Coping with jealousy

Coping with jealousy

Most of us have experienced a pang of jealousy at some point in our lives. But what’s it like to have those feelings of jealousy all the time? And more importantly, what can you do about them?

Jealousy at its most basic is a form of anxiety, and a coping behaviour for ambiguity and discomfort. As a form of anxiety it isn’t necessarily confined to people with low self-esteem, who believe that they will inevitably be abandoned or betrayed. In fact jealousy can spring from high self-esteem, where the person concerned won’t stand for the way they believe that they are being treated.

I say “the way that they believe that they are being treated” because a common cause of jealousy is mind-reading. People attempt to read their friends’ or partners’ minds, and make assumptions about their thoughts and motives based on their behaviour. I’ve already written about how inaccurate people are at this, even where their partners are concerned.

This mind reading is normally an attempt to cope with ambiguity or uncertainty in a relationship. Jealousy then becomes a coping behaviour, as the uncertainty is replaced with an often false, but always compelling, explanation. Subconsciously jealousy may be used as a way of limiting or finishing relationships, with the underlying aim of preventing greater hurt and distress in the future.

If jealousy is either

  • interfering with your everyday life
  • damaging another person or a relationship
  • compelling you to behave in ways you don’t want to

then it’s time to take back control of those thoughts and feelings.

Here are six different strategies for dealing with jealousy.

  1. Counselling – if you have certain assumptions or expectations about relationships then these can be the cause of jealous thoughts rather than the other individual. If you have developed ideas as a result of other people or previous relationships then counselling can be a way of exploring and defusing these.
  2. Journals – if counselling isn’t available or attractive then consider keeping a journal or diary. This is proven to have a positive effect on peoples’ mental health, as it makes you properly express your fears. If a diary seems too much of a long-term commitment consider Morning Pages instead.
  3. Talking as a couple – try talking your anxieties through with your partner. Needless to say it’s worth agreeing a couple of rules before-hand. Meet in public somewhere neutral, without any history or associations for either of you. Agree to take it in turns to talk, without interrupting each other. What makes this work best is starting each time by repeating what the other person said in your own words. This way you can both be sure that you share the same understanding.
  4. Widen your circle – jealousy is often made worse by over-investment in a relationship. To stop this magnifying relationship problems and anxieties develop more outside interests. Learn a new skill, or strengthen other relationships – both of these will help you to gin the perspective and distance needed to overcome jealous thoughts.
  5. The Court of Thought – if you’re aware that your feelings are driven by mind-reading assumptions then stop and examine your thoughts before you react to them. Put your thoughts in the dock and cross-examine them – What evidence is there to back them up? Have they been wrong before? Could there be another explanation?
  6. Mindfulness – instead of grappling with your thoughts and feelings consider becoming more mindful. Developing a distance between yourself and your thoughts and feelings can be really beneficial. Using the RAIN method, and learning not to identify yourself with your thoughts, can break the grip of jealous feelings and behaviour.

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