Introduction (Psychology and Mental Health)
Jealousy is not a single emotion; it is most likely a complex of several emotions whose central theme is the fear of losing to someone else what rightfully belongs to one. In personal relationships, jealousy focuses on fear of losing the partner; the partner is seen as a possession whose ownership is in jeopardy. Whether the threat is real or imaginary, it endangers the jealous person’s self-esteem as well as the relationship. Theorists argue that three elements are central to the emotional experience of jealousy: an attachment between two people, valued resources that are exchanged between them, and an intrusion on this attachment by a third person seen to be supplanting the giver or receiver of resources.
Early theories of jealousy suggested that the jealous person fears losing possession; later conceptualizations, however, have specified that jealousy is a fear not of loss of possession but of loss of control. The intrusion of a third party also threatens the cohesiveness of the attachment, dividing partners into opponents. Insofar as the relationship has been integrated into each partner’s identity, the intruder threatens not only what the jealous person has but also who he or she is. Most researchers conclude that the experience of jealousy is itself a damaging and destructive relationship event. Emotional bonds are reduced to property rights. Jealousy involves the manipulation of feelings and behaviors, and it can...
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Dispositional Factors (Psychology and Mental Health)
Dispositional factors in jealousy include feelings of personal insecurity, a poor self-image, and deficient education. Jealous people appear to be unhappy even before they identify a target for their dissatisfaction. Describing oneself as “a jealous person” is related to a negative attributional style; a self-described jealous person sees his or her jealous reaction as stable and uncontrollable, and thus as less likely to change. Developmental research suggests that jealous emotions originate in childhood when the child’s exclusive attachment to the mother outlives the mother’s intense bond to the child. Childhood jealousy also manifests itself in rivalry with one’s other parent or with siblings, implying that jealousy assumes that love is a finite resource that cannot be shared without diminishment. A common theme in jealousy research is the jealous person’s sense of dependence on the threatened relationship, as well as the conviction that he or she is somehow lacking. Before an intrusion appears or is imagined, therefore, a jealous person may already feel inadequate, insecure, and threatened.
Jealousy is also related to possessiveness—the desire to maintain and control a person or resource. Thus the central issue of relationship jealousy is not love but power and control. Relatively powerful people (in most societies, men rather than women) feel less possessive because they feel less powerless....
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Cultural Variations (Psychology and Mental Health)
Cultural and subcultural norms determine the forms and incidences of jealousy. For both men and women, jealousy is related to the expectation of exclusiveness in a relationship. For men in particular, jealousy is related to gender role traditionalism (adherence to traditional standards of masculinity) and dependence on their partners’ evaluations for self-esteem. For women, jealousy is related to dependence on the relationship. With these gender role expectations, individuals decide whether they are “obligated” to feel jealous when the circumstances indicate a threat to self-esteem or intimacy.
Cultures vary widely in the standards and degree of jealousy attached to sexual relationships. Jealousy is rare in cultures that place few restrictions on sexual gratification and do not make marriage or progeny important to social recognition. In contrast, high-jealousy cultures are those that place great importance on control of sexual behavior and identification of patrilineage (the tracing of ancestry by means of the father’s family). Cultural researchers conclude that jealousy is not inborn but learned through socialization to what is valued in one’s culture. For example, a cultural norm commonly associated with jealousy is monogamy. In monogamous cultures, alternative liaisons are condemned as wrong, and jealousy is seen as a reasonable, vigilant response. In such contexts a double standard is promoted, separating...
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Jealousy-Inducing Techniques (Psychology and Mental Health)
Despite the negative form and consequences of jealousy in most relationships, it is popularly associated with intensity of romantic commitment. Researchers have found that individuals who score high in measures of romanticism believe that jealousy is a desirable reaction in a partner. Perhaps because jealousy is mistakenly believed to strengthen intimacy (although research indicates that it has the opposite effect), some individuals may seek to induce jealousy in their partners. Researchers have found that women are more likely than men to induce jealousy with an expectation of renewed attention or greater control of the relationship. Five jealousy-inducement techniques have been identified: exaggerating a third person’s appeal, flirting with others, dating others, fabricating another attachment, and talking about a previous partner. Theorists speculate that the gender difference in jealousy inducement reflects the imbalance of power in male-female relationships. Provoking jealousy may be an attempt to redress other inequities in the relationship.
