Academic journal article American Journal of Psychotherapy

Envy and Jealousy

Academic journal article American Journal of Psychotherapy

Envy and Jealousy

Article excerpt

Clinical study of envy and jealousy in the psychotherapy situation indicates that these two states of mind are biopsychosocial response patterns involving the perceptual, cognitive, affective, and intentional mental functions. These response patterns are evoked by perceptual events that inform the individual of one's relative position vis-a-vis the requirements of one's life. Once these patterns can be discerned in the patient, the clinician is able to hear things in the psychotherapy situation not previously heard and understand, interpret, and work through conflict in a new and useful way. In this paper psychotherapy paradigms and strategies are discussed from the new perspective afforded by the psychology of envy and jealousy.

INTRODUCTION

An earlier paper reported my observations and inferences from the study of envy and jealousy in the psychotherapy situation (1). Envy and jealousy were seen to be biopsychosocial response patterns of the mental functions of perception, cognition, affect, and intention keyed to two basic conditions of human existence, having (in jealousy) and not having (in envy) advantages deemed requirements of life. These response patterns are evoked by perceptual events that inform the individual of one's relative position vis-a-vis these requirements. Both the threat of loss of advantage connoted by the word jealousy and the recognition of disadvantage connoted by the word envy pose a threat to the sense of self.

In the course of the child's development, socialization and acculturation foster repression of envy and jealousy. The individual learns that direct expressions of envy and jealousy endanger the self and others. However, patterns of envious and jealous response mediated by the perceptual, cognitive, affective, and intentional mental functions take part in shaping the self and object representations of the self and two guiding organizations of these representations that I have termed the Beloved Ideal and the Nemesis. Insofar as envied important early objects share their perceived advantages, they are introjected and become the building blocks of the Beloved Ideal. Insofar as these objects jealously withhold their perceived advantages, they are introjected and become the building blocks of the Nemesis. These unconscious, organized memory residues, the Beloved Ideal and the Nemesis, play an important part in determining the habitual and idiosyncratic ways a person has of experiencing the self and others. How subject they are to reality testing depends upon the interplay of constitution, developmental experience, and social reinforcement.

Application of the psychology of envy and jealousy in psychotherapy proved helpful to patients. It seemed particularly useful in the treatment of patients with borderline and narcissistic personality disorders, though its usefulness was by no means restricted to those conditions. The psychology of envy and jealousy represents a departure from classic psychoanalytic theory (2, 3), object relations theory (4-7), self psychology (8) and cognitive- behavior theory (9), though readers will find that it incorporates useful elements from them all. Freud found envy to be psychological "bedrock"(10). Klein saw it as an expression of "death instinct" (5). The psychology of envy and jealousy illuminates this heretofore obscure territory of mental life. Its dual analytic and educative intentions can be readily applied in once- or twice-weekly psychotherapy with well-motivated patients. My earlier paper described its usefulness in focused or brief psychotherapy. Maladaptive character traits require a longer period of working through.

This paper provides a guide for psychotherapists in using the psychology of envy and jealousy in doing psychotherapy. It examines how to detect and address envy- and jealousy-based distortions in patients' perceptual, cognitive, affective, and intentional mental functions. It goes on to identify and show how to correct similar distortions preserved in memory that continue to operate in the present. …

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