It is rather rare for a therapist to receive a referral with the identifying problem of how to overcome jealousy. Depression and anxiety are the two most common reasons people enter into psychotherapy. Jealousy is something we have all experienced, but are reluctant to acknowledge and discuss. Jealousy is one of those emotions that people are quick to criticize in others but don’t acknowledge in themselves. Within relationships, jealousy is one of the most destructive and disrupting forces that plague couples, friendships and business relationships.
Jealousy is a form of:
Within relationships jealousy serves to:
- Anticipate and avoid betrayal
At a deeper level, Jealousy is an emotional expression of dissatisfaction with our own accomplishments and effectiveness. In my clinical experience, jealousy stems from feels of insecurity and inadequacy. Feeling unsure about our own strength, capability, and power to intact change, render us susceptible to a host of negative feelings. Assuming a commitment to move forward with determination for transcendence is not an easy endeavor. Engaging in comparisons with others’ accomplishments, traits, and possessions while maladaptive, is all too common in the human experience.
What the ancients believed
“Do not overrate what you have received, not envy others. He who envies others does not achieve peace.”
Ancient civilizations were well aware of the destructive force that jealousy presents. In the examination of the Ten Commands, we can observe four of the commands recognize the dangers of jealousy.
- The 9th Commandment:“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor”. This Commandment indirectly establishes that we should not make false accusations of against our fellow man, with the presumption that this action is based on being jealous of others.
- The 10thCommandment: “You shall not covet”. This Commandment directly forbids jealousy on any level, whether it be of your fellow man’s possessions or wife.
- The 1stCommandment:“You shall have no other gods before Me”. The 1st Commandment even lays claim that God should be the only one who has your attention.
Warnings about the perils of jealousy are observed in the 7 Deadly Sins. The 7 Deadly Sins caution us about jealousy. Jealousy, strongly related to Envy as on the deadly sins is defined as the desire for others’ traits, status, abilities, or situation.
Saint Thomas Aquinas said, “Envy according to the aspect of its object is contrary to charity, whence the soul derives its spiritual life… Charity rejoices in our neighbor’s good, while envy grieves over it.”
Cognitive Behavioral Theory
From a cognitive behavioral perspective, jealousy is the emotional by-product of irrational thinking. For Rational Emotive Behavior therapists using the ABC model (Action, Belief, Consequence), our irrational belief systems are the cause of emotional disturbance. In the case of jealousy, people adopt faulty thinking, usually in assessing their self-worth based on the perceptions they have in other people.
Irrational thinking produces fear.
Fear manifests in anxiety.
Jealousy is a learned pattern, predicated on the unhealthy thoughts we hold.
Examples of irrational thoughts that results in feeling jealous are:
- I should have received more recognition from my colleagues.
- I should have more love from my husband.
- I should be as rich as my friends.
Challenging irrational automatic thoughts are at the heart of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Jealousy is being maintained by erroneous belief systems that need to be:
- Connected with your feelings of jealousy
- Challenged with reason, rationality and logic
- Replaced with rational thoughts based on evidence
Cognitive Behavioral techniques can provide a strong model for transcending our faulty belief systems that cause jealousy and replacing them with rational forms of thinking, ultimately diluting this maladaptive emotion.
On a deeper level, Psychospiritual level, we need to move forward transitioning from fear-based thinking to that of gratitude.
From my clinical experience, jealousy thwarts personal, professional and spiritual development. It is a core emotion for “getting suck” in life. Jealousy is the counter to taking personal responsibility and action for moving through life with strength and resiliency. At its worst, it will stunt emotional growth, create misery, and sabotage relationships.
As defined by the Oxford Dictionary, Gratitude is “the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.”
It is very easy to be swept away by life. Gratitude involves appreciating every good thing in life, no matter how small. Being thankful for mundane things such as a clear blue sky, or indulging in a hot cup of chocolate on a chilly afternoon, while seemingly mundane, are examples of everyday small gifts to be thankful for.
The practice of mindfulness can help put gratitude in action. Mindfulness involves a dedication to the practice of clear thinking and emotional openness. It is the process of using the power of introspection to help guide you in your appraisal of life’s events and how your actions affect others.
Implementing mindfulness should involve thinking about 5 things you are grateful for every day. For optimal effect, try sitting quietly, and picturing these five things and experiencing the feeling of gratitude deep within.
Mindfulness is a powerful tool for rewiring your neuro processes. Committing to this process will help to transform jealous tendencies into gratitude. Keeping a gratitude journal is the next step in solidifying the feeling of gratitude in your mind. Consciously think about all the things you are grateful for and you put them down on paper or keyboard.
In addition to mindfulness practice, contributing to others is an effective way to feel gratitude. Research has demonstrated to volunteering with the sincere purpose of helping others will foster feeling of gratitude.
The act of being grateful simplifies life. A simplified life leads to contention, where there is no more room for jealousy.
Joseph Graybill, Ph.D.
P.S. Read my article on the The Importance of Spirituality in Psychotherapy