Saturday, April 11, 2009


Jealousy is seen as a negative force. It's the main fuel for crimes of passion and is linked with brutality, including domestic violence, and even murder. But the great psychologist Sigmund Freud believed that it's not only normal, it's actually desirable to feel jealous. And like all other emotions it's developed to give us the best guess at what's happening in our lives.

The thinking is that the emotions systems developed to give us instant solutions to commonly experienced problems in our environment. That meant that very quickly the whole body could respond. So it's not just a thought thing but that literally the emotions play an important role in coordinating the internal functions; heart rate, respiration, muscle tension and the like. So these developed really to give us very instant kinds of solutions to commonly experienced – either threats or opportunities – in our environment; things that related to surviving in comfortable ways.

People are at their healthiest and at their happiest when they're involved in satisfying relationships; whether we're talking about childhood or we're talking about adulthood. Engaging in satisfying relationships is associated with all kinds of wonderful things; lower cardiovascular threat, greater immune system response, greater wellbeing. And so what jealousy does is it alerts you and impels you to the threat that your relationship is going to be lost. I like to call jealousy a social emotion as opposed to kind of a more basic emotion. And most of us accept the view that we have basic emotions like anger and fear that impel us to flee a danger or to attack a conflict. Social emotions are emotions that you're going to see in social species like humans, and what they do is help us navigate our social landscape, much as more basic emotions help us navigate the physical one.

The main point about jealousy is it's not just about, is my partner having sex with someone, or is my partner saying 'I love you' to someone – because that only happens in terms of romantic relationships at a certain stage of one's life. It's really about protecting valued relationships at all stages of life, because you have to be successful as a child in protecting relationships to reach sexual maturity. And then you have to be able to form relationships with romantic partners as well as with other individuals to help you succeed in life, and it's the grand total of that that I think makes you lead a very adaptive life, both in terms of propagating your genetic material, but also in terms of having a life well lived.

All humans at kind of a very innate level have the capacity to feel jealous, and will feel it when they sense that the relationship is being threatened, but that's the integral part. What determines when you feel that your relationship is being threatened, that varies a lot by cultural, by social learning, by past experiences. So think about your friends, you co-workers. Some individuals may react incredibly jealously when their partner simply smiles at someone else, and other people that doesn't bother them at all. And I think that is related to how the actions by their partner make them feel about themselves. Some people who have different secure levels of attachment may be more or less jealous by a certain act. And some cultures allow certain interactions between men and women that other cultures proscribe, and I think as we grow through our lives we're constantly tuning our threat detection mechanisms, so to speak, based on our past experiences and based on our culture.


Fantasia said...

I believe that people who have only one goal - a life of happiness - are missign out on the whole point. All emotions - the entire rainbow ... are what make us truly alive. To aim for only one is so ... Vanilla.

Mariana Soffer said...

Completely agree that the entire rainbow is what make us truly alive. It has wisdom in it.

But you amazed me with your reflection that the aim for only one is vanilla( This world is very wierd to me, I am not native, but I know what it means). Freaking true.
I think sometimes humans try to classify anything terminantely, like this person is stupid, or this one is brillant, but people are a mix of all, they do not want to see reality, which has grays in it, they just want to see black or white. I guess is much easier like that, less thinking and ambiguities to deal with.

You might be intrested in:

Uncle Tree said...

Maybe it's because I'm a man, but the first thing that came to my mind while reading this, Mariana, was 'competition'.

Is it envy then, or pride then that fuels the want to do better than your fellow compatriots? Hasn't this type of jealousy been cause for man to strive a little more than they would have otherwise, as a loner?

If a man has a beautiful woman, they had damn well be secure in their own little minds. This I know. Men like to browse, and sometimes they eat the menu.

Mariana Soffer said...

You are probably right, because men tend to compete.
But I think competing is something different, it is related to the desire of winning,
it is another kind of feeling, competing is different from wanting to have what the other
person has.
I always considered that compiting is not necesarily a bad thing, but
jealousy is (most of the times).

PD: like the words "Ate the menu"

Anonymous said...

