Jealousy & Suffering

By Leo Babauta

Most of us deal with jealousy in some form, and when it comes up, it’s never pretty.

It might be jealousy when your girlfriend seems interested in someone else, or when one of your best friends becomes close with someone else, or when your parents give a lot of attention to your sibling, or when other people are having more fun than you.

Why do we get jealous? What harm does it do us? How do we overcome it?

I’ll admit that I get jealous, and the me that gets jealous is not my favorite self. I don’t like myself when I get jealous.

So what do I do? I watch myself. I see it happening. I acknowledge it. And then I give myself a hug.

Let’s look at little deeper at jealousy first, and then go over what we can do about it.

What is Jealousy?

Jealousy is simply an emotional reaction to a past wound.

It gets triggered when something in the present reminds us of what hurt us before.

We fear abandonment. Our parents get divorced (mine did), our spouse cheats on us, our best friend leaves us. And so, because this hurt us so much, we remember it in our hearts, and it becomes incredibly difficult to forget it.

It becomes a part of us, this wound, this fear. It surfaces at times when it’s not helpful. It starts to control us.

And so this wound becomes a controlling factor in our lives, and we become the worst selves that we can be.

We don’t want that. Let’s learn to be our better selves.

How to Heal the Wounds and Overcome Jealousy

Jealousy works because it happens without us realizing it’s happening, or without looking deeper into what’s happening. It has an unseen power over us, because it’s unseen.

So first we have to see it. Recognize when you’re jealous. Don’t look away. We don’t like to acknowledge the bad parts of us, because then we’re admitting we’re not always great. But it’s important, because if we don’t, it has more power over us.

So recognize it, acknowledge it.

Then realize that it’s an old wound from the past. This is your old self that’s gotten hurt, and because of this, your old self is scared, angry, anxious. Afraid of abandonment. Angry at others for threatening to abandon you.

This is perfectly OK. It’s completely understandable to be hurt when someone violates your trust. Your old self is justified. But that’s in the past. You need to give your old self a hug, and say that it’s OK to grieve, but also acknowledge that you need to let go and move on and grow.

It also helps to realize that the past wound only happened because you had a self-centered view of the universe. You took your parents’ divorce, or your spouse cheating on you, as a judgment of you as a person, as an abandonment of you after they judged you and found you lacking. That’s not true, though. They left for reasons of their own — they were afraid, they were dealing with their own issues of abandonment and jealousy, they weren’t mature enough to commit, and so on. The reasons they left had nothing to do with you, and if you realize that, it might hurt less.

Heal the wounds with compassion. Then grow.

How to Grow

Let’s heal the wounds and then become our better selves:

  1. Don’t act on jealousy. When you recognize it, pause, watch the fear and the urges to act jealously, and just sit and watch it. Don’t let jealousy rule your actions. Take some time away from the action if needed.
  2. Imagine your better self. What’s the person you want to be? Do you want to be jealous, or would you rather be secure in yourself, confident, happy, and happy for others? Imagine this better self, then act consistently with that self.
  3. Relieve your suffering. When you act in jealousy, it hurts others. It hurts you. This doesn’t feel good. Learn to see the suffering you’re causing, in others and in yourself. And realize that’s not how you want to live. This suffering is entirely caused by acting out of fear. Instead, act compassionately — with compassion for others but also yourself, by letting the fear go.
  4. Let go of your attachment. You are holding onto a past hurt, and are hurting your current self because of it. Learn to let go. Practice letting go. It gets easier as you practice.
  5. Be less self-centered. When we are jealous, we think the world revolves around us. My friend shouldn’t be getting so close to that person — doesn’t she know that I’m more important? My spouse shouldn’t have fun without me — don’t they know that I’m the only one they should care about and have fun with? No one should go on amazing trips and go to fun parties without including me. And so on. Of course, the world doesn’t revolve around you (or me), and so once we remove ourselves from the center of everything, we can expand our heart to include everyone, not just us. Be happy for others. Feel their pain and fear and anger and jealousy too.

Jealousy isn’t something you can just get rid of immediately, like an old coat you don’t want anymore. It’s a wound that needs healing, a hurt that needs compassion. Moving beyond jealousy is a set of skills you need to learn with practice, and a trust that needs to be earned with time.

The Future of Blogging

In other news, join me today (Tues. Nov. 19, 2013) at 2pm Pacific for a live Google Hangout, as I join the folks at Fizzle and other friends for a show on the Future of Blogging.

Join us here today.