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How to handle jealousy

Jealousy, affectionately known as the green-eyed monster, gets a bad rap when it comes to emotions because it can be disregarded as a “superficial emotion.” While most commonly associated with romantic relationships, jealousy can show up in a professional environment, within friendships, family, and elsewhere. Instead of typecasting jealousy as a “petty” emotion, consider jealousy an opportunity to improve your emotional intelligence by recognizing, understanding, and managing your emotions.

Most people confuse feelings of jealousy with feelings of envy. The difference is, when you experience jealousy, you see a person or thing as an obstacle to you receiving love, attention, affection, etc. As compared to envy, you want to acquire something that another person has. Based on that definition, it is possible that if you’re feeling jealous, this may be an indication of a possible unmet and unsaid emotional need within your relationship.

When encountering feelings of jealousy, your gut reaction may be to shove your feelings to the side or to rush through them because you feel uncomfortable. Unfortunately, doing that is a disservice to yourself. I recommend taking this slow and allowing yourself to process through all the things because every emotion—even jealousy—can be processed more healthily.

Here are four steps to deal with feeling jealous:

1. Admit to yourself that you’re experiencing jealousy.

Let me clear the air by saying this: Admitting that you are jealous does not make you a bad person!

Jealousy is a part of the wide range of emotions that humans will experience at some point in their life. Denying the fact that you are jealous can potentially set you on a cycle of constantly denying your feelings.

Consider for a moment: What are some possible barriers to admitting that you’re jealous?

  • Do you feel that being jealous is not socially acceptable?
  • Is there any sense of shame connected to the feeling of being jealous?
  • Does this trigger feelings of powerlessness about the situation?
  • Does this make you feel like a bad person?

Being honest with yourself about where you are emotionally removes an additional barrier to working through them. When you take a moment to accept what you’re feeling, you get to:

At one time or another, we’ve probably all felt the twinge of the green-eyed monster. Is my boyfriend’s banter with his attractive, known-each-other-since-kindergarten best friend more than that of “just friends”? Does my boss think more of the other junior associate than of me? Why did my best friend invite her to the movies, but not me?

Jealousy is the emotion we feel when we feel fearful of losing someone or a relationship that is very important to us, Robin Stern, PhD, associate director for the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, tells NBC News BETTER.

Maybe we start to fear a relationship is becoming less sacred in the other person’s eyes. Maybe we fear that someone else is going to take away a connection we have with someone else, says Stern, who is also a licensed psychoanalyst who has treated individuals and couples for 30 years. “It’s that ‘I might lose you in some way’ feeling.”

Jealousy is often used somewhat interchangeably with the word “envy.” Stern says the two are different in that envy is about things or a situation or position (someone else has something you want); whereas jealousy is about people (you perceive someone else’s closeness with a friend or lover to be threatening your relationships with that person). You might be envious of a neighbor’s new car or a colleague’s promotion, whereas you feel jealous if you find out your best friend confided in another friend instead of you.

Sometimes feeling a twinge of jealousy is a sign there’s something you need to work on in a relationship or some aspect of that relationship isn’t going how you want it to be going. But, unchecked, consuming jealousy can be toxic and destroy relationships. That’s why we need to know how to recognize it and respond in a productive way, Stern and others say.

It’s no secret that we live in a world that encourages constant competition and comparison. From the moment we can walk and talk, it’s all about who is the smartest, quickest, strongest or funniest.

As you get a little older, the competition heats up: Who will be the first to be in a relationship? Who has the best body, flashiest life, nicest car? It’s exhausting!

Take into account the explosion of social media and all of a sudden we’re led to believe that everyone else is livin’ it up while we’re just lagging behind.

The good news is that while jealousy is a normal reaction, it doesn’t have to be a permanent one. There are ways you can get a handle on where your head’s at, and learn to feel content rather than confused, when it comes to feeling jealous.

What is jealousy? An explainer to envy

Jealousy is one thing we all have in common, but what makes us feel this way?

