents.
    I think that any obsessive compulsive behaviours and also phobia (unrealistic fears) can benefit from systematic desensitisation (habituation) and response prevention (preventing of finding relieve by engaging in a compulsive act).
    The therapy in general is done with guidance of a therapist.
    Cognitive therapy might be helpful too as it challenges clients to place the “trigger” into perspective. In the example above, the jealousy is misplaced as it is related to a partner’s past relationships and these have no relevance to the current marital relationship (It is different from adultery). The obsessions seem to derive from a feeling of inadequacy and a lack of confidence. Therapy focusing on confidence building can also be helpful. Building confidence does not need to focus on confidence as a sexual partner, it can focus on anything that is confidence building, which boils down to achieving goals and giving yourself credit for it.

    In regards to the suffering of betrayed spouses who re-play the imagined visuals of a spouse with their AP, a cognitive approach might work. The longer ago the affair was, the more it makes sense to let it rest in the past where it belongs. Re-living trauma is adding fuel to the trauma (See Elizabeth Loftus’ work on memory and trauma).
    A betrayed partner who had a bad thought or dream or reminder can seek reassurance from their spouse, who can give them what they need (to be held, to be told that you love them, saying sorry for the hurt done).

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks. I’m still not sure whether and how to apply that cognitive therapy to my retroactive jealousy, especially now that I feel gradually less bothered by it. But, confidence building certainly would have helped me in the past, and could still help me in the present and future.

      For the betrayed spouse, my role as the perpetrator is certainly to provide reassurance. Beyond that, I’m not sure. As always, Elizabeth, your thoughts are helpful.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve often felt that the thoughts and anguish described by MC as his “sick obsessions,” which is essentially what RJ is describing, were transferred from his shoulders to mine since d-day.

    However, I do see a HUGE difference. His RJ is/was based on an irrational and unjustified obsession on my past (also on any prior legitimate girlfriend’s past before me). Whereas, my feelings are based on real betrayal that actually did happen DURING our relationship. His were self-inflicted, while mine were not.

    Perhaps there are similar methods for facing these feelings. But, I strongly suspect the difference between self-inflicted sick obsessions and betrayal from someone you trusted and loved must require different strategies, even if the feelings of those sick obsessions and the feelings from betrayal have some similarities.

    Liked by 3 people

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