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Jealousy Resources

What is Jealousy?

Jealousy is a secondary emotion that generally refers to negative thoughts and feelings of fear, insecurity, and anxiety over an anticipated loss of something of value – particularly a human connection. Jealousy is often complicated by a number of other emotions, like sadness, disgust, resentment, and anger.

Jealousy is a complex emotion that involves feelings ranging from fear of abandonment to rage and humiliation. Jealousy strikes both men and women and is most typically aroused when a person perceives a threat to a valued relationship from a third party. The threat may be real or perceived. It is not limited to romantic relationships and also can occur among siblings competing for parental attention or in friendships. Jealousy is distinguished from envy in that jealousy always involves a third party seen as a rival for affection. Envy occurs between two people and is best summed up as “I want what you have.”  Although jealousy is a painful emotional experience, evolutionary psychologists regard it not as an emotion to be suppressed but as one to heed—it is a signal, a wake-up call, that a valued relationship is in danger and steps need to be taken to regain the affection of one’s mate or friend. In this regard, jealousy is a necessary emotion because it preserves social bonds. It motivates people to engage in behaviors that maintain an important relationship.

What Are The Different Sides of Jealousy?

Jealousy is about someone getting something that they feel they should have access and rights to receive. When one friend chooses to spend time with someone else instead of you, this can create emotional jealousy. When your boyfriend spends too much time chatting with another potential partner, this can stir up a combination of sexual and emotional jealousy.

The Emotional Side of Jealousy

When you see someone getting something you feel you deserved – especially within a relationship – you might undergo a backward metamorphosis in which your brain lets go of its advanced functioning and you’re responding from your “reptilian brain.” This is the most basic brain structure as compared to the other two components of the human’s complex brain, the limbic brain, and the neocortex.

In “Reptile Mode,” we are ready to engage in fight, flight, or freeze responses to danger and for some individuals, the threat of losing a partner to a rival can catapult them back thousands of years to the reptilian way of processing information.

When you are in the throes of intense jealousy, you have a hard time concentrating on anything but the object of your jealousy whether it’s scheming to get your partner out of the interloper’s clutches, or scheming to get even, or giving in to abject misery, and loss of hope. Depending on our feelings about the situation dictates how we respond emotionally – but even if it’s by giving that once-special someone the metaphorical “cold shoulder,” your heart is still focused on the relationship, although it has now grown more complicated as you are training yourself to be unkind to someone whom you’d rather be kind.

Some people grow obsessed with revenge – against the wayward partner or the rival who has usurped your place. Revenge, however, is a very poor investment of energy. Research has shown that the toll that revenge planning takes on your overall emotional well-being is much more detrimental than just moving forward in your life. In fact, if you allow thoughts of revenge to take over your life, you are doing the worst possible thing in terms of moving on – you are giving a great deal of power and control of your own emotional and psychological well-being to the person who has caused you emotional harm. Not exactly the best way to get your emotional life back on track.

The Physical Side of Jealousy

Adrenaline gets pumping when we are faced with a threat. When we are confronted with a threat, not only do our emotions grow more primitive, so do our physiological responses. Enough country songs have been written about what damage can be done during a moment of jealous rage – whether it’s a trucker driving his rig into a motel room where his wife and her lover are trysting, or a scorned woman taking a Louisville slugger to her ex-lover’s SUV – that most of comprehend just how powerful that “fight or flight” response can be for modern humans when “fight” overtakes “flight.”

Sexual Jealousy or Emotional Jealousy?

It’s been stated that males feel a strong response when exclusive sexual access to a partner is breached, whereas they don’t respond as fiercely when a partner is having emotional needs met by other potential romantic partners. Females, it’s purported, experience the reverse. They feel more anxiety when they see their partner engaged in emotional closeness with another.

Jealousy in Long Distance Relationships:

Thanks to the widespread availability of the Internet and technology, long-distance relationships are becoming more and more common. It’s shocking to note that long-distance relationships are often more stable than geographically close relationships.

As those in long-distance relationships do not manage security by seeking proximity to their partner, they must instead rely upon open verbal communication.

Jealousy and Gender:

Studying jealousy in age, gender, and ethnicity is difficult to quantify and study in a controlled scientific setting. Here are some common thoughts about gender and jealousy.

