What Causes Jealousy and How We Can Handle It

The green-eyed monster can rear its head in many forms. While it’s synonymous with romantic relationships, jealousy can come in many forms: sibling rivalry, other people’s success compared to our own, or even within friendships.

Whatever area it pops up in, jealousy is an emotion that can be hard to handle and can leave us with a sense of inadequacy, lack of worthiness, and anger. These negative emotions can eat us up unnecessarily, and while a lot of jealousy can be for a good reason, most of the time it’s something that we need to control and comes from incorrect assumptions and perceptions about ourselves and others’ intentions.

Jealousy Comes from Your Unmet Childhood Needs

Jealousy is defined as a strong negative emotion stemmed from insecurity, fear, concern and anxiety over a potential loss of something of great personal value. Sound familiar?

Why is it some of us are more easily prone to assuming the worst and quick to jump to conclusions while others don’t seem affected at all?

The answer could lie in our early years and the relationship we had with our parents or caregivers. As humans we are quite contradictory – while we praise being an individual and the idea of self-reliance, we are also highly social creatures who thrive on acceptance.

The attachment theory [1] explains how the quality of our early attachment experiences highly influence the way we operate with our adult relationships. If our affection needs are unmet while in childhood by those we have close bonds with, this leads to a sense of insecurity and jealousy with those people we go on to form relationships with.

It’s this insecurity that breeds a strong sense of possession and a fear that we are not good enough. It’s this mislead expectation of others, formed at a young age, that leads to a jealous tendency. This fear of losing someone or their affection, results in hostility towards a rival despite this largely being an incorrect belief or perception.

But Is Jealousy Really That Bad?

Jealousy has been around since the dawn of time. It was Shakespeare who coined the term ‘green-eyed monster’ which conjures up a person who is not typically understanding of a situation, often angry and destructive to themselves and others. But is this always the case?

When you’re on the other end of jealously, albeit a mild case of it, it can elicit feelings of flattery. When a partner expresses slight jealousy because you talked a little too much about your bond with a work colleague, it can feel almost comforting and we often associate it with a feeling that they care.

Animals such as chimps and bluebirds [2] also exhibit the behaviour of jealousy leading us to think it could be more of an advantage in our evolution than we think. It could effectively be a wake up call; a way to indicate to us that we need to regain affection – affection necessary for building our social bonds.

Jealous Thoughts Can’t Be Removed, But You Can Express Them Properly

So if jealousy is potentially an unavoidable trait, then keeping it under control is the key to harmonious relationships. Depending on our early attachment experiences, many of us will have varying degrees within us so how can we effectively curb any damaging jealous behaviour?

The key lies in the way we build and work on our connections with the people we are in relationships with and working on understanding and dealing with the insecurities that lie beneath our jealousy.

This doesn’t mean eradicating them altogether – after all, it’s hard to undo a lifetime of beliefs and attachment issues. Instead, it’s important to work on managing the negative emotions surrounding jealousy such as fear, unworthiness and anxiety. Research suggests expressing these feelings in the right way is a much better way of managing jealousy and envy than trying to get rid of it altogether.

Effective Strategies to Handle Jealousy

Speak Up

If you’re feeling anger, insecurity and jealousy, the best way is to express this to the other person. Keeping it inside will cause it to fester and will manifest in a potentially toxic way. Remember to keep calm and keep in mind that how you view things may not be the whole story.

Manage Your Stress

Stress and anxiety can be a big factor in feelings of jealousy so make sure you counteract this with stress management strategies. Exercise, meditation, eating well and anything that supports your mental and physical well-being will help towards all forms of negative emotion.

Ask For Reassurance

Don’t do this in a needy way. Just be honest about the situation and accept what the other person has to say. If they are understanding, they’ll do what they can to make you feel a bit more secure but make sure you don’t overdo it. Accept their answer and don’t focus on the issue. Cultivate a feeling of openness that will encourage a sense of relief and trust between you.

Ask Yourself ‘Is This Relationship Really For Me?’

If you constantly need reassurance from another person then it might be a red flag that this isn’t a healthy relationship for either of you. There are sometimes reasons why you feel jealousy and if you’ve tried your best to overcome them but are still experiencing envious feelings there could be a good reason. Don’t dismiss your gut feeling but make sure this is done with a clear and healthy mind.

Get to the Root of Jealousy – Insecurity

If jealousy is an underlying manifestation for insecurity, making yourself feel more secure from within is the number one way to combat it.

Don’t compare yourself to others. Remember that your self-esteem takes a dive when you start comparing yourself to your ‘rivals’ and most of the time it is only self-created rivalry. Realise that your negative perceptions are largely untrue.

Question your negative thoughts. Always be conscious of your negative thought patterns. Whenever they arise ask yourself why this is and try to replace them with better feeling thoughts.

Remind yourself that you deserve affection. You are worthy no matter what and understanding this will go towards centring yourself more fully. Self-love and knowing you are enough as you are, will slowly shift your thinking to that of stability in your emotions and will allow you to realise you deserve affection and love.

So don’t beat yourself up for feeling jealousy. It happens to all of us and learning from the destructive nature of jealousy can be a steep learning curve. Remember to start from within and focus on yourself and your worth. Slowly over time you will build up a mindset that will lessen the green-eyed monster within you and help you create more harmonious relationships.

Reference

[1] Developmental Psychology: The Origins of Attachment Theory
[2] LONDNR Magazine: The Science of Jealousy

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