Rejection

When you put yourself out there – whether in a relationship, at school, or when hanging out with mates – and don’t get the response you were hoping for, chances are you’ll feel pretty bruised. Being rejected leads to feeling not good enough, and that can kick off a cycle where you’re convinced you’ll always end up in the same situation. Why does this always happen to me? is a question we’ve all asked ourselves at some time when we’ve been struggling.

The blame game

When you’re aware of your negative feelings, it’s tempting to pin them on someone else. When the guys around you couple up and you don’t have a date, you might feel angry at them, even though they’ve done nothing wrong.

It makes sense: when you feel like you’re being left behind, you want to direct that anger and frustration outwards. Blame is a powerful tool, and one that can offer a little breather at the time, but is a bad idea in the long run.

Can’t help but compare

Whether it’s scrolling and eye-rolling as you see a bunch of buff guys posting on Instagram about their amazing holiday, or hearing your mates brag about their latest date, it’s hard not to compare yourself to others.

Add to that, as we get older there’s an endless culture of comparison. Are you getting the best results at school? Do you have a girlfriend or boyfriend? How much do you bench? This culture of comparison can easily lead to feelings of jealousy.

Plus, social media has turned FOMO into an actual issue, with everyone feeling forced to put forward the flashiest version of their lives.

How to: Grapple with the green-eyed monster

Talk it out

When it comes to working through feelings of envy, honest chat is the MVP. Sit down with a family member or friend, and try to put into words whatever is making you feel jealous. Sometimes by simply giving a voice to your frustrations, you can see them for what they are.

Check out ways to figure out talking here.

Unfollow the leader

If the highly filtered fantasyland of Insta and Snapchat is starting to send you into a spin, we recommend you start unfollowing. You don’t have to ditch every famous person you follow, but if Dan Bilzerian’s constant stream of jet skis and parties is leaving you seething, maybe hit pause on his posts.

The same goes with your own social circle. It can be tough to see people you know doing fun stuff, especially if you feel left out. Most social media platforms let you mute people, so you can hide certain feeds for a period of time. You could also try limiting your daily social use.

Challenge yourself

Sometimes the best way to overcome jealousy is to channel that energy into a fun challenge. Each time you catch jealous vibes, set yourself a task. Do ten push ups, watch a hilarious YouTube clip, text a friend or listen to your favourite track.

List the best bits

Jealousy is fuelled by feelings of self-doubt, so if you can get in the habit of bigging yourself up, it will go a long way towards helping you get on top of your resentment. As awkward as it may seem (we know it might feel a little odd at first, but trust us), try writing down three things you like about yourself.

Each time you clock a jealous thought, add another thing. Not only will you build a solid list of all your best traits, but you’ll also perfect the art of distraction. By associating jealousy with a list of good stuff about yourself, you can learn to shift its impact on you.

The bottom line

Ultimately, dealing with jealousy is all about learning how to handle it, as opposed to trying to phase it out completely.

The feelings that lead to jealousy are regular emotions – resentment, anger or frustration. The important thing to realise is that you already have all the tools you need to control the impact jealousy has on you.

If you are in a relationship, it is natural to feel a little jealous at times, especially if you have very strong feelings for your partner. Occasional jealousy is okay and may even add a little excitement and zest to the relationship. But what to do when this jealousy becomes more frequent and intense and even overwhelming?

Why Do People Get Jealous?

The common evolutionary explanation for jealousy is that men fear sexual infidelity as they want to be absolutely certain that their offspring is actually theirs. Women, are more concerned with emotional infidelity, because they are concerned with their children’s survival and want to make sure that their partner supports their children, provide and protect them.

Today more than ever before, people are afraid of being rejected, not accepted, not being loved and worry about losing people they care for. These feelings of loss are natural. Yet, again, when thought and feelings of jealousy are extreme, they stem partially as a result of insecurities. When fear lessens, so does jealousy. If you experience jealousy very frequently, here are some strategies that will help you out:

1. Don’t Act On Your Feelings

It is hard not to act the way you are feeling. The feeling of jealousy or any other feelings is not the problem, the real trouble starts when you start acting on that jealousy and let it consume you. You can feel the feeling, but do not have to act on it. Remember that your better half is a human being that is actively interacting with the world around him/her. That world contains people of gender that they sexually prefer but that does not mean that they will cheat on you with them. There is a reason why they are in an intimate relationship with you. If they wanted to date other people, they would have done so. So, the next time you feel jealous, accept the feelings, yet change the way you think about the situation and be reasonable and wise.