  • The triggers for male and female jealousy are similar – both feel jealousy when they fear they are losing something that is valuable.
  • Many psychologists believe women are more inclined to be jealous because they are more in touch with their emotions than men.
  • One study revealed women are more likely to aim their jealousy at a rival, rather than their partner.
  • Another study found that taller men are less jealous than shorter men. This is attributed to taller men experiencing greater reproductive success, dominance, and attractiveness.
  • Women of average height tend to be less jealous of their taller and shorter compatriots, perhaps also due to their greater reproductive success and healthiness.
  • It’s been shown that more women than men consider emotional infidelity more distressing than sexual infidelity.
  • There doesn’t seem to be a difference in jealousy between ethnic and age groups (although that is in part because it would be very difficult to perform a longitudinal study of the same people over time).

Jealousy Versus Envy:

Jealousy is distinguished from envy in that jealousy always involves a third party seen as a rival of some type.

Envy is a complex social emotion. It starts with the perception that someone else has something of value that you don’t have. But this perception is also accompanied by a painful or unpleasant feeling. From an evolutionary perspective, envy provides us with information about our social standing and the drive to improve our position in society. In this sense, some form of envy is likely experienced by non-human animals as well, especially among the ambitious upstarts climbing their way up the pecking order.

But envy also has a dark side. Instead of focusing our efforts on gaining the things we want in life, we brood over what we don’t have and resent those who have what we want. The experience of envy is doubly damaging, as we not only feel bad about ourselves, we also harbor ill will towards others who’ve done us no wrong. No wonder envy is considered one of the seven deadly sins.

Traditionally, envy has been viewed by religious leaders, philosophers, and psychologists alike as an evil that we must struggle to free ourselves from. But in recent years, some psychologists have argued that envy may have a bright side, specifically when we use envious feelings as motivation to improve ourselves. This “benign” envy contrasts with “malicious” envy, in which we’re motivated to do harm to the one who bested us.

Easily stated: Envy occurs between two people and is best summed up as “I want what you have.”

While often used interchangeably, jealousy is not the same as envy. Envy and jealousy, however, can be experienced at the same time.

Envy is desiring something that someone else has – a nice car or more money.

Envy involves:

  • Feeling inferior
  • Longing
  • Motivation to improve
  • Disapproval of feelings
  • Resenting circumstances
  • Ill-will (and guilt) toward an envied person
  • Desire to own the rival’s attractive qualities

Jealousy is defined as the fear of losing something (work, partner, friend) to someone else. Jealousy is an anticipatory emotion, seeking to prevent loss.

Jealousy includes:

  • Fear of loss
  • Distrust
  • Low self-esteem and sadness over the (perceived) loss
  • Suspicion or anger regarding perceived betrayal
  • Loneliness
  • Uncertainty
  • Fear of losing an important person to another

What Are Normal Types of Jealousy?

Jealousy is divided into two main categories: normal and morbid. Everyone experiences jealousy at some point.

Types of Normal Jealousy Include:

Romantic Jealousy: romantic jealousy can be experienced in long-term and short-term relationship and is likely the most often experienced type of normal jealousy. In fact, studies have shown that the first fight many romantic couples have is about jealousy (followed later by fighting about money).

Here is a clear list of what can be considered normal jealousy and morbid abnormal jealousy in romantic relationships:

NORMAL JEALOUSY: Not being thrilled that your partner has had sex with other people.
OBSESSIVE/MORBID JEALOUSY: Finding yourself consumed by thoughts of your partner’s past relationships all day and night.
NORMAL JEALOUSY: Experiencing a fleeting jealous pang when you see your partner’s ex on Facebook.
OBSESSIVE JEALOUSY: Stalking your partner’s ex on Facebook, and Googling them for hours at a stretch.
NORMAL JEALOUSY: Having a few questions about your partner’s past relationships/sexual history because you’re curious about their growth and development as a human being.
OBSESSIVE JEALOUSY: Incessantly questioning your partner about their past because you think it will stop your incessant curiosity. Maybe you think that if they just answer “one more question,” you’ll be able to move on. (You’d be wrong.)
NORMAL JEALOUSY: Not loving the idea of your partner meeting for coffee with their ex-partner
OBSESSIVE JEALOUSY: “Forbidding” your partner from having any contact, of any kind, with anyone from their past – including on Facebook
NORMAL JEALOUSY: Having the odd insecure moment when you wonder if your partner is truly happy being with you.
OBSESSIVE JEALOUSY: Having constant thoughts along the lines of “What if my partner prefers their ex to me? What if their ex is better looking than me? What if my partner is still in love with their ex? What if the sex was better…?”

