05 January 2009

Is Jealousy Healthy?

Jealousy has been called "love's curse." It's the emotion you feel toward a rival who si winning something you have or counted on getting - usually the love, attention, or respect of someone you care about. Jealousy can be aroused by an object symbolizing love - like an heirloom left to one sister, with no equal bequest to the other.

But jealousy also flares when affection isn't involved. What we call jealousy really is a cluster of distressing emotional reactions. to loss or threat od loss to a rival.

If jealousy is about loss, envy -- its twin -- is about gain: how much we want what someone else has and fear that we can't get it. People's biggest misconception about jealousy is that it's a sign of love. Total absence of jealousy in someone we love, in fact, may suggest the person doesn't value us enough.

However, loving someone means, among other things, wanting that person to be happy and fulfilled. Yet extremely jealous people are not able to handle that. They tend to feel threatened if their partners or close friends become successful or self-sufficient.

"Jealousy is not a barometer by which the depth of love can be read, it merely records the degree of the lover's insecurity," wrote Margaret Mead. The greater insecurity, the greater the possessiveness and suspicion, as Darwin did, that jealousy is genetically programmed into humans as survival mechanism. For instance, helpless infants need to be jealous of anything that diverts mother's attention. Social behavioral psychologists tend to believe that jealous reactions are largely learned. Whatever their origins, moderate feelings of jealousy can be useful if dealt with rationally.

Jealousy can motivate us to change and grow. We can use it to spot areas in our life or relationships that need improvement. Jealousy "occurs because we see ourselves as having less to give than the object of our jealousy," writes Buscaglia. "Jealousy diminishes only when we regain a feeling of worth and self-respect." The key: make sure whatever you're doing is primarily for your own satisfaction and self-esteem, not to undermine a rival or elicit a reaction from a third person.

"Life with a jealous person is a like continually walking through a mine field, fearful of taking the wrong step," writes marital and family therapist Rober L. Barker, Ph. D., in the Green-Eyed Marriage (The Free Press). One must justify normal behavior, such as greeting an attractive neighbor; avoid the wrong companion; try not to do the unexpected, such as coming home late from work. Life gets narrower untel the jealous partner is practically the only one in it.

Dr. Barker recommendations: help the jealous person feel more self-confident and confident about the relationship by being attentive and by showing a desire to spend time with him or her; clarify what both partners think is tolerable and intolerable behavior; and make frequent references to being together in the future. Finally, one is in a much stronger position if always truthful with the jealous person.
(by Barbara Lang Stern)

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