Grace McGettigan gets to grips with jealous feelings and how they can eff up our lives.
“I always thought my friend Sarah* was better than me in every way,” says Niamh*, 32. “She was clearly prettier, more charismatic, smarter and more confident. People gravitated towards her in a way they just never did towards me. At first, I just liked being around her, I actually kinda basked in her glow. But after a few years of playing second fiddle to her, it really began to grate.”
Niamh and Sarah had been friends since they were kids, but by the time they left college, jealousy was threatening to overwhelm their relationship. “Every lad I fancied, fancied her. Every class I did badly in, she did well. It was all getting too much, and I’m ashamed to say that I behaved very badly towards her. I lashed out, and then I basically ghosted her afterwards. She had no idea what she’d done wrong, and I’ve heard from mutual friends since that I hurt her very badly. I feel awful about it, but at the time I couldn’t see straight from pure green-eyed rage.”
We’ve all succumbed to the green-eyed monster at some point, and for some of us, it spirals out of control to the point that it can completely destroy our relationships with others. It was William Shakespeare who first coined the term ‘green-eyed monster’, and that was over 400 years ago. Jealousy is a natural, though somewhat irrational, emotion that we’ll never be able to shake. But we can change how we deal with it. For most people, jealousy is just a pang of ‘ugh, I wish I had that’ or ‘damn, if only that was me’. For others, it’s a lot more extreme, and if left to its own devices, the green-eyed monster can take over our lives and tear our relationships apart.
Colin McDonnell, Psychotherapist and Clinic Director at Psychotherapy Dublin, says, “The root of jealousy is ‘lack’.” It is the want for something that somebody else has, and that we feel we are missing. While these can be physical things, such as a new handbag or holiday bookings, jealousy can also be caused by a lack of confidence or low self esteem. It is this emotional ‘lack’ that often leads to jealousy in a relationship, friendship or even in our work environment. Colin adds, “We spend our entire lives trying to find what we feel we are lacking. Jealousy sets itself in motion when this missing piece is visible in others.” The idea that someone else might be better looking than us, have more intelligence than us, or have a better sense of humour than us, can leave us feeling as though we ‘lack’ all of those things.
“Jealousy is as inevitable as speech,” Colin tells me. “It tends not to be very useful though, because it always involves looking outwards when really we should be taking stock of what irks us so much.” Colin suggests that, if you’re feeling jealous, to consider, ‘why is it that I want what they have?’ “That’s the real question because that’s the place we can figure something out and move forward.” The best thing to do in this situation is to look inwards. Reflect on why you feel this way and determine the root of the jealousy.
Jenny, 27, from Louth, says, “My jealousy ruined what my boyfriend and I had, to the point that he broke up with me.” At the time, Jenny didn’t realise that she was blaming her boyfriend for her own insecurities. “It started when I saw him chatting to another girl at a party we were at. It was his friend’s birthday, and I didn’t really know anybody. On my way back from the bathroom, I saw him laughing and joking with this girl, and I just felt this horrible anger inside me.”
Jenny tells me how she accused her boyfriend of flirting, which he denied. But the spark was lit, and she couldn’t shake the feeling that he liked this other girl more than her. “He explained that she was just an old friend of his from school. But I was so paranoid. I even looked through his phone for messages from her that would prove he was cheating – but I didn’t find any.”
Jenny obsessed over the fact that this other girl was prettier and more fun than she was, so much so that she failed to reflect on what her irrational blaming of him was doing to their relationship. “When he ended things, he told me that my lack of confidence in myself was driving him bananas, and that he loved me to bits until I started comparing myself to his other female friends.”
If you feel the monster rising, ask yourself whether you might be over-reacting.
Colin, from Psychotherapy Dublin, notes that, “When someone becomes fixated on jealous thoughts, it’s problematic because it offers them little space to move. Their own desire becomes latched on to someone else’s.” That sums up what happened in Jenny’s case. She became so fixated on the idea that her boyfriend fancied someone more than her, that it became all she could think about. It took over her life, and tore her relationship apart. If you find yourself feeling jealous in your relationship, try to keep things in perspective. Take a deep breath, and evaluate the situation. Ask yourself whether you’re over-reacting, and consider whether the jealousy is stemming from your own insecurity or if it’s a reasonable response to something he’s actually done wrong.
If you think, perhaps, that the problem lies on your side, take some simple steps to boost your own self esteem. Looking for reassurance from others won’t work here. You need to learn to truly value yourself. One way to do this is to create a ‘self affirming’ journal. Every day, write down one thing that you’re proud of yourself for achieving. It can be anything from, ‘I handled that situation well’, to ‘I made the tastiest dinner ever tonight’. If you’re feeling jealous of someone and think your own lack of confidence is to blame, read your journal to remind yourself of your own great abilities.
This applies to jealousy in the workplace too. Perhaps your colleague’s mediocre idea was chosen over your brilliant one, or maybe that promotion you expected went to that annoying guy at the desk beside the window. Jealousy in the workplace can creep up in all sorts of ways, but there are ways to handle it so that you won’t lose your marbles. Keep a separate work journal of all your achievements. Not only will it boost your self-esteem when you’re feeling low, but it will also be a good reminder of your worth in the company, and it’ll be key if you’re offered a meeting to discuss promotions in future. Never let someone else’s achievements get in the way of you getting yours. By obsessing over your colleague’s success, you start to forget your own worth completely, and what’s worse, voicing your jealousy can make you come across as unprofessional and petty.
The moral of the story is not to worry about experiencing jealousy, because it’s natural and it happens to all of us. You just need to ensure that it’s not taking over your life or coming between your relationships. If you find yourself having arguments with the people you care about because of these feelings, it’s time to assess the root of the problem. Don’t compare yourself to anyone, embrace your own strengths and remember to breathe deeply. Write your successes down, and you’ll find yourself feeling much better in no time.
This article first appeared in STELLAR’s June issue. Our August issue is on shelves now!
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