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An envious emotional attitude primarily directed by an individual toward someone perceived as a rival for the affections of a loved one or for something one desires, such as a job, promotion, or award.

Jealousy is a combination of emotional reactions, including fear, anger, and anxiety. Studies have shown that men and women tend to feel jealous for different reasons; for instance, physical attractiveness in a perceived rival is more likely to incite jealousy in a woman than in a man. Everyone occasionally experiences normal jealousy; caring about anyone or anything means that one will become uncomfortable and anxious at the prospect of losing the desired person or object to another. An unhealthy degree of apathy would be required for an individual never to experience jealousy.

The opposite extreme is pathological jealousy, also called morbid jealousy, which differs significantly from normal jealousy in its degree of intensity. Stronger and more long-lasting than normal jealousy, it is generally characterized by serious feelings of insecurity and inadequacy, as well as suspiciousness or paranoia. Whereas healthy individuals recover from jealousy fairly rapidly, either by realizing that it is unfounded or through some other coping mechanism, pathologically jealous people become obsessed by their fears and constantly look for signs that their suspicions are true, to the point where they may find it difficult to function normally. Excessive jealousy is unhealthy and destructive in all relationships. By making people behave in ways that will alienate others, jealousy becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, depriving its victims of the affection or success they are so anxious to protect. Individuals suffering from morbid jealousy are prone to severe anxiety, depression, difficulty in controlling anger, and may engage in self-destructive behavior or elicit suicidal tendencies.

Further Reading

White, Gregory. Jealousy. New York: Guilford Press, 1989.

Additional topics

Psychology EncyclopediaPsychological Dictionary: Ibn Bajjah (Abu-Bakr Muhammad ibn-Yahya ibn-al-Saʼigh, c.1106–38) Biography to Perception: cultural differences