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Jealousy is a Neurosis

January 11, 2012

Casaubon:  “I’m jealous of anyone who makes a lightbulb flash on in your head.”

Amparo:  “How wonderful.  That’s love.”

— Umberto Eco, Foucault’s Pendulum

I hate to break it to you, Signor Eco, but no, it isn’t.

Let’s get one thing straight, humanity.  Jealousy is not love, and love is not jealousy.  Jealousy is a neurosis.

And while I’m at it, I’ll puncture a few more myths right here:

  • Jealousy is common to all people.
  • Jealousy is uncontrollable.
  • Jealousy is a sign that you have been wronged.

Of all the monocentric prejudices circulating in our culture, I believe the ones pertaining to jealousy are among the most damaging, because jealousy is one of the most painful and destructive emotions.  So I’ll just address these in order:

Love entails wishing and behaving for the absolute well being of a person, and generates happiness in the knowledge that they exist.  Jealousy entails feelings of control or possession of another person, who therefore must be viewed on some level as an object  of wish fulfillment rather than a conscious and autonomous individual with their own needs and wants.  It is rooted in scarcity and generates feelings of anxiety and insecurity.  Love is selfless, jealousy is selfish.  Love is the essence of humanity, jealousy is dehumanizing.  Love makes you and others feel good, jealousy makes you and others feel bad.

Not everyone feels jealousy.  If you live with jealousy, that is your condition, not the human condition.  Being jealous is no more universal than being religious or being straight.  As a polyamorous person, I personally have numerous friends and acquaintances who live without jealousy in their relationships or in their lives.

Jealousy is a powerful and painful emotion, but it is not uncontrollable.  I can still remember when, as a child, I first began to observe pair-bonding behavior amongst my peers, along with the typical expressions of jealousy.  I rejected both immediately, and based on my observation that jealousy is one of the most hurtful emotions it is possible to feel, I decided not to live with it.  And lo and behold, that is exactly what happened, and I have so far enjoyed three decades of jealousy-free existence.

The triggers of jealousy are external, but the source is internal.  Many people believe that if they are feeling jealous, it means that the person who triggered the jealousy has done something wrong, and that the best way to avoid feeling it is to control the behavior of other people.  In fact, jealousy is always and only a sign of insecurity, and can only be controlled or eliminated through internal self-esteem building and expectation management.

Most monogamous relationships today are founded on the implicit or explicit assumption of mutual jealousy: “I won’t trigger your insecurities, and you’ll agree not to trigger mine.”  In the parlance of therapy, this is what is known as an enabling relationship.  Enabling relationships can be stable and durable precisely because they hinder the personal and spiritual growth of the participants.  A beneficial relationship should enable positive growth and co-creation, even if it ultimately leads to a distancing or separation, but instead relationships are often seen as matters of compromise simply for the purpose of sustaining them, motivated by scarcity: “I’d better stay in this relationship, because if I don’t I probably won’t be able to find someone else willing to put up with my shit, and I’ll grow old and die alone.”  This is seen by many people as an acceptable trade-off in exchange for lowering a few personal standards or giving up on a few dreams and ambitions.

If you are a person trapped willingly or unwillingly in such a relationship, my advice is to first get over yourself, and then get over your insecurity.  Recognize that you are in control of your internal and external world, even if you think you have lost or given up that control.  Any time you construe the way you feel as being someone else’s fault, you denounce personal responsibility and control over the situation, thus ensuring that you will continue to feel that way.  Also, recognize that self-sacrifice rarely benefits those whom it is intended to.  And if you are living with jealousy but no longer wish to, recognize that just as some people live with depression and some don’t, jealousy is an emotion that can be controlled and even eliminated from your life.  The way to do this is to focus not on your jealousy, but on your insecurities, and heal them.  Find ways to convince yourself that you are not only worthy of love and companionship but are straight up, flat out, and downright awesome, amazing, fabulous, and spectacular, and jealousy will NEVER be an issue for you, guaranteed.

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  1. Anapol on Jealousy « The Buddha's Hotdog

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