JEALOUSY: The Green-Eyed Monster

By Ofer Zur, Ph.D.

“O beware, my lord, of jealousy; it is the green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on.”
Shakespeare, Othello



“Birds do it. Bees do it. Even educated fleas do it.”

These words from a popular Cole Porter song speak of the primitive forces generating romantic love, forces which provide tasty morsels for the perhaps equally powerful appetite, jealousy. That jealous feeling, can exhibit itself as illogical rage, suspicion, the inability to get beyond an infraction, the impulse to hurt the other, or the urge to simply hide.

The traditional-evolutionary theory of jealousy asserts that men’s fear of sexual infidelity grows from their need to insure that the children they support are, indeed, theirs. If jealousy actually does prevent infidelity, then, by being jealous, male partners would be more likely to raise their own children which, under Darwinian theory, is the goal. As for women, their jealousy is grounded in their fear of emotional infidelity. Again, if jealousy actually does prevent infidelity, then women, by their jealous behaviors, could keep their partners loyal, caring, and providing support for them and their children. Between male and female, there are two very powerful, opposing psychological forces at work: for men, it is the fear of inundation and for women, the fear of abandonment.

So the traditional-evolutionary thinking goes. However, can there be other helpful and productive ways of understanding jealousy? Jealousy is an emotion activating, and fed by, love, fear and anger. We are, indeed, familiar with the way in which jealousy can hijack our cognition and activate our fight or flight response. We know it can be destructive, but is jealousy also a teacher, a guide to healing?


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