ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, October 15, 2006
Vol. 41 - No 20
Front Page Mirror

Getting to grips with jealousy

Has it crept up on you? The Green- Eyed Monster that clouds your judgement and transform the most level-headed of us into raving lunatics?
Then read on...

They talk everyday, text each other all the time and they've been good friends for so long (what's more, I'm sure she's been secretly in love with him for ages)… so it's just a matter of time before we'll have some tiff or the other and he'll need a comforting shoulder to cry on, right? Wham… that's when she'll strike… he'll be putty in her hands! Before he knows it, I'll be yesterday's news, and "Ms. Oh-so-understanding-ever-dependable-best friend" will stride right in to take my place…

Random bout of insecurity?

Could this be merely a random bout of insecurity or early signs of the 'Green- Eyed Monster' taking over?

Almost everyone experiences a visit from the nasty green-eyed monster at some point in their lives – whether it's over a best friend's career success or a gorgeous person flirting with someone you love or even between siblings. We tend to think of jealousy as a single emotion, but it is actually a mixture of a whole bunch of feelings; it can manifest itself as sadness, hurt, anxiety, fear, loneliness, paranoia, self-doubt, anger, and even extreme rage. While we can't necessarily stop this unpleasant sentiment from dropping in from time to time, we can control how we choose to act when it hits. When it consumes our thoughts or triggers behaviour that can harm relationships or other people, that's when jealousy is truly a monster!

The first step in breaking free from jealousy's grip is recognising the problem. The second, is taking a deeper look at the real root of the problem: for every jealous feeling there is most often an emotion lurking behind, which is much more significant than the jealousy itself. Jealousy is just a finger that points at the fears that we are afraid to face. More often than not, the culprit is a feeling of low self-worth and a fear that we are not good enough to hold on to the things that matter most to us.

Is there a healthy jealousy or is any type of jealousy destined to lead to the ruination of souls? Now, this is probably a question, each of us must ask ourselves, even those of us who claim to be 'beyond' the ability to harbour such feelings as jealousy and possessiveness.

First, we need to identify whether or not our jealousy can be justified at least on some level. If there's actually some basis to our seemingly irrational fears. As much as "there's no smoke without a fire,” one is also considered to be "innocent until proven guilty." So it's vital that you fully validate the reasoning behind your discontent. If you do succeed in doing this, then you're justified in following any relevant course of action you see fit, be it a confrontation, ultimatum or in the worst case scenarios, even a break-up. However, on the other hand, if you do discover that there's in fact no grounds to your thoughts and subsequent actions, you must be just as willing to accept your misjudgment and admit defeat. Pig-headedly pursuing and nurturing your fear, could be quite unwise, particularly as it could drive your partner or friend further away and possibly even push him/her to do something they may never have resorted to doing otherwise. So, you need to tread very carefully and sensibly, ’cos the Green-Eyed Monster can completely cloud your judgement and transform the most level-headed of us into raving lunatics with absolutely no room for reason!

Jealousy can even manifest itself in relation to a deep-seated anger or envy against a family member (e.g. caused as a result of you being overshadowed by a sibling or being constantly compared to a sibling) and concluding that your parents favour him/her to you. This sort of jealousy can be just as harmful or even more so, as it's to do with your own "flesh and blood." If you don't "nip it in the bud," it too can cause much disharmony and put strain on family ties, leading to ruining what could have in all likelihood been a perfectly healthy relationship.

For some strange reason, jealousy has always been an enduring topic of interest for scientists, artists, theologians and even psychologists, who have proposed several models of the processes underlying jealousy and have identified individual differences that influence the expression of jealousy. Sociologists have demonstrated that cultural beliefs and values play an important role in determining what triggers jealousy and what constitutes socially-acceptable expressions of jealousy. Biologists have identified factors that may unconsciously influence the expression of jealousy. Artists have explored the theme of jealousy in photographs, paintings, movies, plays, poems, and books. Theologians have offered religious views of jealousy based on the scriptures of their respective faiths.

Despite its familiarity, however, people define jealousy in different ways, and many feel they do not possess effective strategies for coping with jealousy.

Understanding pathological jealousy

People may benefit from professional help if they experience pathological jealousy. People who experience pathological jealousy go to great lengths to find evidence of rivals or partner infidelity, often misinterpreting the events or objects they believe are evidence. Their beliefs about rivals and partner infidelity seem irrational to most people.

It could manifest itself in relation to a deep-seated anger or envy against a family member

Sometimes pathological jealousy occurs as a symptom of other psychological disorders such as schizophrenia, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and organic brain disorders. Sometimes pathological jealousy occurs as an isolated disorder. When pathological jealousy occurs in isolation, it is called delusional jealousy and is classified as a type of paranoid disorder. Studies have reported some success in treating delusional jealousy with drugs.

People may also benefit from professional help if jealousy triggers episodes of domestic violence.

The greater the risk of violence triggered by jealousy, the more likely a couple will benefit by seeking the help of a trained professional.

Coping strategies may vary in their effectiveness. College students in one study used three main strategies to cope with jealousy: self-reliance, self-bolstering, and selective ignoring.

Students using the self-reliance strategy kept a tight rein on emotional expressions and worked harder to maintain commitment to their loved one. Students using the self-bolstering tried to think positively about their own personal characteristics. Students using the selective ignoring strategy decided the relationship with the loved one wasn't important enough to warrant jealousy. These strategies proved only moderately effective in helping the students cope with jealousy. The researchers write:

"Interestingly, not all of these strategies work. It seems that the first, self-reliance, goes the farthest in reducing jealous and envious feelings. Selective ignoring is somewhat less effective and, surprisingly, self-bolstering just doesn't seem to work at all. We also found that these coping strategies had varying effectiveness depending on the area of life in which they were used.

The two strategies that do work are particularly good in dealing with envy, that is, situations at work or with friends. But they are of less use when it comes to dealing with romantic jealousy and family situations, such as sibling rivalry.

It may be that the best way to cope is to try to prevent jealousy from happening in the first place, something that couples can work on by being very clear about what kinds of behaviour they can and cannot tolerate in a relationship." Salovey & Rodin, 1985, page 29


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