Jealousy is a complex emotional response triggered by a real or perceived threat to something of value. Whether it be a girlfriend jealous of her paramour’s flirtations, an employee jealous of a co-worker’s promotion, or simple sibling rivalry, jealousy affects us all at one point or another.
It is also an ugly emotion. In the play Othello, written by playwright William Shakespeare, it is described as a green-eyed monster. Psychiatrist Grant Hillary Brenner MD refers to it as addictive, an alter-ego, and a socially transmitted disease. When unchecked, jealousy can lead to irrational behaviors that can range from just plain embarrassing to downright dangerous.
Much like with envy, a jealous individual wants something that another individual has, but jealousy includes an additional sense of impending loss. There are many types of species of green-eyed monster that may crop up throughout our lifetimes.
Children can experience jealousy as early as three and four years old when they are still dependent on their parents. Children seeking parental attention, affection, or other resources may feel jealous if they perceive those resources going to someone else; a sibling for instance. Sibling rivalry can be fleeting or lifelong, depending on both the parental reaction to the rivalry and the individual personality of each of the siblings.
This is often the jealousy that we first think of when discussing this jarring emotion. It typically revolves around a fear of either sexual or emotional infidelity. Founded or not, this form of jealousy left unchecked is often exceptionally damaging to the relationship and can even become explosive in nature. Romantic jealousy is often cited as the cause of domestic violence.
Jealousy can be aroused anytime we form close bonds. The bond between platonic friends can be every bit as powerful and can leave us feeling every bit as vulnerable as those formed between romantic interests. The thought of losing the affection of our friends can be just as distressing as losing a love interest.
Power-related jealousy is most frequently seen in the workplace when one co-worker becomes envious of another’s raise or promotion, but it can crop up in other situations, too. The entrepreneur turned down for a grant may feel envious of another who received approval. The losing political candidate is likely to feel jealous of the winner of the race. Sometimes, especially in families where resources like attention and money are actively leveraged, early sibling rivalries may evolve into a more entrenched power-related jealousy.
The common thread between all of these types of jealousy is fear. The fear of losing someone that we love, the fear of losing something that makes us feel secure, or the fear of letting goals float out of reach. When we feel secure with our lives, jealous behavior is rarely a problem, but many things can shake our confidence. Some root causes of pervasive jealousy include:
The main priority in counteracting jealousy is to first identify the source of the fear then attempt to neutralize it. If you are afraid that you are not good enough at your job, you could speak to your boss for reassurance, gain more education, or switch to something that satisfies you. If you are jealous about your relationship, speak to your partner, take part in counseling, or find a relationship that satisfies your needs. Individuals that have a poor self-image or fear of abandonment, may need to make an effort to improve their confidence levels. If you struggle in these areas, spend time with people who boost your mood, engage in self-care, and don’t be too hard on yourself.
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