The Nature of Jealousy

Othello, the Moor of Venice is a tragedy by William Shakespeare. 

 In Othello, the hero Othello succumbs to jealousy when Iago convinces him that Desdemona has been an unfaithful wife. Iago uses jealousy against Othello, yet jealousy is likely the source of Iago’s hatred. In the end, Othello murders his wife and then kills himself.

“Often confused for one another, jealousy and envy are very different. Envy describes a reaction to wanting what someone else has. You might envy someone’s success, good looks, or a new car. Jealousy describes an emotional reaction to feeling that someone might try to take what you feel should be yours.” 

Many wives, girlfriends, boyfriends, and husbands talk about the fact that their husband or boyfriend is insistent that they are having an affair. These women feel overwhelmed and frustrated with their lovers because they try as hard as they can, but they cannot convince them of the errors in their thinking. The more they attempt to convince their lover that there is no cheating, the angrier the lover becomes. 

The brilliant and classic example of a jealous lover is Shakespeare’s towering and tragic play, “Othello.” Here is one quote of Othello expressing his despair about his wife, Desdemona. He is convinced that Desdemona is having an affair.

Othello:

“She’s gone. I am abused, and my relief

Must be to loathe her. O curse of marriage,

That we can call these delicate creatures ours

And not their appetites! I had rather be a toad

And live upon the vapor of a dungeon

Than keep a corner in the thing I love

For others’ uses. Yet ’tis the plague of great ones;

Prerogatived are they less than the base.

‘Tis destiny unshunnable, like death.” (III.iii.267–279)

Othello is convinced that his wife, Desdemona, is unfaithful.

He cursed marriage and women. Ultimately, he strangles her to death and unwittingly falls into the deadly hands of his enemies. He also learns, too late, the error of his thinking and kills himself.

A Modern Example of Delusional Jealousy:

The following is an anonymous E.Mail from a woman who found me via the internet. Her question is a modern-day version of delusional jealousy:

Anonymous E. Mail:

“I ended a relationship with a man who seems to suffer from this morbid/delusional jealousy issue and is also diagnosed Bipolar. After ten days with no contact with him, I have now received a message from him out of the blue saying that I am “sooooo busted,” implying that he has learned something new that somehow proves his belief that I was unfaithful to him. I am not dating now, have been basically only at home working and hiding since the breakup.”

 

“He is a brilliant man and is 50 years old with responsibilities and accomplishments. It is difficult for me to reconcile this crazy behavior with what I know about him. I keep thinking that if I could just reason with him he will finally break through. But after so much reasoning that only led to more insanity and our eventual breakup, I know it gets me nowhere and seems to make him even angrier.”

Discussion:

Jealousy is a complicated human emotion. It is based on love, hate, paranoia, insecurity, and self-hate. In this quote and elsewhere in the play, Othello shows his self-hatred by comparing himself to a toad.

It is essential to point out that jealousy can be a normal human emotion experienced by most people at least once. Jealousy becomes a problem when it refuses to diminish in intensity and when the thinking of the jealous individual is fixed on that one idea.

It might be difficult to believe that jealousy can be based on love. However, the jealous individual wants to possess their lover completely. They believe the loved one is so lovable that others may steal her away, resulting in tragic abandonment and loss. 

Yet, jealousy is also based on hatred. The loved one is viewed as having power, choice, great beauty, and will leave. In this thinking, one must carefully guard the loved one, or the loved one will go astray.

The fixed paranoid, delusional thinking of this type of lover can be symptomatic of a more serious mental illness. In the E. Mail sample above, the former girlfriend reports that her ex-lover was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. In the throes of a manic or deeply depressive phase of the illness, a Bipolar patient can become quite delusional and even experience hallucinations. 

Having Bipolar Disorder does not mean that a person will have a jealous delusion, nor does having a jealous delusion mean that a person has Bipolar Disorder.

The fixed delusional jealous thinking is marked by the constant suspicion that the loved one is guilty of infidelity. This paranoid delusion is accompanied by constantly harassing the loved one with questions and accusations about how they spent the day, where they went, and with whom they spoke. In the worst cases, the jealous spouse attempts to control their partner’s life and intrudes into every aspect of their life, looking for evidence of cheating. As in Othello, the jealous delusion can cause murder.

Some argue that a delusion did not plague Othello because his enemies planted the idea in him that Desdemona was unfaithful. In contrast, a jealous delusion is based on no evidence at all.

A fixed delusion is precisely what the term implies. It is fixed, meaning an individual will not budge from their belief. Because the belief is delusional, protests of incense only provoke more suspicions. It is additionally essential to point out how our E. Mailer complains that her boyfriend became increasingly angry the more she insisted on her innocence.

Jealousy is a complicated human emotion. It is based on love, hate, paranoia, insecurity, self-hate, and low self-esteem. It is essential to point out that it is also a normal human emotion experienced by most people at least once. Jealousy becomes a problem when it refuses to diminish in intensity.

It might be difficult to believe that jealousy can be based on love. However, the jealous individual wants to possess their lover completely. They believe the loved one is so loveable that others may capture them, resulting in tragic loss. It’s a great compliment to be with someone jealous because of the value they place on their partner.

Not so fast, though, because jealousy is also based on hatred. The loved one is viewed as having power, choice, and the ability to abandon and leave the partner. The loved one must carefully guard the loved one, or they will stray.

But why would the jealous person fear their partner will stray? The answer is that, from the point of view of the jealous individual, any competitor is more masculine/feminine, handsome/beautiful, sexy, and appealing than they are. The jealous person believes that any other choice of lover is better than they are. Of course, there is a lot of self-hatred, insecurity, and low self-esteem in how the jealous person thinks.

