Jealousy is more than uncomfortable, it’s downright terrifying. At the mere mention of the J word I feel a disturbance in the force akin to speaking Voldemort’s name aloud in a Harry Potter novel. In fact, Jealousy is oftentimes the first barrier that people identify for themselves in response to me sharing with them that I practice polyamory. Multiple committed lovers? I could never do that. I get jealous. As if to infer I were some kind of super evolved species of human that was immune to feeling jealous. I’ll let you all in on a little secret. I totally feel jealous sometimes. Moreover, I frequently struggle with jealousy and even though I know better, I at times feel shameful for even feeling it. Jealousy is a human emotion, and just like anger, fear, and sadness it is actually a messenger with a call to action. Grow! If I chose to live my life based on avoiding unpleasant emotions, Id miss out on what those emotions were trying to tell me and I’d be letting my fear hijack my life instead of leveraging it to get the most out of life. Whether I’m riding a motorcycle, scaling a mountain, or sharing something vulnerable about myself, I have time and time again enjoyed the self-empowerment that comes from metabolizing my fears. In that same vein, I believe in leveraging my jealousy to teach me how to get the most from myself.
What is jealousy? First and foremost, it’s a complex combination of emotions experienced when our human needs (for love, understanding, respect, etc.) are not being met. The bigger the deficiency in whatever need is not getting met the greater the perceived emergency. Keeping this in perspective helps us to dig deep and look for the underlying causality behind the need deficiency. Be curious and observe. How have I met this need in the past? How am I presently meeting this need? What are ways I might get this need met differently in the future? For example, my need to feel special is often agitated when I’m feeling jealous. I don’t particularly enjoy hearing about how awesome someone else is to my partner; the Leo in me loves to be the center of attention! I put credit into the bank account of ‘feeling special’ by performing improv comedy and generally gravitating towards people who truly enjoy being around me. My partner tells me quite often how she sees me special, and I just soak up that praise like sunshine on a beach. Now if she decides all of a sudden to put her attention elsewhere I’m figuratively speaking left out in the cold. I have learned to recognize when my jealousy is activated, through experience and introspection. I am intimately acquainted with the strategy my mind takes to ‘get the need met as quickly as possible’. I recognize now that my jealousy likes to invalidate my relationship with, and in those periods of jealousy, it’s as if I can only remember the negative things about my partnership. This is how my particular brand of jealousy behaves. A more fulfilling and sustainable approach I could try out would be to consciously focus my efforts on asking for specific attention credit to be deposited into my ‘special’ bank account. There are many ways we can dream up to help meet our needs once we’ve identified where there’s a deficiency. This is because giving to someone you love is a naturally pleasurable act. Jealousy is an indicator on your metaphysical dashboard; understanding the underlying mechanics is the first step to acting from your divine will when the ’empty’ light goes on.
Jealousy is a veritable emotional cocktail of angry agitated worry with a base of fear and a top foam layer of shame. Under the anger there is sadness, and the top layer is often the most difficult to penetrate and therefore deserves some special attention before moving onto the deeper emotions. Shame that our loved ones will not love and accept our jealous selves and self-resentment that we’ve even put ourselves in a ‘bad situation’ can make me feel pretty awful. For the longest time I wasn’t able to fully dismantle jealousy because that initial shame I experienced was so insidious and deeply damaging. Then I found some tools. Shame needs three things to live; secrecy, judgment and silence. It is very important to stop shame in its tracks before the downward death spiral starts; be open, accepting, and vocal about your jealousy. Make a pact with your partner to hear each other out and provide feedback sans opinion and advice. Especially avoid criticism. Criticism is the shame amplifier. Make sure you both know the difference between feedback and opinion and advice. The latter two can easily be received as judgment, and it doesn’t matter whether that was the intention or not. Judgment, even perceived judgment, is going to amplify shame. The only way to snap out of the shame spiral of feeling jealous is to receive empathy from someone who gets it and can give you the impression that you’re still lovable, even when you become jealous. If you can’t do this for your partner be honest about it and help them find a friend who can. Brene Brown, the leading researcher on shame, states that shame is born between people and is healed between people as such. Leverage your friendships. Sometimes I feel embarrassed to let my close friends know that I’m feeling jealous, and I put my partner in a precarious situation to give me the empathy antidote to my shame or else suffer the consequences of watching me sink further into the dank depressing depths of despair. That’s a great way to help my partner link resentment to empathy. I’ve since learned to enjoy the feeling of control that comes from taking responsibility for my climb out of the shame pit. Too much stress on a partner to provide your entire emotional container can be overwhelming and good relationships can collapse under such pressure.
