Jealousy is complicated.
Although its involuntary nature can make jealousy seem biological, jealousy isn’t biological – it’s emotional.
And like all difficult emotions, jealous occasions are opportunities to connect with deep unconscious fears, which can wind up orchestrating much of your emotional experience. In other words, your jealousy is an invitation to get to know yourself better. Now how’s that for a re-frame?
The very first thing to do if you are suffering with irrational jealousy is to seek to understand why you are jealous in the first place.
(The advice in this post is for mild to moderate experiences of jealousy.)
Understanding irrational jealousy better
Irrational jealousy arises in two major ways that I can think of.
First there is sexual jealousy, which happens when we perceive or believe that our intimate partner is attracted to someone else. This doesn’t sound irrational right? Well it is if you completely trust your partner, but you are still jealous!
I’m not aware of a way to turn this impulse off. Sometimes your internal survival instinct will be triggered and that’s that. The best thing to do is just accept you are feeling jealous and get on with your life. All feelings, once given permission, soon pass. Read this guide to emotional processing if that idea floats your boat. This guide to acceptance might also be of value.
A second, more problematic type of irrational jealousy that occurs is emotional jealousy. This is more complex.
Emotional jealousy is fear-related. The fears are likely one of these three: inadequacy, humiliation or abandonment. They’re all very human and commonplace.
Understand that jealousy is an expression of your fear, not love.
Depending on how you are wired, you might be more prone to experiencing emotional jealousy. For example, if you:
- have a high need/want to give to others.
- tend to be highly image conscious.
- tend towards creating intimate, one-on-one relationships with the people in your life.
- generally are prone to deep insecurity.
It’s useful, and I always recommend, that you seek to understand your ego and personality structure as a whole when doing explorations of this nature. The Enneagram is my go to tool for that.
With than in mind, here are my 3 suggestions for how to deal with irrational jealousy.
1: Figure out why you are irrationally jealous (i.e which fear got activated?)
Let’s go through each type of fear underneath emotional jealousy attacks.
First, inadequacy – the one I most relate to.
Emotional jealousy has arisen in the past for me from a fear that another person could make my partner happier, or be better than me for them somehow. This is quite an unhealthy thing to believe.
However, it is also partly true. Sometimes, what will make your partner happy in the moment doesn’t involve you. That, in fact, is the sign of a healthy relationship.
You won’t always be able to meet someone else’s needs and it isn’t solely your job to do so.
The more I have worked to become aware of this harsh inner critic that tells me I’m not up to scratch, the more I’ve chilled out. I’ve also built an identity that is independent of what I contribute to people I am in special relationships with.
We are all much more than what we offer to others afterall.
If you feel humiliated by an aspect of your partner’s behaviour, then obviously, you should discuss it with them.
However, do ask yourself whether you tend to overvalue what other people think at the expense of your relationship with your partner. Also ask yourself whether being preoccupied with what other people think of you causes you to make compromises in other life areas too.
We all fear being humiliated, but for some of us, this is a top fear. If you relate to that being a top fear for you, then work to notice how it affects you in life and seek to become more internally validating. (If you want to learn how to do that, then I’m going to be cheeky and suggest you read my book.)
Next, fear of abandonment. We all have a little of this going on, but for some of us, it’s intense. If you have already had the experience of being abandoned, then I would guess that is the case.
If you think that fear of abandonment is behind your jealousy, aim to work on your abandonment issues. You may have developed an anxious attachment style, and would benefit from some specific practices that’ll help you to transition to a more secure style.
Understanding what makes us jealous and why can be quite grueling. But this is how we come to know ourselves deeply. The more you know, the more you can observe reflexive emotional conditions such as jealousy with objectivity.
I’ve been able to successfully manage jealousy through this process of self-inquiry. Bear in mind that if feeling jealous is also combined with feeling anxious, you might need something more hard hitting such as therapy.
2. Give irrational jealousy “the treatment”
This approach is not so deep, and doesn’t require self-knowledge. It can be quick and effective for isolated incidents of jealousy though.
It borrows Byron Katie’s process, “the Work”. I first learned of the Work after reading Byron Katie’s book, I need your love, is that true? That, by the way, is a good book.
The Work is a way to identify and question the thoughts that cause all your suffering. The process is similar to something that a therapist specializing in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy would have you try.
Byron Katie’s the Work:
- Formulate the problematic judgment. For example, “my partner blatantly fancies that colleague they keep mentioning”.
- Ask yourself the following:
- Is it true? (Yes or no. If no, move to 3.)
- Can you absolutely know that it’s true? (Yes or no.)
- How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
- Who would you be without the thought?
- Identify the turnaround to the initial judgment you are making. I recommend that you are creative, and add humor. A turnaround might be “so what if they fancy them? I’m the one that they have to go to bed with every night.”
- Sanity is restored.
Bear in mind that this process relies on a solid foundation of mindfulness. You need to be able to notice yourself thinking crazy-making thoughts, and be able to hit the pause button.
3. Bring your partner in on it
Although it won’t always be wise, sometimes it’s a good idea to discuss your irrational jealousy with your partner, so you can laugh at it together. If jealousy is infrequent, then definitely consider it. It helps to diffuse any embarrassment and shame.
Another benefit of doing this is that you’re not burying the beast, and intensifying the emotion. A further benefit is that by being vulnerable, you are creating an atmosphere of intimacy and trust. Also, by letting your partner in on how you are feeling, they are better able to understand how you are wired emotionally (and therefore hopefully take care not to do, or say, the things that will trigger you unneccessarily).
So, there are quite a lot of benefits to opening up.
The reality is, you both are going to feel jealous at times. Why not turn it into something you can laugh at together?
So that’s it: 3 ways to overcome irrational jealousy. I hope they help you.
The main thing to appreciate is that jealousy is an expression of fear, and not love.
I encourage you to use your irrational jealousy as an opportunity to understand yourself in a deeper way, and to learn techniques to help you to better manage your fears, or unhelpful ways of thinking.