Jealousy: The Bad Info-mercial of the Psyche

In the words of Lawrence Durrell:
“It is not love that is blind, but jealousy.”

You may have experienced a pang of jealousy when someone outshone you, or when you noticed someone striving for what you perceived was a position/idea/skill/quality/reputation or honor that you really believed was yours. If you are feeling jealousy, you may become the screenwriter and the director of a tawdry jealousy drama. Alternatively, if you are the target of another’s jealousy then you may be cast in a jealousy drama as an unwitting actor. Depending on our psychological make-up, most of us have had a taste of being on each side of jealousy. Recently I have had the nasty experience of being cast as an actor in a another person’s jealousy drama, so I will use this as an example.

Prior to awareness of being in a stuck jealousy process, I had what I thought was a positive collegial relationship. The first clue was everything in the relationshp rather suddenly shifted. What had been healthy motivation and spurring one another to higher achievement suddenly turned to either ice or poison. Later the awareness surfaced that my former friend and colleague was simultaneously avoiding me and trashing me to mutual colleagues at every opportunity. Even after I had awareness of the jealousy process, I continued to be surprised by vitriolic attacks from unexpected angles, and dismayed by accusations and strange and diabolical beliefs about me that seemed to arise in the total absence of data or fact. I felt deeply saddened, regretful, and totally blind-sided by the jealousy process occurring in someone I respected. First I had to set limits and boundaries, then I had to deal with my sadness and shock. As I processed the experience, I realized that perhaps given the psychology of the person and our profiles, the situation was perfect: we were very similar professionally, perhaps too similar in our professional interests for jealousy not to occur.

This is how jealousy works: jealousy tends to blind and blind-side. This is why I am writing today: to bring healing and awareness out of this experience and to share it with others. This post is to help us both be aware of the process of jealousy, and to help us be able to recognize and deal wisely with jealousy in ourselves and in others.

Even though I consider myself a psychologist with serious Third Wave CBT sympathies, I again turn to psychoanalytic thinkers to help me understand the primal emotion of jealousy. David Hiles, whom I have referenced before in my post on Envy http://psy.dmu.ac.uk/drhiles/ENVYpaper.htm, has this to say about jealousy:

“Jealousy is based on envy, but involves a relation to at least two other people. It pertains to a triangular (oedipal) relationship, i.e. it is whole-object oriented. It is commonly experienced with respect to love that a person feels is their due and has been taken away, or is in danger of being taken away, by a rival. Jealousy aims at the possession of the loved object and removal of the rival. It is usually the rival that is the target for aggression, which might suppress a more deeply felt envy towards the loved object. Also, in jealousy there may be a fear of losing what one has. Jealousy implies envy of the actual or presumed advantage of a rival, especially in regard to the love of an object. Jealousy is often accompanied by suspicion…jealousy is based on the wish for an exclusive relationship to the primary object.

Unresolved jealousy can lead to the impossibility of forming meaningful relationships and lack of maturity of ego and Self. It raises issues of sharing, ownership, possessiveness.”

So first we need to understand jealousy: remember that jealousy always has not one but THREE ugly heads (this is what is referred to as a “triangular process” in some psychological circles).

The Three Ugly Heads of Jealousy:

* The Ideal, or the Beloved
o The prized psychological possession, which also may be misperceived as essential to existence.
* The Subject, or the Lover
o The one actively desiring, and usually the one who has con-fused self with desire.
* The Object, or the Thief
o The thief, or the hated one, who is perceived as a competitor or threat to accessing the prized psychological possession.


Jealousy is like a bad late night info-mercial.
It offers something. You see that something, and you experience desire. You experience so much desire you fuse your self identity with a need for this thing. Then you believe you may lose this thing. So you must act now to beat out others, because quantitites of this idealized thing may be limited. The bad deal info-mercial of jealousy applies to romantic love, but also to skills, knowledge, prestige, opportunity, athletic prowess, beauty, and spiritual qualities such as mindfulness. Do not be fooled: even those who pose as enlightened teachers and leaders can be wildly jealous and irrational guardians of a quality, a skill, or a reputation they believe to be exclusively theirs.

Hile goes on to give a cheat sheet on how to recognize when a nasty jealousy info-mercial has sold you cheap goods and is now pilfering the bank account of your psyche. Watch for the Nine Signs of the Bad Jealousy Info-mercial:
* rivalry,
* rejection,
* suspicion,
* exclusivity,
* possessiveness,
* tense relationships,
* immaturity,
* grievance,
* hostility

“Never underestimate the power of jealousy and the power of envy to destroy. Never underestimate that.”
Oliver Stone

I found the first steps in working with jealousy from a value based perspective were these:

First, whether you are the subject or object of jealousy, do a suffering inventory of what jealousy may be costing you. If you are the subject/author of the jealousy info-mercial, what are your beliefs and behavior causing you to miss out on? If you are the object/unwilling actor in the jealousy info-mercial, what actions have you contributed to inflame jealousy? Do you value the relationship enough to continue it even in the presence of jealousy? The answers to these questions implies tough decisions ahead, whichever side of jealousy you are on.

Second, whatever your role in jealousy, be aware of this: the info-mercial is not true! A self cannot be destroyed by not getting its desires, only ideas about who we are can be destroyed. Although many confuse their self with their desire, their mind’s warnings about time limits, limited quantities, and the need to ACT NOW are not true.

Finally, ask yourself what your deepest values are. What do you want to exemplify in the world that will endure for 7 generations? Use these values to guide your choices, to ensure that the choices are not driven by reactivity and create more suffering. There is always another way, which involves less suffering. The other way includes freedom and compassion and maturity, but does not exclude pain.

Watch for a future post on how acceptance, commitment, and mindfulness can give you a refund on the bad jealousy infomercial goods, and return you to living a vital life. In the mean time, here is a hint…

“Generosity is not giving me that which I need more than you do, but it is giving me that which you need more than I do.”
Khalil Gibran

References

Hiles, David. (2007). Envy, Jealousy, Greed: A Kleinian approach. Paper presented to CCPE, London. http://psy.dmu.ac.uk/drhiles/ENVYpaper.htm Downloaded August 31, 2011.

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