Skip to main content

Morbid Jealousy: Some Clinical and Social Aspects of a Psychiatric Symptom

  • Michael Shepherd

Jealousy is more than a psychiatric symptom. Its language is universal: the conduct and feelings of the jealous man and woman have repeatedly drawn the attention of the great observers of human nature, the moralists and the philosophers as well as the poets and the novelists. They have, on the whole, described the reaction more successfully than they have defined it. Even the most celebrated definitions—Descartes' “kind of fear related to a desire to preserve a possession” or Spinoza's “mixture of hate and love”, for example— merely illustrate the complexity of a term whose many nuances of meaning can be detected in its roots. The English adjective “jealous” and the noun “jealousy” are derived respectively from the French “jaloux” and “jalousie”, both taken from the old Provençal “gilos”; “gilos” in turn may be traced back to the vulgar Latin adjective “zelosus” which comes from the late Latin “zelus” and so indirectly from the Greek ζηλoς. In its transmission the word has thus been debased. It has ceased to denote “zeal” or “ardour”; the “noble passion” which stood opposed to “envy” for the Greeks has acquired a pejorative quality. In modern German the distinction is preserved verbally, “Eifersucht” having been formed from the original “Eifer” (zeal) and the suffix “-sucht”, which is cognate with “siech”, meaning “sickly”. Amorous jealousy claims associations of its own. During the seventeenth century the French word “jalousie” acquired the meaning of “blind” or “shutter”; in this sense it entered the English language as a noun in the early nineteenth century; the transmutation is thought to have signified a jocular reference to the suspicious husband or lover who could watch unobserved behind the jalousie; the Italian word “gelosia” is used in this way as early as the middle of the sixteenth century. In the Scandinavian languages separate words designate amorous jealousy. (1) The Swedish “svartsjuk”, literally “black sick”, is taken from an old expression which identified jealousy with the wearing of black socks; the Danish “skinsyg”, “afraid of getting skin (a rebuff)”, harks back to an old link of jealousy with skin which may in turn have been connected with hose or socks. (2) The origin of the colours which are traditionally employed to depict jealousy, especially black, yellow and green, is obscure.

