Tag Archives: Chasing Amy Syndrome

Accepting physical limitations and putting them in perspective

TL recently worried that I am too negative about my physical self and that it constitutes dangerous self-pity. My reply was that my recent study in “10 Days to Self-Esteem” taught me at least two ways to deal with feeling inadequate First, I can take a look at my assumptions and be sure they are not resulting from distorted thinking. Second, in cases where I do find myself lacking in some way, I can just accept it instead of wishing it were different. 

I tried listing the negative and positive aspects of myself, physically and sexually. I then listed other positive attributes I have. In both cases, I think I erred by listing my attributes in terms of comparisons to other men. So, I tried again, this time listings attributes as absolute rather than relative. See below.

In that self-esteem book, the author actually suggested assigning numerical values to such lists, to quantify how much significance I assign each item.

Self-assessment of my physical and sexual attributes

Negative things about me physically:

Small (10)


Small penis (10)

Uncoordinated (10)

Soft features (10)

Not skillful in bed (10)

Total (60)

Positive things about me physically:

Healthy (10)

Fit (10)

Acceptable physique (10)

No awkward features or deformities (10)

Total (40)

Using the numerical values I assigned each item on the list, I arrive at 40 points for my positive attributes and 60 for my negative. So, what if I throw in non-physical and non-sexual attributes?

Other positive attributes I have:

Smart (5)

Wise (5)

Good at speaking and writing (5)

Good at skiing (5)

Educated (5)

Experienced with the world (5)

Attentive parent (5)

Acceptable at swimming (5)

Total (40)

If I add my other positive attributes to my list of positive physical and sexual attributes, I arrive at 80 points. In that case, the combined positive attributes outweigh my negative attributes by a value of 80 points compared to 60.

What’s the point of this exercise? I think it helps me keep my view of my negative physical and sexual attributes in perspective, so I don’t focus on them exclusively or obsessively. Perhaps it helps me accept unpleasant realities without letting them become all-consuming, depressing, or a source of self-pity or despair. Perhaps it will help me to revisit this list whenever I feel troubled by self-doubt regarding my physical attributes.


Response from Mom

In my last post I shared a hypothetical letter to my mother that my counselor recommended I write. Here’s the hypothetical response I wish she would write: 

Dear MC,

I am sorry I held you back, not allowing you to make decisions and learn independence like normal boys. I did want an eternal child about whom I could boast, not a living, breathing son with his own mind and his own wants and needs. Perhaps you treated your wife as a possession because you learned from me treating you as a possession. I should have wanted to see you learn to choose your own clothes, food, friends, girlfriends, spouse, and activities. Instead, I took those choices from you. It was unfair to you.

You know I was not sure how to deal with the Church. I tried to give you choices in that matter. I really do prefer the lifestyle the Church promotes, and I wanted that for you. I’m sorry that my anger at the Church and so many of it’s members made you think I opposed the Church’s teachings. I do share the Church’s views on sex and morality.

I never knew how to help you build confidence in sports and activities without discouraging you. I’m sorry I got that balance wrong too.

I’m also sorry I burdened you with my attempts to live my life through you. I was unhappy with myself and my life, and I hoped I could change that by getting recognition for your accomplishments. I’m sorry that I put unfair pressure on you.

Though I am very uncomfortable with the topic of sex, I’m sorry I passed my disappointment and unhappiness with that topic to you. Again, I should have made it clear that I believe in the Church’s view of sex and morality. I see, however, that by pushing you to leave our hometown, I was driving you to a life that was not compatible with the Church’s views on those topics.

You could have been more and been more happy had I not held you back. I am sorry.



Letter to Mom

My counselor suggested I write a letter to my mother – possibly a letter I will never send – expressing my feelings of injustice about my upbringing. I haven’t had a chance to discuss it with my counselor since I wrote it. I wonder what you think of it. I’m not sure what to think about it. Here it is: 

Dear Mom,

I’m sure it will come as no surprise that there are some things about my upbringing that disappointed me. I think they really led to a lot of jealousy and insecurity on my part. I’ll list them, by way of review. First, since before kindergarten, I long recall thinking I had more restrictions than my peers, whether they be neighbors, classmates, or cousins. I felt overly restricted in my ability to go outside and play, to watch shows and movies that kids my age were watching, to do things for myself rather than have parents do them for me, to associate with peers of my own choosing, to choose my own clothes, and, later, to talk and act freely regarding interest in girls.

