Facets of Morbid Jealousy: With an Anecdote from a Historical Tamil Romance

By Somasundaram, O. | Indian Journal of Psychiatry, July-September 2010 | Go to article overview

Facets of Morbid Jealousy: With an Anecdote from a Historical Tamil Romance


Somasundaram, O., Indian Journal of Psychiatry


Byline: O. Somasundaram

Morbid jealousy is a symptom which occurs in many psychiatric conditions. The complex emotional aspects of jealousy have been discussed by earlier authors. The clinical, cultural, social, and forensic aspects, are touched upon. Morbid jealousy is a favourite topic among novelists and dramatists. "Othello" is a classic example. This topic is covered in one of the famous historical romances of the Tamil author, Kalki.

"O beware, my lord, of jealousy,

It is the green-eyed monster, which doth mock

The meat it feeds on." (Othello)

"Jealousy is as cruel as the grave."

(Song of Solomon)

Morbid jealousy is not a psychiatric disorder, but a syndrome that occurs in many psychiatric conditions. Much attention has been paid to this by the French writers of earlier times. Mariet, quoted by Shepherd, [sup][1] mentions that there are three broad sub-divisions - hyperesthetic jealousy, jealousy monomania, and delusional jealousy. Scott Buchanan as quoted by Shepherd (vide supra) expresses the view that, "in diagnosis the single symptom is radically ambiguous; it belongs to many syndromes, and it's only legitimate interpretation demands a thorough exploration of the possible syndromes to which it belongs".

There are any numbers of classifications of morbid jealousy, dating back to the nineteenth century French and German psychiatrists. There is a considerable overlap among them. Mairet (1908), Jaspers (1910), and Krafft-Ebbing (1891), cited by Shepherd. [sup][1]

Psychological aspects of jealousy

It would be appropriate to know the views of psychologists and psychiatrists about the nature of jealousy. Jealousy for Ribot was a complex state made up of pleasure, anger, and chagrin. Freud, in an article first published in 1922, writes:

"Jealousy is one of those affective states, like grief, that may be described as normal. If anyone appears to be without it, the inference is justified that it has undergone severe repression and consequently plays all the greater part in his unconscious mental life. The instances of abnormally intense jealousy met within analytic work reveal themselves as constructed of three layers. The three layers or grades of jealousy may be described as (1) competitive or normal, (2) projected, and (3) delusional jealousy."

Normal jealousy is made up of grief, the pain at the thought of losing the loved object, and of the narcissistic wound, one's 'amour propre' is hurt at the idea of losing the woman. There is also a feeling of hostility against the successful rival and a certain amount of self-criticism for losing the object. Although it is called normal jealousy, it is not always entirely rational, that is, it is not based altogether on actual situations, nor is it proportionate to the real facts or under full control of the ego. It is also to be noted that in many persons it is experienced bisexually. Thus, a jealous man may not only experience pain in regard to the loved woman and hatred toward his male rival, but he may also feel grief in regard to the unconsciously loved man and hatred toward the woman as his rival.

Projection jealousy originates in both men and women, either through their own actual unfaithfulness or through impulses to unfaithfulness that were repressed. Projection jealousy has an almost delusional character, but it is amenable to analysis, in that the patient can be made to recognize the unconscious motives to the fantasies.

The third form, delusional jealousy is more severe. It too originates on the basis of repressed impulse to infidelity, but the objects of its fantasies belong to the same sex. Delusional jealousy is, "an acidulated homosexuality and justly belongs among the classical forms of paranoia". It is an attempt at defense against a very strong homosexual striving and in a man it may be expressed in the formula, "Indeed, I do not love him, she loves him". …

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