Jealousy: Making Friends With a Green-Eyed Monster
Let Jealousy be your teacher. Jealousy can lead you to the very places where you most need healing. It can be your guide into your own dark side and show you the way to total self-realization. Jealousy can teach you how to live in peace with yourself and with the whole world if you let it. ~ Deborah Anapol, Love Without Limits
I close my car door and I breathe out deeply. It’s dark. The car is lit by nothing but moonlight, but I can still see my breath. It’s a deep breath. I feel settled and safe.
I just dropped off my partner’s lover at their house.
I spent the last hour talking to her, getting to know her better. She’s beautiful. She's smart, sweet and thoughtful. Our conversation flows. It’s a little awkward, but it does flow. Like a toddler learning to walk, leaning against something, seeing if it’s stable; testing if it can be trusted.
I have been polyamorous for seven years. This means, put simply, that my romantic and sexual relationships are not emotionally or sexually monogamous or exclusive. I have relationships that allow me a great deal of romantic, emotional and sexual freedom: relationships that I feel value my friendships deeply and seek to blur the line between friend and lover. It also means that just because I’m in love with someone doesn’t mean I can’t fall in love with someone else, have sex with someone else or go on dates with someone else. It also means that the freedom I have, I my partners have, too. We hold each other’s hearts with as much kindness, patience and love as we can – and we support and encourage each other to share that love with people other than just the two of us.
Sharing my heart and body in this way has led me to seek out and develop skills for navigating and managing jealousy. I have watched my partners fall in love with someone else in front of me, even as they denied it. I have done that to people I care about, too. I have had a lover drop my hand in public, to hide that we were together so someone else might notice them. I’ve kissed a girl, had my heart swell, and had the kiss erased because, “you know, kissing a girl just doesn’t count.”
I have had my heart swell with jealousy so many times. It’s even happened to me in the last few hours.
I want you to remember as you read this, as you tend to your heart, that this is a practice, learning to experience jealousy and to be okay with it and learning to manage it ably. It is a skill, and like most, takes time to learn. It requires patience, love and kindness: to others but, most importantly, towards yourself. I’m writing this article and I still need reminders about these skills. Lessons of our hearts are mighty tender, and often challenging, business. Be gentle with yourself.
How does it feel?
I have found it helpful, when I feel jealous, to first notice where I feel it in my body. Is it tightness in my heart? Fullness in my throat? Does it feel like I can’t breathe? Do I feel nauseous? Shaky? Noticing where I feel the sensation helps me understand why I am feeling it. Am I scared of losing something? Am I not being honest with how something is hurting my heart? Am I neglecting to express a boundary I need to feel safe? If I sit, take a deep breathe and sit with the sensations of body I can learn a lot about what it is that I’m feeling and what I need to do to respond to it.
The biggest lesson I have learned about jealousy is that jealousy in an invitation, and not one to chaos or mania, even though it may feel that way. It’s an invitation, instead, towards inquiry and reflection.
What is it telling me?
Jealousy is my body’s emotional and physical response to an underlying emotion. It’s my body’s way of signaling to me that something needs to shift. That in some way I don’t feel safe. It’s like a hidden door to a garden I didn’t know was there until I found it hiding underneath the over-grown, prickly weeds. It’s a door I have only been able to find by trusting my intuition and as patiently as I can manage, learning to honour my feelings.
Here’s the tricky part: often jealousy isn’t about what I initially think it is when it's hot. It usually takes me a few deep breaths, and some time, to cool down, drop my defenses and see where all these difficult, tense and scary feelings are coming from. In my experience, jealousy usually has three main root causes:
My needs are not being met in my relationship: Maybe my partner isn’t spending as much time with me as I need to feel loved and valued. Maybe I feel like they aren’t able to take care of my heart in a way that makes me feel safe, or like our relationship is without the longevity, security or stability I am looking for. Maybe our communication isn’t clear and I am feeling misunderstood or unappreciated. Whatever it is, it’s usually a signal that the relationship isn’t healthy right now and it either needs to change or even be brought to an end.
I am feeling insecure: This usually happens when I have neglected my own self-care. When I’m not feeling good about myself, it’s hard for me to feel that others will value or feel good about me, much less want to have a sustained relationship with me. When I am taking good care of myself – eating well, exercising, being creative and engaged in things that make me feel good – I feel more balanced and other people feel less threatening to me.
That being said, insecurities can also come up because the world we live in works to make us feel insecure. We are taught that, particularly, women, folks of colour, people with disabilities, queer and trans people are not worthy of love, respect or safety. These lessons appear in subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle ways. If you are feeling insecure, it’s important to look at the reasons why this is and work on building a relationship with yourself that helps you grow and sustain bright and bold self worth. That's important no matter what, and vital to healthy relatiuonships not just with others, but with yourself, your biggest, most long-term relationship of all. Know, again, that this is an imperfect and challenging practice to maintain – but one that is very much necessary to work on.