This left me with a strong feeling of jealousy, first of elementary school boys my age and, later, of adolescent peers who I assumed had more experience with sex than I did. The jealously led to insecurity. I was certain my peers were better than me at sports and games, more worldly, and more sexually active because I was cloistered and they were not. I figured that made them better, more desirable, or more successful than me. As an adult, I drew on that jealousy and insecurity to justify marital infidelity, cruel judgmentalism, bitterness, pettiness, and disproportionate anger about perceived sleights, regardless of how small or inconsequential.

Of course, I had free will. I could have and should have not chosen to obsess on those feelings of insecurity and jealousy. At this point there is not much to be done about it. I’m not sure what I want now in regards to this topic. Perhaps I want acknowledgement that your over mothering did delay my development and put me at a disadvantage vis-à-vis my peers. I suspect you’ll say you just wanted me to be safe. I’d like to hear anyone other than myself agree with me that you went too far. Safety is not an end, it is a means. I could be one hundred percent safe, but have zero reason to exist. Your focus on safety was extreme and debilitating.

Second, I was troubled by the mixed messages you gave me regarding the Church. I understand that your own experience with the Church made you dislike it and discourage it. But, I was unhappy that you encouraged me to adopt the Church’s values regardless, sending me to Sunday school alone until I was eight, and also teaching me, both through your words and your example, to adopt the Church’s puritanical views of sex and gender roles. I wish you would have just made a decision to raise me as a Mormon or not, rather than trying to be all things to all people. I learned to be uncomfortable and dissatisfied associating with puritanical-minded peers whose life experiences were similar to my own. I also learned to feel insecure and awkward around peers who did not share my puritanical background. I thus felt at home nowhere, alone in every crowd, and too different to fit in. As an adult, I chose a mate who attracted me with her progressive thinking and experiences. I then tormented her with unfair judgments drawn from my puritanical subconscious mind.

I think I do blame you for teaching me two conflicting sets of values and desires. I feel like you set me up to be unhappy. Whichever choice I made – a progressive, modern peer group or a conservative, puritanical peer group—one part of me would be unsatisfied. I say “peer group” instead of wife or mate because, when I think about it, clearly your vision for me was that I would never marry. You wanted me to remain single and childless. You wanted me to remain an eternal child. That’s so self-defeating; not even wanting grandchildren. It’s cruel; like keeping an eagle in a small cage all its life. I can’t think of a reason to address this now, nor a solution to it. Maybe I just want someone to agree with me that this internal conflict you bequeathed me was unhelpful and predisposed me to unhappiness.

Third, I felt you ultimately failed to teach me the importance of fitness or sport. Yes, I resisted. But, I do wish you would have encouraged me more to stick with swimming or martial arts or to try something more versatile such as running. I got the message that it’s okay to not try. I want you to admit that you didn’t place enough value on physical education in my childhood, and that it was not a good way to raise a boy.

Fourth, I got the sense that my accomplishments or lack thereof were about you, not me. For example, when I missed a word at the spelling bee, I recall being more worried about you being upset than about my own view of the situation. Even now I do not feel good talking about my successes, especially the relatively small day-to-day ones, with you because I fear you will overplay them and use them for your own bragging, making you look foolish and making me feel foolish. I also do not feel good about sharing my failures or worries with you. You appropriate those too, moaning about injustice when in fact, the problem is either a normal part of life or the result of some legitimate failing on my part. You going on and on about life being unfair makes me feel you are bemoaning the fact that your son disappointed you, not that you are at all concerned about the effect the situation will have on me.

As a parent, I have to actively remember not to live through my children. Their successes and failures are theirs, not mine. If my son is treated poorly by people or by fate, I don’t want to bitch and whine about people or fate. Instead, I want to hear what he is thinking and feeling and be available to discuss solutions if, and only if, he wants that. For you and I, Mom, please just stop hunting for reasons to brag about me, and stop complaining about injustice when I mention something disappointing.

Fifth, I think I learned from you that sex and romantic attraction are so bad they can’t even be mentioned. When they were mentioned, usually only by someone on television, I recall you sighing, mumbling, turning the television off, and pretending nothing happened. I think I got the idea that sex is truly a deviant topic, and that anyone versed in it is a bad person. I don’t know what to say or do with this issue now. I don’t need you to suddenly change your views on this topic. Maybe it would help if we both acknowledge that your puritanical views on sex were passed down to me, and that they did not prepare me to live in the modern world.

