From infants to adults: Evolutionary role, dangers of jealousy

From infants to adults: Evolutionary role, dangers of jealousy

The 1989 award-winning Malayalam film 'Vadakkunokkiyantram' portrayed this scenario vividly.

As an infant, my daughter wouldn’t let anyone have a conversation with me. Perched on my hip, she held my face in her tiny hands and turned my gaze towards her whenever I tried to talk to anyone else. This behaviour isn’t uncommon. Social scientists conducted an experiment with six-month-old babies where they exhibited jealousy towards a lifelike doll held by their mothers, as opposed to a book.

Even animals display jealousy. My Doberman wouldn’t let anyone sit next to me, while my cat openly displayed her jealousy by slapping the other cat, which tried to join her in the coveted spot on my lap. Evolutionary psychologists say that jealousy functions as a ‘wake-up’ call, signalling that a valued relationship is in jeopardy, prompting us to take action to protect it.

When pets and infants display this behaviour, we find it endearing. Occasional, mild jealousy from a romantic partner too is often forgiven. However, the danger is that if left unchecked, jealousy can grow into a destructive monster.

The 1989 award-winning Malayalam film Vadakkunokkiyantram portrayed this scenario vividly. A man develops Othello syndrome after marrying a beautiful woman. Othello syndrome, a psychological disorder, involves an individual being obsessively convinced of their partner’s infidelity without real evidence.

Every couple needs to establish acceptable boundaries within their relationship and in their interactions with others. Couples, consciously or unconsciously, signal their displeasure to each other over certain actions. Over time, these signals solidify into rigid boundaries. When one partner is more dominant, the other often adjusts to avoid conflict. These boundaries develop so gradually that they go unnoticed, much like the frog in the urban myth who doesn’t realise the water is slowly heating until it’s too late.

Signs of extreme jealousy in a partner include wanting to do everything together, restricting friendships with the opposite sex, monitoring social media activities, stalking people who comment on their posts, questioning why calls go unanswered, needing to always know their partner’s whereabouts, accusing them of cheating or flirting, prohibiting vacations with friends, checking their phone records, and even dictating how they should dress. This is often done under the guise of love.

Jealousy is an innate trait. Animals and infants cannot help displaying their jealousy. But as fully functional adults, we have the power to reflect on our choices. To curb the jealousy monster, it is imperative to be meticulously aware of the motivation behind each action we take, and to course-correct when we deviate. When it comes to jealousy, self-reflection goes a long way.

Preeti Shenoy

Novelist, Illustrator, Speaker

Instagram: @preeti.shenoy

The New Indian Express