Developmental significance of jealousy

Some time ago I wrote an article on life positions

“Life Positions”. 1994. TAJ,

Vol 24, No. 4. Pp269 – 276

In that I proposed a somewhat Machiavellian view of human nature which I believe to be true nonetheless.

People are born with a narcissistic view of the world and they do not spontaneously develop out of that as a natural course of events. They will only develop out of that and begin to see others as OK if it is imposed on them and they have to do it. People will not naturally of their own accord see others as OK.


People remember events like this


This is where the feelings of jealousy and envy can assume some considerable developmental importance for the child. As a child grows and lives it comes across situations where it will see another child have something it wants, often it is a sibling. Most children will then want that toy or cake that the other has and it can feel jealousy or envy. These as we all know are not pleasant feelings.

Hopefully the parents will allow the child to live through that emotion. This means the child acknowledges that it is feeling envy. That the other child gets to keep the desired object and it is not given to the envious child or some substitute is provided to it. Thus the child learns in a painful way that others have worth and have rights to have the things which they want. This is how they begin to see others as having worth and Okness. In a mild way it is almost traumatised into that view of others in that it has to experience the pain of jealousy and as we know it is the painful feelings that we tend to remember.

People are born with a basic set of emotions. It is proposed that this basic set have developed in humans because they serve some evolutionary advantage. The above answers the question of what is one evolutionary advantage of jealousy and envy.

Tongue poking

If handled correctly by the parents it allows the child to develop out of its primary narcissism and to develop a sense of the worth of others. Hence a civilised society is possible.

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