So, now what? Hopefully it will help me to have simply expressed my feelings about these aspects of my upbringing. I don’t know.



Chasing Amy from Where?

Why did I have Chasing Amy Syndrome, the obsession with female chastity that led me to compete for sexual experience as a symbol of adulthood, masculinity, and self-esteem, and to feel intimidated by any woman who is not a virginal, two-dimensional, eternally innocent, Disney princess? I think I understand how I developed such wrong thinking. When I recognize it inside me, I know how to swat it away. I struggle, however, to excise is from my subconscious, so it does not covertly drive me to say or do things that are judgmental or unloving.

Here, I believe, is how it began. As an only child for the first five years of life, and having overprotective parents who did not have many social connections with friends or their own families, I was uncomfortable with other people, especially girls. My parents sheltered me, and I was resentful about it.

I was timid and physically small. I wished to have more confidence with sports, but did not put much effort into it. I was told sports are not important, and I did not learn perseverance and resiliency.

As a racial minority in a small, almost entirely white town, I wished very much to be treated as “normal,” something many whites, including well-intentioned adults, were almost incapable of doing. Even my mother, in my view, focused too much on differences with other people rather than similarities.

The majority of people in the town, including all of my extended family on one side, were of the same Church. My mother angrily rejected the Church while simultaneously teaching me that all of its views on sex and gender were “normal” and “good.” I think this planted misogyny in my subconscious while leaving progressive views in my conscious mind.

I was teased by peers for my relatively late puberty and late interest in girls. My first serious girlfriend refused to have sex with me. A short time later, she announced that she had sex with someone else and told me she was ready for sex with me. I was silently angry.

My second serious girlfriend similarly refused sex with me and then got pregnant with someone else. Chasing Amy Syndrome gradually dominated my life when I was with another serious girlfriend in college. I was irrationally jealous of her previous experiences. She and I had sex often. Looking back on it, I wonder whether it could be described as compulsive sex. Then, finally, Chasing Amy Syndrome reared its ugly head in my marriage.

So, that’s how it started. If I know the roots of my bad thinking, then what? How do I remove my biases about women and sex? I have removed it from my conscious mind. But, I fear it is still stuck in my subconscious.

Mermaid versus swim partner

The other day when TL and I were scuba diving, the sight of fins made me think of mermaids. It reminded me that in Hans Christian Anderson’s tale the mermaid ultimately changed who she was in order to become a wife. That’s what I inflicted on TL. I forced her to be more like my image of her and less like herself. Now, in trying to repair the damage I caused, I’m trying to swim in the sea with her instead of forcing her to be something she is not. 

Some correlation between serial infidelity and ultra-conservative upbringing?

The following article caught my eye.


In particular, this phrase leapt off the page at me.

“Multiple other studies now reveal conclusively that sex addiction is a label rendered overwhelmingly on males (90-95% of sex addicts are males), and half of those males are white, heterosexual, religious (most often Christian and very high rates of Mormon) married males who are middle to upper class in income.

The author goes on to argue that religious-based therapists may over diagnose sexual addiction. Separate from my agreement with the author that sex addiction is probably an over-used term, I also am reminded of my belief that the obsession with sex, experience, keeping up, proving manhood, and expecting a virginal bride that I experienced is noticeably correlated with growing up in a highly conservative—often Christian or Muslim – family or community.

I’ve written about this before. I believe that my Mormon upbringing did at least three things to set the conditions for my unhealthy attitudes about women and sex. First, hiding from my parents my natural pubescent interest in girls and natural desire to become independent from my parents led to a double-life: a visible life as a parent-focused, helpless, neuter child, and a hidden life as an independent-minded, self-focused, male adolescent. Second, it really firmly emphasized a preference for female chastity and male dominance.

Third, when I physically moved away from that conservative little community, I experienced culture shock, accompanied by feelings of inadequacy when I compared myself to new peers who were more at ease with premarital sex, mixed-gender activities, and males and females doing things that break stereotypes of gender roles in traditional societies. The feelings of inadequacy led to anger, jealousy, defensiveness, self-pity, and an unhealthy desire to “catch up” to my new peers who had not been held back by traditional upbringings.

I’m not sure what to do with this thought now. I wonder whether others have noticed this correlation between selfish sexual behavior and traditional upbringings.

