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The Causes and Effects of Jealousy

History, causes, and effects of jealousy.

History, causes, and effects of jealousy.

What Is Jealousy?

Jealousy is described as the emotional attitude of wishing not to lose something that is important to the subject’s self-definition to someone else (Ben-Ze’ev, 1990, pg. 489). An ancient and primitive emotion, jealousy can lead to impulsive or reckless decisions, the creation of harm, the ruin of relationships, and an overall destructive state of mind. As with most emotions, it manifests itself differently from individual to individual, but most would agree that when experienced, it can often be overwhelming.

What Are the Effects of Jealousy?

Jealousy is often associated with sexual relationships, but it can also manifest itself in relationships between siblings, friends, supposed social rivals and many other affiliations. The causes of jealousy vary from situation to situation, but are all associated with one feeling that something of value that they possess could be lost to another.

Other effects of jealousy include a decrease in one’s perceived self-worth, emotional instability, feelings of bitterness, the breaking of relationships, prolonged depression, and extreme anxiety.

Jealousy is common in romantic relationships when one partner feels threatened.

Jealousy is common in romantic relationships when one partner feels threatened.

Where Did Jealousy Come From?

It is theorized that jealousy in humans is a primitive emotion that evolved due to selective pressures during the Pleistocene Epoch (Harris, 2004, pg. 64). It is speculated that it was evolutionarily favorable for females to become jealous of potential sexual rivals, for if the male were to choose another mate, he would take the resources he provided with him. This would leave her with no means to take care of herself and any offspring she may have had.

Males, on the other hand, could never be completely certain of paternity, and did not want to waste their resources on an offspring that did not carry their genetic material. Jealousy was a response to prospective threats to the continuance of their own genetic lineage.

Modern-Day Jealousy

In today’s society, jealousy can be sparked by a potential threat to one’s mate, social standing, emotional and physical well-being, or resources. Infidelity, or the threat of infidelity, can cause extreme jealousy in both males and females. If an individual is in a position of social power and feels that that standing is jeopardized by another, it often rears its ugly head.

Sibling rivalry is often a result of jealousy, with siblings vying for parental attention or resources such as food. It also appears in friendships, when one feels that they are losing the attention of their friend to another.

It’s okay, even healthy, to allow ourselves to have a competitive thought. It can feel good when we simply let ourselves have the momentary feeling without judgment or a plan for action. However, if we ruminate or twist this thought into a criticism of ourselves or an attack on another person, we wind up getting hurt.

— PsychAlive

Physical Responses to Jealousy

Primary responses to jealousy are both emotional and physical. Sadness, anger, depression, hopelessness, and feelings of unworthiness are just some of the emotions that result from it. Crying, increased pulse rate, sweating, and shaking are some of its physical symptoms.

Feeling jealous is a natural reaction if one feels that their current state of well-being is threatened by another. What is perhaps more important is how one reacts to the negative emotions elicited by this emotional state. The primary effects of jealousy affect only the individual experiencing the emotion, whereas the secondary effects (how that individual reacts) can influence the subject or subjects of jealousy.

How to Deal With Jealousy

Though jealousy may be a subconscious response to events that your brain considers threatening (primary responses), you can often control the way you outwardly respond to jealous feelings (secondary responses).

For example, if you felt jealous about the way your partner was using their phone, you might feel sick to your stomach, your hands might shake, and you might experience racing thoughts. You might feel angry, insecure, or emotionally unsteady. These effects are primary; they are natural and internal.

Secondary responses are more in your control. You can respond by lashing out, looking through your partner's phone, accusing them of acting suspiciously, or by immediately starting an argument. You can also react by approaching them calmly, asking them questions, and openly describing how their behavior has made you feel.

These secondary responses often give negative connotations to feelings of jealousy. It is often easier to react to primary responses in outward, aggressive, and defensive bursts of conflict. However, these aggressive reactions are likely going to escalate the initial issue; now there's an argument, boundaries have been crossed, and feelings are being hurt even more, all before either of you have explained your side of the story.

Stick to the Root of the Issue

It is best to avoid this extension of conflict altogether. Identify what is bothering you, take note on how it is making you feel, and propose these feelings to your partner in a calm and collected manner. By sticking to the root, you may be able to resolve your issue a lot faster.

Shakespeare's play "Othello" is an early example of jealousy in literature.

Shakespeare's play "Othello" is an early example of jealousy in literature.

Examples of Jealousy in Literature

There are myriad examples of jealousy being explored in literature throughout human history. Poor Io is a hapless victim of Hera’s jealously in Greek mythology, Cinderella is made to slave away for a jealous stepmother and stepsisters in the famous fairy tale, and Shakespeare immortalized the destructive effects of the emotion in many of his plays, but perhaps the most poignant example was the cautionary account of Othello.

Protagonist Othello reacts to his jealousy with rage, which results in the death of the woman he loves. He later finds that she was not unfaithful, as he had suspected. Long before and long after the time of Shakespeare many individuals have reacted to jealousy in such a way.

In various studies, this strong emotion was found to have been one of the top three motives for non-accidental homicides where the motive is known (Harris, 2004, pg. 62). Although an individual’s reaction to jealousy is not always to a murderous extreme, it serves as an example of how strong an emotion can be.

It's Evolutionary

The history of jealousy may date back to the very beginnings of modern man. It is a primitive response to any potential threat to one’s overall emotional and physical well-being. Feelings of jealousy are unavoidable, but it is critical to examine one’s emotional response to any stimuli and react with a clear and conscious mind. Emotions are temporary, but actions are irrevocable.

Sources and Literature Consulted

  • 8th, Mark November, et al. “How to Deal with Jealousy.” PsychAlive, 22 Dec. 2020,
  • Ben-Ze’ev, Aaron. (1990). Envy and jealousy. Canadian Journal of Philosophy, 20(4), 487-516.
  • Harris, Christine. (2004). The evolution of jealousy. American Scientist, 92, 62-71.
  • Ramachandran, Vilayanur S, and Baland Jalal. “The Evolutionary Psychology of Envy and Jealousy.” Frontiers in Psychology, Frontiers Media S.A., 19 Sept. 2017,


Emma on August 16, 2020:

Great read!

meron on February 25, 2019:


Charleslyn on February 05, 2019:

Thanks you for the infromaton

nignog123 on December 21, 2018:

what the Frick is this

Andy on June 11, 2018:

Thanks a lot for the information, it helps a lot

tonde on May 02, 2018:

thank u for information

peter on September 07, 2017:

This is the best I have read thank you for this wonderful info. I'm doing an essay on effects of jealousy, this will be super useful. thank you

Angel709 from midwest on October 18, 2011:

quite informative.