The real reasons why people get jealous – and why jealousy is so powerful

Jealousy is one of those demons that just seems to take everything over when it is felt – even when you know on the inside that your jealousy doesn’t make sense somehow, it often still rips through and takes you hostage. Many people even go so far as to call jealousy an innate emotion, as though, no matter what, we will always feel some jealousy sometimes, and there’s nothing we can do to help that.

Some people even think jealousy is a healthy thing, because it means that you care. You know that you are in love, it is said, when you feel tremendous pangs of jealousy about that special love that you share being shared with somebody else. Without jealousy and other associated negative involuntary emotions, the relationship might as well end, it is said, because then you have no more passionate divine spark. If you don’t ever get jealous, it must mean that you can turn your emotions on and off at a whim, and thus no more organic drive exists to feel.

I want to correct some assumptions here – because it is obvious, if you look around you enough, that there are people who do not ever really feel jealousy. I am one of them. Such people do not have shallower emotions; rather, they have an inbuilt understanding that channels negative emotions away from feelings of jealousy. This holds a lot of hope for those other folks who tend to become prisoner to jealousy’s grip: it’s not an inevitable process.

The difference between envy and jealousy

Envy happens when you see somebody else experiencing something you’d like to have. You get a wishful feeling inside, like you want what they have. But this feeling does not necessarily lead to jealousy, you see; you can be envious of somebody’s situation and make common cause with them. For example, say one of your friends is doing a workout routine and has gotten into really good shape. You envy them, and thus you come up to them and ask them what their secret is, and maybe even whether you can join them and do what they do. This is an example of an envious response that leads not to jealousy, but rather to motivating, progressive thinking.

Jealousy is different; it is an altogether negative, regressive state of mind. The jealous thought says “I want what you have, and thus until I have it, you shouldn’t have it either.” This is very different from simple envy, because now the emphasis is not on you moving forward, but rather on keeping the other person back. That’s why jealousy can be so destructive and all-consuming; the jealous individual gets into a state of mind that presumes the right to control other people’s pleasure! Yikes. Even if they say nothing at all, the feelings are still there, and the air becomes heavy with them.

Little feelings of jealousy are understandable sometimes, and I will talk about why in a minute. However, once we get into a situation of chronic jealousy, I don’t think it is extreme to say that there is potential abuse down the road, since jealousy involves that sense of entitlement to control. There’s definitely a really big incentive out there for folks that are prone to jealousy to work on themselves to minimize the recurrence of such all-consuming feelings. Jealousy is not an emotion that should be embraced as a sign that strong love exists. In fact, it’s the opposite; jealousy comes from a perspective of self-preservation, not love towards others. Now let’s talk about why that is.

The real roots of jealous feelings

Most societies seem to characterize jealousy as a natural reaction to when something sacred or important to you is shared with someone else (the primary example usually being romantic, sexual, or otherwise intimate love). This has things completely confused. Jealousy’s force does not derive from the sharing of something special to you; rather, it comes from the feeling that you are about to lose that special thing that is being shared – that, by sharing it, you are in danger of losing it. This aversion to loss is quite natural! Of course, even people that feel no jealousy also have times when they fear losing something precious. It’s part of the human experience.

I remember at one point asking myself: people don’t usually seem to get jealous if they are best friends with somebody that also has another “best friend,” so why is there such a strong norm about being in a romantic/sexual relationship with somebody who maintains such a relationship with others?

It is clear to me now that this perspective has to do with fear of loss – something that the property-oriented thinking that predominates around romantic relationships is really good at setting us up for. Whether it’s dogmatic monogamy or a “one male, multiple females” version of polygamy, social norms strongly dictate to us that intimate relationships = property relations. Now, you may be thinking that this is a ridiculous idea, but really, think for a moment about how marriage is regulated: you have to get permission from a judge to get married or divorced. The government must recognize you and your partner as being organized into a family unit – you cannot do this yourself.

Then there are those creeping terms we use in language to indicate relationship ties which surreptitiously bring ideas of ownership to mind: “my one and only,” “till death do us part,” “he’s mine,” “she’s spoken for,” and other such expressions bring with them the burdens of rigidness and restrictions consistent with a “contract” – because hey, that’s what marriage truly boils down to, isn’t it? You can have the deepest, closest relationship which is not a marriage, and you can have an unintimate, unpassionate “marriage of convenience,” on the other hand – but there’s no escaping, either way, that marriage is, even in popular discourse, regulated by the government, and thus not innately some sacred thing that you create with your partner. All these norms and expectations floating in the background about what a relationship is supposed to be does have a huge effect on how we orient to such relationships – even when the thought of marriage is nonexistent, especially in normative, heterosexual contexts.

