Recognizing and Confronting Jealousy

by Dr. Lorin Bradbury

Question: For years I have struggled with jealousy, but it is only recently that I have had the courage to call it jealousy. When I was dating as a teenager, I used to get angry with boyfriends if they looked at or spoke to another girl on the street. Looking back on those years, I probably chased off boyfriends because they couldn’t and wouldn’t tolerate my jealousy. I thought marriage would be different, but it wasn’t long and I found myself not trusting my husband. He always denied any wrongdoing, but I was so certain that he was lying to me that I would stay on him until he agreed I was right. But recently, he stood up to me and gave the ultimatum to either stop accusing, or he was filing for divorce. The thing I feared most was happening. My first response was to increase the accusations, as I always had in the past. When that didn’t work, I tried to physically block his way out of the house, and I threatened to tell every dark secret I knew about him to his employer and closest friends. But when I realized he wasn’t backing down and that he wasn’t getting emotional about it, something broke within me. I fell on the floor and wept. I cried to God for help. Call it repentance; call it conversion; call it an epiphany; something broke within me. Lying there on the floor, I felt like a spoiled brat, and for the first time, I asked God to help me get over my jealousy. For the first time I called it jealousy. Also, I told God how scared I was. All these years I had been living in fear, but there was no basis for the fear. Sorry I took so long to get to my real question. What causes jealousy, and what can someone do to get rid of jealousy without going through the agony I went through and almost losing my husband?

Answer: Let me say first that I am thrilled for you that you have been able to admit that you have been jealous and are no longer falsely accusing your husband or anyone else in order to reduce or eliminate your fear of loss. Unfortunately, very few ever come to grips with their jealousy. Instead, they go through life accusing their spouses of unfaithfulness. It’s not uncommon for the jealous mate to drive his or her spouse into the arms of another as a result of unrelenting accusations.

Common Causes of Jealousy:

•Abuse in one’s background. Sexual, physical, or emotional abuse seems to be a precursor to jealousy, particularly in relationships. I’m not sure how empirically sound this statement is, but anecdotally, I have counseled many who were abused as children and/or teens, and struggled to trust. Trust was broken in the past and now the individual has a difficult time trusting anyone.

•Symbolic Significance. Some event or person in the present symbolizes a significant event or person from the past, such as abuse, etc. When the person who symbolizes the past does something that reminds the victim of the pain, emotions flood forward, and the one in the present (often the spouse) is treated as though he or she was the perpetrator. Frequently, these emotions are expressed as jealousy toward an innocent person.

•Unrealistic expectations. As relates to the above question, some individuals have unrealistic expectations of others. This could be the result of being an only child and being doted on while growing up. Or it could be the result of never learning the meaning of the word “NO.”

•Insecurity. I’m not sure I can generate a good reason for insecurity, but insecurity is often at the root of jealousy. It’s not feeling comfortable in your skin.

Your second question was, “What can someone do to get rid of jealousy?”

•Recognize jealousy. Like you, it’s essential that an individual recognize that the problem is jealousy, and that jealousy is a problem. Until an individual sees himself or herself as having a problem with jealousy, it’s much like an alcoholic who does not see the connection between his alcohol use and his problems.

•Stop comparing yourself to other people. This is where insecurity comes in. Let’s see if I can illustrate. Suppose your husband works around a woman who has a very pleasant personality. You feel insecure because you believe that person possesses something you don’t have. But instead of wanting that person’s personality, you don’t believe you could ever change enough to become like that person. So the only alternative is to attempt to destroy that person. And ways you come up with to destroy that woman is by accusing your husband of having feelings for her, or by denigrating her with the intent of destroying her.

•Stop focusing on yourself. People really are not talking about you. What makes you think that others are wasting their time talking about you? Once, I was at a seminar where the speaker was a pastor. He told of a lady in his church that was certain two other ladies were talking about her while he was preaching. The jealous lady noticed that at some point during the sermon, the two ladies spoke to one another. The jealous woman was convinced they were talking about her. What actually occurred was that something the pastor said caused the two ladies who had sons in the Viet Nam War to comment about their sons. In truth, they hadn’t even thought of the jealous woman. What makes you think you are so important that other people are talking about you?

•Stop wanting what other people have if you’re not willing to go through what they did to get it. That’s pretty self-explanatory.

•Challenge every jealous thought. Jealous thoughts and feelings must go. Don’t entertain any jealous thought for more than a fleeting second.

Lorin L. Bradbury, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Bethel. For appointments, he can be reached at 543-3266. If you have questions that you would like Dr. Bradbury to answer in the Delta Discovery, please send them to The Delta Discovery, P.O. Box 1028, Bethel, AK 99559, or e-mail them to [email protected].