Updated: Oct 5, 2022
When intrusive feelings of jealousy, anxiety, and overwhelm become too much to bear.
Retroactive jealousy OCD, also know as RJ-OCD, is a subtype of obsessive compulsive disorder. Characterized by intense feelings of jealousy, anger, disgust and anxiety when thinking of a partners past. While a general distaste for thinking of our partners romantic past is considered ‘normal’ this subtype of OCD takes it to the extreme.
The sufferer may experience intrusive images of their partner (obsessions) and engage in behaviors to try to decrease that distress (compulsions). These intrusive experiences often mis-align with the sufferers value system, making it even more of an upsetting experience. Although RJ-OCD presents with a unique set of symptoms, it is still under the umbrella of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. It is actually a sub-sub-type, underneath Relationship OCD (ROCD).
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is made up of obsessions and compulsions. For RJ-OCD, the obsessions may look like:
Intrusive images of a partner with their ex
Intrusive images of a partner dating
Intrusive feelings of disgust / anxiety / anger
Intrusive urges to ask a partner about their past
Intrusive urges to seek reassurance from a partner (or others)
Intrusive urges to end the relationship
Intrusive images to confess thoughts
In response to the obsessions, a sufferer experiences high levels of distress. In an attempt to manage this distress, they may engage in the below compulsions:
Avoiding triggers that remind them of their partners past dating life
Seeking reassurance from partner (or others)
Moving objects until they feel “just right”
Lashing out at the partner
Compulsions are the food for OCD. The more we give it, the bigger it grows.
Treatment for RJ-OCD
Treatment for RJ-OCD is similar to treating any other theme of obsessive compulsive disorder. The gold-standard treatment is exposure with response prevention and/or medication.
ERP for RJ-OCD would mean slowly and systematically exposing yourself to triggers, while resisting engaging in compulsions. Step #1 is identifying ways RJ-OCD has wrecked havoc on your life and relationship.
What are you avoiding?
What is the OCD having you do day-to-day?
How has the OCD impacted your relationship (with your partner and yourself)?
Answering these questions gives us a guide to see how we can treat the OCD. Once that is established, one would begin exposures to feared items and do so while resisting the compulsive behavior. This applies whether or not the compulsion is overt (visible to others) or mental.
RJ-OCD can be so debilitating. It can be hard to spend time with our partner due to the swarm of triggers that pile on. Not to mention the amount of guilt, self-criticism, and blame we can engage in when it feels like it won’t stop. The goal of treatment is to get your life and your relationship back to where you want it.
To read more about Relationship OCD, see my article for Choosing Therapy here.