Irish writer Elizabeth Bowen once wrote, "Jealousy is no more than feeling alone against smiling enemies." This simple statement sets a perfect scene in our minds of what jealousy feels like; Others are happy, overtly joyful or secretly mocking, while we are left alone to look like a fool.
However, what drives us to feel jealous and suffer over this stirring emotion isn’t always the "smiling enemies" we formulate in our minds. The "sexy secretary" and "college love" are rarely the threats we think they are, but the overwhelming, possessed state of suspicion we enter because of these characters, can be a real hazard to our closest relationships.
Jealousy itself can take on a sort of wicked presence in our lives. Actions taken on its behalf have been known to crush a budding romance, slowly erode a longstanding union or even lead to serious abuse. In a blog I recently wrote for The Huffington Post on "sexting" cheating couples out of real intimacy, I described how the ease and accessibility of technology now breeds even more distrust and deception between couples. Email, text messaging and Facebook can be a perfect platform for forging new connections. And as the floodgates of communication open, the green waves of jealousy begin to flow.
Jealousy isn’t something we have much control over. In truth, it is a natural, instinctive emotion, that everyone experiences at one point or another. The problem with jealousy is that it masks other feelings and attitudes that are even more hurtful to us and those closest to us. Its intensity is often shielding deep-seated feelings of possessiveness, insecurity or shame. I believe that what lies at the heart of jealousy very often isn’t the threat itself, but a drive we have within us to torment ourselves and berate ourselves with self-critical thoughts.
Think about the thoughts we have when we feel jealous. Lurking behind the paranoia toward our partners, or the criticisms toward a perceived third-party threat, are often critical thoughts toward ourselves. Thoughts like, "What does he see in her?" can quickly turn into, "She is so much prettier/thinner/more successful than me!" Even when our worst fears materialize and we learn of a partner’s affair, we frequently react by directing anger at ourselves for being "foolish, unlovable, ruined or unwanted."
These critical inner voices and the feelings of humiliation that they foster can be more painful to us than the threat itself. They can also be more real. This negative self-coaching accompanies us into our personal relationships and instills in us a level of doubt and criticism that keeps us from perceiving ourselves as truly lovable. It reminds us to be suspicious with thoughts like, "She doesn’t really care about you" or "You can’t trust him. Just keep him at a distance."
This internal coach was formed from negative experiences we had as children. Whether we were witness to a destructive interpersonal relationship or were made to feel bad about ourselves by a significant parental figure, we internalized these experiences by identifying with the destructive attitudes that were being expressed. If we felt insignificant because we were ignored, it is very likely we have carried this insecurity with us into adulthood and into any romantic relationship we form. Keep Reading...
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