Jealousy the theme of this month´s blog piece. This topic was chosen because of its presence in our lives. Indeed, jealousy in couples of absolutely all ages is significant enough for us to be talking about it today. It is a universal experience, although frequently people of both sexes feel the need to defend themselves from it with claims such as “I´ve never felt jealous in my life”. Or, “I´m just not a jealous person”. Jealousy is also very obvious amongst siblings and amongst peers, although the present blog piece will focus on jealousy in couples. I invite you to talk about your experiences and opinions if you so desire.

As a human emotion jealousy exists in all different degrees and intensities. Generally interpreted by the partners of jealous spouses to be a sign of love, it very often is not, and this we will examine in the latter part of this piece, first looking at the more normal feelings of jealousy.

That is to say, jealousy in this more benign form, does in fact have its origins in love, and above all in the fear of losing the loved one – husband or wife – girlfriend of boyfriend – in heterosexual and homosexual unions. Jealousy of the type that will first be discussed here is based therefore on the fear of losing the loved one to a rival considered to be a superior suitor.

The two following scenes are a comical and familiar part of life and love. The first is interesting in that it shows how the mechanism of jealousy, which always has a delusional, although not dominant component, can be quickly and unexpectedly activated.

A middle-aged woman and her partner are at a very noisy party. He, to get away from the blaring music, goes off into a room in the house where he is far from alone, but the noise has lessened, and an open balcony allows him to get some fresh air. An attractive blonde, who has also presumably fled the noise, is checking her phone and perhaps texting someone. He takes his phone out and does the same. At that very moment the man´s girlfriend, who has been looking for him, walks in, comes upon her partner and the blonde, and misinterprets their checking their phones to mean that they are exchanging contact details. A humorous scene ensues in which he attempts to clarify the situation, finally laughingly calling upon the blonde to help.

An elderly couple has just celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. They are, in all things, complementary to one another. A model of domestic happiness, when she tries to enroll, however, in tango classes he cannot tolerate his wife being held in passionate tango embraces by her male classmates at the tango school, and finally she is forced to quit.

Jealousy is very different from envy although the two are often confused. I recently read the following surprising dictionary definition of jealousy that exemplifies that confusion: “feeling or showing envy of someone´s achievements and advantages”. Jealousy, as I have said, is based on love, and the fear of losing the loved one to another man or woman. It is therefore essentially a noble emotion that, however, depending on the emotional maturity or immaturity of the person experiencing the jealousy, can be very unpleasant in its intensity. The more immature an individual, the more demands (s) he will make on the loved one, and the more severe the control procedures that will be employed to confirm the partner´s faithfulness.

Envy is a much less evolved emotion. It is primitive and rooted in not love but in hatred. If jealousy recognizes the qualities of others, and consequently is able to love, and fear the loss of the worthy loved one, envy is not cognizant of the loved one as being worthy, but rather calculates the worth of what the other person possesses - either spiritually, intellectually, mentally or materially - and wants to take over those possessions – either to have them or simply to prevent the other person from having them.

As jealousy and envy are described here, it is hard to see how the two can be confused, yet we all are familiar with the phrase: “I´m so jealous of so-and-so. (S) he bought/has/went/did/got/ was named/was promoted ….”. In fact, it is only the terms jealousy and envy that we confuse and we confuse them unconsciously, and out of repugnance I would say, for the destructiveness of envy. It is as if it were easier to confess to ourselves that we are jealous of so-and-so rather than envious.

Envy nevertheless is also a human emotion, experienced to different degrees and intensities depending on our own emotional development. In its most extreme degree it can be paralyzing in a person´s life. On the other hand, when it is not overwhelming it can often be a stimulus to enrich one´s life. I will use an example from the consulting room to illustrate the former, given that happily there are widespread examples of the latter that we all know of and can tell.

A person of reasonable talent who lives, however, a very impoverished life, and is very despairing and extremely lonely, or “depressed” as I am told, comes to consult me. Mixing with friends who live interesting lives and strive to develop and prosper is unbearable for the consultee who feels bitter and deprived. “Passed up” for others who seem to have had all the luck. Initially bewildered by what I´m presented with, it eventually becomes clear that staying at home and renouncing good company, experiences, friendships, and, in short the opportunities life continually offers obviates the awful feelings of envy that seeing happy and prosperous friends seem to awaken in this person.