2. Calm Down and Stay Vulnerable

To love is to be vulnerable. George R.R. Martin said it best “The more people you love, the weaker you are.” What you need to do is to open your heart to your partner, trust whatever comes and keep calm. Yes, it is not easy, but you need to be willing to accept what is beyond your control and trust yourself to deal with the unknown. Remember, you are in the relationship, because you decide to love. It is a choice you make to love your partner and at the same time accept the risks without any qualms or jealousy.

3. Express Your Jealousy in A Soft Way

If you feel that your partner is doing something that is making you jealous, you can express how you feel and talk to them in a mature way. You can also communicate it with humor, diplomacy or directly as long as it is respectful. If you are humorous, you can joke about how insanely jealous you are when your partner pays attention to someone else. Laugh with them as you say this, because it will take the pressure off the topic and will get the message across. When you are diplomatic, you can let them know that you love them a lot and know that they will never cheat on you. And if you are direct, just tell them that you trust them, yet cannot control your feelings and want them to consider how you feel.

4. Appreciate Yourself

One of the main reasons why people get jealous is that they have low self-esteem and insecurity issues. They tend to think that they are not good enough, their partner will realize this, and will leave them for someone else. You need to know that there is a reason why your partner liked you in the first place and got together with you. If you need some reaffirmation or appreciation, don’t hesitate to ask for that too (within reason of-course). The next time you feel jealous, remember that your partner is with you because they want to be with you because of your positive qualities.

5. Heal Your Wounds

People tend to act jealous because of previous relationships too. You might have been hurt before and they might have cheated on you. You have to move beyond your past and realize that you are out of that relationship and in a new one. The person that you are with is not your ex-partner. Understanding the roots, triggers and reasons for your jealousy is an important part of personal growth and maintaining a healthy relationship. Whenever you start feeling jealous, make a conscious effort to heal your old wounds, be more resilient so that your past does not affect your present and future.

6. Trust Your Partner

You must trust your partner, because you have no other option if you want to have a happy and successful relationship. No one can control your partner and you have to let jealousy go. Having some control is not a bad thing, yet trying to control somebody for things over which you have no control, is problematic. Act in a loving manner in spite of feelings of jealousy you experience.

7. Trust Yourself

The best thing that you can do is trust yourself. Trust yourself that you can love deeply and without any regrets. Trust yourself that your love will act like the anchor that will prevent your relationship from floating away. This is not easy, but ultimately when you trust yourself, you trust whatever comes. You feel confidence that you will be able to manage even the most difficult situation, including a breakup or rejection.

In conclusion, jealousy may be destructive and serves as a poison in intimate relationships. If you follow the above suggestions and strategies when feeling jealous, you will be in a better position to build your relationship and deepen the trust.

While feelings of jealousy may be song-lyric gold (I see you, Nic k Jonas, The K illers, even Queen), it’s not exactly a comfortable moment to experience in a relationship. But the reason these songs rise to the top of the charts is because, in reality, it’s an emotion that crops up in every. single. relationship.

“Feeling jealous at some point is totally normal,” says Jenni Skyler, Ph.D., LMFT, director of The Intimacy Institute in Colorado. It’s because it’s a Band-Aid emotion, so to speak. Everyone experiences two core emotional fears, Dr. Skyler says—a fear of not being good enough or a fear of being left out. “We all have at least a little degree of one of those two issues—we’re basically wired that way,” she says.

Jealousy, then, could be considered a symptom of those fears. So being jealous of your partner looking a little too long at someone could be triggering your fear of being left. And being jealous of the funny work stories your partner tells about so-and-so could subliminally be making you feel like you aren’t funny enough.

Regardless, when those feelings crop up, you’ve gotta know what to do. Here’s what the experts have to say about the best ways to deal with jealousy in a relationship.

Figure out what you’re really afraid of.

