Robert L. Leahy Ph.D.

Anxiety Files

Is Jealousy a Sign that You are Neurotic?

Jealousy is a universal emotion.

Posted Feb 13, 2018

 Rene Asmussen/Pexels
Source: Rene Asmussen/Pexels

In my previous posting I indicated that we can often get hijacked by our jealousy with our mind telling us that our partner is going to betray us or that the world will fall apart if we don’t keep this relationship going. We engage in a lot of mind-reading (“I know she finds him attractive”), fortune-telling (“She is going to leave me”), personalizing (“My partner seems bored, so I must be losing my appeal”), over-generalizing (“Men can’t be trusted”), and should statements (“My partner should only find me attractive”). While some of our negative thoughts could be true, when we are in the Jealousy Hijack we treat every one of our negative thoughts as if they are proven facts. We are trapped in our anxious, angry, jealous head. If you are jealous you may be thinking, “What is wrong with me?”

One woman started her session by criticizing herself, “I feel so jealous. I don’t want to be the crazy girlfriend”. When I asked her what happened she told me her boyfriend had dinner with his ex-lover. I asked her if her friends would have felt jealous and she said, “All of them told me he was being a jerk”. So maybe jealousy is a normal emotion.

Let’s take some first steps to step away from the jealousy and regain control of our lives.

Jealousy is Universal

Although the intensity and triggers for jealousy differ across cultures, jealousy is a universal phenomenon. We can go back to Exodus in the Bible where Cain is jealous of Abel and God describes himself as a “jealous God”. Or we can read Shakespeare’s Othello. Or listen to music or read poetry. Even animals are jealous—with dogs and horses ranked by their owners as the most jealous and cats not far behind. Even infants are jealous when they see their mother playing with another infant. So, if jealousy is universal, maybe you are just a human being.

Ask around

Do others also have jealous feelings? If you feel all alone with your jealousy, ask around among your friends. Have your friends been jealous of a sibling or a co-worker or of past lovers or of their partners showing an interest in other people? If people are honest they will acknowledge that these feelings have occurred and that they may have felt overwhelmed. Having jealous feelings doesn’t mean that you are crazy, defective, unlovable or neurotic. It might even be that you are being honest about what you see.

Jealousy and assertion?

Could there be legitimate reasons for jealousy? Sometimes people have good reasons for their jealousy. They want commitment and honesty, but they are getting deceit and denial. One woman realized that her boyfriend was not coming home until very late—night after night—and then she found an email on his computer where he was corresponding with a prostitute. She actually did not trust her first instincts to question him and so she was surprised that he was unfaithful. Sometimes jealousy can be a way of exercising high self-esteem—“No one can treat me this way”. The claim that jealousy is due to low self-esteem is true in some cases, but it is not always true. In fact, the research does not show a consistent relationship between low self-esteem and jealousy.

What would it mean if your partner claimed he or she would never feel jealous?

Someone once said to me, “Wouldn’t it be great if your partner allowed you to have sex with other people?” And I thought about this for a moment and said, “No. It would make me think she didn’t love me. And, I would wonder if she was having an affair.” In fact, the research shows that when one partner has expressed jealousy the relationship is more likely to endure than if there had not been any jealousy. In fact, sometimes we “test” our partner to see if they are jealous to find out if they really care.

Although jealousy has its place—and it is a normal, almost universal emotion—we need to step away and examine if it is hijacking our relationship. Is it leading to rumination, anger, and bickering? More about this in future posts.

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