Overcoming Jealousy

Overcoming jealousy can be challenging, but if it is not dealt with properly, it can actually control you to the point where it takes over your life and becomes detrimental to your health and well-being.


Most people, if they are honest, will admit that they have experienced jealousy at some point in their lives. But, recognizing this emotion and understanding why you are experiencing it is the key to learning how to deal with jealousy.

Some people may even argue that there is a 'healthy' jealousy. For example, a husband may feel uncomfortable with his wife having lunch with an old flame, or a woman may not like the fact that her boyfriend is spending a lot of time with a female colleague. Oh, she says that they are just "catching up" and he promises that they are only working and everything is strictly professional, but you can't help being a little worried.

Some counsellors say that this is perfectly normal – good actually – because it shows the other person that you care and that the relationship is important to you. They would argue that jealousy only becomes a problem when it reaches the point of being obsessive.

I would disagree with this belief. First, the term 'obsessive' is relative. Who decides when you have crossed the line from healthy jealousy to unreasonable suspicion? Second, if something is 'healthy' shouldn't it have positive benefits? In fact, according to Webster's dictionary, the word 'healthy' means to contribute to or reveal the "health and vigor of body, mind, spirit."

Does jealousy – at any level – do that? Well, let's take a look at the definition and let the meaning of the word speak for itself.

What is Jealousy?

According to the Oxford dictionary, "jealousy" is defined as "feeling or showing a resentful suspicion that one's partner is attracted to or involved with someone else."

Mirriam-Webster defines the word as, "covetousness, enviousness, green-eyed monster, resentment, disposed to suspect rivalry or unfaithfulness, hostile toward a rival or one believed to enjoy an advantage."

The Free Dictionary by Farlex describes jealousy as, "fearful or wary of being supplanted; apprehensive of losing affection or position; inclined to suspect rivalry."

Many other sources agree that 'jealousy' is a reaction to a perceived threat to the relationship which involves negative reactions that are used either as a defense mechanism or a form of protection and control. Basically, it is the idea that another person is giving something you want to a third party (or you perceive or imagine this to be true) causing aversive reactions.

Alright, let's look at the words that are used in the definitions above: resentful, suspicion, hostile, envious, fearful, wary, apprehensive, threat....well, you get the picture. These are not words that would be used to define something healthy.

Jealousy can be painful. It can destroy trust, which is the foundation of any relationship. So, even if you think it is cute that your partner calls you six times a day to "check in", you may want to raise a red flag because it could be a sign that more obsessive behavior is coming. Constant questioning may be flattering at first, but it can eventually create mistrust and cause a rift in the relationship. And, if you believe that your 'healthy jealousy' is an expression of your love and affection, then it may be time to re-evaluate your actions.

In reality, jealousy is based on the way you perceive yourself. It is actually a psychological defense mechanism used to protect your self-esteem and sense of self-worth. It is NOT about another person's actions, but is completely and entirely centered on your core values and beliefs as well as your perception of SELF.

Understanding is the first step to overcoming jealousy, so let's take a closer look at some jealousy theories.

Theories of Jealousy:

Some studies have shown that jealousy can be displayed early in life, sometimes even in infancy. This can give some strength to the idea that this emotion or defense mechanism is something that we must learn to control and overcome in order to develop into healthy, whole adults. In other words, our childhood can affect our adult relationships, particularly in the area of jealousy.

Sigmund Freud observed that children as young as three displayed jealousy toward the same sex parent. He believed that this resulted because the child felt that he/she was in competition for the attention of the opposite sex parent and became jealous when this parent's focus was on another family member.

Jean Piaget also discovered that children became jealous when they did not receive the undivided attention of a particular person (usually the primary caregiver). Young children believe that the world revolves around them and may experience confusing emotions, ranging from anger to fear, if the center of their world, or the source of their love and affirmation, is no longer focused primarily on them.

