The Psychology Behind Jealousy | Why Do We Feel Jealous?
Jealousy is an all-pervading emotion felt by everyone at least once in their life. It is so widespread in our world that it’s common among almost all animal species.
When can you say a person is jealous though?
The simple answer is- when we feel threatened by someone’s quality we lack, our mind creates uncomfortable thoughts. These thoughts then create uneasy feelings and an emotion of jealousy. Such situations can later lead to a lack of self-worth and self-confidence.
One common environment for jealousy is social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, etc. Everyone posts their ‘happy’ pictures on social media. As a result, a feeling of jealousy may creep in due to the others’ apparent social-media happiness (which we find ourselves lacking). People can get jealous of others’ seemingly exciting life, their financial status, travel plans, and peer activities.
Though a person may seem happy on social media, the truth may be the complete opposite. But unfortunately, we tend to believe what we see and are easily misled by others’ always-on-the-cloud-nice pictures. It is a quite common reason for breeding jealousy these days. And it can also have severe mental health repercussions like depression and anxiety.
Jealousy Vs Envy
However, one must not confuse jealousy with envy. When a person possesses something/someone valuable but is afraid of losing it to others, the person is said to be jealous. Unlike jealousy though, envy is when a person does not possess the trait that they desire from others yet longs for it.
Both feelings can be confusing because often the line of distinction between them is blurred. For example, if your husband is emotionally close to his college girlfriend, you can feel an emotion called jealousy which is normal. But, if his friend is more beautiful than you and you resent her looks, then the same emotion can be turned into envy. Because beauty is a physical trait that one may or may not possess. In this case, you become envious of her beauty.
In real life though, we often use them interchangeably in our dictionary. And most of the times, we are unaware of the definitions of these emotions.
But Why Do We Feel Jealous?
See, there are different reasons for feeling jealous of someone or something. Some are very common in our society while some are rooted in our evolution.
Romantic or Sexual Jealousy
Romantic jealousy can feel like- somebody is stealing their partner. And such fear has the power to alter sexual behavior too.
This type of jealousy is often synonymous with sexual and emotional infidelity, possessiveness, low self-worth, or distrust. While these factors may be extreme forms of jealousy, it is gradually transformed into rage and revenge, if the matters are left unchecked.
A study found that a partner in a romantic relation becomes possessive and shows different types of verbal and non-verbal responses in romantic relations. Such responses can include violence and passive-aggressive behavior.
For understanding the jealousy involved between romantic partners better, we have to understand the evolution first. Females are emotionally hard-wired to find a male who can protect her and her children at any cost. On the other hand, a male wants a nurturing female who can rear his children.
Due to the logical yet unconscious wants of our kind, jealousy plays a vital role in our relations. If a third person interferes between a couple’s lives, the one at loss is evolved not to allow the interference.
We are inherently emotional beings. And seeing somebody sharing our significant other’s emotional space, alerts us about something worse to happen and we start taking precautionary actions.
In western culture, we have noticed divorce and infidelity rates to skyrocket over the past few decades. The reason behind it is jealousy. It has caused a void for emotional and sexual security between partners- leading to negative lifestyle changes like divorce.
Jealousy among Teenagers
Teenagers are the easy victims of low self-esteem and loneliness- which leads them often to jealousy. They believe they are not worthy enough or happy enough. As a result, these thoughts sprout feelings of jealousy towards their peers.
For example, an introvert person who does not have a lot of friends may feel jealous of their extrovert classmates. Or a less intelligent student can feel jealous of his smart friends. These examples show that jealousy is quite common among teenagers. And can affect even the brightest ones.
According to the APA study, it was found that lonely teenagers with self-esteem issues can easily get jealous of their peers. Later, their jealousy can physically transform into abuse, aggression, or possessiveness.
Jealousy among Infants
A lesser-known fact about jealousy is that it can be seen among people of all ages- children too. Children during their formative years are vulnerable and dependent on their parents. They require as much care, love, and support from parents as possible.
In such cases, if parents neglect their child’s needs and give attention to other children, infants can show signs of jealousy like anger, crying, irritation, etc.
Even in a study published in Infancy, it was observed that infants get upset and are afraid when they see their mother not giving attention to them but something else.
By now you must have understood- jealousy is an emotion that is present everywhere and touches even the innocent hearts. We, humans, are hardwired to feel possessive towards people whom we are emotionally invested to. We believe our possessions are valuable enough to never lose it. So we keep trying hard to protect it. And it eventually falls prey to jealousy.
The psychology behind feeling jealousy, in short, is emotional insecurity. We want security and stability in all aspects of our life- financial, relationships, career, and so on. When we sense our security to cripple (aka jealousy rising), we try to make it right. And one that is badly affected is our relationships. The relations are not only limited to romantic partners but also family ties, work relations, or any kind of relationship you can think of.
Our fear of losing dear ones to others can stem from various factors in the recent era. Too much time spent on social media ruminating on others’ stories and posts or effects of a disturbed childhood can be few causes for extreme jealousy. Our modern culture including the perfectionist happy-ending movies can influence our jealous behaviors too.
Is Jealousy beneficial?
To some extent, jealousy can benefit us as evolution proves it to be. This emotion has a significant purpose to help bond our relations.
We are social beings but we also have our individual identity. When someone threatens that identity of ours, we have the power to react to it. Our flight or fight response gets activated. We either solve the matter by talking effectively about our concerns or behave aggressively. The way people will react depends on their instinctive nature.
When a storm arrives, we understand the ramifications that will follow. Yet, we either run away from the area or we take precautions to protect ourselves from the storm. Similarly, dealing with jealousy is no less different. When we understand the situation and deal with it maturely, we can turn the relationship for the better. In such cases, jealousy is helpful.
Jealousy turned Sour
O, beware, my lord, of jealousy; It is the green-ey’d monster, which doth mock the meat it feeds on.Othello, William Shakespeare
As rightly mentioned by William Shakespeare in ‘Othello’, Jealousy is like a ‘Green-eyed Monster’.
Destructive jealousy is a warning sign of a faltering relationship. Over-protective, angry partners can show psychopathic behaviors if they feel threatened and jealous. One must be aware of these warning signs of a toxic relationship.
Jealousy– Concluding Thoughts
I believe everything in moderation is good. Jealousy is good if it is dealt with maturity and patience. Honesty and free communication between people are the keys to keep jealousy away. Also, one must respect and trust their partner and be grateful to the people near you.
In case your partner is overly jealous, you must calmly explain the situation and try to work on the relationship in a positive way.
If the situation gets out of control, extreme jealousy may need extreme measures. If you find your partner or yourself not able to improve the relationship, you can take counseling help. One such effective way of improving your emotional security is couple therapy.
On a personal level, one must improve their self-worth and discard the need for validation from others. Finally, being mindful of how one reacts to strong emotions like jealousy is important. It can cause an unnecessary rift in the relation. To lessen its effects, one must be transparent and logical of the situation and beware of the impacts their behavior can cause in the future.