Sunday 15 September 2019

Jealousy, reframed

We have to acknowledge jealousy to overcome it

Julia Cameron
Julia Cameron
Katie Byrne

Katie Byrne

Sometimes, when trying to overcome all-consuming emotions, it helps to reframe them... or at least peel away the layers to examine what's underneath.

Boredom is despair in disguise, according to The Artist's Way author Julia Cameron; anxiety is the dizziness of freedom, according to the late Danish philosopher Soren ren Kierkegaard. And we've all heard the idea that depression is "anger turned inward".

When we think of these emotions as signposts, rather than destinations, life gets a little easier to navigate. And should we encounter the green-eyed monster of jealousy along the way, it's always helpful to pay particular attention to playwright Max Frisch's signpost on the intrinsic nature of the emotion: "Jealousy," he mused, "is the fear of comparison."

The trouble, of course, is that we rarely take the time to reframe jealousy, let alone acknowledge it. It's a cultural taboo, especially when it's levelled at family members, colleagues or friends who deserve a pat on their back rather than the cold shoulder.

It's a rare person who admits to feelings of jealousy - even to himself - yet avoidance allows the feelings to fester and rankle, like a malignant disease that, to quote Shakespeare, "mocks the meat it feeds on".

Jealousy, put simply, makes us ill: emotionally, spiritually and - some would argue - physically, so it's important to get a hold on the emotion before it gets a hold on you... here's how:

* Recognise it - Scientists have discovered that jealousy lights up the same area of the brain that interprets physical pain, so it's really no surprise that we use every defence mechanism at our disposal to rationalise or justify the feeling. Hence when a colleague gets the promotion you wanted, it's easier to assert that "success has gone to his head" than admit that you're jealous of his upward trajectory.

The underlying feeling won't go away, though. 'He's this...' and 'she's that...' is a futile, roundabout exercise. Just get to the point: 'I'm jealous'. It's only when you acknowledge it to yourself that you can start to overcome it.

* Notice your similarities - We're all familiar with the famous Gore Vidal line: "Every time a friend succeeds I die a little." Yet we never stop to think about what it really means to have a successful friend. Sure, it can sting a little - especially if you're chasing the same goals - but their success says something about you too. Someone who shares many of the same ideas, opinions and philosophies as you has succeeded in getting to where you want to go.

Their success is more than mere inspiration - it's a sign that you're on the right track. And for now you can learn from them, and maybe even collaborate with them.

This approach can also be helpful if you're dealing with 'retroactive jealousy' concerning your partner's past relationships. Think of your commonalities - you fell in love with the same person after all - and build on that. It certainly beats villainising them.

* Address your insecurities - Writing in Embracing Envy: Finding the Spiritual Treasure in Our Most Shameful Emotion, author Josh Gressel points out that feeling envy and seeking envy are one and the same thing: "To be seeking the envy of another is to be trapped in the same cycle that fuels any addiction: reaching for something outside yourself for something that ultimately needs to come from within," he writes.

When we experience jealousy, we feel inferior. When we provoke jealousy, we want to feel superior. It's two sides of the same coin, so think about your underlying insecurities before you indulge in either.

* Practice gratitude - You'll notice that people who practice gratitude are less likely to get jealous. Hence, when a friend comes into good fortune, they're more likely to think, 'You too!' rather than, 'Why not me?' Gratitude is the antidote to jealousy: it uplifts, reaffirms and fundamentally transcends; while jealousy, to quote an old saying, "is the art of counting someone else's blessings instead of your own".

* Celebrate your uniqueness - If jealousy is the fear of comparison, as Frisch put it, why would we allow ourselves to fall into the comparison trap? Sure, it can look like someone has won the jackpot in life, but make no mistake, there is some aspect of your life that they wished they had too.

Osho, writing in The Book of Wisdom, put it best: "Comparison is a very foolish attitude, because each person is unique and incomparable. Once this understanding settles in you, jealousy disappears. Each is unique and incomparable. You are just yourself: nobody has ever been like you, and nobody will ever be like you. And you need not be like anybody else, either."

* Take a break from social media - When researchers from the University of Copenhagen tracked the Facebook habits of a group of participants, they found that those who took a week-long break from the social media site rated their well-being as higher. The positive effects of the hiatus were especially pronounced in people who suffered from 'Facebook envy'. In other words, when photographs of your friends in foreign climes start making you feel envious, it might be time to take a social media vacation.

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