To return to forms of jealousy, I said at the beginning that jealousy sometimes has nothing to do with love for the partner, contrary to popular belief, and here I´m speaking about projected jealousy. This would be the scenario: a man (or a woman) is obsessed that his/her partner is being unfaithful. No amount of reasoning, “proof”, or solid alibis reassure him/her as to his/her partner´s faithfulness, because the jealous partner is him/herself the unfaithful (in fantasy or in reality) spouse.

This tormenting jealousy is a nightmare for both partners in terms of the suffering it causes. The projection makes it very difficult to recognize what is happening. In extreme forms, projected jealousy has a delusional component that is overriding. In these cases, jealousy can remain irreversible, and therefore largely untreatable, being unresponsive to all mainstream psychotherapies! The sufferer is usually treated, unsuccessfully on the whole, with anti-psychotic drugs.

Happily, the projected jealousy that we most often encounter in our every day lives is not psychotic jealousy, and here is an example, once again, from the consulting room, of a rather benign case of projected jealousy, far removed from the above mentioned jealousy of an extremely deluded nature:

  • A woman in her late twenties, very insecure, cannot see why her longstanding boyfriend would still be in love with her. At the same time, she feels reckless, and becomes given to flirting with and teasing attractive, single men to engage their attention. As her restlessness in her relationship increases, so does her conviction that her boyfriend cannot possibly be interested only in her. She looks for proof therefore of unfaithfulness, going through her partner´s emails, cell phone, pockets, until she is able to work through the reasons for her own insecurity. At that time both the restlessness and fear of losing her partner to another woman ease up.

By Sherry Elizabeth Lupinacci

Published on the blog of the Barcelona Women´s Network website April 2012

Romantic Love – Mature or Pernicious

“The human being comes into the world in love - besotted with the one who first takes him into her arms and bestows upon him a smile. ...This is the prelude to the lifelong search for love that life becomes”. (Jean-Didier Vincent, French neuro-psychiatrist) [1]

What, we wonder, turns her head, provokes that sometimes enigmatic smile, the racing heart, parted lips, furtive eye, darting to the man/woman of her heart´s desire and then away again? What is love at first sight? Why is a kiss sometimes electrifying? Where does the desire to kiss someone come from? I thought to give my readers a Valentine this February – in the form of some thoughts about love. Whether it is mature love or pernicious love – romantic love is the theme for today´s blog piece. I will divide my contribution this month into three parts. In part one I will talk about some interesting facts that you might not know. In part two I will talk about types of love relationships that couples establish. In part three I will talk about domestic psychological violence in the relationship. You are all invited to comment at will.


Love is a human emotion. Developmental psychologists believe that romantic love evolved as a way to guarantee the cooperation between two people. Renowned physiologist F. Mora says that throughout his/her lifetime the individual needs to have significant others to build and modulate his emotional world and to be truly human. The human brain needs emotional relationships to grow.

Anthropologists believe that bipedalism (walking erect) did a lot for cerebral development, and is at the origin of love. This may seem odd, but the logic behind the hypothesis is that walking erect meant that babies had to be carried not on their mothers´ backs but in their arms, thus necessitating the presence of men to defend the mothers and their offspring against possible predators, and also to provide food.

Three million years ago when Lucy and her kind walked the Earth, man and woman remained together until their children were weaned and walking. We could also say then that not only bipedalism favored the appearance of love in the human being, but also the extreme immaturity of the human baby and quite especially his nervous system, which does not reach even a reasonable degree of maturity and organization until the age of approximately two. (S)he is extremely dependent, as creatures go, on the care and protection of her parents or competent adults for still many years beyond that.

Love and sexuality must be integrated by the individual in his/her emotional world if (s)he is to have both a rich capacity to love and a full sexuality. Biologically, nerve centers release hormones in both the female and the male brain during intercourse, which create emotional bonds and ties. Be careful who you make love with!

Kissing is one way that love and/or sexual attraction is expressed by the human species, and may have its origins in the way that primates feed their children. Specialists believe that a significant amount of complex genetic information is transmitted between two people through a kiss. Lips are extremely sensitive because the skin is at its thinnest on the lips, while at the same time they are densely covered with nerve endings. The lips are the region of the body with the highest cortical representation, and kissing liberates many chemical substances that control, for example, stress. Two people can feel tremendously encouraged or likewise discouraged by a simple kiss when meeting because enough information is transmitted to enable them to even determine their sexual compatibility.