While it’s easy to assume that your partner is at fault for making you feel jealous, Sari Cooper, LCSW, CST, founder of the Center for Love and Sex in New York City, says that getting worked up over any given situation can actually tell you more about yourself than the partner you’re jealous over. “Jealousy reflects on negative feelings we have about ourselves, and the pervasive anxiety telling us we aren’t enough,” she explains.

So rather than blame your partner from the get-go, take the time to analyze why you’re actually feeling jealous, and answer the question: what core fear is being triggered? “If we deconstruct the jealousy and figure out what’s underneath it, then we have more direction of where to go,” Dr. Skyler says.

Start by writing all your feelings in a journal. “Make a list of what actions your partner may do that push your jealousy button, and then ask yourself if there were similar situations in past relationships—either with family, friends or exes—that caused you to feel the same way,” Cooper suggests. You can also talk to someone you trust (who can give you an unbiased perspective), or schedule time with a therapist to begin the process of peeling back layers to what’s actually going on, Dr. Skyler says.

Talk to your partner.

“It takes a lot of courage and vulnerability to admit that you’re jealous,” Dr. Skyler says. But it’s important to do so—especially if you’re feeling it regularly because jealousy can be a sign that trust has been broken in some way, and you’re not feeling safe.

Rather than navigate those murky emotions on your own, bring your partner into the conversation. Sit down when the jealousy isn’t in full-force so your emotions aren’t running high. Then, tell them you want to talk and calmly explain what you’re feeling jealous about. “If there are valid signs in the relationship, name those pieces in a non-accusatory way,” Dr. Skyler suggests. They may not even be aware that the behavior was triggering you, and from there, the two of you can work to establish ground rules, or behaviors, that make both of you feel safe and happy in the relationship.

Skip the accusations.

When you talk to your partner, it’s important to craft the conversation to be about you —not them. If you spew the yous—saying accusatory things like, “You didn’t come home” or “you smell like this”—it’s only going to make them feel defensive, Dr. Skyler says.

That doesn’t mean you’re not right about their behavior, but if you want to have a productive conversation, going on the attack won’t do you any favors. Instead, make it all about you. “I’m feeling this way, and I think it’s because I experienced X” can help get the conversation started.

Rebuild your trust.

It’s important to feel safe in a relationship, and the only way to do that is to set ground rules that both of you are happy with—and then follow through on them so each partner can trust the other, Dr. Skyler says.

That could be honoring your word and being home on time, FaceTiming from a hotel room, or explaining what happened when you’re running late. It’s going to be specific to what’s triggering your jealousy and that core fear, but there are ways the two of you can work to put those fears at ease.

Don’t be afraid to revisit your early dating days, either. It can be easy to take advantage of your partner’s presence, not realizing that you haven’t texted about non-errand-activities in ages. Ask them to provide reassurance with positive statements (a compliment goes a long way), by letting you know what they’ve been doing when out with friends, and talking throughout the day, Cooper says. “These are all part of healthy relational habits,” she says. “When you or your partner expresses feelings of jealousy, you can increase your reassurance with these behaviors.”

Don’t secretly raid their stuff.

It’s tempting to take a peek at your partner’s phone while they’re in the shower, or log in to their email while they’re walking the dog. But it’s not a smart idea. “If someone is going to be unfaithful, they’ll find a way to do it. Checking phones and computers will not provide a partner the solace they’re seeking, but may increase their levels of anxiety,” Cooper says.

If you’re feeling the urge to snoop, tell your partner you want more check-ins and to talk throughout the day. If warning bells are still ringing, the two of you may need to have a deeper conversation about what’s really going on.

Focus on self-care instead.

Unless you’re certain your partner is cheating, it’s a smart move to try to shed the jealousy that’s weighing you down. Otherwise, your partner may start to feel claustrophobic, and eventually resentful over being controlled—especially if they’re constantly foregoing hobbies and activities to try to keep your panic at bay, Cooper says.

On top of the reassurance behaviors and identifying your fears, invest in self-care. Experiment with different exercise routines and meditation to see what helps you get out of your head, and regularly schedule your own outings with friends so your life doesn’t feel super-dependent on your partner. Continually growing your own strengths will help you feel more confident, so you can healthily deal with feelings of jealousy whenever they crop up.