What Can Jealousy Teach You? Part 2
There's more to be said about jealousy.
Posted March 6, 2011
A reader wanted more about jealousy, noting that although her partner doesn't flirt, she's "always feeling old and unattractive." Since people are unique, any assumptions I would make about her situation would be highly speculative. However, there is more to be said about jealousy in this regard.
As described in my previous blog, jealousy is triggered as a result of a third party threatening the bond you have with another person. As with all emotions, jealousy provides you with an appraisal of your experience through the feelings and thoughts it creates, and gives you the potential to take action. Like other emotions, when jealousy is triggered you place it in the context of your current concerns. If your self-evaluation falls short of who you want to be, then an expectation of experiencing jealously, and it being triggered unnecessarily, certainly fits that context.
Many situations can evoke emotions that feel like the experience of anxiety and sense of loss that come with jealousy: a job or a part in a play that is "taken away" by someone else whom you believe was evaluated by an admired decision-maker as possessing more of whatever quality you may think you are lacking. There are unlimited reasons why you might lose out when certain decisions are made, and finding a reason for them is a human inclination. Yet it's not unusual, and it is easy, to justify a loss with reasoning that involves jealousy-evoked self-denigration.
Since jealousy involves the fear of losing someone or something based on a comparison you have with a third party, it can serve as a target for your own assumptions that are erroneous to begin with. In this case, a belief that you fall short of what you might conceive as being your "ideal self" is repeatedly validated if your behavior with a partner involves the negative comparison of yourself with a third party. Your own assumption that a partner will prefer the other person devalues yourself. If an objective evaluation of the appropriateness of your jealous response to the situation tells you that you are possibly off base, then you may want to take a look at the ideals you hold for yourself. Essentially, it is important to recognize when painful feelings from negative self-evaluation are attributed to a partner who, you imagine, prefers someone else.
Assumptions can seem real and plausible. The outside is visible and tangible compared to your inner life, so it's easy to engage others in your struggle with yourself. In the case of jealousy, you might attribute to a partner your own thought that another person is more worthy of your partner's interest than you are. What quality does the third party have that you (not your partner) admire? The process involved in a jealous comparison may simply be a way in which you externally present yourself with a measure of who you are against your own ideal--your wishful concept of yourself. Therefore, what you really want is to be admired in the way in which you admire, and imagine your partner admiring, the other person.
Jealousy makes it easier for you to externalize the problem; blaming others so you won't blame yourself. Assuming that the alluring personal attributes of a third party are to blame for a potential loss obscures one's own painful feelings of inferiority or inadequacy. Unfortunately, the attribution of failure to outside forces will always lead to feeling as though one is a victim. And degrading the offending third party, or your partner, is usually a hollow mask.
In contrast, I am intrigued by what I often see narcissistic personalities do in order to protect self-interest when they are jealous. Rather than consciously grapple with the inclination to fall short and negatively self-evaluate, they instead are capable of elevating themselves. Rather than express vulnerability when confronted with a rival, they exert control through seductive interest in their partner and rapid self-improvement. Such behavior is possibly highly adaptive because it often works to preserve a bond.
As far as evolution is concerned, the emotion of jealousy would likely be extinguished if people did not crave love and attachment and want to protect their ties to another person. At the same time, misunderstanding what leads one person to attach to another creates further confusion about the potential for loss of love. But love is a subject for a subsequent blog. In the meantime, the emotion of envy will come next.
For more information regarding my books about emotions: http://www.marylamia.com
This blog is in no way intended as a substitute for medical or psychological counseling. If expert assistance or counseling is needed, the services of a competent professional should be sought.