Now, if we take this ever-present background of relationships = property, it becomes a lot easier to see why feelings of loss and envy get confounded into jealousy. The reality is that you cannot control how your partner feels or what they want. Despite all the chatter out there that talks about how to “keep your man” or how to “stop her from walking out,” the truth is that you don’t have this control. Loss and breakup can happen at anytime, and “putting a ring on it” or moving in together will not erase such thoughts and possibilities.

Want to know what does help? Honest, open communication – in which, rather than facing loss with a restrictive jealous mindset, we become open about our fear of loss, and can talk about it more calmly. It may be very hard to do this sometimes, because that exposes you to being vulnerable – but guess what? Vulnerability is part and parcel of intimate relationships! You’re vulnerable all the time, whether you like it or not, and I say that it’s better to have a handle on that vulnerability and be able to manage it, rather than it suddenly flaring up and managing you.

If you tend to get jealous, I challenge you to monitor yourself: see if you can find the grain of fear that you are going to lose something precious to you that fuels your jealousy. I guarantee you, it’s always there. What other reason could you possibly have for wanting to restrict somebody you care about from enjoying themself?

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31 Responses to The real reasons why people get jealous – and why jealousy is so powerful

  1. I’m going to play Devil’s advocate for a moment here and venture the following: attempting to deny jealousy is actually a safeguard against getting hurt by someone for whom you care deeply. What I mean is, if I fight against my feelings of jealousy (which I define as the desire to retain what I already have), I am not only resigning myself to the possibility of losing this person at any given moment, but I am also creating an attitude of indifference which desensitizes me to the pain of this potential loss. If I never let myself love you that deeply from the beginning, I have nothing to fear if you walk away. I’m placing an emotionally small bet instead of risking higher stakes. On the other hand, if I throw my whole heart and soul into loving someone, the thought of losing them is difficult to face. Even as I realize and accept that they may be here today and gone tomorrow, I still WILL with every fiber of my being that they shall remain. This is the absurd paradox that constitutes love.

    • Devil’s advocate indeed! I suppose I should add that where some might feel jealousy, others who don’t feel jealousy still feel hurt, very deeply. I would say that the jealousy itself, in people who manifest it, is a way of papering over the hurt by mixing it in with feelings of possession and entitlement. This way the hurt that one feels is transformed into an injustice to fight against, and the act of fighting such hurt dulls its monstrous pain.

  2. Pingback: The difference between envy and jealousy « Positive Juice

  3. I thought this was a very interesting and explaining post into why people feel jealous and the difference between this and envy. Brilliant post. I mentioned it in one that I wrote today: http://overthinkingmind.wordpress.com/2012/09/26/being-jealous-and-wanting-people-to-be-jealous-of-you/

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  7. menik11 says:

    i’m in state of jealousy n damn this sucks!! it’s hard for me to eat n sleep when i see that someone i like getting intimate with his crush. n he’s not even my boyfriend nor ever have a relationship with me. i know this is simply useless n stupid but i cant help myself to stop stalking on him n his crush’s social media’s activity. and when i found out how flirty n sweet he was n is, i started to get neurotic n worse. T_T
    this is due to my low self esteem i supposed. back then when i was full with pride n confidence, when someone i like having a girlfriend i didn’t felt jealous at all. ironically, i kinda enjoyed it. cause deep down i knew i was way more special than two of them combined n i will find someone so much better than him. but now??? jeeeezzzzzz……….
    i guess i really have to build my self esteem all over again n find new activities, or skills that makes me feel great about my self.
    great post by the way. u nailed it the way my thoughts exactly.

  8. interesting Blog, I wander how those people who are genetically predisposed to great jealousy. I mean let’s face it they do exist. I remember I use to have a friend who reminded me in the beginning of the relationship that this is who he is. Let’s just say after few months you had to come to the conclusion that wow, some people can only function within the realm of jealousy, and yes it a feeling that all too well can overwhelm and maybe even compliment; however in this situation, I remember studying this person and realizing that some people just can’t shake the feeling of being jealous, sometimes handicapped by it…………… and then there is “envy”…. wonderful way to describe the distinction by the way. You are a lucky person for not having to feel jealous on the same spectrum like some people do. That is indeed remarkable. You are absolutely right about “control”, It is true that we can not control people’s feelings. Great blog.

