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The Dark Side

 Dealing with jealousy


Recognize your jealousy

“When we name the jealousy, it loses its power, because we are no longer letting it shame us,” says Christina Hibbert, a clinical psychologist. Acknowledging that you’re jealous opens the door to learning.

Learn from your jealousy.

We can use feelings of jealousy as inspiration to 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.

Let it go.

Tell yourself that you don’t need this emotion in your life. 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

“Practice mindfulness to calm your runaway emotions.” If your jealousy involves your romantic relationship, share your feelings with your partner after you calm down

Remind yourself of your positive traits.

Hibbert gives 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.

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.

We all get jealous, don’t we? I think if we are honest with ourselves, the answer is yes – Sylvia Plath's confession applies to all of us, “I am jealous of those who think more deeply, who write better, who draw better, who ski better, who look better, who live better, who love better than I.”

David M. Buss calls it the darker side of human nature. In 'The Dangerous Passion' he writes, “The drives that stir us out of bed at dawn and hurl us headlong into our daily struggles have two sides. On the positive side, passions inspire us to achieve life's goals. They impel us to satisfy our desire for companionship, our yearning for prestige, and our quest for love. The dazzling plays of Shakespeare, the mesmerizing art of Georgia O'Keeffe, and the brilliant inventions of Thomas Edison would not exist if passion had not stirred them from repose and impelled creation. Without passion, we would lie listless in bed, for there would be no motivation to do anything at all.

“But passions carry a darker, more sinister side. The same passions that inspire us with love can lead to the disastrous choice of a mate, or the desperation of unrequited obsession. The yearning for prestige can produce exhilarating peaks of power while evoking the corrosive envy of a rival and a fall from a greater height.”

Shakespeare called it the green monster. According to Boris Sokoloff, in Jealousy: A Psychological Study, “Jealousy is not only inbred in human nature, but it is the most basic, all-pervasive emotion which touches man in all aspects of every human relationship.”

Therapists, however, regard this demon as a scar of childhood trauma or a symptom of a psychological problem. And it's true that people who feel inadequate, insecure, or overly dependent tend to be more jealous than others. But the "monster" actually evolved for positive reasons. "A little bit of jealousy in a healthy relationship is fine," says biological anthropologist Helen Fisher, Ph.D., author of "Why We Love." "It's going to wake you up. When you are reminded that your mate is attractive and that you are lucky, it can stimulate you to be nicer [and] friendlier."

Explaining further, she says, “Throughout our primordial past this monster discouraged desertion by a mate, bolstering the family unit and enabling the survival of the young. At the same time, it has pushed us to abandon philanderers—and many a futile match—in favor of more stable and rewarding partnerships. Jealousy can even be good for love. One partner may feel secretly flattered when the other is mildly jealous. And catching someone flirting with your beloved can spark the kind of romance that reignites a relationship.”

So, the problem with jealousy, isn’t that it comes up from time to time, but what it does to us when we don’t get a hold on it. It can be frightening to experience what happens when we allow our jealousy to overpower us or to shape the way we feel about ourselves and the world around us. That is why understanding where our jealous feelings actually come from and learning how to deal with jealousy in healthy, adaptive ways is key to so many areas of our lives from our interpersonal relationships to our careers to our personal goals.

The strange thing is, experts say while it may feel pointless or illogical, it is completely natural to want what others have and to feel competitive. However, how we use these feelings is very important to our level of satisfaction and happiness. If we use these feelings to serve our inner critic, to tear down ourselves or others, that is clearly a destructive pattern with demoralizing effects. However, if we don’t let these feelings fall into the hands of our critical inner voice, we can actually use them to acknowledge what we want, to be more goal-directed or even to feel more accepting of ourselves and what affects us.

In other words, it’s okay, even healthy, to allow ourselves to have a competitive thought. It can feel good when we simply let ourselves have the momentary feeling without judgment or a plan for action. However, if we ruminate or twist this thought into a criticism of ourselves or an attack on another person, we wind up getting hurt.

The good news is if we do find ourselves having an overreaction or feeling haunted by our feelings of envy, there are steps we can take to cure ourselves of it. When we feel jealous, we should do what Daniel Siegel uses to describe how we can sift through the sensations, images, feelings and thoughts (SIFT) that come up when we reflect on certain issues in our lives. We can consider what sensations, images, feelings and thoughts jealousy brings up. Does the current scenario trigger something old – a family dynamic or long-held, negative self-perception? The more we can connect these emotions or overreactions to the past events that created them in the first place, the clearer we can feel in our present-day situation.

Moreover, no matter how jealous we feel, we should find ways to come back to ourselves and soften. Therapists say we can do this by first, accepting our emotions with compassion. Remember that no matter how strong we feel, our feelings tend to pass in waves, first building, then subsiding. It’s possible to accept and acknowledge our jealousy without acting on it. We can master the skills to calm ourselves down before reacting, for example, by taking a walk or a series of deep breaths. When we do so, we can stand up for ourselves and the people we care for without letting anyone get hurt.

Another negative side of jealousy is that once it spirals us into a state of jealousy, our inner self may also tell us to give up or stop going after what we want. It may lead us to sabotage, blow up at or punish someone we respect. If we’re in a relationship, it may tell us to lash out at our partner. When we do this, all we do is create the dynamic we’re afraid of. We may hurt and undermine our partners’ loving feelings for us and stir up their own feelings of distrust and fear. We may inadvertently encourage them to become more closed off, less open about their feelings, thoughts and actions, which then adds to our feelings of distrust and jealousy.

Experts say when this happens the best thing we can do is focus on feeling strong and secure in ourselves. We have to believe that we are okay, even on our own. We don’t need one specific person’s love to believe we’re lovable. Human beings are full of flaws and limitations, and no one can give us what we need 100 percent of the time. This is why it’s so important to practice self-compassion and learn to stand up to our own inner critic. This doesn’t mean shutting people out or shutting ourselves off from what we want. It actually means embracing our lives wholeheartedly, while believing that we’re strong enough to fail or lose. No matter what, we can handle the emotions that arise.

The bottom line, then, is to keep in mind what Shakespeare wrote in Othello. “O, beware, my lord, of jealousy;

It is the green-eyed monster, which doth mock, The meat it feeds on.” And you will be fine.

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