The unconscious is very dynamic and actively influences the individual in his/her every day life – both internal (emotional) and external. The relationships that an individual – man or woman – establishes is determined by the unconscious ideas both members of the relationship have about relationships and about each other when they meet. Psychologists have a name for this. They call it collusion. A collusion is the basis of all relationships that couples have, and may be a fortunate and healthy collusion, or unfortunate and destructive with many midpoints between the two extremes. Five different basic types or styles of collusion have been identified in human couples, and, again, to many varying degrees. A collusion as the secret and unspoken (unconscious) pact, may change during a relationship. The first is based on themes of passion and rejection, of masculinity and femininity, developed and undeveloped, owned and disowned. The second has to do with control, dominance, passivity, issues concerning dependence, distance, and autonomy in the relationship. The third concerns issues related to very primitive aspects of development and the relationship is built on very unreal precepts. The fourth concerns the satisfaction and frustration of basic needs, with little mutual awareness of feelings. The fifth collusion is non-verbal. Expression of conflict and difficulties is not possible. Members must resort to non-verbal ways of manifesting their emotions towards one another.

Everyone has mature and also immature aspects to their personality that translate into the capacity or difficulty in having a healthy love relationship. When two people come together a bond of love is created which is characterized by both a mutual sexual attraction and the expression of affection and tenderness. The relationship is fruitful and lasting when the emotional and sexual needs of both members are met. It can also be an unhappy but very stable union, because some unions have as their basic component rigidity and the inability to change. Sexual difficulties in a couple are almost always a sign of much deeper problems. The healthy bond a couple can create has the potential to be so structuring and positive as to be healing of its members´ difficult family biographies if these have been difficult. The opposite is also unfortunately true.

The phenomenon of “love at first sight” is not the hand of destiny, but a complex meeting of two internal worlds with two separate unconscious fantasies that fit in exactly with one another with varying results depending on the secret complicity or collusion present.


Nowadays we hear a lot about the deaths of women at the hands of their partners. Perhaps little is told us, or even known about the relationships they had with their men. Depriving a partner of her life is the ultimate degree of control exerted and achieved over her life. It is the most drastic attempt made to influence her every movement, thought, and feeling. Killing a spouse is, however, not the only kind of domestic violence, although it is the ultimate. I´ll describe here an extreme form of psychological violence which is obviously much more subtle and difficult for victims to document. It is very often difficult for victims to recognize and therefore escape from!

Always or almost always the taking over of another person – what can be called perverse seduction - is insidious. It is never head-on, and always gradual, never admitted to, and always vigorously denied. The perpetrator always finds it more exciting if the “victim” struggles. The passive, resigned spouse who tolerates everything her husband can dish out is of no value to him. The seducer will invest years to little by little gain total control over her life, and has countless, simple tactics he uses to create anxiety in her, uncertainty and an all-pervading sense of worthlessness and total dependence on him. His victim´s feelings are not an issue with him because she is only seen as a thing that is eventually not even worth having around as a trophy once totally diminished. He is loathe to let her get away though. A spouse who has been artfully drained of her self-respect and belief in herself will struggle for years before being able to put a legal end to her marriage, and with her struggle make herself even more desirable as a victim to her partner, whose skills are only honed by her resistance.

It is fortunate that many unions are joyful, enjoyable, providing structure,and containment in our lives and help us to grow and to be creative.

By Sherry Elizabeth Lupinacci

Published in blog of the Barcelona Women´s Network website in February 2012

Life After Divorce. The Process of Mourning

The topic of this piece will be about divorce from a psychological viewpoint.

This is a complex topic of discussion given that the bonds of love are many, and divorcing a spouse has much to do with what kind of bond the spouses created together. The bond that was created is, at the time of divorce, the bond that is recognized by one or both parties as being negative.

The bond that was created, it stands to reason, is dependent on how we connect to and recognize ourselves and others in general. In other words, how, when growing up, and in the mother-infant relationship, the development of a sense of self was consolidated or, to the contrary, disrupted.

When considering divorce we must think about relatedness. I emphasize that word because in present-day society independence as a way of life has become highly idealized, and relatedness is given a back seat. Yet as many important studies have long shown, and as all psychoanalysts know, one of the most important ways that a person of any age or gender has of regulating her/his inner states of mind is to act upon our partner or any significant other.

It is not hard to understand therefore, how the marital relationship becomes the turf where many different emotions are brought. Perhaps a more conventional view would be to say that a marriage creates many different emotions, and not that the marriage is created by the emotional states of mind each member brings to the relationship, as I state here. The way that the husband/wife relates to his/her spouse develops the relationship into one type of relationship or another – mature and fulfilling, masochistic, sado-masochistic, etc.

In the adult dependent relationship, both spouses share and recognize dependent feelings for one another. They are equal partners or cognizant and agreed-upon that they are not. This creates richness and intimacy in the relationship, as well as trust and independence, and the versatility to develop full lives outside of the relationship.

When two people divorce it usually means that the overriding situation was of dissatisfaction, but that does not mean that there were not positive aspects to the relationship. It is usually easier to mourn after a divorce when good aspects that were shared, or that came from the marriage, can be recognized and remembered.

Sometimes bitterness or other feelings make it difficult or impossible to acknowledge or recall the positive aspects of a former marriage. Mourning then becomes much more conflicted because a spouse who is internalized as fundamentally bad becomes an evil presence inside our minds as well as outside and in our lives, and makes peace of mind a difficult achievement. On the other hand, the fundamentally good (albeit inadequate, inappropriate, disappointing, etc.) spousebecomes a much more benevolent mental figure and the mourning process is more successful.

When a traumatic event like a divorce takes place forgiveness is essential, but not only forgiveness of the spouse one is divorcing, but also forgiveness of oneself, and it is easier to forgive oneself for the years given to a basically good but inappropriate spouse, than to a man/woman one considers to be a scoundrel.

When a traumatic event like divorce takes place in one´s life, time, and not only personal mental characteristics, is essential for mourning. Time allows the grieving person to think, not only about the failed relationship,but also about her/his life as a whole. The event – the failed joint life project – must be recognized as being part of her/his life and given it´s place. Then life can be seen as having continuity and coherence despite the ending of the marriage.

Often external consistence is recommended to aide the newly divorced in recovering their sense of identity and internal steadiness (“don´t move away”, “don´t change jobs”, “don´t change the kids´ schools”) for the first year or two. The idea would be that having to grieve for more than one loss is not ideal, but it remains to be seen whether external consistence always aids the internal situation. Sometimes being prevented from making external changes becomes also a source of grief.

Seeing a sad person is difficult for many people, and those who are mourning the demise of a significant albeit unsatisfactory relationship in their lives have often to cope with frequent entreaties to “Cheer up” or “Stop this moping” or still “Cut yourself some slack. He/she was a real so-and-so. What are you sorry about?” and the “Alegra esta cara mujer/hombre”. This is not helpful to the grieving person, because it is often felt as disapproval and insensitivity.

Those who witness grief and simply tolerate it and provide a cheerful presence is a great gift of support to the mourning friend or relative. Along with the other factors mentioned in this article, it will help in the recovery of self-esteem, self-confidence, and in a belief in one´s essential right to a better life.

Published June 2012 in the blog of the Barcelona Women´s Network website.

By Sherry Elizabeth Lupinacci

Published June 2012 in the blog of the Barcelona Women´s Network website.

Growing old

Brilliant and handsome ad-man Don Draper in the series Mad Men tells a colleague, in justification of his frenzied lifestyle, that “all we know about life is that it doesn ́t end well” referring to the inevitability of death. Draper has a defeatist idea about growing old that is not limited to the sixties on Madison Avenue, but is the way one often thinks today in the 21st century about the final part of our lives. Growing old as another enriching stage in our life cycle, and growing old defensively and helplessly are two completely different experiences.

To age gracefully, strong-minded and with an ever-increasing sense of identity we must be able to perceive our life as a whole. We must be able to connect the end of our life with the road we started out on at the time of our birth. Furthermore, not only must we perceive our life as a whole, connecting segments with the people, places and decisions of that part of our life, but we must also be able to understand that road - our lives, or, at very least, understand what we feel we haven ́t been able to clarify.

