Yes, jealousy. One of the most universal human emotions that we cannot speak about. It’s gross and miserable and beyond uncomfortable and it strikes us mute. We sputter and spit and stumble in trying to express it without sounding insane or weak and yet—and yet—jealousy is a powerful emotion which taps directly into our bodies.
I have stumbled through this territory all of my life, and perhaps that is the clue. It’s old. Jealousy is always old. I’d like to think it is about this man or that woman but at heart it never is.
It is also never this: Jealousy is never about love, it’s never about sex, it’s never about attractiveness even though those may be the cards we play in trying ever so hard to explain our predicament when trapped in jealousy’s swamp.
It’s also—and I am slowly coming to get this—never about him.
My recent tutor is French analyst Marcianne Blevis in her book “Jealousy: true stories of love’s favorite decoy.” She makes the powerful and iconoclastic case that jealousy exists to help us and to free us. Yes, I know it never feels anything like that, does it? She’s onto something though. (Yeah duh, she’s a French psychoanalyst and psychiatrist and brilliant so I’ll concede that she’s “onto something”).
But look at this thing she says: Jealousy is a response to anxiety. (jealousy is not the anxiety but a response to a preexisting anxiety) and she says the anxiety arose early in our lives: “If an impulse in childhood is struck down by a prohibition, it transforms itself into a terror and anguish” Ok, that makes sense I will be jealous of one whom I perceive to be the thing I was never allowed to be. But then she says this: “Jealousy not only tangles our memories, but also puts us in contact with those unconscious forces of childhood that are struggling to free themselves from the realm of the incommunicable.”
I did mention that she’s brilliant right?
Jealousy is not bad no matter how bad it feels. It is built in as a gift to save us. It is as if it is the antidote taped to the side of the poison bottle. It comes to free us from the thing that was prohibited, the thing we transformed into terror long before we had words.
Here’s a simple way to get at this in yourself: What were you not allowed to do that you did naturally and freely as a child? What did your mother or father prohibit? What were you shamed for? Was there something you did or liked to do for which affection or love was withdrawn?
And consider this: many women drank over this thing that was trying so hard to help us become free.