Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Jealous rage

Jealousy has a really unfortunate position in our culture.  Much of what we read presents it as natural, acceptable, or desirable even when it is violent or destructive.  When I see an Archie comic at the grocery store these days I shudder because of the way in which the characters are still portrayed; as though nothing new has been learned in the past half century.  Moose is a gigantic football player and every scene he has anything relevant to do in is about him inflicting brutal violence on others because those others looked at his girlfriend Midge.  Moose is presented as a sympathetic character, a nice guy who defends his property rights with such gusto that everyone around him can't help but admire the bruises and injuries he so casually inflicts in his jealous rages.  It makes me sick to see it.

This clearly isn't limited to Archie comics.  The law in Texas up until a few decades ago allowed people to murder their spouses and a lover if they were caught having sex.  Advice in Cosmo magazine and its ilk constantly assumes that women should use the irrational, blinding jealousy of men to their advantage.  Sexism thrives on the assumption that a man's jealous rage justifies all kinds of terrible acts because clearly women need to work around this insanity that men are 'unable' to control.  It is an excuse to let men act badly.  (Among other things.)

Up until Sunday night I had never experienced jealousy.  People might not believe me, which is fine, but when I suddenly started experiencing it I was totally taken aback and honestly didn't know what was happening.  I felt sick to my stomach, was full of adrenalin fuelled anger and sorrow, and felt like the world was crashing down around me.  It was one of the worst experiences of my life to sit there in a furious, miserable rage and to not understand what brought it on.  Now I get it; I can suddenly see why jealousy gets so much support.  It is *powerful* and all consuming and terrifying and I wanted it to STOP.  That doesn't justify doing terrible things to try to satiate it but today I can see why people do so when I never could put myself in that frame of mind before.

After some reflection I figured out what was bothering me and as is my habit I tried to crush it with logic.  I went on the internet and read about jealousy and how people handle it.  I read about the various types of jealousy.  I hunted down books on the topic and told the library to bring them in for me.  Often, but not always, when I am upset I can spend time inside my own head and logic myself into a better place.  The heart wants what it wants but I can and will make it understand that its wants are sometimes destructive and inappropriate.  

I certainly had never thought that I would experience an entirely new emotion at age 34.  I kind of figured I was done with that sort of thing a couple decades ago.  Turns out there are depths I have not fully plumbed within me.  A tough pill to swallow for someone who prides himself on being self aware and in control, for certain.  I can't just decide to get rid of it entirely from myself but I can decide how I react and try to make sure I never let it determine my actions.  Feelings I don't want are inevitable but I will be damned if I let this one have its way.

(Edit:  Some people have expressed concern over this post.  To be completely crystal clear:

1.  Wendy did nothing wrong.  This was me freaking out over something totally innocuous.  My problem, not hers.

2.  We are fine.  Really.  I am taking this as a teachable moment where I learn about myself.)


  1. This and having to and the obligation to avoid women during their 'time of the month' really irritates me. Of course that people are meant to try and avoid upsetting other people, and of course that when you are in a relationship you should go out of your way to make your partner's life easier (if this does not come to you naturally, well, what are you doing there anyway?). Fine. Expecting people to always be fully composed and rational is irrational.

    What is not fine is not owning up. The situation/feelings/condition are important factors, and might (should?) mitigate the anger and retribution of those affected. But you still f* up, a little or a lot, and must make the corresponding amends. Apologize, work on your issues, whatever you and yours find fitting, but it is not 'just one of those things'.

    If you broke your mates' hammer doing DIY and felt it was an accident you couldn't prevent (butterfingers!), you would still get him a new hammer, right? Same principle applies.

    Rant over :)

  2. I've been watching some sesame street recently, and they talked a lot in the 2009-2010 seasons about jealousy. I usually think of people explaining emotions to kids in terms of happy, sad, and angry, but I guess it's very useful to get into more complex feelings for young children who might have trouble understanding them.

    What interested me is that they described jealousy as a "sad" feeling, not an "angry" one. I'm not sure if this is just wishful thinking, or an attempt at some sort of subtle cognitive therapy. If we think of jealousy as sadness rather than anger, and act that way, then we probably end up killing fewer people.

    On an unrelated note, I'm not sure I buy the idea that you've never felt jealous before. I believe you've never felt an all-out jealous rage. But wanting to be the best at something - not to succeed or to do as well as you can but to be better than other people - seems like a jealous-spectrum feeling to me. I don't know, maybe there are other ways to interpret that, but I feel like competitiveness has it's roots in jealousy.

  3. @Sthenno

    I think I differentiate between romantic jealousy and other sorts of similar things like envy. I have definitely felt envy before, and desired things other people have, so I know that spectrum reasonably well. I would say that I am not an envious person generally but it isn't a foreign concept by any means. I have never felt the romantic sort of jealousy though and the experience is utterly, starkly different for me. Honestly the difference between other kinds of envy and what I felt recently is similar to the difference between depression and anger; they don't feel anything like the same.

    Framing jealousy as a sad emotion rather than an angry one may be a very useful thing to do. I don't know if it will help but it might. Certainly we could do well to suggest that feeling jealous never justifies violence nor cruelty of any sort. Helping kids recognize and cope with jealousy is a good thing and reframing it that way strikes me as a good way to try to do this.


    I am not completely sure but I think you are suggesting that Wendy did something wrong. She did not. This was just me freaking out over something that I should not have by any stretch. It isn't about apologies or making amends because the only thing that happened that was inappropriate happened entirely in my mind. It is my problem, not hers.

    1. I have no idea what Wendy might have done (I didn't even know it was about here, albeit if I was a betting man...). Ultimately, it is your (as in both of you) business.

      My point was about just shrugging off behavior under the cover of emotional instability, which happens way too often to my linking, instead of owning up. So in your story if you had done something rash or mean (even as mild as being passive aggressive about it for the day) because of how you felt I would still hold *you* fully responsible. The fact that it was hard to control I would expect to make others involved a bit more understanding, but it would still be your fault and your mess to clear.

      Hope this clears it :)

    2. Yes, that does clear it up. I would definitely take responsibility for my actions regardless of my emotional state. Being really angry, jealous, sad, etc. can be a reason for doing something but it isn't an excuse. It is important to differentiate the two, for sure.

  4. I don't want to be the best by having everyone else be bad. I want to be the best by facing off with other people at the top of their game and being better. So I don't really see that as being jealousy. But then I'm pretty sure coming to me for emotional definitions is not a productive use of your time or mine.