“O! beware, my lord, of jealousy, it is the green-eyed monster which doth mock The meat it feeds on.”William Shakespeare
Last month I discussed the very important concept of our anxiety around climate change, and for this month I am considering a very different version of “going green”. This being, as Shakespeare writes, the green-eyed monster that is jealousy. We have all felt jealous from time to time, after all we are all human.
I recently encountered my own green-eyed monster (I won’t go into personal details), but needless to say it was a gut-wrenching experience which seemed to lurk within me for quite a while. I notice it was so easy for me to spiral downwards with my green-eyed monster as guide, to a place of feeling worthless and un-loveable. My jealousy was certainly uncomfortable, but I quickly learnt how important it was to make my feeling conscious, as allowing it fester in my psychic shadow was only causing me further distress and discomfort.
Why do we feel jealous?
Jealously is pretty unavoidable when we’re feeling a lack of control in our lives and that we might be at risk of losing something dear to us. What we can do though is to stop jealously escalating to a point where it can really do us some serious harm.
A Swedish study conducted in 2013 showed that when it came to feeling jealous, one third can be explained by genetics, leaving the majority of causes to be environmental reasons. There are certain factors which can leave us more vulnerable to jealously, for example low self-esteem, poor communication, perfectionism or abandonment issues.
One important point to remember about jealousy is that although it’s difficult to experience, it does put us in touch with our needs and wants. When we feel jealous, we should see it as a wake-up call that something dear to us is under threat. Now what we do about it, can be another thing!
How to cope with jealousy
Acceptance and understanding
As with so many difficult feelings, if we can acknowledge our jealousy then that’s half the battle won. By naming and accepting our jealousy, we make it conscious. We give ourselves some breathing space to decide what we might want to do. If we don’t do this, then our jealousy remains in the unconscious and essentially in control of us, acting out in all sorts of naughty ways, and certainly causing us more harm than good.
Jealousy originates from our own insecurity. If we can stay with our feelings and get to understand them, maybe through the help of a therapist or a bit of personal reflection, then we can separate them out from the current situation. We can avoid taking our jealous feelings out on other people and begin to take responsibility for ourselves and our emotions.
Take a breath
The best thing we can do when we’re feeling jealous, is to take a breath, pause and do absolutely nothing. Often when our green-eyed monster is in the driving seat, it wants to take immediate action say make a passive aggressive comment, lash out or shut someone out. This will only make us feel better in the very short term, regret will inevitably follow in the long term.
Plus, our behaviour towards the other person can sometimes lead to a self- fulfilling prophecy. For example, the jealous partner who continues to check their spouse’ phone might cause the spouse to use other forms of communication to try and avoid future disputes leading to confirmation of their alleged secrecy.
Also, by taking a breath, we give ourselves a chance to get some perspective and to let the foggy green mist dissipate. We won’t feel jealous forever, these feelings will pass. I find taking a walk really helps. It removes us from the site of our feelings, and distracts us while we calm down, plus it converts our jealous energy into something more physical.
Know the source, know your triggers
As uncomfortable as it can be, we really need to get up close and personal with our jealousy. If we can understand what specific events/situations cause our little green-eyed monsters to appear (say the ex of our current partner, or a parent’s favouritism towards a sibling) then we can more easily identify and manage our jealousy. With that understanding, we can begin to work out the source of our feelings. Could it be a fear of being abandoned, rejected, humiliated (to name but a few)? Working out the source can help us develop some self-compassion and give our green-eye monster a bit of love to stop it acting out against us. Plus, as I mentioned earlier feeling jealous can be very useful as it puts us in touch with our needs and wants. If we can identify the source, then we can start to address our needs and help manage our feelings.
Remind yourself of the positive
Jealousy can stop us in our tracks. It can paralyse us and completely skew our perspective on things. We start fixating on things we don’t have in our lives and stop recognising the many things we do have. It’s so easy to get caught up in this negative spiral that we lose sight of our realities. To get out of this, we need to deliberately force ourselves to remember the life we do have. Think about what you might say to a good friend in the same position. A daily gratitude journal can also be useful.
Jealousy is a perfectly natural feeling but left unchecked it can blind us to reality and cause us (and others) a great deal of pain. We can begin to obsess about the life we don’t have, instead of more importantly living the life we do.