Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Emotional Intelligence (8): Jealousy

Jealousy and Flirtation by Haynes King (1831-1904)

Jealousy — along with her equally twisted twin sister, Envy — is one of the strongest, most unpleasant, futile and all-encompassing of emotions. There are two types of jealousy I'd like to consider. The first is that all-too-common envy we can feel at times towards others. Whether we are jealous of another person's perceived or imagined health, wealth, happiness, status, success, talents, good fortune, family, car, house or garden, it's all the same: the bottom line is that we become insecure, frustrated and bitter, wondering why others seem to have all the luck, and resenting life's injustices. And envy tends to be a state which breeds more envy, just as maggots multiply on rancid meat. No matter how many times we may satisfy our cravings for what our neighbour already appears to possess, more cravings inevitably take their place. There is always something else to be envious of.

Fortunately I learnt long ago about the ugly mechanics of envy, and I am so relieved not to be in its cold, life-denying embrace. It's a great freedom and liberation not to be tied to that ceaseless emotional treadmill. Acceptance of what one is and what one has, gladness at being oneself and not another, contentment with one's lot no matter how unfairly the cards have been dealt — these are the secrets of a happy life. Now, I'm not saying that I'm always content, and cheerful about the way things are, and overjoyed that much of life seems to be a succession of pain, tragedy and disaster. And I'm not saying either that we shouldn't have the ambition to change things, to improve our lives in whatever ways we feel are right. But if such desires are for shallow or impossible things, and if they are fuelled by jealousy and envy, than we are heading straight down the road of unhappiness and dissatisfaction.

The other type of jealousy which comes to mind is, for me, much more difficult to restrain: that is sexual jealousy. I've met a few people who have insisted they do not understand this emotion, and have never felt it, but I don't think this is the case for most of us. Like all kinds of jealousy, sexual jealousy can be a destructive, consuming passion — based, I believe, on insecurity, and a fear of rejection and abandonment. I have felt sexual jealousy at some periods in my life, sometimes obsessively, and have always found it pointless, demeaning and a waste of time and energy — yet this strong, unreasoning emotion always seems to override logic.

Astrologically I am a Scorpio, and "Scorpios are known for their possessiveness and jealousy but on the other hand, they are extremely loyal", according to this Zodiac Signs website. Be that as it may. Shakespeare, however, has more elevated things to say on the subject. In Othello, Iago famously describes jealousy thus: "It is the green-eyed monster, which doth mock / The meat it feeds on: that cuckold lives in bliss, / Who, certain of his fate, loves not his wronger; / But, O, what damn├ęd minutes tells he o'er / Who dotes, yet doubts; suspects, yet soundly loves!" And Othello's misplaced jealousy gets out of hand: " ... Yet I'll not shed her blood; / Nor scar that whiter skin of hers than snow, / And smooth as monumental alabaster. / Yet she must die, else she'll betray more men."

How does one come to terms with sexual jealousy? The issue is far too complex for me to deal with here in a few words. Suffice to say, I think the trick is to recognise that we are all independent beings in the end, that we are all existentially "on our own", and that we do not possess anyone else, even partially. Possession implies power over someone, and that is not good; it is not our right to expect or exert this. Our loved ones are human like we are and they are not perfect. They are not our property. They are separate beings. They change, they evolve, they may hurt or betray us. Their minds are not our minds. Other minds may contain unshareable secrets and depths we can barely guess at. If we can look at things in this way, with a more realistic kind of balance, we can then begin to differentiate between love and sex, and realise that, although sex may be an important part of love, it is not love itself. Real love should transcend human failings, disappointments, sex and sexual jealousy.