Jealousy is instinctive

Visiting the only jealousy clinic in the German-speaking area

Company Christmas parties are the purest horror. Those, says Harald Oberbauer, "should be completely abolished". Just like cell phones with all their apps, the internet in general, "everything is a curse". He laughs, but is serious about it, after all, he knows about the threat that all of this poses to some people. Harald Oberbauer is a psychiatrist at the Innsbruck Clinic and he is an expert in the field of jealousy, this feeling that has tormented people since they existed. The 54-year-old has launched the jealousy clinic, a contact point for jealous people that is unique in the German-speaking area.

First of all, he states: "It doesn't exist that someone feels absolutely no jealousy." And anyone who claims not to know this feeling at all, says Oberbauer, is "extremely noticeable". From the point of view of evolution, jealousy also has its strategic importance, even if its origin is not clearly understood. The alert male ancestor used the emotional warning signal to pay more attention to passing on his and only his genes.

Jealousy is normal

The female ancestors, on the other hand, in order to prevent the male partner from starting other families with whom they would otherwise have to share the hunted prey. Etymologically, it goes back to the 16th century: "Ai" ("fire"), "Eiver" ("bitter") and "Suht" ("disease") are the Indo-European and Old High German terms, the combination of which results in the word jealousy. So the sickness of the bitter fire. To this day, it instinctively ignites when there is a fear of infidelity - regardless of whether women can survive on their own anyway or whether we want to pass on genes at all.

Jealousy is "in principle something normal", says the expert Oberbauer. Whether someone becomes pathologically jealous, however, depends on the breeding ground on which the feeling arises - whether an unbalanced hormone balance, depression, alcoholism, erectile dysfunction or suppressed homosexuality is involved. The top, explains Oberbauer further, is reached when the feeling increases to the point of delusion: When the irrefutable certainty is achieved that a fraud is taking place and it is no longer possible to change this conviction.

"Diagnostic hub"

Oberbauer wants to "filter out" the circumstances that can lead to delusions. The doctor receives one or two patients every day in his special consultation. He has heard 1000 to 1500 "stories" in the 17 years that they have been around: from patients and their relatives. Men come as well as women, from the 18-year-old student to the street sweeper to the 90-year-old pensioner, everyone is there. They come from Tyrol, from all over Austria, and patients also come from Germany. Oberbauer's practice is part of the psychiatry department, which in turn belongs to the "Tirol Kliniken", a 90,000 square meter hospital area not far from the banks of the Inn. Harald Oberbauer is sitting in a tidy room on the ground floor of the psychiatry, bare light, the hospital technology is throbbing outside. On the wall there is an oil painting of a reddish sun setting on water.

Oberbauer has created a niche for himself with a topic that research hardly deals with: "There are therapy programs for those with eating disorders, depressives and schizophrenics. But none has been developed for jealous people." Oberbauer calls his practice a "diagnostic hub": Once the "basic disorder" behind the jealousy has been identified, a special therapy recommendation follows, the use of medication, and discussions on an irregular basis. If the trigger of the jealousy can be classified, it often resolves itself. It becomes pathological when jealousy "influences the quality of life": your own, but also that of your partner.

Intoxication jealousy

Scientists explain the state of increased jealousy on the basis of messenger substances that go crazy in the head and put the body into a state of intoxication. Oberbauer speaks of "fire on the roof", the German psychiatrist Rolf Merkle of a "cocktail of feelings": insecurity, anger, excitement, with the ingredients changing. In the media, murders that can be traced back to jealousy are mostly referred to as "family tragedy". The playwright and poet William Shakespeare calls it the "green-eyed monster"; writer Max Frisch defined it as a fear of comparison.

Oberbauer had patients who took their partner's panties with them to the ambulance to inspect the alleged sperm traces in them. Those who hit and imprison their partners. One patient said that his wife's voice could tell if she had had sex with another man. Oberbauer wanted to admit him as an inpatient, the patient refused and shortly afterwards killed his wife and then himself.

When the "head cinema" starts

And then there are patients like Karl, for whom the emotional chaos turns inward. Karl is actually called differently, he has a calm, friendly charisma. He says that jealousy has tormented him all his life. Karl is divorced and has been in a new relationship for a few months, his "great love", this time it has to work out. "I've been trying for a long time to understand where the jealousy comes from and to get the problem under control myself." Now he is in Oberbauer's practice for the second time.

In clear moments he is sure that his partner is not cheating on him. When the girlfriend is out, he is tormented by the idea of ​​her and other men. Karl does not spy afterwards, does not check cell phones. If his girlfriend greets a man too warmly in his eyes, it can happen that he just gets up and leaves. Then he withdraws "back into my world of thought, in which the rational no longer penetrates". And he drinks "when the mental cinema starts", whereby the alcohol often increases worries. His father died at the age of seven, his grandparents shortly afterwards, and his brother succumbed to cancer. Death, says Karl, has been with him all his life, he never learned how to deal with it.

Jealousy does not go away completely, says Oberbauer to him, but "how to deal with it confidently" can be learned. So he advised his patient against alcohol first. Karl is now taking low-dose psychotropic drugs to bring the feelings under control, about which he has recently been talking to his partner - that was also a requirement. Oberbauer describes him as "primarily normally disturbed" and laughs: You really couldn't achieve anything better. (Anna Giulia Fink, August 26, 2017)