I wonder whether I might feel more compassion for myself if I admit to myself freely that I grew up Mormon rather than try to avoid thinking of myself that way. Let me try it now. As a child, I was culturally Mormon. That partially explains why my earliest experiences with girls and sex were different from those of my current peers. I used to be ashamed and angry about my Mormon upbringing. Instead, perhaps I should forgive God for the fact of my birth into that community. Perhaps I should forgive myself for coming to the wider world from that little Mormon background.

Perhaps I should stop trying to be, or pretend to be, something I am not. I was not raised in the urban, modern, liberal family or community to which I aspire, which I somehow idolize and envy. I was raised in a conservative family and community full of sexism, ignorance, and insecurity. I came from there. It’s not where I want to be. But, I, in fact, came from there.

I’m not sure where to go from here on this topic. I know I need to think of my wife as a friend, not a possession. I thought I was succeeding in that. But, the recent example of me not supporting her properly when she wanted to talk about a guy who had used her years ago suggests that I was not successful. I had thought I had mastered my misogyny and insecurity. To my unpleasant surprise, they popped up when I had not expected them. I wonder whether behavioral conditioning can eliminate misogynistic feelings, jealousy, and insecurity.

Now that’s possibly an addiction. You know I believe sex addiction is, at least ninety-nine percent of the time, a phony label to explain away something more conscious and more intentional. But, this case of misogynistic beliefs and sexual insecurity I have seems to affect me on both a conscious and a subconscious level. On the conscious level, I know my feelings are hurtful to TL, I want to change that, and most of the time I can control it. On the subconscious level, how can I fully excise the instinct to judge women differently from men? How can I excise the instinct to see sex as a competition?

Recidivism due to stress?

I had some stressful days recently. The days that come to mind were stressful in quite different ways, making me wonder what it means when people say that stress could cause a betrayer to reoffend. The first day was very busy, at work and at home. The pace was high and the rhythm of events, activities, interruptions, deadlines, and evolving daily priorities changed frequently throughout the day. It wasn’t a particularly bad, nor good, day. It was just busy. I didn’t feel bad. In some ways, I actually felt good; possibly enjoying the adrenaline and endorphins. But, I think I can say I was stressed.

At the end of that day, I had momentum. I was physically charged – perhaps too physically charged to immediately switch to a completely passive activity such as sleep. In the bad old days I could have channeled that excess energy into adultery, porn and masturbation, or even self-centered sexual approaches to my wife in a way that was inappropriately focused on physical gratification rather than on showing her affection. It was not the adrenaline-laden stress that caused me to choose inappropriate responses. Long before that, I had made conscious decisions to allow myself to choose such selfish, hurtful, and deceitful activities when the opportunity arose.

Now, after consciously choosing to not be selfish, hurtful, and deceitful, I seek more appropriate ways to transition my physical and mental energy from a stressful busy day to a restful night. I might choose a book, a walk, a brief television program with family, a single nightcap, or a single dessert. In any case, it’s not the stress that determines whether I choose something selfish and hurtful or something more benign. It is separate internal discussions with myself about what choices are acceptable and what are not.

Then there was a different type of stressful day. For whatever reason, that day, I worried about the unknown. How will my next job search go? What will my boss say about my next report? Will some bad driver cut me off in traffic? Will I fall behind schedule tomorrow? Both now and in the bad old days, that kind of stress did not lead me directly to selfish, hurtful choices. It did, however, in the bad old days , open up the possibility of self-pity. I would think things like: nothing goes my way, life is unfair, I deserve better, and the like. When I dwelled on such self-pity, I translated it to entitlement, thinking: I deserve adultery as a selfish pleasure, or I deserve seeking flattery or imagined flattery. Now, I believe it is not stress that determines whether I choose selfish, hurtful behavior, but that the self-pity and entitlement led me to the bad decisions. To prevent it, I strive to address this kind of stress with acceptance rather than with self-pity and entitlement.

Here’s what I mean by acceptance. If I worry about my next job search, I am better served by accepting that the only thing I can do about it is implement my job search strategy and accept whatever comes of it. It works the same with my next report to my boss or the next deadline I strive to meet. And, if some guy cuts me off in traffic, so what? I could not have prevented it, I can’t change it or remedy it after it happens, and unless I obsess on it, it really makes no difference to the rest of my day. Planning, execution, and humble acceptance are the remedies to this kind of stress.

