• Reflective Resources

J is for Jealousy - the green-eyed monster

“Jealousy is the jaundice of the soul”. John Dryden


The traditional colour linked with both jealousy and envy is green. We use the expression ‘green with envy’ but jealousy takes it one step further and is personified as a ‘green-eyed monster’.


This expression originates from Shakespeare 's Othello, where Lago warns:


‘O! beware my lord of jealousy; It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock The meat it feeds on’.


The quote is thought to allude to cats, often green-eyed, who tease their prey.


Jealousy and envy are often used interchangeably but a fine line of distinction between the two is sometimes made with jealous meaning fearing someone will take what you have or you think that you are entitled to whereas envious is more associated with desiring what someone else has.


A perhaps simpler way to think about it is that jealousy involves more than two people whereas envy only two e.g.


The husband was jealous of the attention his wife was paying to his boss.

The lady was envious of her friend’s lifestyle


“Jealousy is both reasonable and belongs to reasonable men, while envy is base and belongs to the base, for the one makes himself get good things by jealousy, while the other does not allow his neighbour to have them through envy.” Aristotle


Historical usage shows that both mean ‘covetous’ (having a craving or inordinate desire for what someone else has) in some form and are often used interchangeably when describing a desire for someone else's possessions though ‘jealous’ is the word used when referring to romantic feelings; a jealous husband, wife, partner etc


“The jealous are troublesome to others, but a torment to themselves”. William Penn


Jealousy is largely perceived as a negative emotion. Jealousy is one of many feelings we encounter, but few are taught to see the other side of jealousy and have learnt how to accept and allow the feeling then move on consciously and intentionally. There is a lot of cultural baggage associated with jealousy and we often feel shame that we experience jealousy etc but jealousy in itself is a normal emotion. It is not a problem feeling jealous it is what we do with the feeling afterwards and how others respond to our jealousy.


We all have idle stray thoughts on all sorts of subjects but these are not the problem. We create our lives with the thoughts which are persistent and to which we give the most attention.


“As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway on the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives” Henry David Thoreau


Jealousy comes from comparison. We get jealous because of what someone else has achieved/is able to do or of things we haven’t done/can’t, we get jealous of someone else’s appearance/body shape because of fear of what other’s may think or how our ‘lack’ reflects back on us. We get jealous of the time someone spends on something or another person rather than give us the attention etc the list goes on


“Magnanimous people have no vanity, they have no jealousy, and they feed on the true and the solid wherever they find it. And, what is more, they find it everywhere.” Van Wyck Brooks


Jealousy is clearly linked to other emotions e.g. fear, anxiety, perhaps fear of the loss of a person, worry that we won’t achieve something similar or we will no longer be liked etc. We get so caught up in the ‘negative’ parts of jealously, that we fail to see how much positivity and light it actually holds.


“Nothing is more capable of troubling our reason, and consuming our health, than secret notions of jealousy in solitude.” Aphra Behn


When jealousy occurs we have a choice, we can choose to wallow and be consumed by jealousy or we can choose to intentionally move from fear and anxiety and consciously turn towards compersion*, or feeling joy for another's joy.


*Compersion is about allowing ourselves to participate and celebrate wholeheartedly in the happiness of others. The opposite of jealousy and possessiveness it is the empathetic joy we feel for somebody else, even when their positive experience does not involve or benefit us directly.


Polyamorists were the first use the term ‘ compersion’ in the English language, but it is not a new concept. Described as the flip side of jealousy, compersion is a conscious choice to accept any feelings we may experience and despite them choose and are able to be happy for others


“Buddhists had long considered sympathetic joy (referred to as mudita in Sanskrit) to be one of the four qualities of the enlightened person—the other three being loving kindness (metta), compassion (karuna), and equanimity (upeksha). According to this tradition, mudita remedies the illusory separateness between self and others and can therefore be a powerful vehicle on the path to liberation.” (https://www.whatiscompersion.com)


Love multiplies rather than divides. It is useful to think about jealousy as a valuable teacher rather than a catalyst for division, envy and hatred or ‘proof’ of ones love.


“Jealousy is a disease, love is a healthy condition. The immature mind often mistakes one for the other, or assumes that the greater the love, the greater the jealousy - in fact, they are almost incompatible; one emotion hardly leaves room for the other.” Robert A. Heinlein


Jealousy has existed from time immemorial, there are many examples in literature, from the ancient Greeks, the bible, modern dramas, in musical songs etc Jealousy is inescapable; because it is normal. Jealousy should not be tied to shame and any initial physical manifestations in our bodies in reaction to our jealousy is normal too. It is important to able to sit with this emotion and the sensations we experience; to be be aware and acknowledge and accept the state we are experiencing before we can embrace the experience, learn from it and move on.


We learn to manage jealousy by owning our feelings through authenticity, vulnerability, reflecting on our values, setting boundaries, learning to listen, seeking to understand and working on our ability to communicate so we can build better connections with others. Seen in this light, jealousy can turn into an opportunity for deeper intimacy and connection and aspiring to joy when we use it as a sign and as an opportunity to face up to another aspect of our imperfect selves.

When jealousy plants a seed of comparison, compersion says ‘Don’t water that’. Compersion isn’t always easy because it is not always be comfortable at the edge of your comfort zone but when we let go it is the place where we will grow.



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