    • Do you think it’s genetic though? Perhaps body chemistry has something to do with it, sure. But I think it has much more to do with generalized insecurity. On the other hand, there is clinical proof that other mental affects can occur excessively because of a body chemistry imbalance (which could have a genetic basis in some cases) so in this kind of extreme case that you are talking about, sure, I could see that being the case.

      But I also think that some folks use “that’s the way I am” as a way out of dealing with themselves. You can make a decision to work on yourself, to not let jealous feelings get to the point where they pervade everything, even if you don’t always succeed. It sounds to me like this friend of yours just didn’t feel like being challenged – didn’t want to be vulnerable in front of you. That appears more to me like a choice he made, not simply “who he was.”

      • interesting!!!! I do think genetics does have a lot to do with how people deal with themselves. Including envy and jealousy. There are platora of issues I believe people in the world have. Its not the need to force one self to challenge or rid ourselves of mental the issues, its the responsibility we take because of our issues that bares a great deal. Some people are born to obsess compulsively. Perhaps the person in question has been challenged enough, pilled out, and strung-out on all the medications the world could offer, perhaps they see it as a lost cause and nothing had worked. The person in question is OCD in the severe in the spectrum. I can’t say I understand how people deal with jealousy or how people really are, which reminds me of a really interesting quote I heard from a movie called “The Hour”………she said. “I… and I alone….. can understand my own condition”

      • This is true. I guess I’m just used to situations in which people make excuses to hurt others. That kind of thing I don’t tolerate well. Outside of that, however, I agree – it’s between a person and themself to deal or not deal with themself as they see fit, when all is said and done.

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  10. My aunt keeps making excuse to hurt me and my mother she does not want us to be happy

  11. Sexual conflict. Onlooker that the expectation of unconditional love is opposed to the needs for the proper biology, nevertheless, if it is opposed to of other at the expense of the proper ones, already would not be unconditional: is not it like that? The multiple mating (poliginandria) can harm the reproductive success of some group or sex in particular or of variable form, maintain multiple couples is not more ‘ethical’ that to prevent your couples(partners) from having them: can we recriminate to the antelope that escapes of the cheetah, which manages to survive although the pillaged one possibly dies of famine? Can we reproach the cheetah that he(she) hunts to the antelope to eat although the last one dies? If the cheetah does not hunt, it dies, if the antelope does not try to escape, also. Therefore, the sexual jealousy is only the common answer that the organisms show to avoid the damages of the mixed up behavior(manner), due to this it is so widespread. The multiple matching(mating) is a game of losing or winning.

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  13. This is going to sound harsh, but I think jealous people are emotionally stunted. I know from experience that jealousy is not inherent; I can’t remember the last time I was jealous of a person. And no, this isn’t some BS I say to ‘disassociate’ from such feelings. I know the reasons I do not get jealous of people; Nobody has anything I want that I feel I can’t have. The trick is analyzing your ‘wants’ and setting your priorities straight, I believe.

    Granted, there was a time early in my relationship with my husband that I became alarmed over his friendship with a female coworker. She was pretty, smart, etc…and spent time with my husband in a setting I never could, with experiences I would never have with him. I did not have anything against her personally, but I was afraid that their friendship had the potential to develop into something more. So I talked to him about it, told him my concerns. He’d been having similar feelings about my male coworkers, especially those who’d expressed blatant interest in me in the past. It’s those kinds of conversations that keep us really close and secure in our relationship. I have never felt the need to tear others down in order to get what I want, or keep what I have. As for other men I have dated, I never once felt jealousy with them either. There are PLENTY of available men in the world, no use getting your panties in a twist over the ones who just aren’t into you, or you aren’t compatible with anyways. The majority wont be anyways; that’s just life.

    Outside of romance, I observe many women (generally) to be incredibly insecure and jealous creatures. This too I can not relate with. I have never felt the need to sabotage other people to make myself feel better. Not since junior high anyways. Yet I see it ALL. THE. TIME. I find it pathetic and weak. Utterly unproductive, unbecoming, and all-around pointless.

    I have heard people make the claim over and over again that it’s natural to be jealous and act on it. If this is the case, a lot of people are naturally emotionally immature and are deserving of their feelings of inadequacy.

    Great post, it’s refreshing to come across other level headed people.

    • Why are emotionally immature people deserving of their feelings of inadequacy?

      • Kj Holmes says:

        Mitch wrote “Why are emotionally immature people deserving of their feelings of inadequacy?”
        They want to be seen as equal or better without doing what it takes to honestly get that regard from others. They want from others what they haven’t earned.
        So they deliberately cling to their jealousies and therefore they ‘deserve’ what they get. It’s just another way of saying that people get what they go for and if you go for being jealous instead of upping your own game, then you deserve whatever you worked for; in this case, jealousy.

      • Kj, I think you are thinking of a specific kind of manipulative and self entitled person without taking into account the many people who are not like this but still feel emotions they may not know how to process.

        I question whether all people with lingering negative feelings deliberately cling to them. I see a decided difference between just having jealous feelings that you may not know how to deal with on the one hand, and using your hurt or anger as a weapon or tool of manipulation against others.

  14. Julien Lucas says:

    Some people are constlanly jalouse of what others have. So they never build for themself. In fact, those type of jalouse are like shit.
    And we all know what we do with shit!

  15. Anon Anon says:

    I just had a case, here is some insight to the scenario, So I met this girl which takes care of me a lot and that is why im seeing her in a regular basis, im not a “marriage type of guy” I just go with the flow, don’t trying to control things that I can’t control., yesterday I had the first case of her being jealous because I winked to the waitress as a way of asking her a favor, she became all emotional about that particular situation and changed her behavior. She was jealous of me doing that, now I understand that is the fear of losing all of the benefits that she is obtaining from me, she often say phrases like “Louis is only mine mine” like Im some kind of property (it fits with the current private property oriented society) . Thank you for this article, it cleared a lot of stuff in my mind.

  16. i am very jealous in relationships even the fact tonight my bf and i had a fight cause i accuseed him of getting a yext message fronm his girlfriend and he said it is actully so then i said dont piss me off and and then he got the shits said he can do what ever he likes i said wekll tell me to fuck off he didnt tell me but now i am all sad cause i dont knwo what is going to happen i dont want to loose him

  17. Chastina Li says:

    I don’t know much about jealousy in relationships and such but from my experience with feeling jealous over someone else’s accomplishments, I find that some ppl who are often jealous develop a kind of attachment to that feeling. It keeps them “grounded”. Or at least that’s how I felt and I agree with your point that having to be jealous to feel like you care about something stems from an intrinsic lack of interest. Most ppl like me are masked by that feeling of jealousy that we are constantly in a fight-or-flight mental state preparing to deal with any potential danger because deep down, we know that we are loosing control and we don’t really care. Jealousy is a bad feeling and I am fighting against because it makes me feel angry and depressed, as simple as that.

  18. hanan parvez says:

    Envy means wanting something someone has and jealousy also means the same thing except the fact that in jealousy we simply do not believe in ourselves. When we are envious, it is something positive and motivates us to obtain that what we envy because we believe we can. Jealousy stems from fear and envy stems from admiration.

  19. kikka75 says:

    Jealousy, I never thought it was part of me or in me, but I in the last few months I cannot shake this bad feeling of being jealous ,my husband was helping this girl out after she separated from her husband, I’m having hard time because I don’t know why it upsets me that he talkes to her, I don’t like the person I’ve become, we always been a such a close couple, go out with friends, we do things as a family , working together in the family business, we’ve been married for 15yrs… Please I’m open for any suggestions. Thanks for this great blog…

    • What are you afraid you are losing? What signs do you see that something is changing? Perhaps he is really supporting her emotionally, maybe paying a lot of attention to her, and you are kind of on the outside of this situation?

      You’re welcome. Here’s something more for you to consider, perhaps. Your husband and you should likely have a talk about this.

      • kikka75 says:

        Thanks for your response Positive Mitch,what I’m scared! I’m scared to loose him, scared because she is vulnerable and she’ s seeking attention , I don’t know why she gives me this vibe,she talks with me like everything is fine, then as soon as my husband is by himself with her she tells him how bad she feels. .. I don’t know if I’m reading to much into it, every time I try to talk to my husband about it he says she’s down and she needs my help,he keeps on assuring me that nothing is going on,and I just need to trust him. Slowly slowly I’m trying to do that, and the only way I can do it, is not talking to her no more, and not knowing when they talk or see each other for talking. I know it will take time , but I’ll get over this Jealousy, thanks again for your response. .

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