Thoughts From The Couch – Jealousy – the green eyed monster

Jealousy is an underlying human feeling found in everyone, and yet of all the emotions few willingly admit to succumbing to the green-eyed monster without feeling an element of shame. Many people blend jealousy with envy as they are difficult to separate, but although part of the same picture, they are different. Jealousy is thought to be triadic (you, the thing or person, and the antagonist who might succeed in connecting where we have failed). Whereas envy is dyadic (you and the thing). Peter Van Sommers, in his book Jealousy suggests: “Envy concerns what you would like to have but don’t possess, whereas jealousy concerns what you have and do not wish to lose.” Envy occurs between only two people and is best summed up as; I want what you have. It could be the desire to have a characteristic, possession or another covetable thing that belongs to someone else, such as wealth, status or appearance. Jealousy, on the other hand, feels as it if touches the nerves lines to our heart, often creating more extreme reactions. Jealousy always involves a third party and is more generally associated with sex, a rival for attention or affection and our desire to protect what we consider to be ours whether possession or right. Both envy and jealousy involve comparisons that reflect a feeling of inadequacy and low self-esteem, which leads to the feeling of shame causing hidden turmoil that is often neglected.

Jealousy is a common theme in storytelling and so universal in human nature yet, despite this, there appears to be much reluctance in acknowledging it. Some believe that the colour green has been linked with jealousy as far back as to the ancient Greeks. They concluded that jealousy developed as a result of the overproduction of bile, which turned human skin slightly green. What we do know for sure is that jealousy is a powerful force that, once trapped in its hold has the potential to lead people to do appalling things. Arthur Lynch muses ’Jealousy is one of the wickedest of all the passions. But reprehensible though it is, jealousy is almost rather to be pitied than blamed – its first victims are this who harbor the feeling.’ 

When working with my clients, I see just how discombobulated they can become when in the whirlwind of jealousy. Outside of sexual relationship, people can become jealous for a variety of other reasons. Most common causes include sibling rivalry whereby we consider that one or more of our siblings receives more attention, or is favoured above ourselves, by our parents or caregivers. In the workplace, we can feel that our position is at risk with employers seemingly respecting others above ourselves. In friendships, we can feel competitive when we sense that someone else’s friendship is prized more than ours. This has been particularly prevalent emerging from lockdown when we have been allowed to create small bubbles of people who we can start to see. Some of my clients have been struck by how they haven’t been the ones to be initially included in these bubbles and, as a result, have struggled. They talk of their jealousy having witnessed others seemingly liked more than themselves. For those of us with perfectionism qualities, it is easy to compare ourselves to others fearing that their success will somehow negate or impact our own. These examples make it difficult for us to be generous in our desire for those around us to be loved, feel special or succeed as, somehow, with that happening, we are triggered into feeling insecure.

It is normal to experience feeling jealous, but it is when we act on our jealousy by becoming destructive, intense or irrational that problems occur. Someone experiencing high levels of sexual jealousy often has difficulty trusting their partner. I have witnessed clients who have had their electronic devices bugged, spying devices installed in their homes, cars and phones being tracked. All aspects of their privacy invaded. When there is extreme jealousy behaviour can become abusive, and out of control at one end of the spectrum, people kill, hurt and abuse when in a jealous rage. Whatever level of jealousy any of us might experience what we do know is that it is a destructive emotion that often leads us to act in ways of which we are not proud and threaten the very thing that we hold dear by our behaviour.

Two leading causes of jealousy are the fear of abandonment and low self-esteem. When we doubt our value, jealousy serves as an antenna that looks for evidence to prove our fear that others will be preferred and valued above us. That somehow we are not good enough, sexy enough, talented enough or loveable enough and that; as a result, we will be left.  We feed the messages that live deep inside each of us. They conspire to keep us from seeing our true worth causing us to be eaten alive with feelings of inadequacy and jealousy. As bathetic as it may sound, the start is within. With support, you can enter the solitary world of your unease, turning your attention to the roots of your jealousy. With time you can reframe your internal dialogue and choose to put your energy into feeding yourself with loving kindness that shelters you in moments of doubt.

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