Other types of jealousy that naturally occur:

  • Platonic (friendship) Jealousy: people are often afraid of losing a friend to another person.
  • Work/Power Jealousy: people who are jealous regarding a salary level, lack of promotion, or another work-related issue.
  • Family Jealousy: Sibling rivalry is the most frequently experienced type of this sort of jealousy.

What Constitutes Abnormal Jealousy?

Abnormal Jealousy

Abnormal jealousy is morbid, pathological, delusional, anxious, or psychotic jealousy. Extreme sensitivity may cause perceived threats to a relationship when no actual threat exists. Abnormal jealousy may be caused by immaturity, type-A personality, or extreme insecurity. Occasionally, it is due to mental illness such as paranoia or schizophrenia. Under some extreme cases of abnormal jealousy, a person can show immaturity and insecurity plus a controlling nature. Such people tend to assume that their family members, friends, and partners are unfaithful.

Jealousy and envy are painful emotions that can be hard to distinguish from one another. When you are jealous, you fear that you may lose a loved one’s affection or favoritism to someone else. When you are envious, you perceive yourself as getting the short end of the stick. Lovers of unavailable people experience both emotions. They want more, and they don’t want to lose what they have. This puts them at risk for developing morbid, or extreme, jealousy. Love chemicals run amok, competitor genes and social conventions can also trigger extreme jealousy.

Morbid Jealousy

Jealousy in moderation is normal. It shows that we care about the other person. a spouse or partner. Morbid jealousy is pathological. It is an irrational emotion that signals a psychopathological disorder, write forensic psychiatrists Michael Kingham and Harvey Gordon in a 2004 issue of Advances in Psychiatric Treatment. Morbid jealousy is signaled by irrational, obsessive thoughts centered around a lover or ex-lover’s possible sexual unfaithfulness, together with unacceptable or extreme behavior. Surprisingly, it occurs more often in older individuals and in males. The average age at onset is 38 years. The authors emphasize that morbid jealousy is a symptom, not a diagnosis.

Overcoming Jealousy:

It may be impossible to avoid experiencing jealous feelings, but it is possible to control jealous behavior. These steps may help one overcome jealousy:

  • Lovers, partners, and friends may avoid jealousy and jealous feelings by being honest with each other, preventing a build-up of unspoken emotions.
  • Keeping and maintaining trust is key.
  • Being sensitive and recognizing the cues that may upset or worry others is vital to preventing jealousy.
  • Rather than assume the worst, ask questions and communicate with your partner.
  • Find ways – such as writing down a list of positive qualities about yourself – to make yourself feel more secure.
  • Before opening your mouth in anger, count to ten and collect your thoughts.

Is Jealousy Always a Bad Thing?

It’s clear what the negative aspects of jealousy are, but what about the positive ones? Normal jealousy is a sign that a partner cares for the other and values the relationship. If kept in check – and not allowed to overrun the relationship – jealousy can be a bit of a good thing. Here are some of the good aspects of healthy jealousy in relationships:

