By Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S.
Jealousy isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s human nature. It’s natural to feel jealous from time to time.
Jealousy becomes problematic “when we act out in jealousy or we wallow in it,” said Christina Hibbert, PsyD, a clinical psychologist in Flagstaff, Ariz.
It becomes problematic when it starts to consume you and “creeps into every aspect of your life,” said Kathy Morelli, LPC, a psychotherapist with a marriage and family counseling practice in Wayne, N.J. And you find yourself feeling bitter and angry often, she said.
One of the most common types of jealousy is romantic jealousy, she said. We also tend to feel jealous about others’ successes, strengths, lifestyles and relationships, Hibbert said.
For instance, we might believe someone’s life is much easier or more comfortable than ours. “We see only the good in their life and only the ‘bad’ in ours.” Or we might believe our best friend has a better relationship with another friend.
Social networking sites – such as Facebook – also can trigger jealousy. “[T]oday our online and offline worlds overlap, so there’s a lot more confusion and complexity in relationships and more ways to compare ourselves to others,” Morelli said.
Insecurity often underlies jealousy. “We feel threatened, or less than or not good enough,” Hibbert said. “[W]e fear that someone else’s strengths mean something negative about us.”
(Jealously also may be the result of your earlier experiences)
Below, you’ll find general tips for dealing with jealousy, along with specific suggestions for jealousy in romantic relationships.
Tips for Romantic Relationships
Assess your relationship.
“The best way to overcome jealousy is to first take a look at your romantic relationship,” Morelli said. For instance, consider if your relationship is built on trust, respect and love, and if your partner’s behavior reflects their words, she said.
Are they honest with you? If they’re not, naturally, this can trigger or perpetuate your insecurities, said Morelli, also author of the books BirthTouch® for Pregnant and Postpartum Couples, Perinatal Mental Illness for Childbirth Professionals, and Healing for Parents in the NICU.
“If you are in an insecure relationship, expect to have your jealousy buttons pushed. But no one can tell you what to do. If you stay, most likely you’ll feel bad and jealous sometimes.”
If you’re in a secure and solid relationship, and you’re still feeling jealous, look at yourself and explore your own experiences.
“Research on the subject of jealousy in a romantic relationship indicates that a person’s basic attachment style underlies their tendencies towards jealous reactions,” Morelli said.
People who developed secure attachments in their early years – between themselves and their caregivers – tend to be less jealous and dependent, have higher self-esteem and have less feelings of inadequacy than people with an insecure attachment style, she said.
Morelli suggested asking yourself these questions:
“Do you have a pervasive feeling of emptiness or lack of self-worth?
How was your relationship with your early caregivers?
Was the atmosphere in your home warm and loving sometimes, but also critical?
Were you raised in a repressive atmosphere?
Were your early caregivers unreliable?”
Attachment style is malleable, she said. Later experiences and circumstances can influence your style. For instance, a skilled therapist can help you build self-esteem and work through your concerns.
Seek out other support.
Have interests outside your relationship, Morelli said. Talk to a friend about your jealous feelings, “but don’t do this to the exclusion of talking to your partner.”
Recognize your jealousy.
“When we name the jealousy, it loses its power, because we are no longer letting it shame us,” Hibbert said. Acknowledging that you’re jealous opens the door to learning, she said.
Learn from your jealousy.
We can use feelings of jealousy as inspiration to grow, said Hibbert, also author of the book This is How We Grow. For instance, you realize that the reason you get jealous every time your friend plays her guitar is because that’s also something you’d like to do. Rather than wallowing in that jealousy, you sign up for guitar lessons, she said.
Let it go.
Tell yourself that you don’t need this emotion in your life, and you’re relinquishing it, Hibbert said. Then “breathe deeply, and imagine it flowing through you like the wind. Repeat as often as it takes to truly let it go.”
Manage your emotions healthfully.
“Practice mindfulness to calm your runaway emotions,” Morelli said. For instance, she suggested readers tune into your body to identify how you’re feeling, take several deep breaths and try to detach from the intensity of those emotions.
If your jealousy involves your romantic relationship, share your feelings with your partner after you calm down, she said.
To process your emotions, she also suggested journaling, dancing to your favorite music and taking a walk.
Remind yourself of your positive traits.
Hibbert gave this example: “She is really good at playing with her kids, and I’m not so good. But I’m great at reading to them, and they love that about me.” This reminds us that everyone has strengths and weaknesses, she said.
Again, jealousy is a normal reaction. It becomes problematic when it becomes persistent. When you find yourself feeling jealous, recognize what’s happening and delve deeper into your relationships and yourself.