Jealousy –Don’t Be Ashamed
No, you do not have to be ashamed of jealous feelings. Just having them is punishment enough.
There may not be a worse emotion to experience than jealousy. We all know anger, sadness, grief, even lust. But jealousy has the extra-special overlay of social shame. Jealousy is the one we whisper to friends if we tell them at all. Or when a friend suspects and asks, “Are you jealous?” we hem and haw and maybe lie: “No, I’m not jealous I’m just angry that she… or that he would….”.
Even in recovery, even in a women’s meeting, bring up jealousy as a topic and you’ll get a lot of platitudes, and some pseudo-spiritual advice about self-love and not comparing, but then if you are lucky, some brave woman—probably in longer recovery—will fess up that yes indeed she has felt this monster taking over her mind. Maybe she’ll tell a now-funny tale of really bad behavior fueled by alcohol and jealousy before her recovery. She keyed a car, she sent a note, she tossed a drink.
That laughter? It’s way better medicine than God talk and platitudes when you are in a full-blown jealousy attack. Jealousy tries to tell you that you are alone in your weirdness, so laughing with other women is the balm.
Jealousy is awful. Admitting it is awful. So how does it get us? And what is it there for?
All emotions have a function. Anger gives us protective adrenaline is scary situations. Sadness softens us so we slow down in times of loss so we don’t get hurt. What does jealousy do?
Jealousy is a response to manage anxiety. How about that? Jealousy is connected to anxiety. Yeah, anxiety—the other most miserable feeling to feel. What a duo.
Think about this:
You get jealous when you are anxious about a relationship: Is he with me? Does she love me? Could I lose him or her? The anxious bubbles come over us and they start to weaken us.
So, jealousy steps forward and says, “Need some energy to kick that feeling back?” Wearing all green jealousy attempts to manage your anxiety: “Feel this instead.”
Here’s how I’ve seen it play out in me: I’m unsure of him, and I start to feel anxious. I want to make myself feel safe again, so I want to control him—I want to close all the doors, so to speak, so he’s all mine.
Yep, I know it’s a creepy way to think, but it’s rarely a conscious thought. Jealousy moves underground and very fast. Jealousy is a way—a really bad and ineffective way --to manage my anxiety. The flawed thinking (or not-thinking) is this: “If I can just control him/her and make her/him love me, only me, then I will be safe.”
But it’s not true. What I’m doing when I succumb to jealousy’s whispered bad advice is to make myself less safe. I tie myself to a rock, and I begin to lose parts of my life: I monitor, watch, and control the other person. All that takes my energy and focus away from my own life and I begin— it happens so fast—to deteriorate.
So, what’s a girl to do when you start feeling green? (And oh, the reason for green was the belief that jealousy was caused by an excess of bile that can actually cause a slight green tinge in the skin).
What to do? Do the exact opposite of what you feel: move away from the target and the subject, move toward your life and interests and passions quickly. Immediately invest in something that is very you, and—the big step: tell people. Tell your sponsor, recovery friends, even a stranger—who has no connection to the folks in your life. Find the humor quickly—telling other people your freakiest fantasies will move the humor up and forward. Tell your friends that you want them to help you find the funny. They can give you spiritual advice tomorrow.
And remember that it’s anxiety that jealousy is trying to help you with, so go exercise, dance, breathwork and meditation and your other best tools for managing anxiety.
More on recovery and relationships in "Out of the Woods" published by Central Recovery Press.