The Green-eyed Monster in Fact and Fiction

The green-eyed monster in the movie Precious hits hard.

Posted Dec 03, 2009

It takes up residence in the pit of your stomach and gnaws away at your heart. It lurks behind the false smile you plaster on your face in front of friends and relatives. It breathes fire into your potential happiness and dissipates it into steam. As Iago warned Othello, "It is the green-ey'd monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on."

The recent movie "Precious" is a story that hinges on the jealousy of a mother who believes her young daughter stole "her man" from her. The fact that a 16-year-old girl, pregnant for the second time by her father, was sexually abused by him from the time she was a young child, was irrelevant to the family dynamic. Mary, the mother, could only feel rage and resentment about losing his love to her child. Mary's fear of losing him prevented her from stopping the abuse.

In fairy tales, the villain is frequently the stepmother, whose desire to win the husband/father's affection is the motivation for her cruelty. She is the wicked woman who gives Snow White the poisoned apple, the one who keeps Cinderella in rags and won't let her go to the ball. The girl who is seen as a threat is given the most demeaning work possible and treated like dirt, much as Mary makes Precious feel worthless in the movie. As added cruelty, Mary force-feeds Precious, hoping her overly abundant fat will keep her father/lover away.

The reason jealousy is such a pervasive theme in fiction is because it is so pervasive in our lives. When I saw "Precious," it triggered memories and emotions in me about my mother's coldness, the cruelty that stemmed from her jealousy of me-the young girl who had stolen her husband's affections. Jealousy is a combination of fear and anger-my mother's fear that my father preferred me to her as a sexual partner, and anger at me for seducing her man. As if a two-year-old had plotted her mother's downfall. Like Mary, my mother did nothing to stop the abuse.

Even when the sexual aspect of our relationship ceased when I was a young teen, the ingrained need to please my father didn't go away. He was my best hope of receiving love. He wanted a lawyer to follow in his footsteps; I complied. My mother's jealousy was unabated.

Beware the green-eyed monster. Jealousy kills love. It made Cain murder Abel. It can murder your happiness.

Psychologist often distinguish between jealousy-the desire to keep what one has-and envy, the desire for what someone else has. Jealousy fears loss, envy longs for what it doesn't have. But in fact we feel both in much the same way. And both hinge on not being happy with ourselves as we are. As the writer Joan Didion said, "To cure jealousy is to see it for what it is, a dissatisfaction with self."

Find your own truth, acknowledge what it is you're really jealous about, and you will find the road that leads to true happiness.