What are the real causes of jealousy?

Over time people have seen jealousy as a love proof. But this feeling has little to do with love, but rather with one’s own insecurities, fear of abandonment, of rejection, lack of self-confidence, the tendency to be anxious, emotional instability, low self-esteem, dependence on the partner, possessiveness,  as well as an anxious attachment style.

Jealousy comes in various ways when we feel a real or imaginary threat to a relationship we value. A third person is likely to deprive us of our love "object". Then we can become angry, agitated, sad and we feel betrayed, lonely, helpless, excluded, aggrieved.

Although this feeling is a negative one, from an evolutionary point of view, jealousy is a coping mechanism to those factors that threaten the integrity of a relationship in order to prevent emotional or material loss. For a woman, man's infidelity represented less resources for her and her children, which was a threat to their own survival. For a man, woman's infidelity represented an uncertain paternity that could have as a consequence allocating resources to offspring that weren’t his. So, being closely related to the reproductive interest, jealousy in women is more about emotional infidelity, fearing that the man will leave them or will give the resources to another woman, and the jealousy manifested by men is more related to sexual infidelity, fearing that they’ll have to raise another’s man children.

Regardless of this aspect, jealousy means fear for both sexes. Fear of  losing control over the person who meets our needs, fear of loneliness, fear of change. Becoming aware and recognising these fears is a first step in changing our vision of jealousy. Thus, from a love proof jealousy transforms  into a reflection of one's own insecurity that betrays our feelings of inadequacy. We don’t feel good enough, we doubt our own desirability. Instead of recognizing our insecurities, which are the true causes of our jealousy, we blame our partner. If possible, we would want our partner to be locked in a crystal bubble that only we have access to, to track and control each step they make. Because for the jealous person is more important to be loved in the way they imagine than to love, even if this can mean their partner subjugation, a need to all their desires to be satisfied, control, and the attempt to turn him/her into a dependent and insecure person.

There are people who are doing their best to isolate their partners from the rest of the world just because they fear that if they are free they will lose them. People who manipulate, emotionally blackmail, abuse, use aggression and violence, forbid, control. Because they have a fragile ego and they are insecure. Because they become easily jealous and they justify their behaviors claiming that jealousy is a love proof or that they care. No, if you love someone and you care for them, you encourage them to do what makes them happy even if this doesn’t coincide with your selfish interests.

When we are jealous, we tend to react instinctively, to lose our reason as if we returned to ancestral times when our own survival was threatened. To overcome these moments easier, we need to realize why are we afraid and what can we do to overcome the situation. Do we have the right to chain another being because of our own insecurities? What is the purpose of a relationship where we feel the need to control and spy on our partner? And more than that, what does this say about us?

Wouldn’t it be wiser to avoid the situations that could create false suspicions? Why do we feel the need to search their phone or check their e-mail? Why do we want to find out their Facebook password? When we set our mind upon the fact that something is wrong, we will surely find evidence to confirm it because our attention will be focused precisely on those aspects. We will come to see common situations as proof of the fact that we are right. We'll pull them to pieces to confirm our suspicions. We’ll find new and new reasons to worry that will make us monitor our partner more and more, remaining stuck in this vicious circle of jealousy.

Why couldn’t we instead focus our attention on our personal development, do our best to become more confident? Learn to recognize our true problems and try to solve them? Become those people who don’t depend on others’ approval and affection? Why couldn’t we instead get to the point where we want a relationship, but we don’t need it. To be able to say "I choose to be with you, not because I can’t live without you, not because my life wouldn’t make any sense without you, but because I respect and appreciate you, you add value to my life and I want you to be my companion, as long as you want."

And why, when we feel jealous, can’t we talk to our partner about it? Let's not delude ourselves that he/she doesn’t realize it. Perhaps our sarcasm, anger, hostility, or the desire to spite them will give ourselves away. Couldn’t we just explain to our partner what we feel and try to find a solution? It’s important to be able to communicate openly and honestly with our partner even if we feel insecure and jealous and be willing to listen to them without hurrying to judge or become defensive.

Otherwise, our repressed feelings sooner or later will come to the surface.

Jealousy is like a two-edged knife. We get angry enough to wish for revenge, but by everything we do we harm ourselves. Tracking, phone tapping, threats, blackmail, sleepless nights, quarrels and scandals, resentment only to conclude that "he/she wasn’t worthy of my love," or "he/she didn’t deserve anything I gave him/her." As much as things can change in a relationship over time, this change is due to both partners. Yes, it's easier to blame our partner, or even a third person, but not our partner is responsible for what we feel. Jealousy is in fact a way of drawing our attention to the real problems within us - what fears and needs aren’t we willing to face?

