Please Explain: Jealousy

Friday, October 24, 2008

Jealousy is one of the most basic human experiences; it's even been observed in infants as young as five months old. Find out what jealousy is, what causes it, and why the green-eyed monster can be both destructive and productive. Dr. Maria Legerstee is Professor of Psychology at York University; Dr. Gordon Clanton is Sociology Professor at San Diego State University.

Weigh in: Tell us about your most intense experience with jealousy, and how it affected your life.


Dr. Gordon Clanton and Dr. Maria Legerstee

Comments [19]

Maria Legerstee from York University, Toronto, Canada

Thank you for your interest in the Jealousy Broadcast. The "Handbook of Jealousy" (Hart & Legerstee - editors) published by Wiley-Blackwell is now available in the stores.
Let me comment on some issues many of you brought up:
Jealousy versus envy?
Jealousy is the fear loosing a loved one to someone else (a rival). Thus, jealousy always involves 3 people.
Envy is the emotion you MIGHT feel when you desire something someone else has. Nice blond hair, a nice car, etc. It is dyadic. It involves you and a thing or a person.
Now why is jealousy both productive and destructive.
Productive: Live begins with the development of love for the caretaker (attachment). With it comes the fear of losing this loved one (separation anxiety). Separation anxiety is innate in mammals. With development, infants might notice that the caretaker loves others also, and becomes afraid of loosing this exclusive relationship with the caretaker to a rival (sibling or other caretaker). The immature infant becomes upset (survival instinct). Sensitive caretakers recognize jealousy in their infants, and respond gently and teach infants how to deal with these anxieties. Infants learn how to regulate their emotions. Regulating one's emotions is important for all socio-emotional interactions, not only jealousy. Thus jealousy is not abnormal, it is part of loving others. When one has been shown how to deal with jealous feelings as a child, then one is more likely to deal prosocially and rationally as an adult when in a situation that evokes jealousy. (e.g. perceived or real infidelity). As a result one may protect oneself, and one's family etc..
When is jealousy destructive? When one does not regulate or control ones emotions, erupt in rage, becomes irrational and destructive.

Sep. 06 2010 04:15 PM
DeNeice Kenehan from San Diego

finding comments by Jealous in New York regarding DISTRUST of others very provocative. One of the experts said sometimes jealousy is rational, eg when one's partner has been caught in bed with a lover.

Sep. 04 2009 11:55 AM

Still no mp3 for this segment, 3 days later?

The Lopate Show responds:
Thank you for alerting us to this problem with the audio. We are working to make it available shortly.

Oct. 27 2008 09:17 AM
jealous from new york, nj

Jealousy is a very sad emotion. It permeates your life and destroys you. It is a deep fear of losing a loved one by a perceived third party. When I feel jealous, I feel destroyed and vulnerable and inferior. I belief it originate in childhood and is exacerbated by your life experiences. Unfortunately, I came to realize that even when one learns of its roots, through self-reflection, it is impossible to eradicate this feeling, albeit you're likely to be able to better control it. I strongly disagree with the proposition that jealousy is indicative of a person's insecurity in oneself. Rather, it is a person's lack of faith in others, including the loved one and the third party. One's surrounding, too, play a crucial role in one's jealousy. If one is born into a one-parent family, where one of the parents left the other for a third party, one is more prone to develop this fear of losing a loved one, and thus, be jealous.

Oct. 25 2008 06:28 PM
Elizabeth Faraone from New Jersey

I don't experience jealousy and, while I understand that it is a very real emotion that many people experience, I find that it can be destructive and I wish people didn't have this emotion. Wouldn't it be nice if people simply felt admiration and desired to be similar to what they admire, even if attainment was impossible.

Oct. 24 2008 07:16 PM
anonyme from NY NY

to me jealousy points me to unfelt pain I need to slow down and own up to. And envy is more closely akin to coveting, again, some perceievd lack to have a look at. No audio? Great topic.

Oct. 24 2008 05:30 PM
RD from Brooklyn

also, hjs, from your earlier comment,

"jealousy is fueled by insecurity in one's relationship," I would think it'd be more on the range that we were agreeing?

Oct. 24 2008 02:13 PM
RD from Brooklyn

wow, hjs, aggression much?

People who have open relationships also have deep, intimate, loving relationships of every kind. It was not meant to devalue any other group, but as a musing on the topic.

