Possessiveness is fundamentally a fear of loss.
Possessiveness is a common human trait that often goes unnoticed. We are taught to value ownership, control, and exclusivity, whether it’s in our relationships, our material possessions, or our beliefs. However, when possessiveness becomes excessive or rigid, it can lead to various forms of suffering, such as jealousy, anxiety, resentment, and even violence. In this article, we will explore the roots, consequences, and alternatives to possessiveness from different philosophical perspectives.
Possessiveness creates feelings of fear, then anger and finally sadness.
The harm caused by possessiveness can vary depending on the degree and intensity of the possessiveness, as well as the individual’s coping mechanisms and support systems. However, excessive possessiveness can have significant negative consequences.
The Roots of Possessiveness:
Possessiveness can be traced back to our innate survival instinct, which drives us to acquire and protect resources that we perceive as essential to our well-being. This instinct is adaptive and necessary in certain situations, such as finding food, shelter, and safety.
Some families teach their children to share and cooperate, while others encourage them to hoard and compete, some cultures promote collectivism and interdependence, while others emphasize individualism and competition.
Possessiveness can cause significant suffering and distress, but there are several remedial actions that one can take to alleviate sufferings by the study of spiritual scriptures, practicing self-reflection, mindfulness, seeking support, seeking professional help, and cultivating gratitude.
The Consequences of Possessiveness:
- Jealousy: Possessiveness often involves the fear of losing what we have or not getting what we want.
- Attachment: Possessiveness creates a strong attachment to things or people that we perceive as ours. This attachment can lead to dependence, obsession, and emotional pain when we are separated or threatened by them. This happens mostly in Relationship possessiveness.
- Conflict: Possessiveness can lead to conflicts with others who have different or conflicting interests, beliefs, or values.
Some common kinds of possessiveness:
Trust is a vital aspect of a healthy relationship:
Possessiveness can strain relationships, as it can lead to controlling and jealous behaviour that can damage trust and intimacy. It can also cause resentment and anger in the other person, leading to conflicts and possibly the breakdown of the relationship.
Consequences and remedies:
Relationship possessiveness: Can be particularly harmful in the context of a marriage, where one partner may feel entitled to possess or control the other. Impractical demands are a common feature of relationship possessiveness.
Betrayal in a relationship can be a painful and traumatic experience, especially when it involves possessiveness and control. When one partner betrays the other, it can shatter the trust and intimacy that are essential for a healthy relationship. In such cases, it is important to approach the situation with compassion, empathy, and a commitment to healing and growth. It is important to explore the root causes of the betrayal, which may include underlying issues such as addiction or mental health problems.
Various other possessiveness causes sufferings too.
Material possessiveness: An excessive attachment to material possessions such as money, cars, houses, or gadgets, and a fear of losing them or not having enough of them.
Intellectual possessiveness: A strong attachment to one’s qualification, beliefs, ideas, or opinions, and a tendency to dismiss or attack opposing views or evidence.
Status possessiveness: A desire for social status, recognition, or power, and a fear of losing them or being perceived as inferior.
Spiritual possessiveness: A rigid attachment to spiritual practices, beliefs, or teachers, and a tendency to exclude or judge others who do not conform to one’s standards.
Cultural possessiveness: A strong attachment to one’s cultural identity, values, or traditions, and a tendency to reject or criticize other cultures or lifestyles.
In Sanskrit, the term for possessiveness is “mamatva” (ममत्व). This term is derived from the root word “mama” which means “mine” or “belonging to me”. The suffix “-tva” indicates a state or quality of being, thus “mamatva” refers to the state or quality of possessing or owning something as one’s own.
In Vedanta, the concept of “mamatva” or possessiveness is seen as a source of suffering and an obstacle to spiritual growth. Vedanta teaches that the true nature of the self (Atman) is pure consciousness and that it is not limited or defined by any possessions, relationships, or identities. Possessiveness arises from the illusion of separation and the mistaken identification of the self with external objects or relationships.
Practice of renunciation:
Practice of renunciation is an important tool for overcoming excessive possession and attachment. By voluntarily giving up worldly possessions and attachments, individuals can cultivate inner peace, detachment, and spiritual growth. Vedanta teaches that the path to liberation or enlightenment involves transcending this illusion and realizing the true nature of the self as pure consciousness. Vedanta emphasizes the importance of detachment (vairagya) as a means of overcoming possessiveness and cultivating spiritual growth.
Some ancient Indian texts and their specific teachings on possessiveness:
Bhagavad Gita – In chapter 2, Shloka 62, the text says, “While contemplating the objects of the senses, one develops attachment to them. Attachment leads to desire, and from desire arises anger.” The text also teaches the importance of detachment in chapter 3, Shloka 29, where it says, “The wise ones do not get attached to the fruits of their actions. They work without any attachment, without any selfish motives.”
Yoga Sutras of Patanjali – This text is a collection of aphorisms on the practice of yoga, including the concept of vairagya or detachment from worldly attachments and desires. In sutra 1.15, Patanjali says, “When non-attachment (vairagya) is achieved, there is the desire for the state of perfect discrimination. Here, Patanjali teaches that detachment from worldly attachments and desires is a necessary step towards achieving discrimination and wisdom.
Upanishads – The Upanishads contain teachings on the nature of the self, the universe, and the relationship between them, which are relevant to the concept of possessiveness. In the BRRihadAraNyaka Upanishad, Shloka 2.4.5, it says, “This Self, which is free from sin, free from old age, free from death and grief, free from hunger and thirst, whose desires are the Self, whose will is the Self, should be searched out, should be understood.”
Possessiveness is a common human tendency that can lead to suffering and attachment. Various ancient Indian texts emphasize the importance of detachment and cultivating right conduct in acquiring and using possessions. They highlight the ultimate goal of realizing the true nature of the self, which is not defined by possessions or attachments but by its infinite and eternal nature.