Why Is Jealousy a Killer Emotion?

Updated on June 18, 2019
Seeker7 profile image

Helen is from Fife, Scotland and writes on emotions and self-reflection.

This work by Angelo Bronzino depicts an enraged, potentially jealous subject.
This work by Angelo Bronzino depicts an enraged, potentially jealous subject. | Source

Jealousy, that dragon which slays love under the pretence of keeping it alive.

— Havelock Ellis

Jealousy Is the Most Negative of Emotions

Families have been ripped apart, long term friendships ended forever, nations have gone to war and murder has been committed—all because of the emotion we call jealousy. This peculiar sensation has caused so much havoc throughout human history that great artists and authors have used it as the main theme in some of their greatest works.

If we're being honest most of us have felt at least a little pang of jealousy once in a while and it's a natural instinct to have. However, although most of us can shrug it off and move on, for many people this isn't the case. Jealousy can become so serious it can literally eat away at a person until there is nothing left but a dark, obsessive shell.

What is jealousy?

Dictionary.com's summarised definition of jealousy is:

1. Feeling resentment against someone because of that person's rivalry, success or advantages. Characterised by or proceeding from suspicious fears or resentment.
2. Inclined to or troubled by suspicions or fears of rivalry, unfaithfulness etc.

Although the dictionary definition seems to be straightforward, the emotion of jealousy as we shall see is very complex. There is also a difference between jealousy and envy. Relationships expert and author, Melanie Tonia Evans describes jealousy and envy as:

  • Jealousy - refers to a fear of losing something we have to another person.
  • Envy - refers to wishing we had something that another person has.

It's when these emotions get to abnormal and pathological levels that they can become dangerous not only to a friendship or relationship but even life itself.

Psychologist Shauna Springer (Ph.D.), believes that jealousy that is destructive comes from deep-rooted insecurity and lack of self-esteem. Not only are individuals who are consumed with jealousy likely to damage themselves but also the people they love. Further, there are other extreme forms of jealousy where 'possession' is the overriding factor. In these cases the person doesn't nurture the relationship, but has an overwhelming need to control it at all costs.

When people suffer from this level of jealousy not only do their thoughts become intense and unhealthy but they're frequently reflected in their actions. Suspicion, accusations, threats, control, spying and even loyalty tests are factors used by the jealous person to try to allay their fears about losing someone they love. In fact what these irrational fears do is drive their partner or friend away. This becomes a vicious circle as the jealous person becomes even more fearful and insecure leading to further jealousy. It's also not uncommon for a jealous person to do the opposite of outward action and words. Many will actually withdraw, becoming sullen and resentful and this is also destructive for a relationship.

Extreme jealousy can also make people feel ill with anxiety, stress, insomnia, loss of appetite, obsessive thoughts, irritability and even at times contemplating or even attempting suicide.

Even the deepest love can be destroyed very quickly because of jealousy
Even the deepest love can be destroyed very quickly because of jealousy | Source

Jealousy in the Media

Classic Fueds
1. Marilyn Monroe - the beautiful but tragic actress was at one time so jealous of screen rival Elizabeth Taylor, that Monroe arranged to do a nude photo shoot to boost her popularity.
2. The longest running jealousy feud in Hollywood was between two screen goddesses - Betty Davis and Joan Crawford. The rivalry lasted for 30 years!

It is not love that is blind, but jealousy.

— Lawrence Durrell

Jealousy Starts at a Very Early Age

Jealousy isn't an emotion that suddenly erupts as we get a little bit older, you can observe it between siblings from a very young age. In addition, there are also different types of jealousy:

  • Sibling rivalry. This is a common form of family jealousy. It can affect all ages and different members of the family. The emotions may be felt by a child when they believe for example that parents give more attention or praise to a brother/sister. This emotion can also be roused when a child thinks they are being compared unfavourably to a sibling and so on.
  • Workplace jealousy. Jealousy in the workplace is not uncommon and is often observed between colleagues in similar job positions. If one worker receives positive feedback from the boss while the other employee feels like they deserved credit as well, problems with jealousy can arise. It can also be created when, what seems like, a perfect employee is working in the area. These people appear to be super efficient and confident giving rise to deep insecurity and lack of confidence by other employees. Jealousy can also be on a much more personal level, such as being jealous of a work colleague who always manages to dress well, look great, is very popular and so on.
  • Romantic jealousy. Romantic jealousy can be experienced in long-term or short-term relationships. If a person perceives that their partner is giving too much attention to someone else this can create negative feelings. This doesn't have to be in a romantic way either. People have been known to become jealous of a partner spending time with their parents, sister, brother friend and so on. Some experts argue that a little jealousy in a relationship adds a little spice to it. However, not all professionals agree and argue that in a good relationship with high levels of communication, jealousy shouldn't be felt.
  • Platonic jealousy. This is a form of jealousy that is seen in friendships. It's similar to romantic jealousy in that these emotions are roused if a person believes another is replacing them in their friend's affections. Additionally, a jealous person may feel this emotion-stirring when they perceive that a friend is paying too much attention to someone else. Jealousy can also be created if two friends are attracted to the same person.