What if we could Jedi mind-trick ourselves to recognize when we’re jealous, and get happy about it? Wonderful! The teacher is in session today! Training ourselves to appreciate our jealousy, rather than feeding into the agitated worry, also provides a measure of protection against shame, which is one key to receiving the full benefit of its teachings.
If I can reprogram my mind around fear, it seems plausible then that I could also do so with jealousy. Fear is one of the components of jealousy, and it is a great sign post that we can use to help us identify the path of love. Whichever direction your fear is telling you to go, 9 times out of 10 the path of love is in the exact opposite direction. How does this work for me? I have come to realize through experience that love and fear are inverses of each other. I’ve enjoyed the positive results of choosing action from love by slowly building up courage and trust in myself by ‘doing the opposite’ of what my fear tells me. Jealousy is a sign post for us to recognize all the areas where we hold ourselves back, where our comfort in life prevents us from growing to our fullest potential. Think of jealousy as your friend. If you learn how it works, speak its language, you can begin to recognize it for the wise master that it is and reap the benefits of unlocking your full human potential.
Underlying the anger component of jealousy, if we dig down deep enough to identify it, is sadness. That sadness is usually closely connected to a core pain, usually from childhood or an earlier developmental stage in life that we believe reflected us as unlovable beings. The healing power of love can only be activated on what is brought to the light. It may be scary to look at what we believe is unlovable, but if we apply the earlier principal of moving towards our fears, the benefit is that we reach a place where we see our shadow self for what it is and with awareness and love begin to apply the healing that comes from accepting all of ourselves. These kinds of deep rooted pains will not go away unless we are courageous enough to face them and feel them fully. Feeling is healing.
Compersion is the inverse of jealousy. It’s taking delight in your partner’s pleasure from connected cocreation with someone else. How do we get there? First, we must recognize that compersion is not a final destination. Once you’ve experienced compersion that does not mean you’re ever after immune to jealousy. The key components of the compersion equation are high self-esteem as a romantically desirable lover, trust in your partner and the relationship you’ve built, and a measure of uncertainty tolerance in the context of your relationship. I also believe that self-identifying with a “tribe” or group more so than your romantic relationship can contribute immensely. However, this concept flies counter to most social norms about romantic relationships in our modern world.
Cultivating the practice of moving towards your fears is going to help you develop both your self-esteem and uncertainty tolerance.
Developing trust in your partner is going to build up slowly over time, and is going to be most influenced by all of the little things you do for each other to show one another that you truly care. Be home when you say you’ll be home. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Be impeccable with your word.
Developing your self-esteem as a desirable lover comes from your own perception, which is influenced by your beliefs. Identify your limiting beliefs about attracting friends and lovers. Conduct experiments to gather new information rather than continuing to selectively gather evidence which supports your limiting belief. One limiting belief that I’ve recently identified in my own life is that my marriage status makes me a less desirable romantic partner for the majority of women. So I’ve begun to experiment with this belief by approaching women I’m attracted to, letting them know how I feel, and observing what happens. Most importantly I’m conducting an experiment, and committed to observing rather than confirming.
Developing your tolerance for uncertainty is like doing mental calisthenics. Uncertainty can be a torture chamber for the mind, but at least we can make the chamber more comfortable while we’re in there. Find ways to focus your thoughts and actions so that you have at least some small perception of control to hold onto as you endure the discomfort of not knowing. When you do push-ups are you focusing on the pain you feel, or are you focused on trying to hit the number you’ve set as your goal? Which strategy works better for you to have a productive work out?
I leave you with these parting words from the Buddhist scriptures, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”