7- Letter: medicalisation of human behaviour

Dear Editor,

Is jealousy abnormal?

In the 1950s Christianity was in a position of strength and at Sunday School we were taught to “Love Thy Neighbour”. In the 1960’s the Hippies recommended “Flower Power” and we were encouraged to “Make Peace Not War”. More recently we have been urged to avoid discrimination and embrace inclusion.

On this background, when we feel a flicker of envy/jealousy, we might worry we are aberrant individuals having pathological or immoral experience – in need of re-education or therapy.

Please consider these statements by famous people over hundreds of years:

  • Duc de la Rochefoucauld (1613-1680) French moralist

“We are all strong enough to bear the misfortunes of others.”

  • Henry Fielding (1707-1754) English novelist

“Some folks rail against other folks, because other folks have what some folks would be glad of.”

  • Edmund Burke (1729-1798) Anglo-Irish statesman and philosopher

“I am convinced that we have a degree of delight, and that no small one, in the real misfortunes and pains of others.”

  • Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914) American journalist and writer

“Calamities are of two kinds: misfortune to ourselves, and good fortune to others.”

“One likes people much better when they’re battered down by a prodigious siege of misfortune than when they triumph.”

  • Gore Vidal (1925-2012) American novelist and screen writer

“Whenever a friend succeeds, a little something in me dies.”

None of the above authors are known to have been mad, criminal or immoral. Their comments support that some envy/jealousy is a normal human response to certain circumstances. This in turn arises out on our inherited competitiveness which is central to survival of the species. How one manages these emotions may be the more important issue.

Saxby Pridmore

Discipline of Psychiatry, University of Tasmania, Tasmania, Australia.