Similarly, Erikson argued that societal influences determine the development of jealousy. Young children are unable to meet their own needs, so they look to their parents or caregivers for the fulfillment of this task. The adults in their life are their source of affirmation, reassurance, and guidance. It is during these years that a sense of self-worth and value is developed so that the child is prepared for their role in society. Erikson found that children would exhibit jealousy if they did not get this attention and reassurance. This shows that insecurity can be projected into relationships, beginning at a very young age, developing a pattern of jealousy.

More recently, studies conducted by Dr. Sybil Hart, a professor at Texas Tech University, have been receiving attention. Through her research, she discovered that infants as young as six months old can exhibit jealousy. It is argued that jealousy is innate – or that we are all born with the propensity to be jealous. This theory presents the argument that jealousy may actually be a psychological Mechanism that proponents of the Darwinian theory believe may have served an adaptive function in the evolutionary process. Based on this idea, we are all basically 'hard wired' for jealousy, but how it develops (or if it develops at all) depends on personal experience and cultural influences.

In some ways, this theory could explain sibling rivalry since it shows that cognitive development does not have to be advanced for jealousy to be displayed; however, as we reach adulthood, social and cognitive factors are strong indicators of how it develops, explaining why some people struggle with jealousy while others do not.

This idea would likely be disputed by those who believe in the 'blank slate theory" - that babies are born as a blank slate and social influences are the primary factors in personality development. They would argue that the belief of a predisposition to jealousy is a dangerous assumption. Sybil Hart is one of the proponents of "healthy jealousy" in that she believes this emotion can come from fear and anger on one side or love and affection on another. From this point of view, innate jealousy is not a scary idea since it has the ability to develop into something positive and nurturing.

However, if you believe that jealousy is not healthy and should be overcome, then this thought does not make sense. If you agree that we are all born wired for jealousy, then you have to wonder if we are also born wired for many other negative things. Are we all predisposed to murder, assault, abuse? Do we refrain from these things simply because of our parental and societal influences? In this case, a criminal is not to blame for his actions, but rather his parents or the environment in which he was raised. And, when does a person become responsible for their own decisions?

In order to overcome jealousy, we have to believe that we can control it or remove it from our lives. We have to work from the premise that it is a negative or detrimental force that has no place in our ideal, self-actualized, spiritually whole being. We were not born with a 'jealous gene' but were conditioned from the time we were infants to believe that a particular behavior led to a specified result. Who we are - our true self - does not contain jealousy, but rather it is one element that was used to create a false perception of who we THINK we are.

Social-Cognitive Theory argues that jealousy is based on social influences, particularly those experienced in childhood. This does not necessarily support the blank slate theory, because no one can dispute individuality. We are spiritual beings, therefore, our social influences will impact each one of us differently depending on how well we connect with our true sense of self and the (spiritual) world around us.

Basically, Social-Cognitive Theory states that jealousy is a result of your perceptions: you perceive a rival as a threat to your relationship. This can occur for a number of reasons:
• Fear: fear of abandonment, fear of not being loved, fear of being embarrassed in front of family and friends, fear of humiliation, fear of being alone, fear of not having your needs met.
• Past experiences: unresolved issues from previous relationships, including parents, friendships, co-workers, or romantic connections.
• Low self-esteem: you feel unworthy, inadequate, find your security and value in the affirmations of others.

W. Gerrod Parrot, professor of psychology at Georgetown University, claims that jealousy comes from our experiences, our thoughts, perceptions, and memories, but can also be rooted in imaginations, guess, and assumptions.

Basically, Mr. Parrot sums it up best. Jealousy comes from insecurity that is rooted in past experiences and causes us to develop a defense mechanism that attempts to protect us from future hurt.

If a person's basic needs are not met in childhood, he/she will develop some negative, fear based beliefs that are carried into adult relationships. Issues of self-confidence and self-esteem cause many people to find their identity in their partners – to draw their security and value from their relationships – which can lead to jealousy whenever those relationships are perceived to be threatened.

Note: notice the use of the word "perceived". There is a definite difference between love/care and obsessive suspicion. Likewise, there is also a difference between an "imagined rival" and actual infidelity. Every relationship has certain expectations and should be mutually giving. Jealousy is not the same as acknowledging reality or fact.

