Jealousy is “fear of loss due to the rivalry of another”.
Although the word jealousy is in common use, many people have no exact understanding of what it means. As many people feel like they have done something deeply wrong if they have been caught in the act of being jealous, simply using the word can faze people quite dramatically.
The dramatic effect is partly due to jealousy’s natural intermingling and confusion with envy – one of Christianity’s seven deadly sins. A significant reason why many people cannot see jealousy in their self is because it would cause them to feel conscious anxiety. The source of the anxiety is then blocked from conscious view by a subconscious defence-mechanism. So one of the main reasons why the emotion eludes people is because of an unwillingness to own it.
Jealousy is a slippery emotion for another reason too.
Envy and jealousy both relate to possessions. Just as much as physical items, the term “possession” is used here to refer to personal characteristics, talents, abilities, people, and positions. The thought that people are most often jealous, or envious, of material goods is false. The reverse is true. People experience jealousy and envy related to personal connections, characteristics, positions of power, or people far more than simple physical possessions.
Jealousy often leads to envy and envy often leads to jealousy. This entwined relationship is frequently complicated, and it blurs and blends the meanings together.
When people feel jealous, they fear the loss of a possession due to the rivalry of another. As an aspect of envy is “the will to deprive people of a desirable possession”, jealousy may be caused from a possession that someone else envies. When person A is envious of a possession of person B, B becomes jealous.
The intricacy of the interwoven emotions does not stop there. The feared loss has made person B feel deeply insecure, and at those moments the possessions of others often appear more attractive. Person B’s jealousy may then morph into an overriding envy of a possession of person A. Such tit-for-tat attitudes create a confusing arrangement. Resentment and then justice (see Resentment) can mistakenly be instilled into the pursuit of someone else’s possession.
Therefore, person A’s envy can make person B jealous. This causes B in turn to become envious of person A’s possession. A then fears the loss of a possession and becomes jealous, and then wants a possession from B even more. Thus amplification of the initial envy happens, and it starts the process again.
Only, the envy and jealousy are more intense as the rounds get stacked. This potentially endless figure of eight contention is commonly referred to as a vicious cycle. The fact that both jealousy and envy relate to possessions, and that one can cause the other, makes these emotions exceptionally slippery to grasp.
This intricate interweaving of the two emotions is truly astounding. They are not inextricably linked, but their relationship can be entwined to such a degree that it’s exasperating to try to tell them apart. Working out which one came first and why they’re being felt can be vexing. When people manage to focus on one emotion, it merges into the other. So jealousy and envy often feel elusive emotions to understand. A clear definition that jealousy is concerned only with the “fear of loss due to the rivalry of another” helps tremendously when discerning the complexities of such situations.
Perceptions create emotions.1 Yet perceptions are not always accurate, so fears, insecurities, and anxieties are not always appropriate to the reality of a situation. Emotions may not be justified, but people feel them all the same. If people believe a perception, they experience the associated emotion.
Jealousy can concern the things that people care about most in the world; this is a significant reason for why it can be a volatile emotion. Distinguishing jealousy from envy is difficult enough without passionate emotions also clouding the issue at hand – adding yet more complexity to the situation.
Since people’s perceptions of a situation are creating their emotions, jealousy can be a frustrating cycle to experience for anybody who is afraid of losing anything valuable. This is especially true when it’s another person who is perceived to be depriving people of someone important to them. Jealousy and envy can lead to unbearable and intolerable feelings that are not fully understood. Powerful emotions can bubble beneath the surface of an otherwise calm exterior.
Because people may not be able to own or even recognise jealousy, powerful emotions can uncontrollably motivate their behaviours. They start acting-out.
As deciphering the complexities of such a situation can seem impossible at times, all of these elements can make a psychological and emotional subjectivity that’s intensely turbulent. Writing down concerns and reading then back a few days later is a valuable aid to comprehending passionate, complex behaviour. Emotional literacy is key to understanding behaviour. As they should aim to have a comprehensive understanding of emotion and be explorative, counsellors and psychotherapists can help, for clients can use their professional understanding of emotion.
How valuable a possession is to people, plus the conviction of how real is the perceived threat, will determine how passionate their response will be. What are people willing to do or say to prevent the loss from happening? The value people give to the possession is the initial and overriding factor here. People will first fear losing the possession and then decide how real is the threat. So the conviction in the threat’s validity is secondary and generally far more variable than the value placed in what people might lose. Both the perceptions (value and validity) can be changed, with self-reflection or counselling, to a more realistic appraisal of the individual scenario.
The more important the loss, the more powerful the emotions, and the more difficult the reflecting process will generally be. Knowing how important a possession is will help with the reflecting process because it’s simpler to identify what possessions are causing what emotions. This is because recognising the connection between an emotion’s intensity and its associated possession is more clearly apprehended. It’s important for people to be honest with themselves when they judge how much they value a possession.
Emotional literacy determines to a large extent the accuracy of comprehending behaviour. Only the most intelligent creatures can think about their emotions. Conscious reflection on emotion is an evolutionary recent development, and it uses the highest faculties earthly creatures possess. The consciousness of emotion is broadly accepted to have evolved because it offers massive benefits in regard to understanding and adapting to complex behaviour.2
Jealously is one of the most common emotions in society, and it does not mean that people are inferior by expressing it. Jealousy is not a bad emotion. It means that people value and care about a possession which they fear losing. If people value something or someone substantially, they can spontaneously react in unpredictable and violent ways. The reaction to perceiving a potential loss can be the bad thing. The emotion of jealousy is an indicator of how valuable a possession is to a person. The actions warranted to keep the status quo are an individual’s responsibility. Whether with malicious gossip or murderous rage, here is where people slip up. The course of action people decide upon is what can be the unacceptable, even criminal, aspect in cases of jealousy.
Jealousy is one of the best ways to glimpse how much people truly value something or someone. As one of the most intense and complex emotions, it’s revealing, insightful and astounding to work through in personal development.
1. Troubled by the belief, suspicion, or fear that the good that one desires to gain or keep for oneself has been or maybe diverted to another; resentful towards another on account of known or suspected rivalry.
2. In love or affection, especially in sexual love: apprehensive in being displaced in the love or good-will of someone; distrustful in the faithfulness of wife, husband or lover.
3. In respect of success or advantage: apprehensive of losing some desired benefit through the rivalry of another; feeling ill-will towards another on account of some advantage or superiority they possess or may possess; grudging, envious.