Jealousy serves a valid purpose...
We tend to think of jealousy as a single emotion, but actually it is a whole bundle of feelings that tend to get lumped together. Jealousy can manifest as anger, fear, hurt, betrayal, anxiety, agitation, sadness, paranoia, depression, loneliness, envy, coveting, self-loathing, feeling powerless, feeling inadequate, feeling excluded. It often helps to identify what is the exact mix of feelings you experience when you feel jealous.
What is the primary emotion you feel when you are jealous? Demystifying the exact components of your jealousy can be a giant step towards understanding and resolving it. Is it always the same for you or does the mix change from time to time depending on circumstances?
For instance, one woman figured out that her jealousy was about 50% fear, 20% anger, 20% feeling powerless and 10% feeling betrayed. However, when she asked her partner for reassurance and affection, and he provided it, the anger and betrayal disappeared. Then, her jealousy was much more manageable, because most of what was left was fear and she could express those feelings more easily to her partner and resolve them.
It is crucial to understand what jealousy is and what it is about. Jealousy provokes some of our deepest fears--fear of the unknown and of change, fear of losing power or control in a relationship, fear of scarcity and of loss, and fear of abandonment.
First, it triggers our own insecurity about our worthiness, anxiety about being adequate as a lover, and doubts about our desirability. Second, it taps into our deepest fears about our partner’s integrity, loyalty, and commitment to us, making us doubt ourselves for trusting them and wonder if they will betray us.
For every jealous feeling there is an emotion behind the jealousy that is much more significant than the jealousy itself. Behind jealousy there is an unmet need, or a deep fear that our needs will not be met.
Recognizing those fears and unmet needs is the key to unmasking jealousy and taking away its power. Jealousy is just the finger pointing at the fears and needs we are afraid to face.
When jealousy kicks in, it is the ancient reptilian part of our brain going into a "fight or flight" response because we feel that our very survival is threatened.
As a counselor, I have my own theory about jealousy. I have come to believe that jealousy is a normal, natural response that serves a valid purpose. It comes up when we feel threatened with loss of something precious to us, and alerts us to pay attention to our relationships to make sure they are safe and sound.
Like a smoke alarm that may go off when you just burn the toast, jealousy may sometimes be an overreaction. When the smoke alarm goes off, it makes you pay attention to make sure the house is not on fire, and if it is just burned toast, you can relax and forget about it.
However, if the house is on fire, or your relationship is in danger, you can take whatever steps are needed to strengthen your relationship and fix whatever is causing the problem.
It is important to recognize that any interest your partner may show in someone else is a potential threat to the survival of your relationship. The emphasis should be on the word “potential.” It is not a threat per se, but any outside interest in another person has the potential to disrupt, destabilize, or destroy your relationship.
We have all seen relationships break up due to someone falling in love with someone else and leaving their spouse. So, it is foolhardy to make believe that this could never happen to you.
Instead, make jealousy your protective ally, and pay attention to jealous feelings, as they can encourage you to look closely at what is going on in your relationship and continue to assess whether there is cause for concern or whether you can turn down the jealousy alarm.
Check out Kathy's new book: Love in Abundance: A Counselor's Guide to Open Relationships