Today I’m moving to a natural extension of Rejection Sensitivity. Jealousy. We’ve all felt it. Maybe a little. Maybe a lot. Maybe so much so, all the time, that we’re now constantly paranoid that our partners will leave us or are doing things behind our back that it becomes a pervasive thought that we can’t shut down or stop.
Jealousy is “simply” the intolerance of rivalry or unfaithfulness, or the disposition to perceive these things in human relationships. The definition sounds “simple” but jealousy is a complex emotion. When you experience jealousy it’s often a combination that includes negative thoughts and feelings of insecurity, fear, and anxiety over an anticipated loss of something that you values, particularly in the arena of human connection and relationships. Jealousy often consists of a combination of emotions such as anger, resentment, inadequacy, helplessness and disgust.
Jealousy is a reactionary emotion. Meaning, they occur as a reaction to an event that has occurred. At least, that’s how it typically occurs. When there is a perceived threat, or an actual threat, to our values, jealousy can be a natural and normal emotional response. Negative feelings like jealousy, envy, anxiety, etc., have an necessary evolutionary reason; to let you know that something is wrong so that you can take action and fix it. However they can become a problem when they become unmanageable and the behaviors inspired by these emotions get out of control.
Irrational jealousy is jealousy that has no basis in fact. In other words, the individual perceives situations as meaning that their partner is likely to reject them when the partner has no intention of doing so. Thus, irrational jealousy is a thinking style in which an individual evaluates a situation negatively and makes assumptions base on that evaluation. Those assumptions are usually related to losing their partner due to a rival.
This article from ExcelAtLife explains it pretty well. The thing to keep in mind is this happens to a lot of individuals, those with BPD and those without. The problem when this happens with BPD is that we tend to experience them much more intensely. One a scale of 1 to 10, for us it’s turned up to 11. So these feelings can get out of control and go on the rampage pretty quickly if we’re not aware of where they’re coming from.
*** It doesn’t happen for everyone. I’m not a typically jealous person. Unless I have a real concrete reason to be jealous – like with Evil-Ex and The One and their cheating and sneaking around, then it does tend to run away with me and become destructive. I do feel a little bit of jealousy at other times, but I’m not very reactive about it, so it’s not my particular vice. ***
“All emotions are normal. An emotion in and of itself is not irrational. However, what we decide based upon our emotions can be irrational and lead to destructive behavior. Although certain behaviors related to an emotion can create problems, the emotion itself may have some validity. The purpose of emotions is to provide us with information. Once we have the information, we may then choose appropriate action. However, as with any information, emotions may be misunderstood. How we make sense of an emotion may not always lead to the accurate meaning of the emotion. Therefore, our chosen actions may not resolve the problem the emotion brought to our attention, or may even create additional difficulties.
Frequently, I am asked how to handle irrational jealous feelings. Usually, the individual recognizes that their 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 their 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 they can't control the thoughts which makes them feel miserable. That spouse believes that if they can just prove those suspicions one way or another, he/she 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 love.
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. For example, 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.”
These are things I’ve talked about a lot before. When you’ve grown up with an internalized sense of abandonment, an expectation of rejection, you’re already locked and loaded for something bad to happen. When you’ve grown up with emotional, mental, physical, and sexual abuse you’re even more inclined to expect those, and your ability to trust and have faith in people is already depleted; Trust Debt.
I think this is something that can often get in the way of our relationships. Especially when you’re prone to paranoia (DSM criteria 9 for BPD) and codependency (or any combination). When you are paranoid or fearful that your loved one is acting in a way that could lead to an actual/perceived abandonment or rejection, especially if you tend towards codependency, it’s like the foundation for your entire world could be kicked out from under you. It’s no longer just about that one incident, it’s the basis of your current existence that feels shaken. That can quickly lead to anxiety, tears, anger, shame, all out rage…. None of which tend to be helpful in figuring things out and working through the situation. They are good for impulsive aggression though, lashing out in the moment, and panic attacks.
I think one of the communication problems that we often have with our loved ones is that when we seemingly flip out about something that should be pretty innocuous… to them they only see the current situation and the issues relevant to the current scenario… to us we see those things, but we have a whole history of subconscious and ingrained reflexive emotional responses. For us, the current situation may not be that bad, but something about it is triggering and brings up all that emotional history. This isn’t a justification for lashing out and behaving poorly. It’s important to learn to control that b/c let’s face it, it never makes the situation better. But there’s a fundamental rift between what they see as relevant and what we feel as relevant. It takes time, mindfulness, and practice to learn to distinguish between what emotions are being triggered from the past and what emotions are inspired and relevant to the current situation. (By relevant I don’t mean invalid, they are real emotions, but there is a difference between emotions from the past and emotions inspired for a separate event.)
It’s important to learn to recognize this because unfortunately Irrational Jealousy is often combined with its friends Destructive Jealousy and Controlling Jealousy. But we’re not gonna go there yet. Then we’ll look at some causes for this.