I am grieving or fearing loss: One very common way that jealousy appears for me is when I have had or wanted a relationship with someone and that person now has a relationship with someone else. Someone who isn’t me. The biggest lesson I’ve learned from these kinds of situations is that the jealousy that I’m feeling is basically never about the new person. Much as I might like to believe that that person is awful, or that I am not as pretty/smart/sexy/likable as they are? None of this is really true. All these things are a matter of perspective and dwelling on them has never ever lead me to feel happier in the long run.
It’s important to remember, too, that women are taught to compete with each other when it comes to sex and romance. We are taught that our self worth is tied to how men and boys see and value us. Think about it: it’s the plot to basically every Hollywood movie ever made. Competing with each other serves as a distraction from learning to support and uplift each other. Imagine what the world could look like if we could drop all our petty jealousies and work together to fight the systems of power that oppress us.
Always remember: your self worth is not determined by who loves you nor by how many people besides you they may love or have an interest in. You get to decide what makes you a valuable person and, much as the world may try, nothing gets to take that away from you.
That being said, all of us experience self worth through a lens that is particular to our experience. I’m a white queer woman. My trans partner experiences the world differently from me and so do women of colour, and people with visible disabilities. Loving ourselves is a powerful and potent form of resilience and resistance – one we can practice in big and small ways each and every day.
How Can I Deal?
Journalling: Let it all out. Get angry. Get upset. Write like no one is watching (and write somewhere where no one is watching, rather than on tumblr or a social media feed). Give yourself real space to be brave and honest and as vulnerable as you feel. Pour your secrets onto the pages and then harness all the strength you can muster to write a list of things you are grateful for. Make a plan. Set some intentions. Let your words lay the foundations for your actions and then make them happen. One step at a time.
Self-care: Eat well. Get creative. Connect to your ancestral spiritual roots. Spend time outside and with people who nourish you. Drink water. Breathe. Rest. Turn inward, in the good way. Take care of your broken heart like you would a broken leg because emotional pain is just as important and impactful. And remember – healing is possible, it just takes time.
Take space and have boundaries: Sometimes you just need to walk away and that’s okay. It's much better to give yourself space when you need it than to stay in a situation where you feel suffocated and unable to feel how you do and sort through it well. Space from a situation can offer you a lot of clarity and a much needed change in perspective. Be clear with yourself and with others about what you need and what you can’t deal with it. Don’t try and make any one else responsible for your self care. If you need to walk away, just do it.
Let go: Sometimes we hold on really tight to situations and people that just aren’t serving us. When we let go, we make room in our lives for people who treat us the way we want and deserve to be treated. Walking away, imagining a future filled with possibility and allowing yourself to grieve are important parts of letting go.
Wish the people you are jealous of well: I have found this skill to be tremendously helpful when I am stuck in a negative cycle of being angry at someone who has hurt me, or jealous of someone who has come after me. "Blessing" others like this was taught to me by a friend and at first, I thought it was a bit silly, but for me, it really does help. I imagine their faces and I imagine them happy, smiling and surrounded by warm white light. I bless them. Seriously. I literally say “I bless your love. I bless your actions. I want the best for you.” And I say these blessings until I can’t think of anything else to bless them for. And then I bless myself, in exactly the same way.
Resist the urge to compare yourself: This is the easiest way, for me, to dig myself into a mental and emotional hole that can feel really hard to climb out of. I have found that sometimes when I compare myself, what I’m really trying to do is trying to figure out what I did wrong, or what is wrong with me, so I can avoid being hurt in the future. But this strategy rarely ever works.
Sometimes we get hurt in life and most especially in love, even when no one has done anything wrong, or intended to hurt anyone. I’ve learned that emotional security, for me, doesn’t come from trying to fix or change myself – it comes from deep, vulnerable patient acceptance. It’s a lot easier to grow into the person I aspire to be when I’m on my own team, rather than cutting myself down.
Get help: Everyone can use help sometimes. Healing when we’re hurt is hard to do alone. I would especially encourage you to get help if you are experiencing depression, anxiety or other emotions that feel out of control. If you are self-harming or feeling suicidal, or not truting yourself to be able to be kind to others, find someone wise you can trust, or a call a crisis line. Same goes if you have been abused by your current or former partner physically, emotionally or sexually. And even if none of those things happened or are happening, remember, it’s always okay to get some help. Speaking to therapists has been really helpful for me. Just make sure you find someone you can trust and whose opinion feels relevant and understanding to you.
Remember, jealously is a very, very common feeling. You are so not alone in feeling it. Everyone has felt it, or will feel it, in some respect. Once this round passes for you, you will probably feel it again sometime: along with all the other emotions and learning relationships bring up for us. But with some time, space, tender loving care and practice it will get easier.
In the meantime, there’s always chocolate. And adorable cats.
Andi MacDonald is a poet, photographer, facilitator, tarot card reader, herbalist, cat lover, pig raiser and kitchen witch. She's currently slipping on ice and falling in love on the un-ceded territory of the Sinixt people. She lives in a small white house in the mountains with her love, some friends (human and animal), a journal, a river and the moon. This queer femme is most happy when she's wearing glitter nail polish while also covered in dirt.