Then there’s the stress surrounding unmet needs. I’m hungry, thirsty, hot, tired, or groggy. My head hurts. I want sexual release. This is stressful too. At the right time and place, I can have food, water, air conditioning, sleep, caffeine, pain reliever, and even sex. But, to have a fulfilling life, I have to balance these things against other concerns. If I want to work, study, spend time with family or friends, worship, introspect, or even read and write, I can’t constantly eat, drink, sit in the coolest rooms, sleep, drink coffee, take medication, or pursue sex. Given my own goals and values, as well as the need to treat others—such as my wife – respectfully, I can only respond to this kind of stress by focusing on balance.

The fourth kind of stress is worrying about other irrational things. Does that colleague think I’m stupid? Am I a loser because I was nerdy in high school? Do I look dorky or scrawny? It need not be a particularly busy day. I need not feel adrenaline. But, sometimes I just have these thoughts, and they are stressful. It’s a different kind of stress. Neither now nor in the bad old days do these thoughts lead directly to selfish, hurtful choices. I think, however, that in the bad old days I might have obsessed on self-pity, thinking, for example: I fear or hate that guy who possibly thinks I’m stupid. I’m angry at God because I am physically small. I’m angry at my parents because they did not allow me to experience the world. These examples of self-pity also contributed to entitlement, as I told myself I deserved selfish behavior.

The solution now, I think, is to address this stress in a more healthy way, before transferring it to self-pity and entitlement. The answer may lie in prevention. Prevent this self-doubt by focusing on healthy priorities such as family, integrity, and responsibility. Inoculate myself against self-pity by building healthy self-confidence and values. And, short-circuit this self-pity by learning to like myself even if I am short, skinny, and uncoordinated, and even if I do feel my sexual history or life experience is or was inadequate or subnormal.

In sum, it’s not stress that makes me choose selfish, hurtful behavior. Rather, what makes the difference is how I choose to respond to that stress.


What if I grabbed your infant out of your arms, tortured him, mutilated him, and then dashed his brains against the ground while you were forced to watch helplessly? What if I threw acid in your face, leaving you blinded and scarred for life? What if after years of apparently close friendship I sold you out to the nazi regime? 

What if I later said I was really sorry, I had changed, and I understood how you felt? Would you believe me? Would it matter if you did?

I altered the course of your life, terribly and irreversibly.

I get that. Though it probably doesn’t change anything, I do get it.

My loyal spouse, I beg your forgiveness. I do not expect forgiveness. I must beg for it nonetheless.

The villain in disguise

Movies often have a scene where it becomes shockingly clear that a seemingly good character has in fact been a bad guy all along. Chancellor Palpatine, the theatrically-minor character who leads the Republic, turns out to be Darth Sidious. Grandma seems really hungry for Red Riding Hood’s baked goods. But, wait. Why does Grandma have a long snout today? A teacher or coach seems like a great mentor for youth, until you read that he was arrested for child abuse.

I was Darth Sidious, the Big Bad Wolf, and the deceitful abuser. TL was the victim. It’s not just that I treated her with contempt. Any criminal, bully, bureaucrat, or bad driver does that, regularly. It’s that I did it with stealth and deception. I was supposed to be her champion, her greatest hero, protector, promoter, fan, friend, lover, family member, and confidant. I was Delilah and she was Samson. I was the wolf in the fold.

There’s neither excuse nor remedy for what I’ve done. Even having to live with the knowledge of what I’ve done is insignificant compared to the pain with which TL must live.

I’m not even sure what I want readers to do with this story. Maybe I want other victims to see that some betrayers can understand, on some level, the pain they caused.

Maybe I want other betrayers to be inspired to share their stories. Stop hiding behind shame, sex addiction, childhood problems, or victim blaming, and share the hurtful things you did and the hurtful reasons you did them. I wonder whether I’m alone in discussing these things.

I became my mother

I never felt emotionally safe with my mother, and still do not. Even when she seems to be having a rather normal conversation with me, I always worry that anything I say might sharply and surprisingly set off some criticism, judgement, or hard feelings. As a child, and even now, it was not clear to me that she wants a relationship with me. She wants me in her life and near her. But, she does not want a relationship with me. She wants to brag about me to other people. She is disappointed when I don’t give her fantastic fodder for bragging to her family and acquaintances about her son. She wanted to control my every choice and action: who I chose as friends or acquaintances, what I pursued for education and career, what I thought, who I married, whether I had children, and what I said and did. She did not want me to grow up and learn independence. She did not want a real son. She wanted an image of a son. She wanted a thing she could take off the shelf and display to any neighbor or third-degree relative, and then put back on the shelf to stay quiet and predictable. I wanted nothing more than to get away from my mother. 