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Variations in Reactions (Psychology and Mental Health)
Reactions to jealousy vary by age, gender, and culture. Young children may express rage in tantrums or attack the interloping sibling. Research has identified six common responses made by jealous children: aggression, identification with the rival (for example, crying or acting cute like a new baby), withdrawal, repression or feigning apathy, masochism (exaggerating pain to win attention), and creative competition (with the possible outcome of greater self-reliance).
Gender differences in adult jealous reactions include self-awareness, emotional expression, focus of attention, focus of blame, and restorative behavior. When jealous, men are more likely to deny such feelings, while women more readily acknowledge them. Men express jealousy in rage and anger, while women experience depression and fear (that the relationship may end). Men are more likely to blame the third party or the partner, while women blame themselves. Men engage in confrontational behavior and focus on restoring self-esteem. Women intensify possessiveness and focus on strengthening the relationship. In general, these gender differences reflect different sources of jealousy and different emotional and social implications. For most men, a relationship is regarded as a personal possession or resource to be protected with territorial aggression. For most women, a relationship is an extension of the self, a valued opportunity but not a personal right,...
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Managing Jealousy (Psychology and Mental Health)
Researchers have identified positive, constructive approaches to managing jealous experiences. Three broad coping strategies have been identified: self-reliance, self-image improvement, and selective devaluing of the loved one. In the first case, self-reliance involves controlling expressions of sadness and anger, and forging a tighter commitment with one’s partner. In the second, one’s self-image can be enhanced by making positive social comparisons and identifying and developing one’s good qualities. Finally, jealousy can be reduced and the threat eliminated if one convinces oneself that the loved person is not so important after all. These approaches are all popular, but they are not equally effective. Researchers comment that self-reliance works best, selective devaluing is less effective, and self-bolstering does not appear to be effective at all.
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Lessons from Research (Psychology and Mental Health)
Jealousy has gained attention as a social problem because of its implications in criminal behavior and domestic violence. Increases in the rate of domestic assault and murder have warranted a closer examination of the cultural assumptions and stereotypes that support jealous rage and depression. Educational programs to address self-esteem, especially in young children and adolescents, are focusing on jealousy as a symptom of pathology rather than a normal or healthy emotional experience.
Consistent discoveries of cultural differences in patterns of jealous experience have supported the view that jealousy, like many other “natural” relationship phenomena, is learned and acquired through socialization and experience. Thus, jealousy research is contributing to the “demystification” of close relationships—attraction and attachment are not seen as mysterious or fragile processes, but as learned behavior patterns that can be both understood and modified. Jealous individuals can thus be taught to derive their sense of self-esteem or security from more stable, self-controlled sources. Jealousy can be explained as the unhealthy symptom of a treatable complex of emotions, beliefs, and habits. Its contributions to relationship conflict and personal distress can be reduced and its lessons applied to developing healthier attitudes and behaviors.
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Sources for Further Study (Psychology and Mental Health)
Brehm, Sharon S. Intimate Relationships. 5th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2008. This excellent text devotes one chapter to jealousy, reviewing research and putting jealousy in the context of other relationship experiences.
Buss, David M. The Dangerous Passion. New York: Free Press, 2000. Using cross-cultural research (thirty-seven countries on six continents), the author suggests that jealousy is an (imperfectly) adaptive behavior that aids in coping with reproductive threats.
Clanton, Gordon, and Lynn G. Smith, eds. Jealousy. 3d ed. Washington, D.C.: University Press of America, 1998. An edited collection reviewing gender differences, cultural factors, and other issues in jealousy research.
Salovey, Peter, ed. The Psychology of Jealousy and Envy. New York: Guilford, 1991. A collection of essays from a wide range of respected researchers in the field. Covers both theoretical perspectives and practical applications.
White, Gregory L., and Paul E. Mullen. Jealousy: Theory, Research, and Clinical Strategies. New York: Guilford, 1989. Includes chapters on romantic jealousy; the origins of jealousy in sociobiology, personality, and culture; gender effects in jealousy; pathological and violent jealousy; and strategies for assessing and managing jealousy.
Wurmser, Léon, and Heidrun Jarass, eds. Jealousy and Envy: New Views About Two Powerful...
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