First, let’s be clear—jealousy isn’t necessarily a bad thing (here are 5 signs you ARE, in fact, a jealous mess). It’s human nature to feel jealous from time to time, but jealousy becomes problematic “when we act out in jealousy or we wallow in it,” says Christina Hibbert, PsyD, a clinical psychologist.
Problems arise when it starts to consume you and “creeps into every aspect of your life,” explains Kathy Morelli, LPC, a psychotherapist with a marriage and family counseling practice. It’s especially problematic if you find yourself feeling bitter and angry often.
One of the most common types of jealousy is romantic jealousy. We also tend to feel jealous about others’ successes, strengths, lifestyles, and relationships.
For instance, we might believe someone’s life is much easier or more comfortable than ours. “We see only the good in their life and only the ‘bad’ in ours,” Morelli explains. Or, we might believe our best friend has a better relationship with another friend.
Social networking sites like Facebook also trigger jealousy. “Today, our online and offline worlds overlap, so there’s a lot more confusion and complexity in relationships and more ways to compare ourselves to others,” Morelli says.
Insecurity often underlies jealousy. “We feel threatened, or less than or not good enough,” Hibbert weighs in. “We fear that someone else’s strengths mean something negative about us.”
Below, you’ll find general tips for dealing with jealousy, along with specific suggestions for handling jealousy in romantic relationships.
1. Be honest whether your relationships healthy or not.
“The best way to overcome jealousy is to first take a look at your romantic relationship,” advises Morelli. Consider if you and your partner built the relationship on trust, respect, and love, and if your partner’s behavior reflects their words.
Are they honest with you? If they’re not, this can naturally trigger or perpetuate your insecurities. “If you are in an insecure relationship, expect to have your jealousy buttons pushed. But no one can tell you what to do. If you stay, most likely you’ll feel bad and jealous sometimes.”
2. Determine if your own insecurities are the problem.
If you’re in a secure and solid relationship and still feeling jealous, look at yourself and explore your own experiences. “Research on the subject of jealousy in a romantic relationship indicates that a person’s basic attachment style underlies their tendencies towards jealous reactions,” Morelli says.
People who developed secure attachments in their early years—between themselves and their caregivers—tend to feel less jealous and dependent, have higher self-esteem, and have less feelings of inadequacy than people with an insecure attachment style.
She suggests asking yourself these questions:
- Do you have a pervasive feeling of emptiness or lack of self-worth?
- How was your relationship with your early caregivers?
- Was the atmosphere in your home warm and loving sometimes, but also critical?
- Were you raised in a repressive atmosphere?
- Were your early caregivers unreliable?
Attachment style is malleable, and later experiences or circumstances can influence your style. For instance, a skilled therapist can help you build self-esteem and work through your concerns.
3. Reach out friends for support.
Have interests outside your relationship. Talk to a friend about your jealous feelings, “but don’t do this to the exclusion of talking to your partner.”
4. Own your jealous feelings.
“When we name the jealousy, it loses its power because we are no longer letting it shame us,” Hibbert explains. Acknowledging you are jealous opens the door to learning.
5. Learn from that green-eyed monster.
We can use feelings of jealousy as inspiration to grow, says Hibbert, also author of the book This is How We Grow. For example, you realize the reason you get jealous every time your friend plays her guitar is because it’s something you would also like to do. Rather than wallowing in that jealousy, sign up for guitar lessons.
6. Let it go.
Tell yourself that you don’t need this emotion in your life and you’re relinquishing it. Then, “breathe deeply, and imagine it flowing through you like the wind. Repeat as often as it takes to truly let it go,” suggests Hibbert.
7. Choose healthier ways to manage your emotions.
“Practice mindfulness to calm your runaway emotions,” says Morelli. She suggests tuning into your body to identify how you’re feeling, taking several deep breaths, and trying to detach from intense emotions.
She continues, “If your jealousy involves your romantic relationship, share your feelings with your partner after you calm down.” To process your emotions, try journaling, dancing to your favorite music, or taking a walk.
8. Remind yourself of your positive qualities.
Hibbert gives the following example: “She is really good at playing with her kids and I’m not so good. But I’m great at reading to them, and they love that about me.” This reminds us that everyone has strengths and weaknesses.
Jealousy is a completely normal reaction, but causes problems when it becomes persistent. When you find yourself feeling jealous, recognize what’s happening and delve deeper into your relationships … AND yourself.