Handling Jealousy: A Guide to Overcoming Green-Eyed Monsters
Jealousy is a natural emotion that can arise in various aspects of our lives. Whether it’s in romantic relationships, friendships, or even in the workplace, jealousy can have a negative impact on our well-being and relationships. If jealousy interferes with your life, there are effective strategies for dealing with jealousy that can cultivate healthier, more fulfilling connections in your life.
Jealousy, like other emotions, comes in degrees. Jealousy is a normal survival mechanism but in extremes becomes pathological, disrupting life with maladaptive reactions to the intense fears. Alfred Adler described jealousy as “the safe–guarding tendency accompanying this desire for possession” (Adler, 2011). John Bowlby, psychologist, psychiatrist, and psychoanalyst, suggests that jealousy erupts in attachment when a relationship is not going well (1988). I would add to Bowlby’s thoughts that jealousy erupts when one perceives their relationship is not going well.
jealousy is a complex emotion that involves a real or perceived threat to our survival or well-being. Often jealousy is associated to fears surrounding relationship stability and outside threats to the relationship.
Maladaptive jealousy, the pathological kind, typically revolves around romantic relationships. Jealousy surrounding romantic interest can be destructive, even dangerous, and is essential we learn to deal with the jealousy effectively. Some jealousy, mindfully experienced, can motivate healthy relationship behaviors. We fear losing a partner to another person so we behave in ways to maintain the relationship. Caryl E. Rusbult, , wrote, “although we tend to associate jealousy with a variety of negative personal characteristics, it may also have had an adaptive function as a mate retention mechanism” (2004).
The heart has its reasons which reason does not understand
However, sometimes the fears of losing a partner erupt not from any realistic threat to the relationship but embedded internal feelings of insecurity. Because of internal insecurities, the slightest stimuli can set in motion pathological dangerous reactions. A minute late, the glance of a stranger, a slight smile given to a coworker may all provide fodder to the suspicious mind that something sinister is taking place. Faulty accusations, depression, and violence may follow.
The Destructive Power of Emotion
Diana Fosha wrote, “emotional occasions … are extremely potent in precipitating mental rearrangements.” She continues, “the sudden and explosive ways in which love, jealousy, guilt, fear, remorse, or anger can seize upon one are known to everybody…emotions that come in this explosive way seldom leave things as they found them” (Fosha, 2000). Rusbult warns, “jealousy is both a pervasive and potentially lethal reaction” (Rusbult & Reis, 2004).
Where pathological jealousy exists, trust does not. Intimacy will never flourish where jealousy thrives. Therefore, it behooves us to deal with jealousy before it consumes the secure relationships we desire to keep. And if a potential partner, displays unwarranted and persistent jealousy be warned that this is not a sign of love but fear and a precursor of dangerous and controlling tactics later in a relationship.
In one paper, the author quotes Dr. Samuel Shpall, writing that jealousy is “especially insensitive to evidence and especially noxious for good reasoning and conduct” (2023).
Dealing with Jealousy in Romantic Relationships
Jealousy is an emotion. Dealing with jealousy falls under the psychological category of emotional regulation. When feeling affects arise, we react. Basically, this is our biological construction. Perceived stimuli in outer and inner environments give rise to feeling, and feeling, subsequently, motivate action. This is a function of adaptive creatures to interrelate with their environments, taking advantage of opportunity and avoiding threats. Responses to the arousal calms the system and the biological state regains a homeostatic state of rest.
Defense mechanisms and maladaptive behaviors unconsciously interfere with the smooth functioning of this system. We avoid instead of confront, deny instead of recognize. To deal with unnatural and destructive jealousy, we must wade through the menacing defenses, and find better ways to calm our system. Here are a few practical ideas:
1. Acknowledge and Understand Your Jealousy
The first step in handling jealousy is to acknowledge and understand it. Recognize that jealousy is a normal human emotion, but it can become problematic if left unchecked. Reflect on the reasons behind your jealousy and the situations or triggers that tend to elicit such feelings.
Arousal of emotion is an automatic process. As such, working mindful attention in to experiences of emotion is difficult. We must patiently practice somatic awareness of the feeling states of our bodies. By focusing on feeling, without judgment or blame, we come to understand the experience through a different and healing perspective.
