Jenny told me she was at her friend’s house looking through old pictures when she came across an old photo of her husband and another woman. “Instantly I felt jealous,” she said. “I thought, ‘Who is that, an old girlfriend? And why does she have her arms around my husband?’”
Then, upon closer inspection, she realized the picture was actually one of her and her husband five years earlier.
As we talked, Jenny confessed that she had always struggled with jealousy. When she walks into a room, she is most conscious of how the other women look and how she herself compares. If she decides that someone is more attractive or has on a better looking outfit, her joy disappears.
“I can be ever so happy, but then I see someone who I think looks better than me, and instantly I feel envious,” she confessed.
Unfortunately, many people silently struggle with feelings of jealousy.
“Telling someone you’re angry or unhappy is one thing,” said Bill, a fellow I’m seeing in therapy, “But telling them you’re jealous of their position or their wife -- this is not something you’re going to find too many people willing to admit to.”
Why does jealousy consume some, whereas others seem to revel in the success of their friends? This less-than-admirable feeling of jealousy may actually be the result of what went on between siblings years earlier.
Once you reach the ripe old age of a year and a half, you’re already aware of what’s happening in your family. You know who gets the lion’s share of positive attention. You’re aware of whom your folks favor. If it isn’t you, you’re likely to feel hostile.
Instead of directing those negative feelings toward your parents, however, you direct them to your sibling. Why? Because you want your parents to recognize and love you and being angry at them would be self-defeating.
Another factor is the way you were disciplined as a child. If you were disciplined more harshly than your brother and sister, you may have hostile and jealous feelings toward the siblings who were handled more gently.
Comparing of children also leads to jealousy. If Tommy is held up as the smartest, and Daniel is told he’s the best athlete, each is likely to become jealous of the other if an attribute they value is ascribed to their sibling.
With regard to Jenny, the woman who was jealous of herself, we traced her jealousy to what happened in her family: Her mother tried to make everything equal between her and her younger sister. Equal time, equal presents, equal number of chores, equal number of kisses and hugs.
Following their mother’s lead, the girls got into comparing. Once this way of thinking was established, this woman expanded it to comparing herself to everyone.
The way I worked with her was to have her make a list of people she admired. She was to include her sister, three co-workers, three friends, and three famous people. The next step was for her to write down the ways she was better and the ways she was not as good as all ten of these people. With the celebrities, she had to read up on their lives.
What she learned was that every person is in some way better and in some way not as good as every other person. To dwell on the better and less was a waste of time, however, and often leads to bad feelings.
I told her also, “When you start to think competitively, say to yourself, ‘Don’t go that way, because if you do you’re defeating yourself.’”
Happily, she was able to act on this advice. She is no longer consumed with comparing herself to others, and as a result, she rarely feels jealous.
Check out Doris’ latest books, “The Boy Whose Idea Could Feed the World,” “The Parent Teacher Discussion Guide,” and “Thin Becomes You” at Doris’ web page: www.doriswildhelmering.com.
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