And if our jealousy is "justified" and our partner is really cheating on us, why would we want to make everything possible, at the cost of our health and integrity, to bring them back? Why would we want to live with a person whom, moreover, we despise? For our great love has turned into a cocktail of negative emotions. Just to teach them a lesson, to punish them? Whom do we actually punish? And with our feelings of inadequacy and guilt what do we do? Because, yes, in a way we think that if we were "perfect," none of this would have happened. And we feel guilty because we are not the way we imagine we have to be. If our partner is attracted to another person, it’s our fault that we aren’t "perfect", and the relationship must be a failure. And if we think our partner is attracted to someone else because we aren’t good enough, we will certainly feel jealous.

Stop blaming yourself for this and stop looking for others to blame. Sometimes things change, and it would be wiser to accept that things we don’t want to happen can happen. We can learn from every painful experience and the very lack of acceptance is the first source of our suffering. We can’t accept what we can’t really change. This fact causes us so much trouble, sleepless nights, we make vain efforts and careful plans to return to a state that no longer exists and which we can no longer rebuild simply because "we want it" or because we feel that’s right. If you want a monogamous relationship, but your partner doesn’t, maybe it's time to think that you would be more compatible with someone who has the same vision of relationships as yours.

And if we believe that our relationship is based on respect, trust and love, but our partner is always lying to us, maybe we should take a second look at the reality. If we always feel insecure, if our partner's actions don’t coincide with their words, any minor thing can trigger us feelings of jealousy.

Normal jealousy and pathological jealousy

 As there is a normal jealousy that involves  the fear of losing our loved one, there is also a pathological jealousy characterized by the permanent feeling that you are being cheated on.

Pathological jealousy is differentiated from normal jealousy by its intensity and by the exaggerated, unjustified and irrational emotional and behavioral responses. In the case of delusional jealousy, there is a first phase of suspicion where the jealous person may appraise minor occurrences as evidence of infidelity, a banal fact turning into a real catastrophe. With time, these suspicions transform into the firm conviction that they are being cheated on.

The jealous person seeks this evidence by invading their partner's personal space and by holding them responsible for what he/she imagines has happened. Their behaviors are often violent and the scandals exist on a daily basis. Their thoughts are dominated by uncertainties, fear and paranoia, they create scenarios in their mind about the so-called infidelity, and they imagine how they can take revenge. The partner is often forced to reassure the jealous one that they’re wrong, but nothing seems to calm them, resisting with great difficulty the impulse to spy and interrogate. With time their anxiety increases in intensity becoming uncontrollable and obsessive. People from the past or former lovers also give them unjustified reasons of jealousy.

In the case of normal jealousy, when a person thinks that there may be a threat to their relationship, they become suspicious, and anxiety and insecurity, the difficulty of focusing on other aspects, the concern for their partner having another relationship, imagining them in this situation are the main manifestations of this form of jealousy. If indeed the threat is real and "the harm has already been done" the person feels predominantly sadness, anger and pain.

There is also what is called preventive jealousy, when there is no threat to the relationship, but the person adopts certain behaviors precisely to prevent it from occurring. Considerable efforts are being made to control and influence their partner's behavior, for example, to prevent them from contacting certain people.

In the case of self-generated jealousy, the person is obsessively thinking of the possibility of being cheated on and begins to imagine events and situations in which their partner is unfaithful, thus becoming extremely worried and anxious.

There are situations when the person becomes jealous "out of spite" even if he/she is no longer interested in his/her partner and there is no more intimacy and affection between the two, as there are situations where the person feels jealous, angry or upset thinking about former relationships of his/her partner.

It’s important to trust our partner if we want our relationship to work. In the end what choice do we have? If we try to control things on which we really have no control, we become like prison guards, and then where is the joy of living with each other? We must also learn to have confidence in ourselves, to respect and value ourselves. Let us heal our wounds from previous relationships and realize that sometimes we become jealous because we have been betrayed in the past and somehow we expect this to happen again. Let's see if our current fears are just projections of the past.

And last but not least, what we can do is to develop a better emotional self-control. If we allow negative emotions to control us without understanding what their true cause is and without doing anything to achieve a certain balance, we’ll act impulsively and we’ll often regret our actions. As I’ve said before, even if it would be simpler to blame others for what we feel and live, let's not forget that this responsibility always belongs to us.

In the end, whether we are talking about jealousy or whether we are talking about other emotions we have, they come from within us, they are created by our minds, and it also depends on us understanding and managing them.

We always have the key.

Dr. Ursula Sandner



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