I have always been jealous but now it’s ruining my life

Tell Me About It: I’ve had enough people tell me to cop on that the penny has finally dropped

‘I know I’ve lost friends over this too – it drives me crazy when they get better results or better jobs than me.’

‘I know I’ve lost friends over this too – it drives me crazy when they get better results or better jobs than me.’

 

Problem

My question is about jealousy. I’ve been struggling with this my whole life, and recently it has caused me such upset and loss that I want to really tackle it. When I was younger, I could not stand when someone else was picked to be captain of the team, and I often marched away saying that I wouldn’t be part of such a crappy team. 

I know I’ve lost friends over this, too; it drives me crazy when they get better results or better jobs than me. I know they don’t tell me how well they have done because they know my reaction will be awful. 

Of course I’ve tried to hide my reactions, but I’ve had enough people tell me to cop on that I think the penny has finally dropped. My manager at work has asked me to do something to tackle my anger and I am afraid that I won’t get promoted if things continue as they are. 

My girlfriend, who has been the light of my life, says that she is almost at the end of the road with me and if I don’t do something real soon (as opposed to saying I’ll try), she will have to go. I can’t continue like this and I hate that this is what people think of me. How do I stop being jealous and get my life back?

Advice

Jealousy is an overpowering emotion and it can make life a misery. At its core is a sense of worthlessness or low self-esteem where the sense of self can be threatened by the success or lack of attention of another. The reaction is often to retaliate, to bad-mouth the other person or seek to “bring them down a peg or two”. This does not fit with the picture anyone wants to have of themselves, but the danger is that if jealousy is allowed to continue unchecked, it can become the default characteristic of the person. 

Perhaps it stems from the survival-of-the-fittest position where security and success lie only at the top of the pile, but there is no doubt that insecurity lies at its heart. It begins with comparison: the other person is getting more credit than me; my partner will be drawn to someone more attractive than me; my friend has a bigger house, fancier car, more beautiful body; the list is endless. 

Instead of tackling the real issue, which is self-esteem, we tend to think the problem will be solved by promotion, more success or a more compliant partner. As anyone who has suffered from jealousy knows, this is not the case and there is always more comparison, always someone who is doing better or is better-liked. 

There is a saying that a person was “blinded by jealousy” to describe the motivation for subsequent actions. When we are emotionally flooded by jealousy and rage, our intelligence cannot work, and we say and do things that we deeply regret when we cool down. This is the beginning of the cycle of jealousy and anger followed by shame and guilt. What a destructive pattern to engage in.

The first step to dealing with this is self-awareness: usually the jealous behaviour will be pointed out by people who love or care for the jealous person. The trick is to be grateful to the person for pointing it out and accept that they are telling you for your own best interest.

Behavioural change is desirable but, more importantly, some self-compassion is needed. Rather than make yourself feel better by achieving more or cutting off the commentator, take some time to sit with the difficult feelings and have some sympathy and tenderness for the difficult time you are having. When we feel slighted or passed-over, our reaction is often swift; rage takes over. If we can delay our response by even a few minutes and calm our bodies down by breathing or observing, we might be able to access our intelligence and realise where the problem is and how to solve it. The cause of the problem is insecurity or low self-esteem, and the solution is to feel competent and okay right now – not to feel brilliant or the best.

We often indulge and expand the jealous feeling by endless thinking and speculation about how the other person is wronging, ignoring or undeservedly succeeding over us. Once the feelings are calmed down, this thinking can be challenged by simply focusing outwards and hooking your intelligence on what is actually happening right now rather than on speculation. If hurt or damage has been caused to others, there is a need to apologise, forgive yourself and completely let it go. Jealousy is a tough feeling to overcome, so be compassionate and take it one step at a time.

  • Trish Murphy is a psychotherapist. Email tellmeaboutit@irishtimes.com for advice. We regret that personal correspondence cannot be entered into
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