What is Jealousy?

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What Is Jealousy?

Jealousy is a complex emotion. It occurs when there’s a real or perceived threat to an interpersonal relationship. An individual may resent a third person for taking away or appearing to take away the affections of their loved one.

Feelings that typically accompany the emotion include resentment, anger, hostility, and bitterness. 

Everyone experiences jealousy at some point in their lives, but the emotion can become unhealthy and negatively impact your relationships. It can range in intensity. When it’s severe, irrational jealousy can lead to distrust, paranoia, abuse, or even physical violence.

Characteristics 

While it’s typically perceived as a negative emotion, it is natural to experience jealousy in a close relationship. You may feel suspicious jealousy or reactive jealousy. The former is based on perception and is often tied to low self-esteem and insecurity and the latter is based on situations that actually threaten the relationship, and is often tied to actions or situations that lead to or cause the betrayal of trust.

Jealousy can lead to other emotions or feelings. Psychiatrist Nereida Gonzalez-Berrios, MD, explains how jealousy can manifest in relationships:

  • Criticizing 
  • Fault finding
  • Blaming
  • Feeling distrust
  • Being overprotective or suspicious
  • Acting obsessive 
  • Experiencing a quick temper 
  • Verbally abusing

Complications

In healthy doses, jealousy can serve as a reminder to cherish or prioritize a relationship. High degrees of jealousy, however, can impact the overall quality of a relationship.

When you’re experiencing jealousy, it can cause changes to your body. According to Dr. Gonzalez-Berrios, the following physical symptoms may occur when jealousy arises:

  • Stomach aches
  • Headaches
  • Chest pain
  • High blood pressure
  • Palpitation in extreme anxiety
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Insomnia or disturbances in sleep
  • Poor appetite
  • Weakened immunity


Jealousy can occur at any time, especially in situations that feel threatening, but the emotion can also build up over time, too.

Identifying Jealousy

Jealousy can be difficult to understand and process. Depending on the situation, you may feel embarrassed, threatened, insecure, or abandoned. You may choose to say something to your loved one, notifying them of your feelings, concerns or fears, or you may react more irrationally by yelling, taking away their phone, making demands, placing blame, accusing them of something that didn’t happen, or storming off.

Even if a real threat presents itself, jealousy can lead to extreme behaviors, especially if you’re feeling insecure about yourself or the relationship. For your own mental health, you’ll want to find healthy ways to handle your jealousy.

Causes

Various psychological and socioeconomic factors can contribute to jealousy. Depending on your personality and attachment style, you may be more prone to experiencing the emotion. High levels of interdependence in a relationship may increase your risk of jealousy, for instance.

Many situations can make you feel jealous. Some common ones include:

  • A partner spending significant time engaging with someone who feels threatening to the relationship
  • A new baby joins the family or a parent puts their attention on a sibling instead of you
  • A competitor (such as a sibling or coworker) appears to get ahead

You could feel jealous when a loved one spends a lot of their time hanging with a particular friend or talking at length with a coworker in front of you, or you could feel jealous when a partner acknowledges someone else's accomplishments but not yours, or a coworker gets a promotion and you don’t.

Types 

While there are many forms of jealousy, there are two main categories: normal and abnormal jealousy. The six main types, described by Dr. Gonzalez-Berrios, are:

  • Rational Jealousy: When there is genuine, reasonable doubt, especially when you love a partner and fear losing them, rational jealousy can occur.
  • Family Jealousy: This typically occurs between family members, such as siblings. When a new baby is born, a sibling may feel jealous as the attention of the parents shifts to the new baby, for example.
  • Pathological Jealousy: This type of jealousy is irrational. Unhealthy feelings may result from an underlying mental health disorder such as anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or schizophrenia. Signs of pathological jealousy can include extreme insecurity, as well as a desire to control and manipulate.
  • Sexual Jealousy: When there is fear that a partner has been unfaithful and has engaged in physical infidelity, you may become suspicious.
  • Romantic Jealousy: This can result from a real or imagined threat to a romantic relationship, resulting in jealous thoughts or reactions.
  • Power Jealousy: This type of jealousy stems from personal insecurity. You may be jealous of someone who has what you want. When a coworker receives a promotion or a reward that you wish to receive, for example, you may become jealous.


Studies conducted on heterosexual romantic relationships found that men tend to feel jealous over a third party’s dominance and are more concerned about sexual infidelity, whereas women tend to feel jealous from a third party’s attractiveness and are more concerned about emotional infidelity.

Treatment

Jealousy is a normal human emotion, but abnormal jealousy can put you or others in danger. If you’re experiencing morbid jealousy, in which your thoughts, emotions, behaviors are irrational, extreme, or obsessive, then you may need treatment.

The most common treatment options include:

Treatment will vary depending on the type of jealousy you’re experiencing and how it’s manifesting. Unaddressed abnormal jealousy can lead to distrust, paranoia, or abuse.

If you’re experiencing another underlying mental health condition, such as an anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or schizophrenia, then you’ll want to consult with a mental health professional to discuss tailored treatment options.

Coping

If you don’t learn to cope with jealousy, it can strain or hurt your relationships. If your jealousy is negatively impacting your mental health or your relationships, you should use Dr. Gonzalez-Berrios’s recommended coping mechanisms:

  • Confront your fears: Jealousy can stem from insecurity or poor self-image, which is why it’s so important to confront your fears. This could include fear of losing your partner or fear of failure. Once you recognize these fears, you can acknowledge and address them, as they are often the underlying cause of the jealousy.
  • Address your expectations: In any relationship, it’s important to develop a realistic expectation on how much time someone can spend with you. If they are unable to meet your expectations, try not to place blame. See if you can work together to set more reasonable expectations.
  • Practice gratitude: Remind yourself about all the beautiful things that life has given you, says Dr. Gonzalez-Berrios. 
  • Be open and honest: Healthy relationships rely on strong communications. If jealousy is arising, Dr. Gonzalez-Berrios suggests having an open and honest conversation about how you’re feeling. “Try to resolve the misunderstandings with compassion and mutual trust."
  • Practice mindfulness: Negative emotions can affect your physical and mental health. When you’re feeling jealousy or another negative emotion, such as anger or resentment, try practicing mindfulness meditation.

To maintain healthy relationships, you’ll want to communicate your feelings, address expectations, and establish a foundation of mutual trust and understanding. If jealousy becomes a problem, then speaking with a mental health professional, such as a therapist can help.

A Word From Verywell

Learning to identify jealousy is a skill. When you do experience it, try using one of the many coping mechanisms available to you. Understand, though, that jealousy does not excuse manipulation or abuse.

If coping mechanisms aren’t working or if the threat becomes disruptive to the relationship (no matter if it’s real or imagined), then you may want to seek counseling to discuss the problem with a mediator. You may find that there’s an underlying problem in the relationship which needs to be addressed.

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