What Is Jealousy?

Jealousy is a complex emotion that encompasses feelings ranging from fear of abandonment to rage and humiliation. It strikes both men and women and is most typically aroused when a person perceives a threat to a valued relationship from a third party. The threat may be real or imagined. Not limited to romantic relationships, jealousy can also arise among siblings competing for parental attention, among co-workers, or in friendships. Jealousy is distinguished from envy in that jealousy always involves a third party seen as a rival for affection. Envy occurs between two people and is best summed up as "I want what you have." Although jealousy is a painful emotional experience, evolutionary psychologists regard it not as an emotion to be suppressed but as one to heed—as a signal, a wake-up call that a valued relationship is in danger and that steps need to be taken to regain the affection of one's mate or friend. As a result, jealousy is seen as a necessary emotion, because it preserves social bonds. It motivates people to engage in behaviors that maintain important relationships.

The Consequences of Jealousy

Valuable though it is as a signal to improve important relationships, jealousy has the potential to fuel damaging behavior. It can compel someone to obsessively monitor a partner’s communication, relationships, and whereabouts; attempt to lower a partner’s self-confidence; or even spur violent behavior. As a natural, universal emotion—even though it may feel taboo to discuss—acknowledging its presence can guide people in strengthening their relationships. Admitting to feelings of jealousy and exploring the emotions that underpin jealousy—notably the fear of losing someone who is loved—can avert angry arguments and pave the way for a productive conversation about what the relationship might be missing and how to repair the bond.


Anger, Self-Esteem

Recent Posts