Updated: Sep 24, 2022
Our relationship with jealousy is rarely uncomplicated. Often, we view it as a sign of love, desire, motivation, vigor, and attachment. Growing up, we all remember watching movies and deducing jealousy as a sign of love, where the protagonist realizes the intense feelings they have been harboring for their partner. Jealousy may act as a driving force to do better than our peers at our workplace or in academics.
While this can be a source of motivation and drive, we experience jealousy as a great source of personal misery, discomfort, and distress. The romanticism and normalization of jealousy didn’t prepare us for the paranoia, agitation, pain, and need for control it brought. Jealousy can be seen as a perceived threat that accompanies feelings of unhappiness and anticipated loss because someone might take/have something or someone you desire. It may involve a romantic or sexual partner, a colleague, a friend, or the quality of life you desire. We spend hours thinking about the insecurity and desire to be or have better. Jealousy reflects upon the realization of the impermanence of our relationships, where we fear any change in the dynamic we share with our loved ones. At the same time, in certain circumstances, jealousy can be a response to the helplessness one feels, that might seem permanent.
Image description: Two women sitting with their backs to a pillar that is between them . One is peeking toward the other while the latter is looking away. ( Photo by Jametlene-reskp from https://unsplash.com/photos/S_hJDPPYOLw)
Before managing and “resolving” one’s experience of jealousy, we need to explore the juxtaposition of its emergence. The complex experience of jealousy isn’t the same for every individual. Understanding its contextual derivation further helps us extend an empathetic hand towards compassionately understanding our own experience of jealousy.
Structural factors of sexuality, gender, class, culture, and context have a significant contribution to one’s experience of jealousy. The intersection of these identities poses an involved experience of this feeling. While viewing the emotional and psychological components of jealousy, it is integral for us to understand its relationship through a social, individual, and collective lens.
While jealousy is a feeling experienced universally, it is important to discern the context of jealousy to understand its occurrence. The experience of jealousy is very unique when we view it through a context of deprivation experienced by marginalized identities. Growing up and living in a strictly heteronormative world can push queer identities to margins, where one experiences isolation, invisibility, self-hate, denial, and shame. One’s experience of jealousy here stems from structural seclusion emerging because of an integral aspect of one’s identity. Here, emotions and feelings are embodied manifestations of intersecting power structures that affect us.
When one is denied the access and opportunity to find love, express one’s gender identity, or be with a desired partner let alone experience desire without risking significant losses, jealousy here becomes an experience that is a response to hegemony. The jealousy experienced here would be accompanied by shame, weakness, and often a loss of control over one’s circumstances and outcomes.
The importance of exploring this lens is to acknowledge the amount of blame and personal responsibility one experiences to resolve one's jealousy without addressing the cultural, social, and political context it occurs in. Similarly, marginalized communities including individuals with disabilities, lower economic strata, and lower caste often experience jealousy as a response to the indigence of resources to resolve and overcome it. Growing up in an environment where social media influences the perception of an ideal body type, lifestyle, and glamorized way of living, jealousy manifests through the inability to match this standard. We often turn inwards here, blaming our inability to resolve this feeling, even when we’re directly exposed and influenced by unconscious factors beyond our reach.
Everyone inherently desires to have security, intimacy, stability, and belonging as individuals. The bond between a child and a caregiver has a significant impact on their attachments, relationships, and worldview. Accounts of childhood trauma where individuals have been subjected to neglect and neglect may damage a child’s sense of security. The expression of jealousy here is often a reflection of the need for emotional connectedness and a desire to build trust and intimacy in relationships. It often motivates behaviors that protect one’s relationship and drives one to engage in behaviors that “save” or “protect” the relationship or status quo.
On asking people what jealousy felt like, individuals expressed feeling breathless and angry; like being hurt by a knife in one’s gut. Numerous people report feeling an amplified mix of all negative emotions such as anger, sadness, guilt, fear, and nervousness. While a lot of individuals feel entitlement, obsessive thoughts, possessiveness, and paranoia about the person involved in the dynamic. This uneasiness often may reflect insecurity and a threat to the representation of self. These “threats” can be a reflection of injustice, imbalance, and deprivation experienced in one's life. We often engage in a series of mental math and deductions while feeling these myriads of emotions.
“ I hate being jealous of everyone’s relationship. Why can’t I have one?”
“Am I unattractive? Am I not worthy?”
“They don’t think I am good enough”
Psychology often debates about whether jealousy stems from an evolutionary innate need for survival (Buss, 1994; Fisher, 2000) or a normalized cultural sanction from toxic monogamy or hetronormative ideas perpetuated through media consumption (Ferrer, 2019; Utz & Beukeboom, 2011). Regardless, jealousy is a genuine human emotion that exists and occurs within every sphere and phase of our life. Certain situations sanction genuine and justifiable reasons to feel jealous- such as when someone doesn’t uphold a commitment or agreement in a relationship or displays dishonesty. We often feel that we need to strive towards eliminating jealousy from our lives when we realize how disturbing it is to ourselves and our relationships. The intolerance towards understanding jealousy inhibits us from understanding and empathizing with parts of ourselves that need support. Hence, it is important to shift one’s focus to understanding, processing and effectively communicating feelings of jealousy.
