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23rd Feb 2024

Rebecca Syndrome: The relationship term explained

Jody Coffey

Rebecca syndrome

If your name is Rebecca, don’t worry, it doesn’t mean you automatically have Rebecca Syndrome

There are so many terms associated with dating and relationships, it can be hard to keep up.

However, when we hear of one that has been coined by a psychoanalyst, that’s when we really start to sit up and pay attention.

Rebecca Syndrome is a term that refers to a person’s behaviour while in a relationship and, let’s just say, it’s not one anyone would be quick to admit to having.

Dr Darian Leader, a psychoanalyst and founding member of the Centre for Freudian Analysis and Research, used the term to describe a person who exhibits a severe form of pathological jealousy toward their partner’s former spouse(s) or sexual partner(s).

Of course, imagining your partner with an ex is not going to bring forth feelings of happiness or excitement, but if it’s edging you toward Rebecca Syndrome, it may be time to address it.

While it may be a trending term nowadays, it is a mental alteration, one that can take a considerable toll on the person and partner of the person who is feeling the obsessive feelings of inferiority, comparison, and retrospective jealousy.

What is the meaning behind Rebecca Syndrome?

Dr Leader told the Independent in 2006 that Rebecca Syndrome is a ‘genuine question of feminine identity’.

“It’s as if the woman who came before holds the key, and examining her provides a certain satisfaction to the other woman,” he explained to the outlet.

“This is also why many people are drawn to a man who seems to have loved a woman.”

Women who marry a man who has already been married before are at risk of experiencing Rebecca Syndrome, Dr Leader says.

This, of course, makes sense given that the term takes inspiration from the classic novel, Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier, which follows the story of a woman who marries a widowed man and becomes obsessed by the memories of his first wife.

Her feelings become all-consuming to the point where she begins to compare herself to the ‘perfect’ image she has created of the deceased woman.

“For some people, Rebecca syndrome is torturous. A relationship between two people might unconsciously be between three people. The ghost is always there,” Dr Leader adds.

More recently, chartered psychologist, Dr. Louise Goddard-Crawley, explained to Newsweek that with Rebecca Syndrome, there is often no rational basis for the jealousy.

“This condition is primarily about the affected individual’s irrational jealousy and obsession with their partner,” she explained to the publication.

“This jealousy is rooted in retrospective jealousy, where individuals become obsessively preoccupied with their partner’s past relationships, even if there is no rational basis for their jealousy.”.

The cause of Rebecca Syndrome is not known, although, Step to Health reports the possibility of having Rebecca Syndrome grows if a person has low self-esteem, the partner or environment constantly reminds of the ex, or their partner makes direct comparisons between them both.

Other factors include the realisation that they share resemblances — either in physicality or personality — or if their partner has obvious and unresolved feelings of grief or love for an ex.


Jealousy is part of the human experience but this emotion — especially on such a significant level — can often result in anxiety, poor self-esteem, and emotional self-sabotage.

While it’s important to note that Rebecca Syndrome is not a recognised psychological disorder, Step to Health recommends intervention and communication about these feelings with a current partner to address any factors that may intensify jealously.

Seeking help to improve self-esteem and/or obtaining psychological support may also be necessary.

Talk therapies are an effective way to work through these feelings and thoughts, and resolve them.

To find a service, talk to your GP or primary care team about counselling and talking therapies. 

HSE-approved therapists can also be found through The Psychological Society of Ireland or the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy.