Jealousy and envy

"O, beware, my lord, of jealousy; It is the green-ey'd monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on." Shakespeare's green ey'd monster of jealousy is a highly complex beast and has no better presentation in literature than in Othello. Neu (1980) points out, "That [jealousy] has such rich surroundings, that we make such a wealth of fine discriminations in the area of jealousy (envy, resentement, indignation, schadenfreude, begrudging, malice, spite, ill will, hatred, ingratitude, revenge, hostility, and so on indefinitely) is itself a sign of its interest and importance" (p. 426). Comprehensive reviews of these "rich surroundings" can be found in two reviews on the subject: Jealousy: Theory, Research and Clinical Strategies (White & Mullen, 1989) and the review by East and Watts (1999). What we shall do here is provide some brief speculations concerning the core features of jealousy.

Jealousy, we propose, is not only about anger but also about fear. To some extent this is the fear of losing someone, but more importantly it is perhaps the fear of losing our place in that person's affections and, consequently, aspects of our self-worth that depend on those affections. Finally, jealousy requires a rival, real or imagined, who competes for the person we are jealous over and for their affections. The suggestion that these ingredients are necessary and sufficient for jealousy may seem more compelling after a couple of thought experiments. First, we do not feel jealous if we fear losing someone or their affections without a rival. The fading of love in a relationship can lead to feelings of regret, disappointment, and nostalgia but does not alone invoke jealousy. Jealousy may rear its head with respect to future rivals— people our departing lover has not yet met but may come to love in the future—but without such a sense of rivalry, then the green ey'd monster will remain slumbering. Similarly, we can fear losing a valued object to a rival. A colleague at work might be pushing hard for our job. In such circumstances we may feel anger, resentment, sadness, or even envy (see below) but not jealousy over the job. What jealousy there may be will concern the loss of our place in our boss's esteem. So, jealousy cannot exist, we submit, over objects or things, only over people because the real fear is the loss of others' feeling for us, not the the loss of the individuals themselves.

We have claimed that the above components of the fear of loss combined with real or imagined rivalry are enough for jealousy. So, what of anger? Others have suggested that anger, often in the form of hatred, is essential to jealousy. Consider Spinoza:

If I imagine that an object beloved by me is united to another person by the same or by a close bond of friendship than that by which I myself alone held the object, I shall be affected with hatred toward the beloved object itself, and shall envy that other person . . . This hatred toward a beloved object when joined with envy is called "jealousy". (Ethics, Part III, Prop. XXXV)

In contrast, we suggest that angry jealousy is perhaps only one form—one of several reactions to the severe fear of loss and threat to the self. In other circumstances jealous individuals may become depressed or withdrawn, may intensify their original attachment, or intellectualise the situation (Tov-Ruach, 1980).

Jealousy is an extremely common emotion. In many relationships it is not destructive and, indeed, is often functional in serving to improve communication and understanding, or by enabling individuals to recognise the strength of their feelings. However, jealousy is always in danger of becoming intense and pathological, and we consider some examples of so-called disordered jealousy later in the chapter.

Envy, we suggest, differs from jealousy in two important ways. First, envy is about things that others possess, whether it be good looks, a fast car, or a beautiful partner; in contrast, jealousy is about individuals that we "possess". Second, envy can extend to objects whereas jealousy, as we have argued above, seems to concern other people. The core of envy is the rivalry with another; the envied object or quality may itself be non-transferrable (for example, good looks) or even if the envied object is magnanimously transferred by the rival, this may be met with ingratitude or even greater envy.

As with the case of jealousy, we would suggest that it is not immediately clear that envy is derived from anger. However, envy does seem to be a response to others achieving goals that we ourselves wish to obtain, and it is a small appraisal step to the idea that our rivals are somehow blocking our goal fulfilment by virtue of their own achievements. Some authors argue that this step is always taken, albeit unconsciously. This is mainly true of the psychoanalytic literature, as in the work of Melanie Klein (1957) on destructive impulses and her important construct of "destructuve envy". Max Scheler sums up the flavour of these ideas:

This tension between desire and nonfulfillment does not lead to envy until it flares up into hatred against the owner, until the latter is falsely considered to the cause of our privation. (Ressentiment, 1972, p. 52)

Even if we agree that envy is always a function of anger or hatred towards a rival, it seems clear that the conscious manifestations can be quite different. Neu (1980) usefully distinguishes between malicious envy, a state where the anger and hatred are manifest and where we wish to lower our rival to our level, and admiring envy, a state in which we wish to raise ourselves to the level of the rival. The latter seems more clearly to be a functional emotional state, whereas the former is much more destructive. Klein would of course smile knowingly and point out that admiring envy is always a mere mask for the destructive, unconscious envy that lurks beneath the surface. This is a debate that we are unlikely to be able to resolve here.

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