Commentary by Dr. Ursula A. Falk

Jealousy:  Its Roots, Its Meaning


Jealousy is an emotion and refers to “the negative thoughts and feelings of insecurity, fear and anxiety over an anticipated loss of something” or someone.  The individual who is thus plagued fears that another is more important, smarter, has more, is a better lover, prettier, richer, more desired, can afford more, is a more desirable person, and much more.  We can see this in the biblical story of Cain and Abel, and Joseph and his coat of many colors and his brothers.  Cain sold his birthright to Abel for a bowl of porridge.  Abel envied his brother, who wanted to be the favorite of his father and finagled this with finesse.  The brothers of Joseph were jealous of him because he was the favorite of Jacob, or so it seemed to them, so they threw him into a pit in order to destroy him, their rage and jealousy were so strong.

Jealousy is painful.  It is an ugly emotion and all who suffer from it are unhappy as it appears with strong and ugly feelings.  We have seen it during the Hitler era when the Germans happily tormented their Jewish neighbors by demolishing their businesses, calling them vile names, and ultimately destroying them.  They were jealous of the Jewish people, who were successful in carrying out their livelihood, and possibly had accumulated a few more earthly possessions through their hard work and rational spending practices.  Their intellectual superiority irked them and the professionals who had attended schools to achieve were spat upon by those who abandoned their education in grade school.  The reasons for the Jewish intellectuals and achievements were a source of jealousy to those who had no interest in that aspect of their lives.  Jealousy was there regardless of the jealous ones' part in their lack of achievements and the work that had preceded the failure of their earlier ambitions. 

Jealousy is a painful, destructive emotion.  It can be very destructive to the person thus plagued.  It often begins in early childhood when the afflicted one feels diminished, unloved, and unhappy.  Their belief in their inferiority easily ends in destructive behavior toward the object of their misfortune.  We see it in families where a sibling is born and the big sister or brother feels diminished and omitted.  He sees the little one receiving hugs, kisses, and special care from Mom and Dad and attention from others.  He sees how the baby is nurtured and nursed.  He too wants to be near mother and suck from her breast.  Not being able to do this, he may act out in many ways.  He may join in being oversolicitous to the new one and quietly out of sight pinch him, “accidentally” drop him on the floor, or take it out on himself.  He may demand more attention by hurting himself in some way, complain about certain imaginary physical symptoms, or react by sucking his thumb, gratifying himself in some fashion.

The person beset with jealousy feels inadequate, not as good, as intelligent, or as beautiful or successful as another.  We see this in men and women who feel inferior to the love object that they desire or have.  It can be jealousy over achievements.  We find it in men more often than in women, although the latter are more and more involved in jealousy over professional achievement.  It is the man who is a high achiever, who has been successful, written thirty books but looks at another who has written thirty-one and feels he is therefore lacking in the intellect of the other.  For a woman who feels jealous or inferior, she will feel unloved when her lover or spouse looks at another female, or someone younger, more voluptuous, or intellectually brighter.  She will become angry, more clinging, and possessive.  What she believes is true is often a figment of her imagination and her extreme insecurity.  The consequences of her feelings can be very disturbing and may under certain circumstances have an outcome in reality.  If she is possessive or acting out too much she may lose her love object.  The same can of course be said about the male who may, because of his feelings of inferiority, act in a pseudo psychotic, possibly demanding way.  He may become so flirtatious with other females that he loses his spouse or significant other.

In some third world countries men who are suspicious and beset with jealousy, even when their spouse is covered from head to toe with garments, will kill her to erase their sadistic jealousy.

There is something to be said about the orthodox religion, where our Jewish brethren are separated with men on one side and women on the other.  Although there is less observation of flirtatiousness, there are other ways in which jealousy is expressed. 

It is important to be happy with who we are and value ourselves as persons with our achievements, our faults, our humanity, our “Menschlichkeit.”  Let us be good to ourselves and our fellow human beings.  We must remember that we did not create ourselves, but we must accept ourselves as unique and worthwhile without diminishing ourselves and creating unhappiness for ourselves and our surroundings.    


Dr. Ursula A. Falk is a psychotherapist in private practice and the author of several books and articles.

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