Recently a reader asked me to write on the topic of jealousy. It's not an easy topic to explore because it is an emotion that defies logic. Jealousy is about fear of loss, lack of trust and a belief in the scarcity principle. The scarcity principle is when people believe that there is only so much of anything in the world and one must fight for a share. One thing seems to be true: the lower a person's sense of self-worth the more likely jealousy will occur. Another truth is people have to get self-worth all by themselves; you cannot give it to them. You can accept them, love them unconditionally and reassure them, but it only goes so far with a jealous person.

Jealousy and envy are not the same thing. Envy covets another's possessions or experiences--often sending out feelings of bitterness, resentment and ill will. Envy wants what another person has. Jealousy is about possessiveness; it is about control, ownership, management and command. Jealousy projects lack of confidence and insecurity; it seeks to protect the status quo and keep threats of loss at bay. Jealousy refuses to recognize the rights and personhood of another individual, and instead guards that individual and fears abandonment.

Sibling jealousy is caused when one child feels less important to the family or feels that a sibling is taking away something that belongs to him/her such as love. Many families fail to make it known that there is enough love to go around, so it is seen as a limited commodity and therefore something to be fought over. Parents are often guilty of using this jealousy as a way to keep children in line. Parents are also often guilty of preventing their children from forming relationships with people outside the family out of a misguided possessiveness and a belief in the scarcity of love and loyalty.

There is mother-daughter jealousy, father-son jealousy or jealousy when a parent perceives that a child has a better relationship with their partner than they do or when a parent is jealous of a grandparent's devotion to a child. Some parents envy a child's youthfulness and energy and ridicule or punish the child under the guise of positive criticism. Stepparents are often jealous of children who came before them. Parents even give up children in an effort to pacify a jealous spouse. People usually are ashamed of their jealousy and envy, and try to hide it and deny it, making up excuses for why they behave the way they do.

If envy wants what someone else has and jealousy is trying to keep what one has, how does one deal with these feelings? For a healthy person to feel a mild version of either of these emotions is only human. And a little envy or jealousy can actually spur a person on to becoming something greater in a good way. When trouble starts is when either of these emotions begin to rule the life of the one feeling them and the lives of those who are connected to them.

Sometimes friends and spouses try to keep a loved one all to themselves, fearing the loss of that person if they interact with others. Jealousy holds people hostage and builds a wall of suspicion and mistrust. When the green-eyed monster becomes overly possessive and controlling that can be fatal to a relationship and even threaten the very lives of the people involved. Most murder-suicides are the result of a jealous rage. Most batterers are consumed with jealousy and envy and would rather see their partner dead than happy with someone else. Many spouses find themselves controlled and restricted as they make an effort to keep the peace with a jealous partner.

Jealousy is a painful and unnecessary emotion. If you find yourself feeling it or being controlled by it check your feelings of self-worth, question your lack of trust (is it based on reality?), and work hard to find the self-confidence and security that comes with knowing that you are a valuable, worthwhile human being just by virtue of the fact that God chooses for you to exist.

Evelyn Leite has been a family systems therapist since 1980. Highly regarded for her seminars in multicultural counseling and education, she gives special attention to issues with people from varying cultural and ethnic backgrounds. She has designed and implemented many family programs and is proficient in spiritual and grief counseling. She founded Living With Solutions in 1989 to help her clients and their families heal.