Jealousy and Control
By Peppermint 2003-2006 Unpublished Manuscript www.pepperminty.com Please send any comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Jealousy presents an intractable problem for relationships, both monogamous and nonmonogamous. It is often a point of strife within relationships. It is also a frequent cause for breakups. It provides a convenient excuse for abusive partners. There is a persistent association of jealousy with violence. The stress, strain, and violence surrounding jealousy are hints that jealousy is a significant point of interpersonal power transfer. This essay is an attempt to dismantle the jealousy mechanism, describe its underlying power structure, unearth its relationship to culture, and suggest methods of personal resistance.
The Construction of Jealousy
Jealousy is on its face a relation between three people. Specifically, it describes the feelings of one person towards a relationship between two other people, one of whom may be connected to the first in some way. It is one of the few words we have for describing a three-person romantic situation, and it carries a negative connotation. The dictionary defines jealousy as “fear of rivalry”, but that really does not do the term justice. In our competitive culture, jealousy is not just a fear of displacement, but it is also a gut-level emotion, a social narrative, and an interpersonal power mechanism. Jealousy is considered to be an unavoidable, natural reaction. It is ostensibly based in the body, like most other social relationship mechanisms. This grounding of jealousy in the body happens in two places. The first is the idea that jealousy is a reaction to the physical behavior of a partner, which is woven into all of our jealous narratives. The second is the jealous person’s own physical reaction to the strong emotions involved. People who get jealous usually reflect this bodily grounding in some way: they will imagine their lover having sex with other people, or react particularly strongly to seeing their partner touched by someone else, or feel insecure in their own bodies as a result of their jealousy, or have physical symptoms similar to fear reactions. Social reactions incited by jealousy typically include a physical component, such as rules around the partner’s physical interactions, concerns about space, or physical violence. Jealousy is given a certain license due to its status as an emotion. We construct emotions as natural, unavoidable, and to a certain degree positive. People rarely imagine that they can suppress their jealousy. Few recognize that jealousy can be learned or unlearned. We consider a person’s jealousy to be a natural and unchanging part of their emotional or physical being. In our culture, there is a distinct failure to understand that jealousy is dependent on a particular dynamic between two people. Jealousy is essentialized: we imagine that jealousy is an inevitable physical reaction to a personal set of trigger circumstances. Jealousy is by definition a fear, of some certain situation that is either threatening or already occurring. This feared situation is conceptually necessary to jealousy. Because jealousy is a fear, we can say that the action of being jealous always expresses the
existence of a problem. In other words, jealousy in a relationship always constitutes a problem. The problem may be internal (the fear itself) or it may be external (the situation that one is afraid of), but there is always a problem. I use the term “negative emotions” to describe emotions such as jealousy which are considered to always signal a problem of some sort. Other negative emotions are fear, anger, and depression. The big question in any analysis of a particular jealousy is, “whose problem is it?” If the problem is internal, then the jealous person is being somehow irrational and should try to change. If the problem is external, then the situation should be changed to fit their needs. Mainstream culture almost always...
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