Jealousy won't keep a relationship together, it will destroy it.
Jealousy won't keep a relationship together, it will destroy it. | Source
One of the ways to cope with jealousy or envy is to acknowledge that it is a problem.
One of the ways to cope with jealousy or envy is to acknowledge that it is a problem. | Source

When Does Jealousy Become Dangerous?

Having a little jealousy is the norm for many people and does no real harm. However, when these emotions lead to irrational thoughts and actions, then jealousy has become pathological. In some cases the emotion has become so deeply routed that it can be dangerous.

For example, in a relationship, people with normal jealous emotions only tend to feel this way when they have concrete evidence that a partner has been cheating on them. People who are abnormally jealous are preoccupied with their partner's infidelity and other activities whether the partner is actually unfaithful or not. This often leads to unacceptable and extreme behaviour and reactions. It is not uncommon for an abnormally jealous partner to secretly look through their partner's personal items and mail looking for 'evidence'. As stated in 'Advances' psychiatric magazine, by authors Michael Kingham and Harvey Gordon:

"...morbidly jealous individuals interpret conclusive evidence of infidelity from irrelevant occurrences, refuse to change their beliefs even in the face of conflicting information, and tend to accuse the partner of infidelity with many others..." (Vauhkonen, 1968).

It is at this stage that the partner being accused may feel they have to end the relationship due to tension and conflicts.

Jealousy... is a mental cancer.

— B. C. Forbes

When a person's jealousy begins to take over their thoughts and actions to the point of obsession then this emotion can become dangerous for all those involved. It can literally turn people mad. Obsessive thoughts are irrational but tend to spill out into equally irrational behaviour. In very severe cases the jealous person is compelled to take 'revenge' on the people they love. You will often hear in news reports about a woman killing her ex-fiance/lover/husband; a man killing his wife, girlfriend and so on. Most of these people are not monsters, but their jealousy has risen to such an explosive pitch that they have lost the ability to think clearly or control themselves and their actions.

Jealousy can take many forms but is always destructive.
Jealousy can take many forms but is always destructive. | Source

Have you ever experienced jealousy to the extent that it has ruined a relationship or friendship?

See results

Tips for Managing Jealousy

Most people usually manage their jealous emotions quite well and keep them under control. However, if you feel that jealousy is a problem for you then below are some tips suggested by qualified psychologists that may help:

  • If you are a person who does have strong jealous emotions, first of all, don't get a hang-up about it and think that you are a bad person—you're not. Jealousy remember is a normal emotion. So first step accept that you are jealous but that you want to move on to a more positive level.
  • Give yourself time to think through your feelings and thoughts. Be as truthful with yourself as you can. Don't try to force envy or jealousy away. This usually only makes you feel worse.
  • Think through the situation that is making you feel jealous—a relationship, a lost promotion at work, someone you think is prettier, more handsome, luckier or more popular than you. Firstly, remember that most jealous feelings come from a lack of self-esteem and insecurity. Find your weak link - is it lack of confidence in your ability, your looks, your popularity or another area of your life? Then begin to make a plan on how you can improve this situation. There are numerous ways you can try–many of them free–on how to build self-esteem and personal ability. Focus on your positive aspects and build on these.
  • Learn to accept that there are somethings in life that are unfair and that you won't always get what you want. Instead of wasting your energies on jealousy or envy, focus on other pursuits and projects. Remember, where one door closes another one always opens—especially when you make opportunities for yourself.
  • Try and remember that jealous actions on your part will never get a boyfriend, partner or friend back. Jealousy always drives people away.
  • If you feel you need further support with your emotions or confidence/self-esteem, then speak to a counsellor or psychologist. They will be able to give you in-depth understanding and help for your problem.

