“Love is that condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own… Jealousy is a disease, love is a healthy condition. The immature mind often mistakes one for the other, or assumes that the greater the love, the greater the jealousy.” ~Robert A. Heinlein
I’ve been in an open relationship with Steve for nearly three years now. It’s been the most rewarding, deep, and close relationship I’ve yet to experience. I love Steve more than ever, and I can’t imagine ever not loving him.
Despite how deep and close our connection may be, sometimes I feel judged by others because of the open nature of our relationship. Why should the openness of our relationship make it any less deep or committed? It seems as though most people have been brainwashed to believe that being monogamous is the only way your relationship will ever be taken seriously.
On top of that, one of the most common knee-jerk reactionary comments I hear in regards to open relationships is usually something along the lines of, “I could never be in an open relationship. I’m just way too jealous.” …Ah. So the real truth comes out.
That’s like saying, “I can never lose weight. I’ve always been heavy and that’s just the way I am, and there’s simply nothing I can do about it.”
Or, “I could never go to university and get a degree. I’m just too lazy and undisciplined. Someone like me would never be able to pass my classes.”
Now perhaps you object, believing that the second and third phrases are nothing like the first. You might be under the impression that being the jealous type is akin to being blue eyed, or short, or Caucasian, or whatever; like it’s some type of fixed, innate, unchangeable trait. I disagree.
I don’t think jealousy is ingrained into our very being such that it can never be changed or undone. I believe that jealousy, as common (or uncommon) as it may be, can be undone. I’m living proof.
I’ve experienced jealousy of varying degrees in my past. I used to be a terribly insecure person. And now, although I am not totally impervious to any insecure thought, I have made tremendous growth in this area, and I believe myself to be a much better person because of it.
You and I both have the ability to consciously learn, grow, and change many aspects of our physical and mental reality. In my opinion, overcoming jealousy is no exception. As someone who used to be extremely insecure, let me assure you that taking the steps to become more confident, secure and open is well worth it.
So, the big question is… how can you overcome jealousy?
In order to overcome jealousy, you must first seek to understand jealousy and why it exists in the first place.
Understanding your own tendencies towards jealousy will also require you to do some serious inner work and soul searching, which is not necessarily going to be easy.
As defined by Wikipedia:
Jealousy is an emotion and typically refers to the negative thoughts and feelings of insecurity, fear, and anxiety over an anticipated loss of something that the person values, particularly (but not necessarily) in reference to a human connection. Jealousy often consists of a combination of presenting emotions such as anger, resentment, inadequacy, helplessness and disgust.
Please note that envy and jealousy are not synonymous, despite the fact that many believe the two terms to be interchangeable. Envy is defined as a resentful emotion that occurs when a person lacks another’s (perceived) superior quality, achievement or possession and wishes that the other lacked it.
Jealousy isn’t something that exists merely in the domain of romantic relationships. Just as there are several types of love, such as love for friends, family, romantic partners, platonic love, agape, etcetera, you could say there are equally as many kinds of jealousy.
According to Wikipedia, the different kinds of jealousy are:
- Sibling Rivalry and Family Jealousy – Jealousy that arises between siblings or other family members due to perceived competition where something of value (time, attention, praise, possessions, love) does not seem to be shared equally or equitably.
- Peer and Colleague Jealousy – Jealousy that arises between peers or colleagues. Example: If one peer receives positive feedback from their shared authoritative figure while the other does not, and the other person also feels he or she is deserving of such positive feedback, he or she may become jealous. Jealousy between co-working colleagues can also arise if the employees are working for a raise or trying to outdo each other for similar job positions.
- Platonic Jealousy – Jealousy that arises between friends or acquaintances. The need to keep jealousy at bay by “keeping up with the Joneses” could be one such example. Feeling insecure or anxious when comparing the status and achievements of yourself and your friends (or acquaintances) is another example of this type of jealousy.
- Romantic and Sexual Jealousy – Jealousy that arises between romantic and/or sexual partners. Romantic jealousy can occur in either long-term or short-term relationships. One partner might feel the emotion of jealousy arise if the other partner is paying more attention or time with someone else, wherein they experience anxiety, insecurity, etc, due to loss of services (which may include sexual activity and/or exclusivity) from one partner, or due to loss of time and attention available to be directed towards them vs. someone else.
Thankfully, the term Unconditional Jealousy is not an official type of jealousy according to Wikipedia, although it would not be surprising to me if you know someone who seems to be afflicted with such a worldview. I would describe someone afflicted with “unconditional jealousy” as one who exists in a nearly perpetual scarcity mindset, constantly on edge, fearful, insecure, and anxious (or perhaps even suspicious) that what they currently have (whether it be possessions, relationships, a job, etc) will somehow be lost or taken away from them by the people with whom they interact.
Is Jealousy Learned Behavior?
Is jealousy learned behavior, or is it something innate within most, if not all, of us? It’s really hard to say.
According to Wikipedia, jealousy has been observed in infants five months and older. Some claim that jealousy is seen in every culture; however, others claim jealousy is a culture-specific phenomenon.
