What is Jealousy?

Jealousy is a secondary emotion that generally refers to negative thoughts and feelings of fear, insecurity, and anxiety over an anticipated loss of something of value - particularly a human connection. Jealousy is often complicated by a number of other emotions, like sadness, disgust, resentment, and anger.

Jealousy Versus Envy:

While often used interchangeably, jealousy is not the same as envy. Envy and jealousy, however, can be experienced at the same time.

Envy is desiring something that someone else has - a nice car or more money.

Envy involves:

  • Feeling inferior

  • Longing

  • Motivation to improve

  • Disapproval of feelings

  • Resenting circumstances

  • Ill-will (and guilt) toward envied person

  • Desire to own the rival's attractive qualities

Jealousy is defined as the fear of losing something (work, partner, friend) to someone else. Jealousy is an anticipatory emotion, seeking to prevent loss.

Jealousy includes:

  • Fear of loss

  • Distrust

  • Low self-esteem and sadness over (perceived) loss

  • Suspicion or anger regarding perceived betrayal

  • Loneliness

  • Uncertainty

  • Fear of losing important person to another

Types of Jealousy:

Jealousy is divided into two main categories: normal and abnormal. Everyone experiences jealousy at some point.

Types of Normal Jealousy Include:

Romantic Jealousy: romantic jealousy can be experienced in long-term and short-term relationship and is likely the most often experienced type of normal jealousy. In fact, studies have shown that the first fight many romantic couples have is about jealousy (followed later by fighting about money).

Platonic (friendship) Jealousy: people are often afraid of losing a friend to another person.

Work/Power Jealousy: people who are jealous regarding a salary level, lack of promotion, or another work-related issue.

Family Jealousy: Sibling rivalry is the most frequently experienced of this sort of jealousy.

Abnormal Jealousy: abnormal jealousy is morbid, pathological, delusional, anxious, or psychotic jealousy. Extreme sensitivity may cause perceived threats to a relationship when no actual threat exists. Abnormal jealousy may be caused by immaturity, type-A personality, or extreme insecurity. Occasionally, it is due to mental illness - paranoia or schizophrenia.

Jealousy in Long Distance Relationships:

Thanks to the widespread availability of the Internet and technology, long distance relationships are becoming more and more common. It's shocking to note that long distance relationships are often more stable than geographically close relationships.

As those in long distance relationships do not manage security by seeking proximity to their partner, they must instead rely upon open verbal communication.

Jealousy and Gender:

Studying jealousy in age, gender, and ethnicity is difficult to quantify and study in a controlled scientific setting. Here are some common thoughts about gender and jealousy.

The triggers for male and female jealousy are similar - both feel jealousy when they fear they are losing something that is valuable.

Many psychologists believe women are more inclined to be jealous because they are more in touch with their emotions than men.

One study revealed women are more likely to aim their jealousy at a rival, rather than their partner.

Another study found that taller men are less jealous than shorter men. This is attributed to taller men experiencing greater reproductive success, dominance, and attractiveness.

Women of average height tend to be less jealous of their taller and shorter compatriots, perhaps also due to their greater reproductive success and healthiness.

It's been shown that more women than men consider emotional infidelity more distressing than sexual infidelity.

There doesn't seem to be a difference in jealousy between ethnic and age groups (although that is in part because it would be very difficult to perform a longitudinal study of the same people over time).

Overcoming Jealousy:

It may be impossible to avoid experiencing jealous feelings, but it is possible to control jealous behavior. These steps may help one overcome jealousy:

  • Lovers, partners, and friends may avoid jealousy and jealous feelings by being honest with each other, preventing a build-up of unspoken emotions.
  • Keeping and maintaining trust is key.
  • Being sensitive and recognizing the cues that may upset or worry others is vital to preventing jealousy.
  • Rather than assume the worst, ask questions and communicate with your partner.
  • Before opening your mouth in anger, count to ten and collect your thoughts.

Is Jealousy Always a Bad Thing?

It's clear what the negative aspects of jealousy are, but what about the positive ones? Normal jealousy is a sign that a partner cares for the other and values the relationship. If kept in check and not allowed to overrun the relationship, jealousy may be a bit of a good thing.

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Resources for Jealousy:

Articles on Psychology Today: features many articles about jealousy in relationships.

Pathway to Happiness website provides tips for overcoming jealousy in order to live a happier life.