First, accepting the idea that you’re feeling jealous can be a starting point. The space to explore jealousy can be turbulent at first, as it requires us to delve into our past painful experiences. The experience of jealousy stemming from oppression and disregard towards one’s existence is extremely painful and disheartening. It can make one feel helpless and powerless. Individuals experiencing jealousy might have negative experiences of feeling betrayed, let down, abandoned, or hurt ( Either by an individual or the world around them). Within marginalized communities, this socially manufactured jealousy further alienates them to face shame, guilt, and disappointment. Exploring one’s past, in a safe space like therapy, can build insight towards the source of where this feeling stems from; further exploring the experiences that have contributed to the negative view of themselves.
We often tend to turn inwards and attribute these experiences as a flaw within ourselves, instilling feelings of inadequacy and insecurity that affect our self-esteem. In a workplace setting, a situation might occur when a colleague might get a promotion you desired. While a part of us feels jealous of the colleague, another part might attribute the promotion as a sense of failure at our end. Jealousy in this context, fuels and serves our inner critic. The sight of this colleague may deepen the feeling of worthlessness. Understanding and grieving that loss, while reminding yourself that an incident cannot be a determining factor of one’s value, can help process the feeling of jealousy.
Trust, love, respect, and compassion are the building blocks of any form of relationship. Communicating instead of confronting someone about one’s experience of jealousy, with the intent of some resolution, can further strengthen the relationship we share with the individual. Thinking about what you want from this communication, can facilitate understanding the jealousy better. It can start with mutually discussing the source of jealousy to eliminate the mental math or assumptions we make solitary. Discussing the ground rules of discussing the context of jealousy can comfort anticipating future occurrences of this feeling.
Further, we also collectively consume notions and ideas about love through books, music, and movies (primarily Bollywood movies accounting for some of our cultural contexts). Jealousy often transpired as a means of controlling one’s partner ( primarily women) under the guise of love while normalizing violent behaviors as stalking, obsession, and violation of consent. We are made to believe media consumption is unsubstantial, but the insidious social conditioning of jealousy may contribute to constructing powerful and rigid ideas of love. Hence, it is also important to reassess the unwritten rules we assume while entering a relationship. In romantic relationships, these rules guide our imagination and actions towards our partner. They can stem from entitlement where we assume that we are the only one deserving of the partner’s resources, time, and space. Continually, this can evoke possessiveness in our partners to uphold the double standard. This entitlement can show up in numerous toxic behaviors like asserting control over each other, accusations, obsessive checking, or violence. Questioning these rules can help us unveil its masked genesis.
Finally, while it is important to show compassion towards people around us, self-compassion can be essential while creating a space to understand jealousy. Extending compassion towards yourself when you experience suffering is important, regardless of whether the suffering results from the actions of a loved one or your own mistakes. (Neff & Germer, 2017)- especially when you internalize and blame yourself in experiences of jealousy. Self-compassion can extend a non-judgemental understanding of one’s own experiences and pain, further regulating the myriad of negative emotions one may feel towards yourself. Transforming jealousy towards positively attributing aspects of self can create a space to process our feelings better.
Buss, D. M. (1994, May-June). The Strategies of Human Mating. American Scientist, 82(3), 238-249. http://www.jstor.org/stable/29775193
Ferrer, J. N. (2019). From romantic jealousy to sympathetic joy: Monogamy, polyamory, and beyond. International Journal of Transpersonal Studies, 38, 13. http://dx.doi.org/https://doi.org/10.24972/ijts.2019.38.1.185
Fisher, H. (2000). Lust, attraction, attachment: Biology and evolution of the three primary emotion systems for mating, reproduction, and parenting. Journal of Sex Education & Therapy, 25(1), 96-104.
Harris, C. R., & Darby, R. S. (2010). Jealousy in Adulthood. Handbook of Jealousy: Theory, Research, and Multidisciplinary Approaches, 23, 547-571. https://doi.org/10.1002/9781444323542.ch23
Neff, K., & Germer, C. (2017). Self-Compassion and Psychological Well-being. In Oxford Handbook of Compassion Science (Chap. 27). Oxford University Press. 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780190464684.013.27
Utz, S., & Beukeboom, C. J. (2011, July). The Role of Social Network Sites in Romantic Relationships: Effects on Jealousy and Relationship Happiness. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 16(4), 511-527. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1083-6101.2011.01552.x