Jealousy is a complicated emotion and one you experience when you feel your relationship is under threat. It’s an age-old concept and was even mentioned in the bible where (depending on which version you’re reading) it either compared to a cancer or you’re warned that it will rot your bones. But, is jealousy a beast and can it be tamed?
You can thank Shakespeare for the literary notion of it as a green-eyed monster. He first mentioned it in The Merchant of Venice (1596); and again in Othello (1604) but culturally, the term itself has probably been around for a lot longer than that.
Jealousy occurs in all cultures around the world, regardless of their ideas on relationships.
Scientists have even identified the area of the brain responsibly for it – it’s the same part of the frontal lobe that detects real, physical pain, which is possibly why jealousy hurts so much.
As an emotion, however, it can twist you into so much more than a green-eyed monster. It can make you a ruthless tyrant, a tantrum-throwing child, a paranoid schemer and much, much more.
Jealousy shouts and accuses, plots and sulks and clings and rejects in equal measure; Jealousy then is a human being who is holding some very irrational beliefs about the relationship they are in.
Hardly surprising though, as love is not the most rational of emotions.
Most therapies make a distinction between healthy (or rational) and unhealthy (or irrational) jealousy. Both emotions are concerned with a possible threat to your relationship.
But, what’s the difference? After all, if you are in a relationship with someone you love and are concerned that they are paying too much attention to another, or that another is paying too much attention to them, is it not quite natural to be worried?
However, it’s how you view that worry and how you deal with it that matters.
Typically, the irrationally jealous think and act in ways that has their partners treading on eggshells. They feel insecure both about themselves and their relationship and see threats (usually imagined) to it everywhere. They feel that things are forever teetering on the brink, hear sexual and romantic overtones in the most ordinary and everyday of conversations, vividly construct images of their partner’s cheating and will descend like the wrath of heaven if their other half should so much as admit to a passing attraction to someone else.
As a result, the unhealthily jealous often indulge in all sorts of wonderfully frantic behaviours: seeking constant reassurance that they are loved; assessing their partner’s every thought, feeling and behaviour; monitoring (and even restricting) their partner’s movements; looking for evidence of cheating and usually looking for it in places that (morally speaking) they should not be looking, to name but a few.
The healthily jealous, if you’ll pardon the pun, are a much more relaxed affair. They tend not to see threat’s around each and every corner (or at each and every party), feel secure in both themselves and their relationships, do not misconstrue the ordinary conversations that their other half has, aren’t constructing vivid images of their loved one bonking everything that moves, and accept (albeit grudgingly, sometimes), that they do indeed find other people attractive.
As a result, the healthily jealous do not seek constant reassurance, do not assess their partner’s thoughts and feelings, and do not monitor or restrict their movements – in short, they free their partner up to be themselves.
Also, you can usually trust the healthily jealous person to not hack into your email account or set a private eye on your tail.
In short, healthy jealousy can help you to maintain your relationship, whilst unhealthy jealousy will rip it to pieces.
Thankfully, if you’re suffering from the latter, both cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) and hypnotherapy can help.
Both will help steer you away from being the vengeful accuser who has gone through each and every text and email in your partner’s smartphone, and more towards being someone that can help them pick more flattering clothes to wear at those work dos you can’t attend.
And the recipient of the healthy jealousy is often a much more relaxed, loving and thoughtful person in return, perhaps reminding all concerned of that old adage, “If you love somebody let them go, for if they return they were always yours. And, if they don’t, they never were.”
The green-eyed monster can never be slain, but it can be controlled.