Hide All
1 Hellquist, E., Svensk Etymologisk Ordbok, 1920. Gleerup: Lund.
2 Stenberg, S., “Beitrag zur Kasuistik des Eifersuchtswahnes', Acta Scand. Neurol. et Psychiat., 1943, 18, 59.
3 McDougall, W., The Energies of Men, 1948. London: Methuen ' Co.
4 Jones, E., “La jalousie”, Rev. française de Psychanalyse, 1929, 3, 228.
5 Ribot, T., Essai sur les Passions, 1910. Paris: Alcan. p. 90.
6 Shand, A. F., “M. Ribot's Theory of the Passions”, Mind, 1907, 16, 477.
7 Gesell, A., “Jealousy”, Amer. J. Psychol., Worcester, 1906, 17, 437.
8 Freud, S., “Certain neurotic mechanisms in jealousy, paranoia and homosexuality”, Collected Papers, 1924. Vol. II., p. 232. The Hogarth Press.
9 Ruckmick, C. A., “The Classification of Emotions”, in: The Psychology of Feeling and Emotion (Ed. by Dashiel, J. F.), 1936. McGraw Hill, p. 111.
10 Whitehorn, J. C., “Physiological Changes in Emotional States”, Research, Publ. A. Nerv. and Ment. Dis., 1939, 19, 256.
11 Lagache, D., La Jalousie Amoureuse, 1947. 3 vols. Presses Universitaires de France.
12 Buchanan Scott, The Doctrine of Signatures, 1938. London: Kegan Paul.
13 Mairet, A., La Jalousie: Étude Psycho-physiologique, Clinique et Médico-légale, 1908, Montpellier.
14 Ey, H., “Jalousie morbide”, in: Études Psychiatriques, 1950. Tome II. Paris: Desclée de Brouwer et Cie, p. 483.
15 Escombe, J., La Jalousie Morbide des Alcooliques, 1899. Paris.
16 Krafft-Ebbing, —., “Uber Eifersuchtswahn beim Manne”, Jahrb. f. Psychiatrie, 1891, 10, 221.
17 Lewis, A. J., “Alcoholic Psychoses”, Brit. Encycl. of Med. Practice, 1938, 8, 332.
18 Pohlisch, K., “Die Persönlichekeit und das Milieu Delirium-tremens-Kranker der Charité aus den Jahren 1912 bis 1925”, Monatsschr. f. Psychiatrie u. Neurol., 1927, 63, 82.
19 Kolle, K., “Uber Eifersucht und Eifersuchtswahn bei Trinkern”, ibid., 1932, 83, 128.
20 Kraepelin, E., Psychiatrie, 7th edition. Vol. II. Leipzig, p. 158.
21 Parant, V., quoted by Semelaigne, R., “Delusions resulting from jealousy”, J. Ment. Sci., 1902, 48, 131.
22 Gruhle, H. W., “Partielle Geschäftsunfähigkeit, partielle Zurechnungsfähigkeit (Eifersucht)”, Nervenarzt, 1940, 13, 544.
23 Redlich, E., “Die Psychosen bei Gehirnerkrankungen” in: Handbuch der Psychiatrie (ed. by Aschaffenburg, ), 1912. Leipzig.
24 Abély, P., and Feuillet, C., “Les idées délirantes de jalousie dans la démence précoce”, Ann. Med. Psychol., 1941, 99(2), 75.
25 Jaspers, K., “Eifersuchtswahn”, Z. Neur., 1910, 1, 567.
26 Lagache, D., Discussion in L'Evolution Psychiatrique, 1955, p. 64.
27 Campbell, J. D., Manic-Depressive Disease, 1952. Lippincott.
28 Alapin, B., “Zazdrose Zwykla, Charakteropatyczna I Urojeniawa (Etiologia, patogeneza, klinika), Neurologia, Neurochirurgia i Psychiatria Polska, 1958, 8, 441.
29 Lange, J., “Die endogenen und reaktiven Gemütserkrankungen und die manisch-depressive Konstitution”, in: Handbuch der Geisteskrankheiten (Special), (ed. by Bumke, O.), 1928, Vol. II, p. 91. Springer.
30 Brousseau, A., “Variétés de la personnalité des jaloux au regard de la clinique”, L'Evolution Psychiatrique, 1955, p. 33.
31 Kehrer, F., “Paranoische Zustände”, in: Handbuch der Geisteskrankheiten (Special), (ed. by Bumke, O.), 1928, Vol. II, pp. 245 and 260.
32 Stefanowski, D., “Morbid Jealousy”, Alienist and Neurologist, St. Louis, 1893, 14, 375.
33 Bleuler, E., Dementia Praecox, 1911 (translated 1950). New York: International Universities Press. p. 399.
34 Langfeldt, G., “The Hypersensitive Mind”, Acta Psychiatrica et Neurologica Scandinavica, 1951, Supplementum 73, p. 53.
35 Borel, J., Les Psychoses Passionnelles, 1952. Expansion Scientifique Française.
36 Kretschmer, E., A Textbook of Medical Psychology, 1952. The Hogarth Press. p. 268.
37 Fenichel, O., The Psychoanalytic Theory of Neurosis, 1945. New York: W. W. Norton, p. 512.
38 Klein, M., Envy and Gratitude, 1957. Tavistock Publications Ltd., p. 32.
39 Seidenberg, R., “Jealousy: The Wish”, Psychoanalytic Review, 1952, 39, 345.
40 Schmiedeberg, M., “Some aspects of jealousy and of feeling hurt”, ibid., 1953, 1, p. 1.