  1. Appreciation – The urgency of jealousy can prompt you to show how important your partner is to you. Jealousy can highlight what you value–your relationships. Sometimes we need a nudge to remember what’s most important, so use that feeling as a cue to clearly express your appreciation for your partner.
  2. Communication – Jealousy can help strengthen your connection when you talk about it. The key is healthy communication (rather than bottling it up and exploding with passive-aggressive behaviors later). Be assertive and say something like “I got jealous watching you dancing today – you looked so cute!” rather than “I’m SORRY that you HAVE to go home with me, instead of that hot girl you were dancing with.” A little communication can go a long way.
  3. Turn On: Getting riled up at the thought of someone snagging your sweetie can be a clear sign the physical attraction is still intact. When we look at our partner with new eyes, we can discover some of the things that attracted us to him or her in the first place. Having a partner we have lost interest in can suddenly become much more appealing when another person is flirting with him, which can lead to a beneficial renewed spark. Don’t hesitate to act on those feelings.
  4. GOOOAAALLSSS Jealousy can alert you that you’re unhappy with some aspect of yourself and it can be the proper motivation to take positive steps toward changing it.
  5. Be Your Better Half – We do get busy/lazy at times, and we may slack off on our part in the relationship. Jealousy can be a reminder to become the best partner you can be and allow you to use it to show your partner how much he or she means to you. we might find ourselves slacking off on our side of the relationship. Making a renewed effort can improve the relationship and motivate him or her to be an even better partner
  6. Insecurities – Feeling jealous could point to deeper hang-ups, so listen to the warning signs and get to the bottom of the real issue. You might reflect on your experience of jealousy and realize that it comes from a sense of not being worthy that stems back to your childhood. Or, you may find that the jealousy is arising from a fundamental mismatch in the relationship, with one person being far more invested than the other. If so, start thinking about how you might address those issues, whether it means therapy or a heart-to-heart with your spouse, or both.
  7. Attention – Thanks to the autopilot pace that is now the default setting for so many, it’s all too easy to let attention to drift away from our most important relationships. No worries – just take note and take action.
  8. Mutual Reassurance. When you’re feeling jealous, it’s clear to your partner that you do care. Reassurance is very satisfying. What you probably didn’t assume is that he/she feels assured when you’re honest about your feelings.  Everyone likes to feel appreciated and valued!

How Do I Cope With Jealousy?

Jealousy is definitely a green-eyed monster that some of us face quite often. If you’re trying to overcome feelings of jealousy, here are some tips for coping with jealousy:

Assess your relationship:

First look at your relationship – is it built on trust, love, and respect? Does your partner’s behavior reflect the way he or she feels about you? Are they honest with you? If your partner is lying to you, this naturally triggers your insecurities. If you do happen to be in an insecure relationship, you will get jealous. If you choose to stay with your partner, you’ll probably just have to deal with feelings of jealousy.

Assess yourself:

If you’re in a healthy, secure, solid relationship with your partner and you’re still experiencing jealousy, look at yourself. People who have had secure, safe attachments during childhood are often less dependent, less jealous, have higher self-worth, and fewer feelings of not being good enough. If you haven’t a secure attachment in childhood, you can work through those feelings and form better attachments in your relationships – therapy and working with your partner can help increase your self-esteem. If you’re not sure, ask yourself?

  • “Do I feel empty and worthless?
  • What was your childhood like?
  • Was your upbringing loving and critical?
  • Were you raised in a repressive atmosphere?
  • What were your relationships like with your caregivers and parents?.
Seek out other support.

Have interests outside your relationship – clubs, hobbies, volunteering. You can also talk to your friends to get some perspective, but make sure that your partner knows how you’re feeling as well.

Recognize your jealousy.

When we call jealousy what it is, it loses its power. It will free us from the shame of it. Saying that you’re jealous opens the door to learning.

Learn from your jealousy.

We can use feelings of jealousy as inspiration to grow. For instance, you realize that the reason you get jealous every time your friend plays her guitar is that it’s also something you’d like to do. Rather than wallowing in that jealousy, you sign up for guitar lessons.

Let it go.

Tell yourself that you don’t need this emotion in your life, and you’re relinquishing it, then breathe deeply, and imagine it flowing through you like the wind. Repeat until you’re able to let go.

Manage your emotions healthfully.

Practice mindfulness to calm your runaway emotions, try tuning into your body to understand how you’re feeling, take several deep breaths and try to detach from these emotions.

If your jealousy involves your romantic relationship, share your feelings with your partner after you calm down.

To process your emotions, you can try journaling, dancing to your favorite music, and taking a walk – anything to help clear your mind.

Remind yourself of your positive traits.

No one is good at everything – it’s impossible. However, we all have strengths and weaknesses. Remind yourself of this as often as you need. Jealousy is normal, but if it’s persistent, it can be a problem.

Page last audited 7/2019