Jealousy most often appears when the need for control is threatened (…). So far, jealousy has received surprisingly little attention from researchers, and most of the research that has been done has focused on attitudes, thoughts and behaviours related to jealousy rather than the neurophysiological correlation or empirical nature of the emotion itself.
The use of neuroimaging is at an early stage in studying jealousy. In the 2006 study described in “NeuroImage”, Japanese neuroscientist Hidehiko Takahashi discovered some significant gender differences in neural responses to statements representing sexual and emotional infidelity.
In men, jealousy activates the amygdala and hypothalamus, regions rich in testosterone receptors and involved in sexual and aggressive behaviour. In women, thoughts of emotional infidelity activate the posterior superior temporal sulcus, a region involved in the detection of intent, deception and credibility, as well as violation of social norms. Takahashi interpreted the greater activity caused by emotional infidelity in females as evidence that they are particularly sensitive to changes in their partner’s mind. Perhaps Takahashi’s discoveries explain the greater propensity of men to respond to the sexual act itself, not the emotional implications. These are interesting results, but they don’t shed much light on the causes or consequences of these gender differences. Most researchers agree that on the cognitive-behavioural level, sexual jealousy is a reaction to a partner’s actual or imaginary experience with a third party, and that jealousy most often occurs in a person who is both dependent and insecure. Undoubtedly, these factors play a significant role, but given the lack of rigorous scientific data in this fascinating area, direct observation and anecdotal reports become significant.
My own clinical observation based on working with thousands of people struggling with jealousy leads to a different conclusion: jealousy most often arises when the need for control is threatened. This may, but does not have to coincide with dependency and low self-esteem. The symptoms of jealousy, which is what intrigues me the most in it, are the actual bodily sensations, inner thoughts, and energetic events that create the experience. called jealousy. People usually describe the feeling of jealousy as overwhelmingly unpleasant stomach aches, abdominal cramps, nausea, agitation. Different people become jealous for different reasons and under different circumstances, but the actual physical sensations are extremely coherent, though they can vary in intensity. Even a low level of jealousy is usually uncomfortable enough that most people will try to cut themselves off from this reality or take action to eliminate the perceived cause of their jealousy. Therefore, apart from body-oriented psychotherapy, spiritual practices such as vipassana meditation, and self-inquiry methods, there are few methods of exploring jealousy.
Case Study: Jealousy
At first, I realized that to really understand what jealousy is, how it works and what purpose it serves, I would need to examine my own internal process of jealousy. If you too want to understand jealousy, I encourage you to do the same. The next time the opportunity presents itself, instead of pushing it away, take the chance to explore the nature of jealousy. Here’s what I believe is true for me. I am most sensitive to jealousy when I feel love and sexual arousal. Love is felt primarily in the heart, in the centre of the chest, as a feeling of expansion and opening of the heart radiating outward. These physical sensations are accompanied by a sense of connection and oneness with others. Sexual arousal arises from the pelvic area like a high-voltage current, warmth and tingling from the pelvis to the genitals and lower abdomen, radiating both down to the feet and up to the top of the head. Both sensations are very pleasant and can easily evoke a desire to connect with my partner to further increase and distribute energy. They increase my sensitivity to all kinds of stimuli and raise my pain threshold. The experience is all about recharging or energizing, and at the same time feeling everything in me and around me more deeply. If there is anything that could separate me from my beloved, fear and/or anger arise. The anxiety feels like a contraction, tightening and closing. Anger is energizing, so is sexual arousal, and like sexual arousal, it seeks an outlet to connect to something outside of me, but at the same time it stiffens the centre of the heart, contracting and separating it from the world. These contraction and closure impulses collide with an already established wave of expansion and opening. The mind and body are confused. They cannot accommodate this duality. Unable to embrace this obvious contradiction with my consciousness, I want to jump out of my body and I am overwhelmed by a strong agitation, feeling of jealousy, which is open and closed simultaneously. If I consciously stay in it, I discover that I have certain choices. I can channel this energy into opening my heart further, amplify my arousal, leave my body or explode with anger. In other words, it can be said that jealousy can be felt like a powerful combination of all emotions at once. Love, sexual arousal, fear and anger can all be combined together into one gigantic sphere of energy with a potential to overwhelm the rational mind. If, as Daniel Goleman describes in “Emotional Intelligence”, a single strong emotion has the potential to “take control over us”, then what chance do we have against jealousy? “The key, as with dealing with all emotions, is recognizing the early signs of its upcoming and taking appropriate action while our mind is still conscious.”