Jealousy can be the most powerful and destructive of all the emotions, and most of us have felt it at some point or another. So its good to know that it has a purpose, even if that purpose is somewhat primal. It is there to help us maintain our most intimate relationships, because these relationships are essential to our well-being (and originally, to our survival).
We are programmed to connect with other people to form families, tribes and community groups. We feel jealous if we feel that these connections are threatened in any way. But despite this rational explanation, jealousy can make us behave in the most irrational ways. Worst of all, it is often at the root of much domestic violence.
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Psychologists often say that the only people to feel jealousy are those who are insecure and don’t feel safe in their relationship, and there’s likely some truth in that. If you had a happy childhood and your primary carers were there to meet your needs, and you were not traumatised in any way, then you will grow into a secure adult who is confident that your adult relationships will also meet your needs. But if your childhood was wanting in any way, or worse you were abused or neglected, or your parents were distracted or addicted or neglectful, then it is unsurprising if, at a subconscious level, we believe that our adult relationships will also let us down. Invariably, the principle triggers of jealousy are beliefs that create feelings of insecurity.
The way we often react to jealous feelings is by being possessive and controlling. Unfortunately however it is extremely difficult to reassure someone who is possessive and controlling that this is the last and worst way to try and hold onto someone else; it is almost guaranteed to ensure that the object of your jealousy does, in fact, leave you. Anger and jealousy will not endear someone to be closer to us. When one looks at the behaviour of jealousy and anger as a means to control and keep someone, the behaviour doesn’t make sense.
Its important to recognise that there is a difference between jealousy and envy, even though the words are sometimes used interchangeably: envy is the emotion of coveting what someone else has, while jealousy is the emotion related to fear that something you have will be taken away by someone else.There are also gender differences – men are more likely to be jealous and possessive of their partner from a deep fear of being cuckolded, while women are more likely to be jealous for emotional reasons and a deep fear of losing their provider through emotional infidelity.
When we feel jealousy begin to rise within us the feeling is similar to that of rising anger. It can start in our belly and spread through our chest and down our arms – such is the physical component that it can have such a strong tangible effect. Our faces might flush, and our heart rate goes up, and some people report a ringing in their ears.
But it is the invisible mental and emotional effect that is most damaging. We can have thoughts which are quite irrational, damaging and/or illegal. People have been murdered because of a jealous rage, and others have been hurt because of a slow-burning paranoia caused by jealousy.
If you stop and analyse those jealous thoughts and feelings, you are likely to find that there is an underlying feeling of anxiety. You are jealous because you feel anxious that your relationship is at risk, and that leads to an agitated worry which causes all those physical and mental changes, and destructive behaviour. Using anger as a way to control someone else’s behaviour is something we often learn in childhood. It is one of the mechanisms we learn early in life is to control other people’s attention and behaviour. When we were punished as children, anger often accompanied that punishment. Sometimes just harsh words were enough to get us to change a behaviour. At a very minimum when someone was angry at us, it got our attention. In this way we learned early in life to use anger as a means to control other people’s attention, and as a punishment to control behaviour. As we got older we didn’t necessarily unlearn this pattern and when we feel jealousy we go to anger and punishment as a way to sooth our jealousy.
Although it is hugely powerful, it is possible to overcome your own jealousy. The first step is to become aware of it, that is, to be consciously aware of the physiological and emotional changes that are the consequence of jealousy, and the thoughts behind these reactions. Awareness allows you to see that the projected stories in your mind are not true. When you have this clarity you can begin to stop reacting to the scenarios that your mind imagines. To permanently dissolve the emotions such as anger and jealousy in relationships means changing the core beliefs of insecurity and mental projections of what your partner is doing.
Sadly, knowledge of what we need to do is often not enough to do it! Just because we understand that this is a primal emotion which is often based in false assumptions we can still sabotage our own efforts by a self judgemental, insecure internal voice which can amplify our feelings of insecurity. It is not enough to “know” intellectually that we are creating the emotion. With only this information our Inner Critic is likely to abuse us with criticism for what we are doing. The Inner Critic might use this information to take us on an emotional downward spiral to further insecurity. For real lasting change you will need to develop skills to dissolve the beliefs and false self images and gain control of what your mind projects.
One of the steps to changing a behaviour is to see how we actually create the emotion of anger or jealousy from the images, beliefs, and assumptions, in our mind. This step not only allows us to take responsibility, but taking responsibility for our emotions also puts us in a position of power to change them.
It is very difficult to see the way out of jealousy ourselves – we are too overwhelmed by this powerful primal response to be able to understand the underlying fears and rationalise them. So you should book to see a competent psychotherapist or counsellor in your area to start work on understanding why you get these feelings and what you can do to overcome them. Because they are so deep and primal and linked to some deep childhood anxieties and fears, the work can take several months. I like to work with jealous people using Intermittent Therapy so clients come for a few sessions, take a few weeks to work on themselves, and then return for more work later on.
Changing beliefs, emotional reactions, and destructive behaviours by mastering your point of view and dissolving the false beliefs in your mind takes time. But from a new point of view you will have the awareness to see the faulty logic of the beliefs behind your behaviour. With the awareness of the false beliefs behind your actions you will be able to contain your destructive behaviour. Eliminating false beliefs eliminates the triggers of your emotions. It is the elimination of the false beliefs that will dissolve the fear and anxiety around your relationships.
If you have the desire to change a jealous, angry, possessive controlling behaviour pattern, you will eventually have to do more than study the problem and become aware of the effects it has on you. You will have to take action.
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