by Monica Ross
One of the things that comes up in my practice often is the topic of jealousy. I think we can all relate to the feeling of being jealous. We might be jealous that someone has a nicer house, or a nicer car. What I see more often is jealousy in terms of relationships. A person might be jealous that their partner is giving attention to someone else for instance or paranoid that their partner may stray.
This fear of betrayal could be related to an actual event of the past, a former infidelity. Or it could be related to a fear that is not rooted in the current relationship and is baggage of sorts from a previous relationship where there was infidelity.
But in either case, if we attribute our feelings of jealousy to what someone else does or says then we give up control over our reactions.
IF I BLAME MY FEELINGS OF JEALOUSY OR ANGER ON HOW SOMEONE ELSE BEHAVES I GIVE UP CONTROL OVER MY EMOTIONS
It’s such a key point and one that is often overlooked. The phone call that came from an ex didn't trigger our feelings of jealousy--the meaning we attribute to the phone call or the story that we make up in our head about it did.
So that the goal isn’t to come to a point where we forbid our partners from even talking to their ex or disable our social media accounts to avoid unwanted pictures floating in our face of our boyfriend and how happy he is with his new partner. It's not what everyone else is saying or doing that's causing these feelings for us, it's the insecurity we harbor.
Let's not coax our partner to come home early in an attempt to compensate for our jealous feelings, or get her to text us regularly throughout the day to check in, or show us his phone when we feel suspicious about a text he received, or ask her to take a picture of where they are at at the moment when we’re dating long distance and feeling insecure.
We do these things because we feel insecure but also because we have the fear of looking like a fool. It can be an endless game of trying to prevent embarrassment on our part and of looking for evidence to prove our suspicions in order to circumvent future embarrassment.
And when we go down the trail of accusation--"Yes you were out with this other person, I know it" we go through all of the emotions of hurt and anger as if whatever triggered our jealousy actually did occur when it actuality it didn’t—leaving us feeling worse in the end about ourselves and confirming our unworthiness for misinterpreting.
I'm not talking about those incidents where we do have a lying, manipulating, or cheating partner who has proven that they lie, cheat, or manipulate chronically. I'm talking about those instances where we know it's about us.
By the same token we might also try to bolster ourselves up so much that we turn the tables and start to think this other person that we care about so much about doesn’t in the end deserve someone as great as we are. But this too feeds into a false image of ourselves on the other side of the spectrum--instead of the negative self image it's the false idealized self. Instead of I'm not good enough for anyone else it becomes no else is good enough for me.
None of these things help to take the jealous feelings away because the source of our jealousy isn’t in this person our object of interest and desire and their actions and behaviors it’s within us. And when these jealous feelings lead to anger, especially if our suspicion is unwarranted—we’re actually pushing the person away that we are wanting so very much to draw nearer to and we’re placing judgement on ourselves for getting angry and jealous in the first place over this person who clearly had no malicious intent.
What we fear by being jealous is often abandonment. We fear that our partner will leave us and that fear causes us to try to control their behavior. There is no need to fear being abandoned because everyday we are surrounded by a whole host of other people and other opportunities for connection.
Often it’s not possible to change the situation that we’re in—to make the person we pine after reciprocate our love or to change a another person’s attitude or approach to life, say for instance if they feel the need to date other people. We also can't change their feelings at any given time. Here is what we can change--our reaction to it all. I've said that again and again in other posts.
How do we change our reaction? We do that by changing our thoughts. When we change our thinking about things our feelings tend to follow. This other person be they our spouse or our significant other is not the source of our happiness. And if they leave, we need not fear being alone because someone else inevitabliy will enter the picture.
So that in the worst case scenario, if the other person does leave--our spouse, partner, romantic interest--we would go on to find happiness elsewhere either in moments alone or with friends and family or in moments with another person who enters as a potential spouse, partner, or romantic interest.
No one likes to feel insecure. And people who come to me with feelings of jealousy and suspicion come in deep pain about it. They describe a kind of an anxiety, an instability, a fluctuation of feeling maybe—insecurity has a back and forthness quality to it almost.
It often feels like a wave of a multitude of different feelings like anger, fear, sadness. The source of these feelings of insecurity come from a false assumption that we don’t in some way measure up, that we’re unworthy or inadequate. And maybe the anger is that deep down we know we're not. So then, why can't this other person just see that? We ask.
It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter that perhaps they don't. We don't need to convince anyone else of our worth. If they end in the end decide to leave and play this game of life with someone else, point them towards the exit.
Unrequited love can bruise the ego, but keep in mind it's just the ego that is getting bruised. Maybe focus on those moments instead where we did or do feel love from this other person, whether we choose to keep them in our lives or not.
In the case of requited love we might tell ourselves that this other person is just afraid of love and is pushing us away. That may be the case, but it is also often the case that if they are in that space there is likely no convincing we can do to force them out of it. We can choose to stick around and love them from afar, but first has to come the acceptance that today they do not match up with our wants and needs.
Sometimes we can be convinced that we are in some way not good enough and that's what it is all about. But this isn't true for anyone. That's why we call it a false belief or negative core belief and it can be traced to an overall false identity we may have about ourselves.
That thought that we don’t measure up leads to the insecure emotion. When the emotion arises we use the emotion to reinforce our belief and take the emotion as proof that our belief is true, in other words I must not measure up after all look how anxious and insecure I feel which further confirms my belief. In addition the story we may attach an image with our thoughts and feelings.
To begin to untangle all of this we first have to develop the awareness that the story, the image, the false assumption or identity that is fueling the negative emotions that we do not want to experience is not true. Sometimes we think that others see us in the same way that we see ourselves because we believe that is how we are and in that way we can also come to judge what others believe about us even though the judgment lies within ourselves. Something else to think about.
I want to credit Gary van Warmerdam's awesome website as a good resource for helping me to formulate some of my own thoughts on the matter, some of which are a repeat of what he iterates on his site and some of which are deeply rooted in my own practice with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy techniques.