Our lives are an interaction between life events – past and present. Older adults who do not refuse their sentiments, memories and perceptions, but rather actively work to interrelate their life events with the different periods and relationships are saved from the meaningless, memory-less jumble and confusion that can contribute to or even account for the typical old-age woes of weary bodies and minds.

Growing older or growing old gracefully and dynamically means using our last opportunities to reconstruct our biographies. In plain words this means getting to know oneself. Integrating memories is more important than the quantity or the quality of those memories. Some biographies are difficult, while others are fairly smooth and straightforward.

One is discordant – not graceful – in all stages of life when parts of oneself – of ones experiences and feelings about those experiences - have not been integrated. When older people have understood their life then they can actively and creatively use their present time. Many elderly people are able to in effect modify the meaning their irreversible past and still unknown future have for them. The depth of perception that elderly people are able to achieve enables them to find marvelous things in the most mundane experiences because they, unlike the young, live very intensely.

Old people can make rich discoveries about themselves and their lives, and about life in general during the course of their closing years because everything has emotional value to them. Sometimes dealing with many losses of different types can be overwhelming, and elderly people sometimes request treatment if they are unable to grieve healthily and hence become depressed. When healthy mourning is not achieved defensive ageing occurs where, persecuted by the thought of old age, one holds on to a fantasy of infinite time. This makes life insipid because it is the finite nature of life that makes it precious and intense, flavorful and exciting.

From the angle of the infinite time delusion one has the tendency to view old age solely as capacities on the decline. For example, an older woman ́s continued ability to develop her femininity may not be seen. Often when we reach mid-life, we would like to start all over again, do things in a different way, indeed do different things, choose a different path for our life than the one we initially chose. Sudden divorces in mid- life are common. The husband who leaves his wife for a much younger woman is a classic. In recent years we are also witnessing the older woman who chooses a much younger man – her “cub” using the slang of our time- to be her partner. It is not uncommon today to find couples whose members were born in different generations.

Elderly people, however, cannot get excited about being able to start all over again. They must avoid having an overall view of their lives in order to obviate the perception of the passing of timeThe elderly who unconsciously shield themselves from an awareness of youth vanished, become confused about themselves and impoverish in their lives.

Elderly people who live their old age defensively have lackluster, monotonous existences, contributing, as many clinicians believe,to loss of memory as well as other ills associated with old age. It make surprise you to find out that the elderly can make themselves demented to not have to take in the realization of where they are in their lives!

Elderly people who, in their younger years struggled with envy, always had the recourse of thinking that they also would eventually have what their friends and neighbors had. In the last years of life this is no longer possible. Elderly people who have a strong component of envy to their nature may become very embittered in disappointment at what their lives have been. They mayalso make a show of their physical and mental decline in an effort to protect themselves if they naturally assume others to be as envious as they are.

Some people who have been unable to integrate important life events in a meaningful way encounter many difficulties a long time before they reach old age. There are examples of this I ́d like to give you: a man nearing 40, born to grieving parents shortly after the sudden death of their toddler, carries through life, and in countless life situations the feeling that he was not expected, or that he is to blame for things. A young woman who loses her beloved mother just two months after the onset and diagnosis of a terrible disease is unexplainably infertile, and remains childless despite the costly and trying procedures she undergoes to become pregnant. A preadolescent who was never told he was adopted has the impulse time and again to steal small sums of money, in this way enacting the drama of his life – that his identity was stolen from him – until informed of his origins and put in treatment. Perhaps my readers can provide more examples.

Old people can become very attuned to other people. The ability to relate on a very deep level to others is not the sole privilege of the elderly, but it is a characteristic of old age although perhaps our consumer society is not as willing to talk about enrichment in old age as about decline. The sense of freedom and the conviction that one can be who one really is and live accordingly is also a noteworthy trend in the last part of life. On the final stretch, instead of being constrained by what is politically correct in their families and professions, in their communities and in society in general, the elderly can afford to and will often make the generous gift to all of us of speaking their mind and giving us the benefit of their valuable experience on a subject that is of concern to all.

Time and again this is seen in eminent figures in different professions, or concerning politics, who take altruistic positions when possible reprisals are no longer feared.

By Sherry Elizabeth Lupinacci

Published on the blog of the Barcelona Women´s Network, November-December 2011