. But what is the appropriate response to jealousy? I always encourage people to find the right balance between the ability to find ways to avoid jealousy and all the confusion that comes with it, and inviting it as a powerful teacher showing us the places that need healing the most, and motivate us to move beyond our perceptions and limitations, so we may be able to love more. Give yourself time. If your body and mind are filled with overwhelming chaotic sensations, you cannot learn anything. It is a mistake for most people to assume that a person possessed by jealousy is a sane person. If you are deeply jealous, it is an emotional emergency, requiring emotional first aid, not intellectual or logical discussion or solutions. Touch, breathing, and emotional release can soothe and diffuse enough intensity to solve problems later on. However, the response to jealousy is much less burdensome if we act before a crisis occurs. Part of the challenge in controlling jealousy is that most of us have received conflicting messages about it. On the one hand, jealousy is an inevitable part of love, on the other – a shameful sign of weakness. Therefore, working with jealousy always entails working with the shadow. When people are coping too well with jealousy, it is very possible that they are limiting their potential or may be adapting to the situation, which robs them of their power.
Admit your jealousy
The first step in managing jealousy is admitting to yourself and your partner that something is triggering you. When people try to stay cool and deny that they are jealous, they usually sabotage themselves, letting their jealousy build up until there is really nothing to be done about it. It is much better to recognize the first signs of jealousy and learn to respectfully listen to the part of yourself that feels jealous without believing everything you hear. If you don’t know how to do this, seek help from an experienced therapist until you learn to recognize your emotions, until a dialogue with inner and often conflicting parts of yourself does not become your second nature. Most people tend to act prematurely so as not to feel jealous, instead of pausing for a moment to integrate this uncomfortable experience and recover what is hidden in the shadows. Ask for support. Asking for support from friends and partners is an important way of taking care of yourself even when you are familiar with navigating turbulent emotional currents. Communicating as clearly as possible what you are experiencing and making a specific request for support, without making demands or blaming, can be extremely effective.
Finally, it is much more effective to realize that the feelings interpreted as jealousy can be perceived in a completely different way, and you do not have to run away from it at all. Compersion is a word used to describe an emotion that is the opposite of jealousy. Compersion means feeling joy, satisfaction and contentment when your loved one loves or is loved by someone else. Compersion is especially strong and available when all the people involved have positive feelings to each other, but it’s not a necessary condition. Some people spontaneously experienced compersion, to their surprise, when they expected to feel jealous. Some people find compersion so natural and inevitable that jealousy seems strange to them. Such people will immediately recognize their feelings as compersion as soon as they hear this new term. However, since most of us have been raised with the expectation of jealousy, compersion is often a strange concept. Learning theory tells us that it is easier to replace one habit with another than to simply eliminate the former. If you can’t imagine feeling compersion instead of jealousy, you can try the following experiment next time you feel jealous: Instead of focusing on your discomfort and fears, try to pay attention to your partner. Think about his/her happiness and pleasure, how he or she may be feeling with someone else and how those good feelings will eventually be transferred to you. Having a concept that confirms that you have an alternative to jealousy can help you go a long way to free yourself from it. You can really feel joy and expansion, not fear and contraction in response to the fact that a loved one shares his love with others, and thousands of people can confirm this. But it’s not always easy to do.
Using jealousy as a path to unconditional love offers ways to reprogram your thinking from jealousy to compersion, bringing into your awareness the valuable information that jealousy carries about us.
On a practical level, jealousy is not so terrible, it can be considered a sign that your relationship needs attention. For example, jealousy can be a message that your relationship is changing. Instead of fearing and fighting change, jealousy can be a signal to give in to change and trust that if you give your partner freedom, he/she will come back if he/she really cares about you. Jealousy can also draw your attention to your own fear of abandonment by showing you that if you do not address the inner source of the fear, you can actually push your partner away.
Jealousy can bring you many valuable insights, and the more you will be willing to listen to it, the greater is the possibility of freedom in a relationship.