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.

Our Existential Crisis and Violence in America

A sense of meaninglessness has set in among many of our young people resulting in increasing numbers of mass murders and homicides throughout the nation

“Although I’m only fourteen, I know quite well what I want. I know who is right and who is wrong. I have my opinions, my own ideas, and principles. Although it may sound pretty mad from an adolescent, I feel more of a person than a child. I feel quite independent of anyone.” Anne Frank.

An existential crisis refers to feelings of unease about meaning, choice, and freedom in life. Whether referred to as an existential crisis, or existential anxiety, the main concerns are the same: that life is inherently pointless, that our existence has no meaning because there are limits or boundaries on it, and that we all must die someday.

Existential anxiety arises during transitions and reflects difficulty adapting, often related to losing safety and security.

 For example, a college student moving away from home or an adult going through a difficult divorce might feel that the foundation on which their life was built is crumbling. This can lead to questioning the meaning of their existence.

I hear more people asserting that we are approaching not only the end of the United States but of humanity. There seems to be a pervasive feeling that there is no future. What accompanies this dismal way of viewing life today is that life has become meaningless. Perhaps this is the real reason there are ever-increasing numbers of mass shootings. There is a term for this sense of emptiness, and it’s anomie.

Anomie is defined as personal unrest, alienation, and uncertainty. It comes from a lack of purpose or ideals. What is fueling these awful, empty feelings? People often cite such things as climate change, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, China’s increasing military might, economic problems, racism, the Pandemic, social media’s negative influence, and the prevalence of guns in our society.

None of this is to suggest that these problems are unimportant. Instead, it’s a mistake to retreat into the hopeless belief that life has no meaning. It’s incumbent on each of us to find meaning in life. Existential psychotherapy aims in that direction. 

Finding meaning in life is fundamental to finding a purpose or set of personal goals for ourselves. It is also vital to transmitting our values and meanings to our children.

In feeling that life has no meaning, people transmit that hopeless way of thinking to our children.

Values and Ethics

An essential part of the meaning in life has to do with values and ethics. The University of Texas defines values and ethics in this way:

“Ethics can also refer to rules or guidelines that establish what conduct is right and wrong for individuals and groups. For example, codes of conduct express relevant ethical standards for professionals in many fields, such as medicine, law, journalism, and accounting.

“The term values are individual beliefs that motivate people to act. They serve as a guide for human behavior.

People are predisposed to adopt the values they are raised with. People also believe that those values are “right” because they are the values of their particular culture.

Ethical decision-making often involves weighing values against each other and choosing which values to elevate. Conflicts can result when people have different values, leading to a clash of preferences and priorities.

Still, other values are sacred and are moral imperatives for those who believe in them. For example, for some people, their nation’s flag may represent a sacred value. But for others, the flag may just be a piece of cloth. Sacred values will seldom be compromised because they are perceived as duties rather than factors to be weighed in decision-making.”

From Politico Magazine:

Early childhood trauma seems to be the foundation, whether violence in the home, sexual assault, parental suicides, or extreme bullying. Then you see the build toward hopelessness, despair, isolation, self-loathing, and often rejection from peers. That turns into a really identifiable crisis point where they’re acting differently. Sometimes they have previous suicide attempts.

What’s different from traditional suicide is that the self-hate turns against a group. The hate turns outward. They ask themselves, “Whose fault is this?” Is it a racial group, women, religious group, or are my classmates? There’s also this quest for fame and notoriety.

Taken from an article published in Politico:

https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2022/05/27/stopping-mass-shooters-q-a-00035762

Making Life Meaningful Begins at Home:

An important fact deeply connected to mindless violence and meaninglessness is that we must begin with young children by teaching the essential values of morals, ethics, respect for life, and empathy for others.

Empathy for the plight of others is very positive and powerful. In it, the empathetic person can imagine being in the place of the troubled person and feel what they feel. In fact, empathy precedes compassion. Empathy occurs immediately and leaves no emotional room between the individual and the one suffering. Empathy without compassion leaves the individual drained of energy because of feeling what the other feels. 

None of this implies that there is anything wrong with empathy. Simply put, we need a combination of empathy and compassion to be most helpful to people.

Existential Psychotherapy

The theory behind existential therapy helps people explore life’s difficulties from a philosophical perspective. It suggests that your source of inner conflict is the confrontation you have with the issues of life. Instead of looking back into your past, look at the here and now. Try to get meaning out of any given situation. In doing so, you can end the fear of the unknown that grips you way too often. The bottom line of this therapy approach is to encourage you to take responsibility for your success.

America and American families must face the existential crisis among young people. If not, mass murders will continue, and racism and other forms of intergroup conflict.