Why is Jealousy a Killer Emotion?
Jealousy is the most negative of emotions.
"Jealousy, that dragon which slays love under the pretence of keeping it alive".
Families have been ripped apart, long term friendships ended for ever, nations have gone to war and murder has been committed - all because of the emotion we call jealousy. This peculiar sensation has caused so much havoc throughout human history that great artists and authors have used it as a main theme in some of their greatest works.
If we're being honest most of us have felt at least a little pang of jealousy once in a while and it's a natural instinct to have. However, although most of us can shrug it off and move on, for many people this isn't the case. Jealousy can become so serious it can literally eat away at a person until there is nothing left but a dark, obsessive shell.
What is jealousy?
Dictionary.Com's summarised definition of jealousy is:
1. Feeling resentment against someone because of that person's rivalry, success, or advantages. Characterised by or proceeding from suspicious fears or resentment.
2. Inclined to or troubled by suspicions or fears of rivalry, unfaithfulness etc.
Although the dictionary definition seems to be straightforward, the emotion of jealousy as we shall see is very complex. There is also a difference between jealousy and envy. Relationships expert and author, Melanie Tonia Evans describes jealousy and envy as:
- Jealousy - refers to a fear of losing something we have to another person.
- Envy - refers to wishing we had something that another person has.
It's when these emotions get to abnormal and pathological levels that they can become dangerous not only to a friendship or relationship but even life itself.
Psychologist Shauna Springer (Ph.D.), believes that jealousy that is destructive comes from deep rooted insecurity and lack of self esteem. Not only are individuals who are consumed with jealousy likely to damage themselves but also the people they love. Further, there are other extreme forms of jealousy where 'possession' is the over riding factor. In these cases the person doesn't nurture the relationship, but has an overwhelming need to control it at all costs.
When people suffer from this level of jealousy not only do their thoughts become intense and unhealthy but they're frequently reflected in their actions. Suspicion, accusations, threats, control, spying and even loyalty tests are factors used by the jealous person to try to allay their fears about losing someone they love. In fact what these irrational fears do is drive their partner or friend away. This becomes a vicious circle as the jealous person becomes even more fearful and insecure leading to further jealousy. It's also not uncommon for a jealous person to do the opposite of outward action and words. Many will actually withdraw, becoming sullen and resentful and this is also destructive for a relationship.
Extreme jealousy can also make people feel ill with anxiety, stress, insomnia, loss of appetite, obsessive thoughts, irritability and even at times contemplating or even attempting suicide.
Interesting facts about jealousy
1. Marilyn Monroe - the beautiful but tragic actress was at one time so jealous of screen rival Elizabeth Taylor, that Monroe arranged to do a nude photo shoot to boost her popularity.
2. The longest running jealousy feud in Hollywood was between two screen goddesses - Betty Davis and Joan Crawford. The rivalry lasted for 30 years!
Jealousy starts at a very early age
"It is not love that is blind, but jealousy."
Jealousy isn't an emotion that suddenly erupts as we get a little bit older, you can observe it between siblings from a very young age. In addition there are also different types of jealousy:
- Sibling rivalry. This is a common form of family jealousy. It can affect all ages and different members of the family. The emotions may be felt by a child when they believe for example that parents give more attention or praise to a brother/sister. This emotion can also be roused when a child thinks they are being compared unfavourably to a sibling and so on.
- Workplace jealousy. Jealousy in the work place is not uncommon and is often observed between colleagues in similar job positions. If one worker receives positive feedback from the boss while the other employee feels like they deserved credit as well, problems with jealousy can arise. It can also be created when, what seems like, a perfect employee is working in the area. These people appear to be super efficient and confident giving rise to deep insecurity and lack of confidence by other employees. Jealousy can also be on a much more personal level, such as being jealous of a work colleague who always manages to dress well, look great, is very popular and so on.
- Romantic jealousy. Romantic jealousy can be experienced in long-term or short-term relationships. If a person perceives that their partner is giving too much attention to someone else this can create negative feelings. This doesn't have to be in a romantic way either. People have been known to become jealous of a partner spending time with their parents, sister, brother friend and so on. Some experts argue that a little jealousy in a relationship adds a little spice to it. However, not all professionals agree and argue that in a good relationship with high levels of communication, jealousy shouldn't be felt.
