Mike Osorio is a PhD candidate in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University.

Way back in February, Mike Osorio reached out to see if I would be willing to help him find new subjects for his research on retroactive jealousy.

Of course, I happily obliged.

Mike Osorio and I plan to record a video together for my YouTube channel in the near future. In the meantime, today I’d like to share a guest post from Mike.

Take it away, Mike!

Mike Osorio

Mike Osorio: I’ve always been interested in the experiences of others.

What might it be like to be someone else? How would it feel to walk a day in their shoes? Could I relate to them or would their experience be completely foreign to me?

These questions led me to an interest in psychology, the study of the mind and behavior.

Pretty quickly, I realized that what excited me most was not the ways in which our emotions, thoughts, and behaviors normally function, but in the many ways in which they can be disordered. This led me ultimately to clinical psychology, the study of mental illness. 

I’m currently a PhD student in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University.

One of the reasons I feel blessed to be in this field is that, as part of my graduate training, I get the amazing opportunity to work clinically with patients. This past year, I’ve been working with patients suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). 

OCD is a debilitating disorder characterized by repeated unwanted intrusive thoughts, images, or sensations (typically referred to as obsessions) and repetitive behaviors (compulsions) that one feels driven to perform in response to their obsessions.

Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) therapy is one of the most commons forms of psychological interventions for treating OCD. ERP typically involves the patient being exposed to the content of their obsessions (either through their imagination or in-person) and the distress that typically accompanies them while simultaneously resisting the urge to perform their compulsive behaviors.

My responsibility was to coach the patients through this experience, and it was a privilege to be able to sit which them while they approached what were often their greatest fears. 

My experience working with patients with OCD also helped me dispel any erroneous preconceived notions I had about the disorder (mostly learned from popular culture and the media).

For example, people with OCD are often presented as simply being deathly afraid of germs and needing to excessively wash their hands.

In addition, people without the disorder are often jokingly mislabeled as “being OCD” for having certain personality quirks such as liking their desk to be arranged in a certain way.

These misconceptions do touch on some truths about the disorder.

Many individuals with OCD do suffer with fears of being contaminated and may engage in compulsive, excessive hand-washing. There is a common subtype of OCD called NJRE (which stands for “not just right experience”) in which some individuals may feel that they have to have certain objects arranged in a certain way in order for them to “feel right.”

However, not only do pop myths about OCD simplify what is a complex and heterogenous disorder, they also minimize the suffering of those who are truly struggling with this condition. 

Mike Osorio: What surprised me most during my first encounters with OCD, in fact, was just how diverse the different types of obsessions could be.

Being interested in the ways that normal psychological processes can go awry, one obsessive domain that caught my interest was that of romantic relationships.

Individuals with relationship OCD (ROCD) have obsessions centered around their relationship, “does this relationship feel right to me? Am I really in love?” and their partners, “is my partner smart enough for me? I have doubts as to whether my partner is a good, moral person.” Those with ROCD engage in compulsive behaviors in direct response to their obsessions such as: checking to see how many times they’ve texted their partner, constantly comparing their partner to others, repeatedly seeking reassurance from friends about their relationship. These obsessions and compulsions are experienced as highly distressing and disruptive to their lives and (not surprisingly) the relationships themselves. 

One day while I was scrolling through Reddit, specifically the subreddit r/OCD, I encountered a fascinating post from an individual describing something that sounded vaguely like ROCD, but at the same time somewhat distinct.

This Redditor described her experience with retroactive jealousy (RJ), sharing how she was constantly obsessing over the thought of her partner with his exes.

She described feeling an intense urge to find out more information about his exes and what her partner did with them.

She even admitted to stalking those exes on social media. This Redditor was clearly distressed by her experience, consumed by her partner’s past.

Curious to learn more about retroactive jealousy I scoured the research literature but could find little apart from the pioneering work of Dr. Jessica Frampton.

One of my greatest takeaways from her innovative studies was that retroactive jealousy appeared to be a response to a perceived threat to the specialness or uniqueness of some aspect of the relationship.

I searched further but could not find any kind of clinical psychological investigation into retroactive jealousy. I was intrigued by this phenomenon because, while it did broadly resemble OCD, it did not clearly align with the cases of ROCD that I had encountered up to that point in my clinical work.

Recognizing that several people were clearly struggling with this condition and knowing how important healthy relationships are for our mental wellbeing, I’ve set out conducting my own research on retroactive jealousy.

My research aims to take a clinical psychologist’s lens to RJ to see how people experience the intrusive thoughts and the behaviors they feel compelled to engage in. I hope to discover how RJ is related to OCD, relationship OCD, and potentially other forms of psychopathology. I seek to understand how retroactive jealousy is affecting people’s mental health and wellbeing and how specific aspects of a relationship might predict this experience.

Finally, I am also interested in learning something about how partners of those with RJ react to this experience.

Mike Osorio: What I ask of participants in my research is that they remain open and honest.

I understand how sensitive of a topic this may be for some.

As a clinical psychologist-in training, I am accustomed to working with individuals on some of their most private matters.

In accordance with Harvard University’s Committee on the Use of Human Subjects, information collected through my research will remain private and confidential. Finally, I’d like to emphasize that I am interested in relationships of all orientations, so members of the LGBT community struggling with RJ are encouraged to participate in my research. 

While the immediate goal of my research is to increase scientific knowledge about this understudied condition, my ultimate goal is to one day help those who struggle with retroactive jealousy so that they may one day have happy, healthy relationships with the ones they love. 

If you want to participate in a study or have any questions, feel free to reach out at [email protected]


Zachary Stockill
Zachary Stockill

Hi! I'm a Canadian author and educator whose work has been featured in BBC News, BBC Radio 4, The Huffington Post, and many other publications. I'm the founder of RetroactiveJealousy.com, the author of Overcoming Retroactive Jealousy and The Overcoming Jealousy Workbook, and the host of Humans in Love podcast.