My views on jealousy have changed a lot over the past few years. I was raised to believe that jealousy was a failure, a very bad thing that was indicative of a lack of self-control and spirituality. Being jealous was a very great failing indeed. But the problem with demonizing natural emotional responses is that we then don’t want to acknowledge that they could possibly exist in us. After all, who woke up this morning wanting to feel like an emotionally immature child? This results in the root causes of the jealousy never being dealt with; the cycle repeats itself and there is more self-blame and loathing over the perceived failing.
So how does one effectively deal with jealousy when you’ve been taught that it’s inherently bad and mature people are above such things? You usually don’t. At least, that was my experience in the past. Being jealous was always a failure, and I didn’t want to be a failure. So back in my religious past I would just pray about it, prostrating myself on the floor in submission to a God that I thought hated my jealous feelings as strongly as if I had murdered someone (fundamentalist Christian doctrine teaches that thought crimes are just as bad as physical ones; hating someone is a bad as murder, etc.) I would berate myself for being so immature or blame it on “an attack from the devil”. There was rarely any understanding of the roots of my jealousies, nor any productive response to learning to actually deal with it. Jealousy was simply evil and to be avoided at all costs, even if that meant ignoring my true feelings so I could tell myself that I was above such things.
Now I have a very different view of jealousy. I see it as a natural response to life situations, a response that has its roots in my own insecurity and fear. And feeling fear and insecurity is not a failure either; it means we are human beings who feel and care and don’t always have things figured out yet.
Sometimes jealousy is rational. People in our lives may do things that understandably cause unnecessary jealousy, whether intended or not, and jealousy can be an indicator of relationship problems that need fixing or of a lack of communication. But often jealousy is more indicative of our own inner problems then of something the other person has done. When jealousy is rational and the cause legitimate, then talking to the other person is necessary to remedy it. There may be things happening that are unnecessary or hurtful which ought to be addressed. But if it’s irrational, and the other person is doing nothing that they should be changing, then making the other person change what they’re doing is simply us avoiding the real problem- ourselves. If I’m suffering from needless insecurity and fear and I ask the other person to change so I don’t have to feel that way anymore, is that really solving the problem or am I just running away from my own demons?
What’s important is not that we never feel these things in the first place, but that we deal with them when we do. Instead of pretending that we never get jealous, we must open ourselves up to it so we can identify and remedy the causes of it. Rather than being a failure, jealousy can be an opportunity to locate weaknesses in ourselves. What makes me fearful? What makes me feel insecure? Why don’t I think I’m good enough? Why do I feel unworthy of love or friendship? And most importantly, how can I change this? Jealousy can be an important stepping stone in self-improvement, if we handle it in the right way.
I certainly feel jealousy. Sometimes a hell of a lot of it. But I also lived most of my life never allowing myself to freely admit these feelings… jealousy was never effectively dealt with. So although it can be unpleasant working through it at times, it’s also a positive thing because it means that these parts of my nature are finally being brought to light so they can be improved. And I’d rather deal with a few moments of discomfort now than live another decade unable to face jealousy when it arises. Self improvement isn’t always easy, but it’s absolutely necessary and in the long run life is so much better for it.
I used to run from my demons. Now I face them head on and bend them to my will. Or at least that’s the goal.