- Platonic jealousy. This is a form of jealousy that is seen in friendships. It's similar to romantic jealousy in that these emotions are roused if a person believes another is replacing them in their friend's affections. Additionally, a jealous person may feel this emotion stirring when they perceive that a friend is paying too much attention to someone else. Jealousy can also be created if two friends are attracted to the same person.
When does jealousy become dangerous?
"Jealousy... is a mental cancer."
B. C. Forbes
Having a little jealousy is the norm for many people and does no real harm. However, when these emotions lead to irrational thoughts and actions, then jealousy has become pathological. In some cases the emotion has become so deeply routed that it can be dangerous.
For example, in a relationship, people with normal jealous emotions only tend to feel this way when they have concrete evidence that a partner has been cheating on them. People who are abnormally jealous are preoccupied with their partner's infidelity and other activities whether the partner is actually unfaithful or not. This often leads to unacceptable and extreme behaviour and reactions. It is not uncommon for an abnormally jealous partner to secretly look through their partner's personal items and mail looking for 'evidence'. As stated in 'Advances' psychiatric magazine, by authors Michael Kingham and Harvey Gordon:
"...morbidly jealous individuals interpret conclusive evidence of infidelity from irrelevant occurrences, refuse to change their beliefs even in the face of conflicting information, and tend to accuse the partner of infidelity with many others... (Vauhkonen, 1968).
It is at this stage that the partner being accused may feel they have to end the relationship due to tension and conflicts.
When a person's jealousy begins to take over their thoughts and actions to the point of obsession then this emotion can become dangerous for all those involved. It can literally turn people mad. Obsessive thoughts are irrational but tend to spill out into equally irrational behaviour. In very severe cases the jealous person is compelled to take 'revenge' on the people they love. You will often hear in news reports about a woman killing her ex-fiance/lover/husband; a man killing his wife, girlfriend and so on. Most of these people are not monsters, but their jealousy has risen to such an explosive pitch that they have lost the ability to think clearly or control themselves and their actions.
Have you ever experienced jealousy to the extent that it has ruined a relationship or friendship?
Self-help tips on managing jealousy
Most people usually manage their jealous emotions quite well and keep them under control. However, if you feel that jealousy is a problem for you then below are some tips suggested by qualified psychologists that may help:
- If you are a person who does have strong jealous emotions, first of all don't get a hang up about it and think that your are a bad person - you're not. Jealousy remember is a normal emotion. So first step accept that you are jealous but that you want to move on to a more positive level.
- Give yourself time to think through your feelings and thoughts. Be as truthful with yourself as you can. Don't try to force envy or jealousy away. This usually only makes you feel worse.
- Think through the situation that is making you feel jealous - a relationship, a lost promotion at work, someone you think is prettier, more handsome, luckier, more popular than you. Firstly, remember that most jealous feelings come from a lack of self esteem and insecurity. Find your weak link - is it lack of confidence in your ability, your looks, your popularity or another area of your life? Then begin to make a plan on how you can improve this situation. There are numerous ways you can try - many of them free - on how to build self esteem and personal ability. Focus on your positive aspects and build on these.
- Learn to accept that there are somethings in life that are unfair and that you won't always get what you want. Instead of wasting your energies on jealousy or envy, focus on other pursuits and projects. Remember, where one door closes another one always opens - especially when you make opportunities for yourself.
- Try and remember that jealous actions on your part will never get a boyfriend, partner or friend back. Jealousy always drives people away.
- If you feel you need further support with your emotions or confidence/self esteem, then speak to a counsellor or psychologist. They will be able to give you in-depth understanding and help for your problem.
Emotions are a natural part of all of us and we need them to experience life to the full. Problems arise when one or more emotions override our common sense. Jealousy has the potential to ruin not only relationships but the good times in life by controlling thoughts in a negative and destructive way. However, jealousy is not all powerful and with a little thought and effort it is possible to break away from its strangle hold.
© 2012 Helen Murphy Howell