Sometimes there is a paranoid and obsessive component to jealousy. For people who suffer from paranoia, there is a constant suspicion that others mean them no suitable. This type of paranoid jealousy is marked by constantly harassing the loved one with questions and accusations about how they spent the day, where they went, and with whom they spoke. The paranoid lover will check the cell phone messages of their lover and their E. Mail messages and postal envelopes and letters. This person is obsessed with their partner and is tortured with fear that nothing good is happening. In the worst cases, they attempt to control their partner’s life, preventing them from going anywhere or doing anything. For example, a husband who experiences paranoid jealousy may prohibit his wife from getting a job and going to work. In effect, he stifles his wife in every way.

For those suffering from jealousy, it’s essential to enter psychotherapy and work on why you are jealous and how it interferes with your thirty-year marriage. If your paranoid beliefs are genuinely delusional, medication might help relieve some of this thinking. In addition to individual psychotherapy, with or without medication, I would suggest marriage therapy so that the two of you can begin to resolve your differences, suspicions, and conflicts. Also, understand that you and your wife each deserve the opportunity to see other friends and engage in activities apart from one another. A successful marriage is based on mutual trust.

A Discussion of Self-Hatred

Karen Horney:

“Stress is often a result of the tension between what is and what you believe should be. It’s called the “tyranny of the shoulds,” which dictates how we think, act, and feel. These “should” beliefs—are referred to as Icebergs… Stress is often a result of the tension between what is and what you believe should be.”

In my work as a psychotherapist for forty years, I have come across countless people who are extremely unhappy with themselves. The reasons for their dissatisfaction vary, but the overall impact is that they feel depressed. Theodore Isaac Rubin, MD, and Psychoanalyst, addressed this self-dissatisfaction in a book, “Compassion and Self Hate.” 

Dr. Rubin borrows from a great psychoanalyst of the mid-twentieth century, Karen Horney. Horney asserts that we have three selves:

1. Actual Self: Who we are with our physical and emotional abilities and disabilities or limitations.

2. Real Self: Who we could be if we freed ourselves from our self-dislike and unrealistic fears.

3. Despised Self: Self Effacing and very neurotic.

4. Idealized Self: The illusion of glorious goals that are impossible to achieve but that we believe we should achieve.

Dr. Rubin reduces this formula to two selves, the Actual Self and the Real Self:

1. Actual Self: Who we are with all of our talents, limitations, and illnesses, both physical and psychological.

2. Real Self: The illusions we believe in about who we should be, be wealthy, powerful, lovable, and independent.

The extent to which we hold on to illusions about our Real Self is the extent to which we reject our Actual Self and feel self-hate.

For example, an individual may cherish the belief that they should be happy. After all, pursuing happiness is guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution. 

But what is happiness? Happiness is feeling comfortable and relatively free of stress. However, we can sustain happiness only for a limited time. The problem is that life is not perfect, and moods change. The illusion that one should always be happy creates self-hate. If someone clings to the illusion that they should always be happy and are not, they will condemn themselves for not achieving this goal.

Perhaps the fact that people hold on to unrealistic beliefs about themselves explains the reason for the epidemic of addiction. Substances offer a temporary escape from reality that causes a person to feel joyful and omnipotent. The self-hate reasserts itself when the drug wears out, and then there is reality.

To continue the analogy of the drug abuser, the sense of self-hate and wish for joy that propels the addiction also serves as a powerful source of self-punishment. Drug addiction carries with it lots of physical and emotional abuse.

There is a commonly held idea that money can solve all problems. Many patients have told me they would feel free of their problems and suffering if they had enough money. However, real-life tells us a different story. False beliefs about money often lead to self-hate in another way.

Lots of people love to play the lottery, hoping to become millionaires. We read about poor or working people winning the lottery and going home fabulously wealthy. Oh, how many of us wish for the same fate? You know the old saying, “Be careful about what you wish. It may come true.” The fact is that the lives of many people who won the lottery ended in tragedy. Some of them spent every dollar they won and became bankrupt. Others committed suicide, became addicted to drugs, or suffered some abysmal fate. Money did not solve their problems. Yet, we convince ourselves that it will solve our problems and beat ourselves for not earning or winning a fortune.

The same phenomenon occurs with marriages. Some individuals enter marriage with grandiose expectations of how their lives will improve. These expectations often involve perfect bliss, constant sexual fulfillment, and a regular flow of nurturing and love. However, actual life is not this way. Yes, marriage can bring lots of satisfaction and many problems and difficulties. For example, married couples disagree and quarrel, have to cope with difficult children, and have problems with work, family, and friends.

The more significant the gap between expectations and reality, the greater the sense of disappointment, bitterness, and failure we will experience.

Self-hatred encompasses continual feelings of inadequacy, guilt, and low self-esteem. People may constantly compare themselves to others, perceive only the negative, ignore the positive, and believe they will never be “good enough.” But every person has worth, value, and the ability to cultivate self-love.

 If you’re struggling with hateful thoughts, reflect on what sparked them. Did you make a mistake at work? Did a recent dinner with a friend lead you to feel envious? Identifying these triggers can allow you to diffuse them the next time they arise.

Beyond immediate triggers, one can often trace self-hatred’s roots to environmental circumstances such as hypercritical parenting or personality traits such as perfectionism. Once feelings of worthlessness take hold, they can be challenging to release; the stories that form around early experiences can become deeply entrenched. But there are still many ways for people to confront self-criticism and develop a strong sense of self.