First Aid for Jealousy
Q: I have recently found myself the victim of my own overwhelming jealousy after breaking up with my partner of 4 years. It feels so primitive and unfixable. Help!
SALLY: You might begin by simply observing the feelings. Notice how you judge yourself for having them, then see if you can let go of the judgment. This is the first step to change. Your yogi-self believes you should have gone beyond jealousy. But jealousy, like many other negative emotions, is rooted in childhood, which means that the feelings are old and consequently sticky.
The present situation is probably triggering something that is already lurking inside your limbic system, which is why it feels so primitive. The good news is that if you can work with the feeling as it comes up, you will not only help yourself through this present bout of jealousy, you’ll also free yourself of a piece of the stored lump of jealousy that hides inside your body and brainstem.
The secret is to be willing to work with the feelings moment by moment, again and again, every time they arise. The emotion might come back again and again, but soon you will notice that it’s not as strong. Each time you choose to work with your feelings instead of giving into them, you loosen the grip that they have on you. (This, and the methods below, work equally well with other negative emotions such as fear and anger.)
Here are some methods:
Let the Energy of Jealousy Dissolve in Spaciousness
Start with tuning into the feeling—the pure emotion of jealousy. Find where it is in your body. Notice the thoughts that come up around it. Then see if you can let go of the story line around the emotion, and focus on the feeling itself. Notice the texture of the feeling in your body. See if it has a color. Fully feel the energy in it.
Now, imagine that there is space around the feeling-energy. Let the space surround the feeling, as if it is cradling it. Then, begin to expand that space. Expand it through your body, and then allow it to surround your body, having the feeling that a large field of awareness fills you and holds you. Continue to hold the energy of jealousy inside that space of consciousness. Without trying to make the jealous energy go away, notice how the sharpness of the feelings begin to loosen and open. Feel the energy space that remains as the jealous energy becomes more spacious.
Work with the Opposite Feeling
(This is a classical technique from the yoga tradition of Patanjali.)
When the feelings come up, again let yourself feel them fully. Then, imagine, if you can, the opposite feeling. If the opposite of jealousy for you is the feeling of being loved, remember a moment or a time when you felt loved or a moment when you felt great love. Let go of the circumstances surrounding the feeling of being loved or loving, and just concentrate on the feeling itself. Another way to do this is to imagine an incredibly loving, nurturing presence watching over you and let yourself feel how this presence is sending you love. You can use words to facilitate this–for instance, “I am loved.”
One effect of this practice, if you keep at it, is that it will begin to replace your feeling of lack, of not having what you need and want. It is the feeling of lack itself—even more than the feeling of lacking your ex-partner—that is at the root of jealousy.
Send Love to Your Partner
Another (and very radical) way to work with jealousy is to send love to your partner and the person they’re with. There’s an important principle here: as you offer good wishes to the other person, notice that you will feel them yourself. It is extremely powerful and transformative to create generous thoughts toward the person you are jealous of, wishing them happiness, wishing for them what you’d wish for yourself.
Remember, it’s your intention to work with the feelings that matter! Take each onset of jealousy as a signal to practice. As you do this, you’ll find that the practice begins not only to free you of this jealousy, but of many other related feelings.