Jealousy can be exhibited at very young ages, and if you’ve ever had a chance to be around young children, I’m sure you’ve been witness to it. Have you ever observed very young children playing together, sharing toys, where one child wants to play with a certain toy that is already being played with by another child?
I grew up as an only child, and often as a lonely child at that. Since I didn’t have any siblings while growing up, sharing toys was never much of an issue for me, although I do recall one particular situation well. I believe around the age of 7 or 8. I was with the daughter of an aunt’s friend, and she had some really nice My Little Ponies that she was playing with. I wanted to play with them too, but she refused to share. Seeing as she had many (and was not playing with all of them at once), her refusal to share left me feeling jealous and hurt, as it all seemed very unfair to me! At the time, we were all in a car trekking across long distances, so we were in a closed space for a relatively long period of time, which likely exacerbated the issue at hand.
So what did I do? I’ll tell you what I did… I grabbed those little ponies away from that bitch and shoved them up her ass! That’s what I did!
…Wait a second. That’s not what really happened! 😉
I did feel really sad, though. I also probably started crying.
But in all seriousness, here’s what really happened: Her refusal to share with me felt like a specific personal attack and insult, and it really hurt. In my young mind, I had somehow learned to associate this type of response — a refusal to share — as if she were saying I wasn’t good enough or pretty enough or whatever enough to share her toys with me. This was a jealous response.
It wasn’t the toys themselves or the experience of playing with the toys that I valued in this situation. Rather, it was the opportunity to connect with the other girl, to make a friend, to gain approval, etc. Thoughts and feelings of insecurity arose within me due to an anticipated or perceived loss of numerous things I wanted and valued, such as a sense of self-worth and value, respect and friendship from the other girl.
Similar experiences were littered across my youth. Having somehow been instilled with a variety of limiting beliefs at such a young age definitely paved the way for a very heart-wrenching childhood. Looking back, it would seem I so often felt that I wasn’t “good enough”, which was probably why I became such an overachiever in school, as if to gain the approval of others — in addition to the approval of myself.
Fear vs. Love
When it comes down to it, jealousy is really all about fear. It can also be about mistrust, which is a type of fear as well.
Some people hold the view that fear exists at the heart of love. This view on love tells you that you know if you really love someone by the amount of fear that is associated with your love — the stronger the love, the stronger the fear. “If you really love me, you would be afraid of losing me and would do anything in your power to keep me.”
I think these types of people must be confusing love with B.S., fear, and manipulation.
Of course you can desire to keep someone in your life because you love them. But the true nature of love is freedom. If you aren’t free to love someone of your own will and accord, and instead are controlled by a clinging fear of how you might get on or survive if you were to separate, then sorry to break it to you — that’s not really love. That’s fear. It’s time to call a spade a spade and see things for what they are.
Why live in fear when you can live in love?
Jealousy and Conditional Love
I have a theory, and it links the existence (or the potential existence) of jealousy within a person to the co-existence and learned belief that love is conditional.
If, as a child, you are raised with complete unconditional love, and you are taught you are loved no matter what, then you’ll naturally internalize that unconditional love such that, in turn, you will love yourself unconditionally. You learn to trust and be trusted with ease.
Although I’d imagine most (if not all) parents indeed love their children unconditionally, at least in theory, actions often speak louder than words in this regard — especially in the minds of young children and even teenagers. So if, as a child, you are disciplined or punished in such a way where it is easy for you to interpret the punishment as a removal of love, then the idea and groundwork for both conditioned and conditional love is being set. You won’t be able to trust that you will be loved under any and all conditions, no matter what.
My mother had quite a temper when I was young, and she seemed easily provoked. If I somehow inadvertently triggered her and she responded with an angry outburst of yelling and possibly even spanking, it’s pretty hard, especially as a child, to interpret that as a response rooted in unconditional love. It instead seems to be a response rooted in conditional love. Conditional love is essentially saying, “I love you, but only when certain conditions are being met.”
Needing to abide or follow conditions in order to acquire love is a method of control and manipulation. The nature of love is limitless, free, and without constraints.
Of course, we’re all human. Most of us are bound to have an outburst now and then. But if not followed up by an apology and explanation, it’s so very easy for a young and impressionable mind to conclude that their parent’s love is, therefore, conditional. When that happens, you’re learning to associate fear with love. Especially as a young child, you will more than likely internalize this perception of love being conditional, resulting in learning to love yourself in an equally conditional fashion, as well. Make sense?
So how does this all tie in with understanding jealousy? Well, if you truly believed that love was abundant and unconditional vs. scarce and conditional, would you ever learn to become insecure, anxious or fearful over the anticipated loss of love? If you lived in a world where you believed love was unconditional and abundant, such a thought would never cross your mind in the first place.
Value and Scarcity
The key component of the definition of the emotion(s) experienced as a result of jealousy is that they are experienced in response to an anticipated loss of something that the person values. The interesting thing to note about value is that, as a general rule, we tend to place higher value on objects or experiences that are perceived to be less common and more rare — or, in other words, more scarce. It’s a general rule of economics and of supply and demand.
