There’s Nothing “Just” About Jealousy

aloneOh he’s just jealous. He’ll get over it. It’s a growing experience. Act jealous back and see how he likes it. Jealousy is a sin; there’s something wrong with you if you feel jealous. Get over it. 

Sound familiar?

The above statements are very common and usually applied in the context of romantic relationships. Today I saw variations of the above applied to discussing a child whose formative infant years included separation from his mother. Of course he’s jealous.

Whether it is this situation, or romantic jealousy, or other scenarios, the one thing we all need to remember is this:

Jealousy is a symptom – usually of needs being threatened or not met.

  • Insecurity – needing reassurance of one’s own value or that one’s needs will be met.
  • Need for time, attention, nurturing, and both physical and emotional safety.
  • Fear of loss, abandonment, and/or being replaced.
  • Competition jealousy – usually another symptom of any of the above. We want to be uniquely valued.

So how do you deal with jealousy?

If you are helping a child, the first step is to talk about the fears that the child has and ways to address them. That takes patience, spending one-on-one time, reassurance of love, and discussing the fears in a respectful way.

If it is a romantic partner or other relationship, it is much the same. Discuss the fears and where they are coming from. Explore ways to counter the fears. The fears could be real too; the person feeling jealous might have real reasons to fear loss, and this fear can even lead to behaviors that are self-fulfilling. If the fear cannot be eliminated, let’s at least deal with the issues in a respectful manner.

There is that word again: respectful. The worst way of dealing with jealousy is with judgment; compassion and respect are required instead.

Yes, some people have a greater tendency for jealousy. And you might decide that you cannot be in a relationship with someone who is prone to this symptom of their fears. Just understand that it is a symptom, especially if you are the one who experiences jealousy because your solution will be to build your self and your life in a way that allows for greater levels of security.

We also want to help our children avoid or counter jealousy, and this is important. Telling them that it shouldn’t happen or that it is just wrong is going to reinforce the jealousy. They are not “just jealous” – they are just exhibiting a symptom of some underlying issues that need to be dealt with. 

Those of us who learned as children that we could not trust that our parents would be there or protect us have some extra challenges. Some of us just don’t allow people to get close enough to hurt us and can proudly claim we don’t get jealous. Can’t be jealous when you don’t have a source of that fear! For those of us who do take that risk, it’s soul-deep.

Personally, I have the benefit of being aware of all of the above from a young age, so I used to not understand – and was admittedly irritated with – people who would get jealous. I had very little patience for it.  That doesn’t mean that I never had fear or hurt or even anger; it means that I always targeted the source of those emotions. Now that I understand why people experience jealousy, I can be more understanding. I can also help prevent jealousy of loved ones by being mindful of the sources, and having a clue on how to address issues when they do come up.

Because they are never just jealous. There’s no such thing.