Western Producer March 24, 1988
Q: Could you please write about jealousy? I had seen it in other families, but didn’t think it would strike close to home. Our oldest son, who is well off financially, is extremely suspicious and critical of his younger brother. The slightest thing can trigger an incident.
I won’t allow myself to respond by getting mad. But, it is getting harder not to. The oldest son wants to control everyone around, his children, his brothers, and even me. I live some distance from both of them. To be honest, and although I don’t want to act with favoritism, I prefer to be around the younger son, as he is a gentle, quiet, person. My oldest gets mad if you don’t do whatever he says you ought to do. And, whatever you do, he indicates that, if he had done it, it would have been done “properly”.
Is jealousy a disease? I have heard some people referred to as being “insanely jealous”. Jealousy also seems to make people act irrationally.
A: Jealousy is an emotion. Emotions result from perceptions, thoughts and beliefs about life and life’s experiences. If these are irrational, the resulting emotions will also be irrational. The roots of jealousy, possessiveness, and envy, go back deep in history, and are identified as basic human shortcomings in early Greek and Jewish writings.
Jealousy and suspiciousness may be symptoms of emotional ill health, particularly if the symptoms persist, become deep rotted, and lead people to believe things to be true that aren’t true.
Mental Health professionals refer to this as a “paranoid” condition. At times, it shows up as a feature of a personality. At other times, it may be an unhealthy way of thinking.
If a person is willing to accept help, they can usually overcome such negative emotions through counseling. And when you stop feeling jealous, you usually feel better about yourself and others.
In some situations, the condition reaches a point where a person is mentally sick or “psychotic”. They experience hallucinations or delusions. At this stage, trying to reason with, or use logic with a person is useless. The person needs medical help and medication to treat the bio-chemical changes in the brain that are causing the psychosis.
Nancy Friday, in her book, Jealousy, notes how jealousy is often mistakenly used to describe envy. Envy is so ingrained in us that we often don’t recognize it. So we often become jealous, without seeing and envy lying behind the jealousy.
The major difficulty with jealousy, whether it is a learned response, part of a personality, or a serious mental illness, is that the person with the problem usually denies having it. And, the sicker they are, the more they deny.
I can understand your pain of helplessness, and being caught in the middle. Without siding with the younger son, you need to firmly and assertively resist your older son’s desire to control others, by standing up for your own rights. I enclosed some material on dealing with criticism and assertiveness to help you with this task, as well as a worksheet on the AAAbc method.