2. Practice Self-Awareness and Self-Reflection
Self-awareness is key to addressing jealousy. Take the time to reflect on your insecurities, fears, and past experiences that might be fueling your jealousy. In George Kelly’s personal construct theory, he suggests taking a role as “self as scientists.” Basically, he encourages to disengage from normal evaluations of self and take a dispassionate examination at underlying constructs influencing interpretation of events. “constructs are subjective evaluations rather than objective truths. Personal constructions are subjective evaluations of self. Through the lens of these subjective evaluations we interpret experience” (Murphy, 2023).
Ask yourself if your feelings are based on rational concerns or if they are rooted in your own self-doubt. Developing a deeper understanding of your emotions can help you gain control over them. Fosha explains, “affect is often a royal road to the unconscious. Deep experiencing unlocks deeper experiencing, and through it, entire realms of previously unavailable material (e.g., memories, fantasies, and states with their accompanying anxieties, defenses, and psychic pains can be worked through)” (2000).
Our most aroused states may be opportunities for deep exploration and new understandings.
3. Communicate Openly and Honestly
Healthy communication is essential in any relationship. If you feel jealous, it’s important to express your feelings openly and honestly with the person involved. Articulate your concerns without blaming or accusing the other person. Sharing your thoughts and anxieties can foster understanding and open a dialogue to find solutions together.
Rusbult explains “jealousy has roots in the importance of the relationship to both parties; as such, the occurrence of jealousy offers relationship partners an opportunity to think through and discuss the ways in which each person’s behavior affects the other’s feelings” (Rusbult & Reis, 2004). Markedly, emotions, even jealousy, when openly discussed, invites intimacy. However, these conversations should not be used to manipulate, control or blame a partner, but as an opportunity to understand each other’s feeling experience.
We must recognize unfounded and unrealistic jealousy can never be solved by a partner taking responsibility for our experience. They cannot resolve unreasonable reactions to mundane events. Our open communication must focus on this unrealistic end goal.
4. Build Trust and Confidence
Jealousy often stems from a lack of trust in yourself and others. To overcome this, focus on building trust and confidence. Recognize your own worth and strengths, and work on boosting your self-esteem. Additionally, invest time in nurturing trust within your relationships. Clear communication, consistency, and reliability can help build a solid foundation of trust.
Often, self confidence must start outside of a relationship. It proves difficult to build self-confidence when the alarms of insecurity keep ringing in our head. Some find that outside of a relationship sensitivities calm and they can more readily and effectively engage in self work.
5. Reframe Your Perspective
Challenge negative thoughts and assumptions that fuel jealousy. Instead of jumping to conclusions, consider alternative explanations for the situation. Cognitive reappraisal is a staple of cognitive behavior therapy. Reframing perspectives interrupts the automatic thoughts, placing them on hold while we imagine other possible scenarios.
Reappraisals are challenging at first, but easier with practice.
6. Practice Gratitude
Jealousy often arises from a feeling of lack or comparability. Cultivating gratitude can help shift your focus towards the positive aspects of your life and partner. Regularly remind yourself of the things you appreciate and value about your partner. Developing a gratitude practice can help foster contentment and security in a relationship, dramatically reducing feelings of jealousy.
7. Seek Support to Deal with Jealousy
If jealousy continues to be a significant challenge, consider seeking support from a trusted friend, family member, or professional counselor. They can offer guidance, provide an outside perspective, and help you navigate your emotions effectively. Sometimes, having an unbiased third party can make a world of difference in overcoming jealousy. Often, uncontrollable jealousy is part of a larger emotional disruption, requiring medicinal intervention. Don’t try to travel these dangerous and lonely roads alone.
A Few Words by Psychology Fanatic
Remember, dealing with jealousy is a journey that requires self-reflection, patience, and effort. By employing these strategies and working on your personal growth, you can successfully manage jealousy and cultivate healthier relationships built on trust, understanding, and positivity.
Adler, Alfred (1920/2011). The Practice and Theory of Individual Psychology. Martino Fine Books.
Bowlby, John (1988). A Secure Base. Basic Books; Reprint edition.
Fosha, Diana (2000). The Transforming Power Of Affect: A Model For Accelerated Change. Basic Books.
Murphy, T. Franklin (2023) Personal Constructs. Psychology Fanatic. Published: 6-2-2023. Accessed 10-23-2023.
Rusbult, Caryl E.; Reis, Harry T. (2004). Close Relationships: Key Readings (Key Readings in Social Psychology).