Emotions are a natural part of all of us and we need them to experience life to the full. Problems arise when one or more emotions override our common sense. Jealousy has the potential to ruin not only relationships but the good times in life by controlling thoughts in a negative and destructive way. However, jealousy is not all powerful and with a little thought and effort, it is possible to break away from its strangle hold.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 Helen Murphy Howell


Submit a Comment
  • Say Yes To Life profile image

    Yoleen Lucas 

    4 years ago from Big Island of Hawaii

    I've found the best way to deal with jealousy is to tell the person you're jealous of them. Whenever I've done this, they nearly always respond with what is going on behind the scenes, and that kills my jealousy cold dead.

    Example: a friend of mine who is a caregiver was supposed to inherit over a million dollars from one of her clients. Sure, I felt jealous. She told me about "The Secret", and I read the book and watched the video on YouTube to see if I could attract that amount of money. What happened was, the "inheritance" turned out to be bull$hi+, so there was no need to be jealous after all. However, she moved back to the South where she could live cheaply off her investments - and I learned some valuable lessons from her!

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    7 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi Kitty - lovely to hear from you and I hope things are well in the land of Tir na Nog! Glad that you enjoyed the hub - and yes we're all prone to jealousy at some time in our lives, but luckily can put it behind us!

  • kittythedreamer profile image

    Kitty Fields 

    7 years ago from Summerland

    Really great information on jealousy, as always. I've found myself being jealous from time to time...but it's not a normal occurrence any longer as I am very grateful for what I have in my life right now. Thanks! Blessings.

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    7 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi VirginiaLynne - as always lovely to hear from you. It is interesting that we do have jealousies outside our romantic side of life but I agree, it's not something we really think about until we read about it or it's brought to our attention in some other way.

    I think with siblings that most of them go through a phase where they do get jealous, even when the relationships is very close. Like your two daughters, two of my nieces who are sisters, were always close. However a couple of years ago when Zoe was about 8 years and Shaughnney had just started high school, Zoe went through an awful phase of being really jealous of her sister. Thankfully after a few months it did start to pass and now they are as close as they were previously. But imagine if you had this horrible emotion and you couldn't control it or it didn't pass away? It must be an awful to have to try and deal with feelings of jealousy and other people of course will find it unpleasant as well.

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    7 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi K56! As always, lovely to hear from you and glad that you enjoyed the hub - many thanks for the vote up, always greatly appreciated!

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    7 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi Rebecca, many thanks for stopping by and glad that you enjoyed the hub! I think if we can keep jealousy at bay it's not only good news for other folks, but is healthy on a personal level as well. I've never seen any incident where jealousy got anyone anything apart from grief.

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    7 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    MsLofton, many thanks for stopping by and glad that you enjoyed the hub!

    Your job as a Domestic Violence Advocate is a very important and worthwhile one - I assume that it must be a very difficult job as well - so I'm glad that you found the hub interesting and yes, I can imagine that you would unfortunately see a lot of jealousy with the work that you do. I agree also, it can lead to murder and that is always a sad ending for both!

  • VirginiaLynne profile image

    Virginia Kearney 

    7 years ago from United States

    Terrific Hub about such a common emotion. I hadn't really thought about jealousy and how often we actually have that emotion in situations outside of romantic relationships. I especially like the fact that you said sometimes people who are jealous act out in other ways. My two 10 year old girls who have been like twins since they met when we adopted one of them from China (at one year) are now having trouble with jealousy with one another. One of my favorite children's books is "You are All my Favorites." It is true! But sometimes hard to believe!

  • kashmir56 profile image

    Thomas Silvia 

    7 years ago from Massachusetts

    Hi Helen great hub and so true, and i liked all the self-help tips on managing jealousy. Well done !

    Vote up and more !!!

  • rebeccamealey profile image

    Rebecca Mealey 

    7 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

    What an awesome article on jealousy. It is a beneficial read for everyone and a reminder to keep that destructive green-eyed monster away!

  • MsLofton profile image


    7 years ago from IL

    Great Hub! Being a domestic violence advocate, I see far too many cases of jealously being an emotion that is very hard for people to control. Not only is it a killer emotion but it is an emotion that leads to killing unfortunately. I agree with you that Jealously starts when we are young.


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