Oct. 24 2008 02:11 PM
hjs from 11211

or maybe they don't care as much about the other person in their life, because their only concern is their own selfish happiness?

Oct. 24 2008 02:00 PM
Amy from Manhattan

Friends of mine had 3 cats, & then they had a baby. The next time I came for a visit, the youngest cat, who had always been very shy, hurtled herself onto the couch as soon as I sat down, curled up against me, & looked up at me as if to say, "*You'll* pay attention to me, *won't* you?"

Oct. 24 2008 01:53 PM
RD from Brooklyn

I find it really interesting that we're not discussing people who choose to have open relationships. In Pat Califia's Public Sex," Califia discusses that jealousy is normal, but it how you act (in this case or not) on those feelings. (Though I may not agree with everything Califia states in the book, I find this point very useful and interesting).

I find perhaps in communities that aren't so focused on the status quo (queer communities, for example), this option in relationships seems more viable, accepted and common. (And that people are willing to "work on" that kind of relationship and examine the relationship to jealousy and romance/intimacy in a positive, healthy way.

Oct. 24 2008 01:47 PM
Maria from Brooklyn

As a competitive person who has regularly experienced both envy and jealousy, I've come to differentiate them as follows:

envy = when someone else has something that you do not have, and that you desire (focus of feeling is on the 'thing')

jealousy = when you feel anger or hatred or wish harm to someone, because they have something that you do not have (focus of feeling is on the person)

And along those lines, it has happened to me more than once, that whatever was envied at first, often turns out to be no big deal after all!

Oct. 24 2008 01:46 PM
Tamara from Bronx

The guest referenced the past, when people didn't have "more than one sex partner" or didn't experience jealousy because they couldn't "imagine" "fooling around." Have the following comments about those notions:

1) Seems only to tie jealousy to sexual/romantic infidelity.
2) Refers to a mythical and false past in which people were more "pure" "moral" or "faithful." Smells like the myth about the 1950s to me. I suspect that underlying that is the sexism that women were more faithful.
History and human relations are much longer than that, as jealousy, sexual infidelity etc. are as well.

Oct. 24 2008 01:45 PM
Hugh from Brewster, NY

My understanding of the difference between jealousy and envy are much the same as your caller Hank.

When I studied philosophy, I was taught the difference between jealousy and envy was simple in that jealousy was you wanting to have what another has, but that in envy you also wanted what the other has, but that in envy unlike jealousy you would rather other did not have what you want if you can not have it as well.

Therefore, the baseball players could be jealous on the salary of another and would be satiosifed if they got the same salary, but if they would rather the other player not have the salary if they did not have that salary as well then it would be envy not jelousy.

Importantly, unlike what your guests are saying, jealousy and envy can both be dyadic or even triadic if the object of desire was another person.

Oct. 24 2008 01:42 PM
hjs from 11211

jealousy is fueled by insecurity in one's relationship

Oct. 24 2008 01:25 PM
Noah from NYC

put another way ... friends used to tell me if I really doubted my partner's fidelity, it was best to do the fantastic and approach the supossed lover; it dispels the tendency to blame the other in the partner's stead, the idea being the lover and the jealous/envious partner are unwittingly pitted against one another.

Oct. 24 2008 01:21 PM
Micheal from Manhattan

Wrong! I do not feel jealous, and I see the preoccupation with jealousy as a cultural thing . And thus you get opinions voiced like the man being interviewed.
I was raised in a non western cultural where romantic jealousy is not as acute because of the belief in the freedom of others and a lack of desire to "possess " and "own" others. To this day I believe if you realy love some one liek Sting says "You set them Free" as their benefit is your primary goal. In my own family I have also noticed that I felt no jealousy about my siblings in competition for parental love as well.
I was too much in love with my mom to worry about "who she loved more".

Oct. 24 2008 01:15 PM
Noah from NYC

Isn't some of what you're parsing out here the distinction between jealousy and *envy*? my understanding is as a culture we tend to abuse the use of the term 'jealously' (in romantic contexts) when really we mean envy (wanting something to the exclusion of someone else having it).

Oct. 24 2008 01:15 PM
susy from manhattan

I heard a great and useful quote once,
'Jealousy is not a kind friend, but it is a loyal one.'

This was immediately followed by the notion that when you feel jealousy, you should take it as a trusted (if indirect) cue, which can help you determine what you really want in life.

Oct. 24 2008 01:15 PM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.