An Introduction to Jealousy

Emotions aren’t entirely internal states of being, they also have external components ranging from the socialialisation by which you learn them, to the social arrangements typically used to manage them. The social aspects of emotions are important to understand, especially in jealousy, as situations involving other people are responsible for it.

As emotions are shaped by social learning, they typically form as a result of family, peers and media. All of which are influenced by the prominent culture. Jealousy and how it is experienced depends on the views relating to: relationships and marriage, cheating and acceptable ways of protecting sexually and romantically exclusive (monogamous) unions. All of these are passed on to us via socialisation.

Despite jealousy’s prevalence, it’s often mixed up with envy. Envy is resentment towards someone who has a desirable quality which you do not possess. This can be about money, status or good looks, for example. Jealousy consists of behaviours aiming to protect an important relationship from perceived threats to its quality. It is possible that these emotions can be experienced together and it has been noted jealousy is strongest when the attributes of another person compete with the jealous individual. Perhaps jealousy arrives as a third person threatens the relationship quality and you become envious of a quality that person possesses. Jealousy can also be experienced outside of romantic relationships.

Despite research showing the damaging effects of jealous behaviour, jealousy’s function is the protection of the relationship or ego. Ego comes into the picture through the need to be seen in a certain light by someone. If we feel someone is more good looking to our partner than we are, for example, we may become jealous through our ego. Jealousy can show our need to be recognised for attributes we want to possess or our perception of reduced social position in relation to another. Instead of viewing jealousy as something to avoid, it may help us, and those close to us, identify what and who are important in our lives.

Previously, it was hypothesised that jealousy is not an individual problem but a relationship one – requiring attention from all of those involved. Evidence later supported this idea; it was found that as marital satisfaction increased, levels of jealousy decreased. Jealousy, it seems, is provoked by events in the real world and not by defects in individuals. Many myths surround the “jealous type”. Typically, people who become jealous are labelled as having low self-esteem yet, cross-cultural data reveals that it plays little or no role in explaining jealousy. It’s also believed that women are also more jealous but again, data is inconsistent here. Scientists go on to explain that women are much more willing to discuss their feelings and admit to jealousy than men are. Another explanation pertains to the observation that jealousy relates to power imbalances. The social, economic and cultural disparities between men and women, placing men in a position of power, may therefore help explain this. Another myth is that people suffering from mental health issues are more jealous. Reasearch including mental health inpatients, psychotherapy outpatients and a control group found no differences in the amount and intensity of jealousy. Jealousy is also not necessarily an evolutionary behaviour, monogamous, polygamous, promiscuous and other non-monogamous cultures all show different patterns of jealousy. Even individuals within these cultures have variations. Jealousy, along with many of our behaviours, is largely a result of social learning.

Don’t take the stoic approach when jealousy arises. It’s much better for your health, and relationship, to acknowledge and express how you feel in the context of improving the bond. Your partner should be willing to listen and help you through what you’re feeling. If your partner is the jealous one, understand it comes from a place of fear – jealousy calls for incredible compassion. Don’t eradicate jealousy, constructively express in instead through conversation. You’ll be better off for it.



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