Then I started seeing TL, and soon married her. I sought to control with whom she associated, her preferences and opinions, and her aptitudes and interests. I wanted to control how she viewed sex, me, the past, and the present. When she showed an aptitude or interest that intimidated me, whether in the bedroom or in the garage, I reacted with childish jealousy, insecurity, and defensiveness, rather than with respect, gratitude, and support. In short, I constantly tried to replace the real TL with the image I had of the perfect wife. I was angry with TL for not being the image.

I became my mother. I made TL fear me in the same way I feared my mother. I denied TL freedom and individuality, the same way my mother denied me freedom and individuality.

The image, by the way, is unobtainable. There is no such person in real life, nor should there be. The image is a two-dimensional caricature of a woman. An image can’t be a friend. But, then, until D-day I didn’t want to be a friend. I only wanted the image to make me feel better about myself and about life.

Now I’m focused on friendship in our marriage. It is a work in progress.

What I did and how I view it

I had an image of TL in my mind long before I even met her. I started to form the image even before I knew she existed. The image was a virgin woman who was very impressed by me and by sex with me. She never disagreed with me. She never surprised me by having a unique or unexpected preference, behavior, or past experience. She was exciting and strong, but never nearly as exciting and strong as me. She was great. But, I was greater.

Then I met TL and eventually married her. There was mounting evidence that she was not a virgin, and that she had unique and unexpected opinions, past experiences, skills, aptitudes, relationships, and preferences. I began to suspect she was an independent adult human being. I began to fear she was as great as or greater than me.

That threatened me. It made me feel anger, jealousy, and resentment. I was infatuated with “the image.” I was cruel and neglectful toward TL, the real woman.

I pursued years of adultery, porn, and masturbation to feel greater than I was. It didn’t work. I hoped it would give me control over sex and how women view me. It did not.

Now, since D-day, I have learned about love and friendship. I’m trying to give TL love and friendship.

But, the damage has already been done. I’ve already driven away all her old friends by pouting and moaning when she might see them, with me feeling intimidated that they encouraged TL, the non-virgin woman with her own thoughts and opinions, to be herself instead of being “the image.” I’ve already made TL afraid to be herself and even made her forget who herself is. I’ve already missed a million opportunities to support her and encourage her for her own strengths, for being herself.

I love TL, not “the image” nor anyone else. But, my years of obsession with the childish image were sick and hurtful.

Does anyone else out there understand this? I was not a sex addict. I was obsessed with a sick fantasy, at the expense of a real woman. I wasn’t tempted by other women. I was seduced by jealousy, feelings of inferiority, and anger at TL for not being “the image.” I didn’t just make bad choices. I was motivated by bad thinking and bad feelings.

TL deserved much better.

Chasing Amy Syndrome

Okay, now let’s get back to what really seems to be my problem. I’ve seen a few people write about Chasing Amy Syndrome, referring to a guy who is unhealthily insecure about his perception/his perception that his mate is more sexually experienced than he. The term is a reference to a Ben Affleck movie.
“Kevin Smith once explained why he made it—it’s well known that the story was based on his real-life relationship with Joey Lauren Adams and the way he unfairly projected his insecurities onto her.”

“He wrote in this 2000 piece: “The day I saw disbelief, outrage, and hurt reflected in the eyes of the woman I loved as she realized I was insisting that she apologize for her life up until the moment we met… well, that was the day it struck me that I wasn’t quite as liberal as I fancied myself and instead came to grips with the fact that I was rather conservative. And rather than enter therapy, I decided to exorcise my demons on screen. Chasing Amy was conceived as a sort of penance/valentine for the woman who made me grow up, more or less—a thank-you homage that marked a major milestone in my life, both personally and professionally.”

There’s not much written about how to exorcise this syndrome. Suggestions seem to include: therapy, “get over yourself,” and cognitive behavior therapy techniques to reduce the symptoms. I’ve been working on all three, with some success. I do need to specifically discuss this with my therapist, and get her off of the time-wasting tangents we otherwise discuss. As for “get over yourself,” gratitude is a helpful tool for me. Compassion and friendship are also helpful. And, the cognitive behavior therapy techniques do help: interrupting unhealthy thoughts and redirecting my thoughts.

I would be interested to find others who have struggled with this syndrome, and to learn more about it.

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.