WHAT IS IRRATIONAL JEALOUSY?
Frequently, I am asked how to handle
irrational jealous feelings. Usually, the individual recognizes that her
feelings are unreasonable with no valid evidence but feels incapable of
controlling the jealousy. In addition, the person usually recognizes the
destructive nature of indulging in the feelings and the resulting
behavior. Such behavior typically involves excessive questioning of her
spouse, suspiciousness, and accusations. Many spouses become extremely
frustrated with this behavior because they have no way of proving their
faithfulness. This leads to an escalating cycle of anger which is used as
further evidence by the jealous spouse that her suspicions are correct.
The jealous spouse often desperately wants to stop the behavior but finds that he
can't control the thoughts which makes him feel miserable. He believes
that if he can just prove his suspicions one way or another, he will feel
better. The unfortunate fallacy in this thinking, is that trust can never
be proven; it can only be disproved. The definition of trust is the belief
that something is true. Therefore, without evidence to the contrary, if we
want a satisfying relationship, we have to choose
to trust the person we
One of the most difficult things for
human beings, in general, is not knowing something with 100% certainty. We
are often afraid to trust because we are fearful of disappointment and
hurt. Therefore, we go through extreme contortions to try to protect
ourselves from the possibility of loss and pain. Yet, these attempts to
protect ourselves may actually be the means with which we destroy that which we
are trying to preserve. In other words, a woman may eventually destroy her
marriage because she is too fearful to take the chance of trusting that her
husband is faithful. As a result, she causes the loss and pain that she
was trying to prevent.
WHAT CAUSES IRRATIONAL JEALOUSY?
For a person to learn to control jealousy, it is first important to understand what underlies the irrational thinking.
Frequently, an individual who is prone to irrational jealousy may have problems with low
self-esteem, feelings of insecurity, fear of vulnerability, or fear of abandonment. A
person with low self-esteem may feel so undeserving of being loved, that he
can't believe that his spouse could possibly remain faithful to him.
Perhaps these feelings stem from some abusive past relationship in which he was
unloved and made to believe that he was at fault. For instance, if a
teenager is told, "If only you were more like your brother, then maybe you
could get a girlfriend" he comes to believe that there is something wrong
with him. Many times we are given messages, some subtle and some
not-so-subtle, as we are growing up that shape our beliefs about ourselves.
Feelings of insecurity may stem from the low self-esteem or may be related to instances
in which we have previously been hurt. The same is true with fear of
abandonment. When we have experienced profound loss from which we haven't
had an opportunity to recover, we may develop an extreme fear and avoidance
reaction to similar circumstances. However, as indicated earlier, this
avoidance may bring about the abandonment that we fear.
A fear of vulnerability is the inability to let our guard down, to let another
person know us completely. This fear usually derives from a fear of
rejection due to the belief that if we let someone else truly know us, we will
ultimately be rejected. Again, the fallacy in this belief, is that if we
don't allow our spouse to know us, if we don't allow ourselves to be vulnerable,
we are preventing the development of emotional intimacy which is essential to
Emotional intimacy is the most
important type of intimacy in a relationship. It is required for the
relationship to fully mature. Without it, all we have is the initial
surface attraction to the other person which cannot be maintained indefinitely.
However, when we find emotional intimacy with another person, we discover the
most intensely fulfilling experience that exists. And that is, the full
acceptance of our self by another person. I know some people may argue
with me and say that "the most intensely fulfilling experience that
exists" is our relationship with God. The reason I say that it is the
development of emotional intimacy with another person, is because acceptance
from God is a given and doesn't require as much of a risk.
Finally, the individual needs to determine if there are certain behaviors
from herself or from her spouse that may contribute to the development of these
fears and beliefs. For instance, perhaps a spouse is reluctant to share personal information because he will then be subject to questioning and accusations. As a result, emotional intimacy in the relationship declines. The person who is jealous will often take this as further evidence of cheating in the relationship, when, in fact, it is a result of the questioning and accusations.
Or, for example, a jealous person has repeatedly harmed relationships through
his accusations which he takes as evidence that women can never be
The more you are aware of your
behaviors and other's behavior that may maintain the beliefs, then you will be
able to make better choices that can allow you to control the jealousy. In
fact, the development of awareness can't be emphasized enough. You may
need to spend some time at this point to assess your jealousy, the behaviors,
and the outcomes based on the behaviors.
HOW DO YOU STOP IRRATIONAL JEALOUSY?
Once you have determined the behavior, then you can make choices to change the behavior.
Even though these feelings seem uncontrollable, that doesn't mean they are
uncontrollable. However, you may need to make a commitment to the hard
work involved in making changes.
The following steps
can help you with these changes:
Make an effort
to no longer engage in the self-defeating behavior (READ
If you are
questioning or making accusations, stop the behavior immediately. Whether
you need to literally bite your tongue, go to another room, or talk to a friend,
don't allow yourself to continue with this destructive behavior. Usually
people engage in this behavior because initially it is reassuring to them and
makes them feel better. But remind yourself that feeling better is just
temporary and that it is a destructive behavior that must stop.
Challenge the irrational thinking styles frequently
your thinking is irrational and remind yourself of why it is whenever you have
the jealous thoughts. If is often beneficial to write this down.
Some things that you may identify include the idea that there is no evidence,
that the probability is remote, and that there is evidence to the contrary such
as the loving things your spouse does for you.
Refuse to engage in the jealous self-talk
Whenever you engage in
the jealous self-talk, internally tell yourself to "shut up."
You may need to do this repeatedly, but you want to do whatever is necessary to
not listen to yourself on this topic. Some people use the rubber band
method which involves the aversive stimulus of snapping a rubber band on your
wrist whenever you have the jealous self-talk.
Work on improving your self-esteem
Remember that irrational
jealousy is not about your spouse but is about yourself. Use the presence
of jealous feelings to remind yourself that you need to focus on improving your
self-esteem. Although improving self-esteem is another entire topic to
itself, generally, you need to give yourself positive self-statements and engage
in behaviors that make you feel good about yourself.
Learn to be vulnerable and to develop emotional intimacy.
relationship to be successful, you must be able to take risks. There are
many ways to do this and you need to determine by assessing yourself what are
the best ways for you to take risks. For instance, if you feel insecure, you might share these
feelings with your spouse and talk about ways your spouse can help you feel more secure. Or if you
are afraid of being vulnerable, you might decide to take small risks of sharing yourself, your feelings,
and your fears with your spouse.
Sometimes the process of developing awareness and challenging irrational beliefs
may be too difficult to accomplish alone and a person may need assistance from a therapist.
However, typically a good cognitive-behavioral therapist can point you in the
right direction within a few sessions and then most of the work is up to you.
Copyright © 2000,
2009 by Monica A. Frank, Ph.D. and www.excelatlife.com
Permission to reprint this article is granted if it includes this entire
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