You can take this same principle and apply it to relationships. An important idea behind the modern and often sought-after concept of romantic relationships is that specific idea of attaining and securing a relationship with that “rare” and “special” someone; that if you truly value the person, you’ll see them as rare, unique, and special… and thus, scarce. Who wouldn’t do everything in their power to ensure that such a rare, special and scare resource remains firmly in their grasp?
The major downside of such a mindset is that it trains us to seek affirmation of our own uniqueness, our “specialness”, and our value (i.e. worth) from external sources — particularly from our relationships, and especially from our romantic relationships.
I believe this is why many react to the idea or possibility of open relationships in a threatened or jealous manner.
Let’s say you are currently in a closed, monogamous relationship. Your partner approaches you with an interest in opening your current relationship, and you find yourself reacting in a reluctant, suspicious, fearful, or jealous manner. What is actually happening here? Let’s examine and dissect jealousy in this particular situation.
If you’re having a jealous reaction, it is likely because you’re perceiving the opening of your relationship as a threat that will ultimately lead not only to the potential anticipated loss of value that you deem your relationship to be worth, but also to the anticipated loss of your own worth and value — both in the eyes of your partner and in your own eyes, as well. And it is this idea of the anticipated loss of your own value and specialness, your self-worth, that hurts and stings the most. To someone with this view, it’s almost like receiving a slap in the face that’s saying, “You (alone) aren’t good enough for me.”
Such anticipated thoughts and reactions are indicative of being submerged in a mindset of scarcity, conditional love, and especially one that externalizes your own (perceived) value and worth on the actions and desires of another person.
Value and Abundance
Let’s take a look at the same situation where you’re currently in a closed, monogamous relationship and your partner approaches you with an interest in opening your current relationship, but this time let’s say that both you and your partner already have a habit of viewing the world with an abundance mindset. Would it be likely for jealousy to rear its ugly head?
In my opinion, the answer would be, “Perhaps. But it’s way less likely to happen.” Here’s why.
If the existence of jealousy depends on an anticipated loss of something of value, such as your own ‘specialness’ and worth (whether that be in the eyes or your partner or in the eyes of yourself), or such as the love you two share, the value of such things wouldn’t be set and determined by a scarcity-driven model (such as the ‘supply and demand’ model). Instead, their values would be set by an abundance-driven model or mindset.
With an abundance mindset, love is unconditional, limitless and infinite, not conditional, limited and finite.
With an abundance mindset, your self-worth and confidence would be sky-high, because you would love yourself unconditionally (and so would your partner). Your self-worth and confidence wouldn’t depend on external sources such as the opinions of others. You would trust yourself, and you would trust others. You would trust that something just as good or better would always be available to you if in fact you did happen to experience a loss of something (or someone) you value.
With an abundance mindset, there’s no competition for “scarce” resources such as love and self-value or worth, because in a world of abundance, such things are innate and infinite.
With an abundance mindset, when it comes to love and open relationships, there’d be no need to react with jealousy because it would be known by either partner involved that love is infinite and abundant, and therefore cannot be lost. How can you experience anxiety at the thought of losing something if you know that in fact it cannot be lost?
That all said, it’s still possible for jealousy to occur in an open relationship even when adopting the lens of an abundance mindset. For example, there’s a finite amount of time available in each day, so it’s possible that jealousy can occur over finite resources such as time. But losing a finite amount of time to spend with your partner seems like something a lot less worrisome than the idea of losing a romantic or sexual relationship and losing someone’s love. The upside? You’ll have more time to spend on yourself, personal projects, close friends, or even with another partner or love interest!
Value and Happiness
Contrary to popular belief, value is subjective, contextual, and perceptual. And therefore, happiness is also subjective, contextual, and perceptual.
Dan Gilbert, author of “Stumbling on Happiness,” challenges the idea that we’ll be miserable if we don’t get what we want. Our “psychological immune system” lets us feel truly happy even when things don’t go as planned. A Harvard psychologist, Dan Gilbert says our beliefs about what will make us happy are often wrong — a premise he supports with intriguing research, and explains in his accessible and unexpectedly funny book, Stumbling on Happiness.
There are two TED Talk Videos with Dan Gilbert on the topic of perceived value and happiness, and both are equally fascinating. If you haven’t seen them already, I encourage you to give them a view!
So, back to our original question: How can you overcome jealousy?
You can overcome jealousy by changing your subjective views and shifting your perceptions.
You can overcome jealousy by adopting an abundance mindset.
You can overcome jealousy by instilling full and complete trust in others, as well as yourself.
You can overcome jealousy by learning to love yourself (and others) without artificial limits and conditions.
How To Overcome Jealousy is a rich topic deserving of a lot more detail than the few short sentences above. That’s why I plan to write more about various methods you can use and the mindsets you can adopt to overcome jealousy. Stay tuned!