However, on the flip side, if you have experienced betrayal or hurt in a past relationship and have difficulty with jealousy as a result, it is important that you deal with the issue before beginning another relationship. It is not a good idea to carry these problems forward since you will likely project these fears onto your new partner, ultimately causing a rift and destroying the trust.

Before learning how to deal with jealousy, let's take a quick look at the typical symptoms so that you will be able to recognize it in yourself or your partner.

Symptoms of Jealousy:

1. Control: Jealous people will usually try to change or control the behavior of others. They say things like, "If you wouldn't talk to other women, I wouldn't react this way", or, "If you answered your phone when I called, I wouldn't show up at your office everyday." This is projecting the blame onto the partner, not taking responsibility for your own feelings and actions, and demanding certain behavior in exchange for particular outcomes. The feeling of jealousy elicits defensive behavior which attempts to control the situation, particularly the love partner, although it can be seen in every type of relationship.

Are you suspicious if you don't know where your partner is every minute of the day? Do you give him or her the third degree every time he/she goes somewhere without you?

2. Insecurity: Jealousy often arises due to low self-esteem or low self-worth. Basically, the jealous person has a false and negative image of themselves and believes they are not good enough. Because their needs were not met as a child, they project an attitude of rejection, fear, and unhappiness. A person's core values or deeply rooted beliefs affect self perception as well as their perception of others.

3. Fear:
Insecurity leads to fear, and fear will make it impossible to build loving, lasting, mutually rewarding relationships.

4. Compensation:
Jealous people will often use others to compensate for their feelings of insecurity and low self-esteem. They believe that they need a partner to be happy. They will often use phrases such as, "I need her", "I wouldn't be happy without him", or "He completes me". These statements show that happiness is perceived to be dependent on receiving the undivided attention of another. Unhappiness, despondency, self-doubt, or even suspicion will result with the perceived threat of losing this attention.

Do you need constant affirmation? Do you feel doubt or uncertainty about the relationship if you do not receive this affirmation?

5. Anger:
The jealous person is often angry and will use this anger as a form of control, sometimes even resorting to threats or violence. Jealousy manifesting in anger is the cause of many fights and arguments and can result in driving a wedge into relationships.

6. Mistrust:
Since it is impossible to be with someone every minute of every day, trust is the foundation of any strong, lasting relationship. Reasons for mistrust can vary from previous betrayals, to low self-confidence, or a false self-image; but, a lack of trust is almost always a symptom of jealousy. Unfortunately, it also leads to many other symptoms such as control, fear, or anger, and constant questioning can actually push the other person away. Most people do not appreciate having their integrity and level of commitment to the relationship continually questioned, and often feel like their jealous partner is just waiting for them to make a mistake. It is like they are being judged for something they haven't done.

7. Perceived threats:
A jealous person will often feel threatened and believe that someone or something is a rival for the attention of their partner. Every situation is a potential disaster and the actions of others are always scrutinized. For example, a jealous person may feel threatened if a friend or partner attends a social event where there will be several single people or opportunities to interact with the opposite sex.

Jealousy may also be experienced if a partner compliments or speaks highly of a perceived rival. In fact, since low self-esteem is often at the root of jealousy, they may view these actions as an attack on their worth and value. If a man says to another woman, "You look very nice tonight", his jealous partner may respond with, "So, I don't look nice?" How does a compliment directed at one person become an insult to another?

Now that you know how to recognize jealousy at work, the next step is learning how to manage it or overcome it.

Overcoming Jealousy:

There are several factors that contribute to jealousy: past experience, self-worth and core beliefs, perceptions, emotions, and personal choice. When learning how to stop being jealous, all these elements must be addressed.

Remember, no matter how difficult it may seem, if you really want to change the situation YOU CAN! YOU choose how you react to circumstances, and by making these choices, YOU create your own experiences. By recognizing the symptoms, you can take control of your life, be set free from your past, and allow yourself to embrace your full potential.