41 Tiggelaar, J., “Pathological jealousy and jealous delusions”, Fol. Psychiat. Neerl., 1956, 59, 522.
42 du Boeuff, C. W., Over Jaloerschheidswan, 1938. Zutphen: Ruys.
43 Minkowski, E., “Jalousie pathologique sur un fond d'automatisme mental”, Ann. Méd.-Psychol., 1929, 87, Pt. 2, 24.
44 Lund, F. H., Emotions, 1947. New York: The Ronald Press Company, p. 228.
45 Rumke, H., in: Transcript of Comments and Discussion of the Work Conference on Problems in Field Studies in the Mental Disorders, 1959 (unpublished). American Psychopathological Association. p. 370.
46 Ellis, H., “Studies in the Psychology of Sex”. Vol. VI. Sex in Relation to Society, 1928. Philadelphia: F. A. Davis. p. 569.
47 Davis, K., “Jealousy and Sexual Property”, Social Forces, 1936, 14, 395.
48 Westermarck, E., A Short History of Human Marriage, 1908. Macmillan.
49 Blacker, C. P., “Disruption of Marriage”, Lancet, 1958, i, 578.
50 Lovel Barnes, J. F., “Marriage, Paranoia and Paranoid States”, Med. Press, 1954, 232.
51 Revitch, E., “The Problem of Conjugal Paranoia”, Dis. Nerv. System, 1954, 15, 271.
52 Slater, E. T. O., and Woodside, M., Patterns of Marriage, 1951. London: Cassell, p. 156.
53 Macdonell, J., in: Report of the Royal Commission on Capital Punishment (1949–1953), 1953. H.M.S.O., p. 330.
54 East, W. N., Medical Aspects of Crime, 1936. London: J. ' A. Churchill. p. 364.
55 Brierley, H. C., Homicide in the United States, 1932. Chapel Hill.
56 Gray, J. P., “Responsibility of the Insane: Homicide in Insanity”, Amer. J. Insanity, 1875, 32, 1 and 153.
57 Sullivan, W. C., “The Relation of Alcoholism to Insanity and Crime”, Proc. Roy. Soc. Med., 1924, 17, 37.
58 Hopwood, J. S., and Milner, K., “Alcoholism and Criminal Insanity”, Brit. J. Ineb., 1940, 38, 51.
59 Mowat, R. R., “Incidence of Morbid Jealousy in Murderers”, Dissertation for the University of London Diploma of Psychological Medicine, 1956 (unpublished).
60 East, W. N., Forensic Psychiatry, 1927. London: J. A. Churchill. p. 198.
61 Myer, A. F., Apfelberger, B., and Sugar, C., “Men who kill Women”, J. Clin. Psychopathol., 1947, 8, (No. 3), 481.
62 Karpman, B., Case Studies in the Psychopathology of Crime, 1948. Vol. III. Washington, D.C.: Med. Sci. Press.
63 J. Ment. Sci., 1864, 9, 591; 1865, 10, 21; 1865, 11, 66.
64 Tuke, D. H., “Monomania”, in: Dictionary of Psychological Medicine, 1892. London: J. ' A. Churchill. p. 82.
65 Maudsley, H., Responsibility in Mental Disease, 1897. New York: Appleton ' Co. p. 213.
66 Claude, H., Psychiatrie Médico-Légale, 1932. Paris: G. Doin et Cie. p. 135.
67 Edwards, J. W. J., “Provocation and the Reasonable Man: another View”, Criminal Law Review, 1954. London: Sweet ' Maxwell Ltd. p. 898.
68 Devlin, P., “Criminal Responsibility and Punishment: Functions of Judge and Jury”, ibid., 1954. London: Sweet ' Maxwell. p. 661.
69 Gooderson, R. N., “The Charge was Murder”, The Listener, 1959, 61, 549.
70 de Greeff, E., Introduction a la Criminologie, 1946. Vol. I. Brussels: Joseph Vandenplas. p. 366.
71 Report of the Royal Commission on Marriage and Divorce, 1956. London: H.M.S.O. p. 39.
72 The Law Reports (Probate), Palmer v. Palmer, 1955, p. 4.
73 O'Neill, W., “A Case of Jealousy”, Lancet, 1898, i, 223.
74 Brunswick, R., “A Case of Paranoia (Delusions of Jealousy)”, J. Nerv. Ment. Dis., 1929, 70, 1 and 155.
75 Wendt, C. F., “Die ‘Eifersuchtsparanoia’ im psychotherapeutischen Aspekt”, Arch. Psychiat. Nervenkr., 1951, 186, 496.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

The British Journal of Psychiatry
  • ISSN: 0368-315X
  • EISSN: 2514-9946
  • URL: /core/journals/the-british-journal-of-psychiatry
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed

Morbid Jealousy: Some Clinical and Social Aspects of a Psychiatric Symptom

  • Michael Shepherd
Submit a response


No eLetters have been published for this article.


Reply to: Submit a response

Your details

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *