Jealousy is one of the oldest and icky-est emotions, and it is linked to shame so it has real sticking power. What I find interesting is that it’s one of the hardest emotions to talk about in recovery because we, sober people, shame each other for feeling it. In 12 step programs and even in therapy we may hear how wrong jealousy is—and yet—here it is.
But as I was feeling some of this green icky stuff this week I dipped back into a rare and provocative resource.
My tutor is French analyst Marcianne Blevis and her book “Jealousy: True stories of Love’s Favorite Decoy.” She makes the powerful 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.
Look at this thing she says: “Jealousy is a response to anxiety. (Jealousy is not the anxiety but a response to a preexisting anxiety”). She writes that 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.” Jealousy is actually the route out of childhood anguish.
So when we shove away or shame away the jealous feelings we are cutting off a life preserver and tossing it back to the one trying to rescue us.
Blevis insists that 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 that is taped to the side of the poison bottle. It comes to free us and give back to us the thing that was prohibited in our early lives, 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 as a kid? Was there something you did or liked to do for which affection or love was withdrawn? This will show up in your jealousy targets as an adult. For many women it has something to do with bodies, sexuality, attractiveness --and creativity--which is why we get confused as adults when we think our jealousy is about another woman’s attractiveness it’s actually about our own—and its repression.
There is freedom here –in the jealousy—for the taking. But it means not shaming ourselves for feeling jealous—but rather relishing it and mining those jealous feelings for the gold buried there.