1. Identify jealousy.
Find out why you are experiencing jealousy or identify those things that make you jealous. What triggers the jealousy? How did you become jealous? Is it from past experience? Have you been cheated on? Or, have you been the unfaithful one? Do you have a fear of abandonment? Do you suffer from low self-esteem? Are you afraid that your needs will not be met? Be honest with yourself. Once you can answer these questions, you will be able to recognize a pattern, know the warning signs, and make the choices needed to control your reactions in these situations.

2. Take responsibility.
Once you identify the cause of jealousy, it is important that you take responsibility for it. Do not blame your partner or your perceived rivals. Remember, you control how you respond to a situation, and you will not get control of your life until you take responsibility for your actions and choices. Accepting this responsibility puts you in a position of power to change.

3. Communicate.
Tell your partner how you feel, but use "I" instead of "You". Remember, you are taking responsibility, not blaming. Sometimes your partner may not understand why you are feeling jealous, and honest, open communication may help develop trust and put insecurity to rest. Share your needs and learn theirs so you can build a mutually giving relationship. Honest conversation is always a better approach than anger, suspicion, sulking, or accusation.

4. Change your beliefs about yourself.
How do you see yourself? If you are having a problem with jealousy, it is a warning sign of how you feel about yourself and how you identify your worth or value. Write a list of your good qualities - those things that make you feel proud and confident - then use this list to help improve your self-worth and self-esteem. When you realize that you do not need another person to affirm your identity, and when you become proud of who you are and begin to develop a more positive image of yourself, you will be less likely to react in jealousy. If you feel good about yourself, jealousy cannot control you. Invest some time in YOU, developing your growth and independence, so that you become a loving, secure person. It is only when you truly see yourself correctly – as the person you are meant to be, living up to your full potential and experiencing wholeness and unity – that you will be able to have a healthy, jealousy-free relationship.

5. Change your perspective.
Remember Parrot stated that jealousy can arise from imagination, guesses, and assumptions? Often a jealous person becomes mired in the scenarios they play in their minds, developing suspicion for actions that have no basis in reality. To overcome jealousy, you need to deal with the facts – step back and see the situation for what it IS, not for what you perceive or imagine it to be. Change your point of view so you can distinguish fact from fiction. If you have to ask a third party to help you gain proper perspective, then find someone you trust. Of course, there are situations where you cannot deny what you know to be true, but do not let your imagination rule your actions or reactions.

6. Deal with your desire for control.
A jealous person is both obsessive and possessive of another's time, attention, affection, and love. This leads to constant questioning, a need to know their partner's whereabouts at all times, and an attempt to control behavior. The fact is, you do not own a person. And, it is unreasonable to expect that you are the only important person in their life. Trusting someone enough to allow them to be themselves is the best way to build a rewarding relationship. Controlling yourself rather than your partner will help you overcome jealousy. And, for those of you who still believe in a healthy jealousy – remember there is a difference between possessiveness and genuine love. You control a possession, but you love a person.

Overcoming jealousy begins with recognizing the signs and understanding the reasons why it can arise in your life. Most often it is a result of not having your needs met in childhood, which leads to a distorted or inaccurate perception of yourself. You believe that you are not worthy of love, or that you must earn someone's affection and attention. Because you believe that you do not measure up, you live with a fear of abandonment or betrayal. So, as a defense mechanism against these fears, you become obsessive, controlling, or suspicious – all actions that try to monopolize your partner's time and ensure their faithfulness. Basically, you are drawing your identity from their love and acceptance, and believe that these things validate you as a person. In essence, if you lose the relationship, you lose yourself.

As an adult, you are now capable of meeting your own needs. Incapable parents, betrayal of a loved one, or a painful experience no longer have to control you. You can be free. False beliefs about yourself need to be seen for what they are – lies. It is time to let go of those misconceptions and recreate an image of yourself that is based on the truth. True wholeness comes when you can continue to grow and love regardless of the circumstances around you or the condition of your relationships. You are not responsible for anyone else and no one else can control you unless you let them.

When you are confident with being YOU then there is no need to be jealous.



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