A little bit of jealousy is natural, but envy is what we should watch out for. You have a fascinating blog.

Mariana Soffer said...

I do think a little bit of all feelings are natural, is like when you want to punch someone for being bad to you, there is nothing wrong with that unless you actually do it. It all depends on what you do with you instincts and feelings.
Here are the definitions:

Jealousy:Fearful or wary of being supplanted; apprehensive of losing affection or position.

Envy: A feeling of discontent and resentment aroused by and in conjunction with desire for the possessions or qualities of another.

I think you are right, jealousy seems to be base in insecurity, but envy in resentment, which I consider more dangerous.

thanks once again for your compliments.

ava said...

wow! i hadn´t thought of it... impressive! this is quite a different point of view... in that sense, it should be an evolutive preserved behavior... i don´t know if there is any research on the subject. : O!

Mariana Soffer said...

Good, so you learned something, or at least thought something different. There are several researchers, I used to read different neuroscience, like goleman, shackter and ledoux.The problem is that they might be quite hard to understand. I can think something good to start with for next time.

Stu said...

I'm really enjoying reading your blog - you choose fascinating topics for discussion.

I've added your blog to my blogroll and will keep coming back for more.

Thanks for sparking thought-provoking discussion on my blog also.

Mariana Soffer said...

Thanks a lot, I like what you say about art a lot too (and I do not say this cause what you say).
I wan't to write about art to, but I find it pretty hard, it is so misterious.

Paul Squires said...

Your explanation of the origins of jealousy is very complete. It remains however, in my mind, one of the most toxic of emotions, completely counter-productive in that drives the victim further away and founded and fostered in a desire to own and control.

Mariana Soffer said...

Thank you very much.
Sorry paul, I do not get you, are you talking about the dominant characteristic of a person like hitler? If so I might call that evil, and I do not know if that is an emmotion, but that topic is extremely intresting to me, I have been reading a little about it.
If I did not understood, please let me knw what you meant.

Anonymous said...

Jealousy.... ah, the great green monster...

A decade ago I believed that sex, greed, jealousy were the three great motivators, but where, Young Bryan then, does love fit in? I've grown a bit since those days and I believe that love is at the root of all three, though possibly for the wrong reasons.

I've been in relationships where I haven't reacted as jealous as my partner would have liked... jealousy and lack thereof can cause the same friction.

As a "poet" with a background in psychology, this was a very enjoyable read for me, and very thought provoking, Mariana. As promised I have added you to my links section and will come back again and again now that I've found you.

Paul M. Peterson said...

I have been taking a little time reading your blog since you commented on mine.

I have to say yours is uncommonly intelligent. We seem to fascinated by similar things.

I think this particular post is very insightful. I think you are right that jealousy is an adaptive survival mechanism. It literally originates from the reptilian part of the brain.

Taken to an extreme, though, I believe it can pervert perception into something destructive.

Thank you for this post. I enjoyed it.

Mariana Soffer said...

I doubt that jealousy is a sign or derivated of feeling love.

It seems I am like you, I am/was almost never jealous (does not mean I was always right not to be) and my couples seemed to dislike that. Probably because of their personal insecurities. They need to see the other want's to own them to feel loved or cared for.

Thank you very much for your compliment, and for adding me.

Can you expand your thoughts about love being at the root cause of wrong reasons? It sounds very very interesting, but I do not get it completely.

A pleasure to hear from you.

Anonymous said...

Love in its purest form is a wonderful thing. Love of the wrong things - misdirected love - love of money, too much love of self, love of power - can corrupt. Perhaps these are not love, but lust. Love can be an illusion.

Mariana Soffer said...

TXS mr for the clarification, now I guess I understand what was your idea, what you meant.

JanetK said...

"The thinking is that the emotions systems developed to give us instant solutions to commonly experienced problems in our environment" - Boy I liked this sentence in your post. I have played with the idea (from time to time) that the newer parts of the brain are just sort of 'on-line computers' for the use of the older parts of the brain.
And...thank you for comments to my blog,

Mariana Soffer said...

Janeetk, I am glad you like it, txs for stepping by.

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