Jealousy is an often overwhelming feeling of insecurity about a potential loss or inequity in distribution of resources. Although jealousy is commonly used interchangeably with envy, the two are distinct emotions: While jealousy can be described as a fear that someone else may take something that a person considers to be one's own, envy is the desire for something that belongs to someone else. Envy is more likely to cause feelings of sadness and a desire to change, and jealousy is more likely to provoke anger and resentment.
Most people experience jealousy from time to time, but extreme jealousy can greatly interfere with normal functioning, and an individual who finds that jealousy interferes with daily life may consider speaking to a therapist to better understand its underlying causes.
Jealousy is a common feeling, experienced by people from most cultures, and it can be seen in many different situations. A woman who is angry that her husband is flirting with another woman, a man who resents his coworker for being promoted before he was, and a teenager who is annoyed at her sister for going to the movies with her best friend are all experiencing jealousy.
A woman who wants to purchase the same new sports car as her neighbor, however, is likely experiencing envy, not jealousy. A young man whose best friend is spending all her time with her new partner, on the other hand, may experience both jealousy and envy: He may be envious of their relationship and want a significant other of his own, but he might also be jealous of his friend's new bond, resenting the decrease in the amount of time they spend together.
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In adolescents, jealousy has been linked with both aggression and low self-esteem. Adolescents who perceive their friendships to be threatened by their peers also appear to have lower self-worth and report more loneliness than those who do not feel threatened. Girls appear to experience jealousy more often than boys do, according to a Developmental Psychology study, possibly because, as research indicates, girls often expect more loyalty and empathy from their friends.
Jealousy can have dangerous implications: It is the third most common motive for murder. Though it is an emotion that can often be checked, especially with communication, its potentially overpowering nature is demonstrated by the fact that some people who experience extreme jealousy attempt to harm romantic rivals, wayward spouses, or workplace competitors.
People might become jealous for a variety of reasons. Often, jealous feelings may stem from communication issues, low self-esteem, trust issues, loneliness, insecurity, or, in relationships, differing interpersonal boundaries. Some of the most common types of jealousy are:
- Sibling rivalry, or the jealousy and envy one sibling feels as a result of the love, attention, and resources received by another sibling.
- Romantic jealousy, or fear and anxiety about the perceived or actual loss of a romantic partner.
- Workplace jealousy, or the jealousy and envy one might feel toward a coworker's career accomplishments, social acclaim, or treatment by superiors.
Jealousy is an emotion, not a diagnosis, but when an individual experiences extreme jealousy, he or she may find that the emotion negatively affects his or her life, possibly even contributing to the development of mental health conditions such as depression and generalized anxiety.
Psychotherapy is often an effective treatment for jealousy: Couples experiencing mutual jealousy may benefit from marital counseling, while an individual experiencing jealousy might benefit from working with a therapist to process painful emotions and reframe negative, damaging thoughts that affect his or her behavior. Temporary treatment with psychoactive drugs may help jealousy, but this approach is generally only used when jealousy causes other mental health conditions.
Individuals who wish to avoid problematic jealousy in their relationships may find honest communication with partners to be helpful. Trust in a relationship can be strengthened when partners share their insecurities, discuss any vulnerable feelings they may have, and have open discussions about close friendships with people whom the other partner might perceive as a threat.
- Jealous of a roommate: Ken, 31, shares an apartment with another young man. Ken's roommate has a beautiful girlfriend, a well-paying job, and a supportive family, all things Ken feels that he personally does not have. Over time Ken becomes extremely jealous of his roommate, which then leads to anger and resentment. Ken begins distancing himself from his roommate, being rude to him, and dwelling on negative thoughts about how unfair it is that his roommate has such a "perfect" life. Ken does not talk about his jealous feelings, and eventually his roommate begins to complain about Ken's unpleasant behavior, insisting that he move out. At this point, Ken seeks therapy to help deal with his anger towards his roommate. With his therapist, Ken begins to explore his feelings of jealousy and his low self-worth. Through therapy, Ken starts to develop self-compassion skills. His increased self-compassion helps to reduce his feelings of jealousy and further his overall satisfaction with life.
- Fearing the loss of a partner: Feng, 43, enters therapy when he begins to experience difficulty eating and sleeping as a result of anxiety, which stems from his belief that his partner, Angus, who is seven years younger, is going to leave him for someone younger and more attractive. Feng tells his therapist that he worries Angus might meet someone else on one of his business trips, which he takes once or twice each month. Feng, who has not discussed his worries with Angus for fear of sounding accusatory or distrustful, admits that he has no reason to suspect infidelity and that he trusts Angus but feels that he is getting old and becoming unattractive. After a few sessions with his therapist, Feng's sense of self-worth has increased, and he is able to accept the fact that, although Angus might meet younger, attractive men, he will not necessarily be interested in any of them. Feng's therapist suggests some techniques to relieve his anxiety, and Feng's insomnia is greatly relieved. Eventually, he is able to have a successful discussion with Angus, who encourages Feng to communicate any future insecurites or concerns.
- American Psychological Association. APA concise dictionary of psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2009. Print.
- Dittman, M. (2005). Study links jealousy with aggression, low self-esteem. Monitor on Psychology, 36(2), 13.
- Harris, C. (n.d.). The Evolution of Jealousy. Retrieved from http://www.americanscientist.org/issues/feature/2004/1/the-evolution-of-jealousy.
- Kring, A. M., Johnson, S. L., Davison, G. C., & Neale, J. M. (2010). Abnormal psychology. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
- Prinz, J. J. (2007). The emotional construction of morals. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Springer, S. (n.d.). Jealousy in Relationships: Jealousy is a Dangerous Sword Are You Ready for Some Tips? Retrieved from http://cpancf.com/articles_files/jealousyinrelationships.asp.
Last updated: 07-03-2015
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