A few weeks ago, a dear friend of mine frantically called to share how her relationship was in the doldrums. She admitted to being ‘overly jealous’ as an individual, which was getting on her partner’s nerves. From checking his phone to keeping a tab on his social media, she was involuntarily indulging in negative behaviours, which made her feel ‘wrong’ in many ways.
This isn’t an isolated incident – there are many like her who experience shame or guilt for exhibiting jealousy. As humans, we experience a myriad of emotions and while some may be challenging; none is unhealthy, even if it's jealousy. Before we dive deep into how jealousy manifests in relationships, it’s important to understand its true meaning.
“Jealousy refers to a series of complex emotions that result in feelings of inadequacy, possessiveness, suspicion, or insecurity. The emotion isn’t limited to romantic relationships; it could also show up in other dynamics,” explains Tanya Percy Vasunia, a psychologist with a degree in Psychonanalytical Developmental Psychology.
For instance, if a certain co-worker receives more attention from superiors, it may make others feel undervalued, which in turn could give rise to feelings of jealousy. It could also find its way in friendships, say if a close friend is spending more time with someone else they’ve recently met.
“At its core, jealousy is a byproduct of fear – fear of not being good enough, or the fear of loss. It is also an indicator of how deeply we care about something or someone,” reveals Rachna K Singh, head of department of holistic medicine and mental wellness at Artemis Hospital in Gurugram, and director of the Delhi-based Mind and Wellness Studio.
Are jealousy and possessiveness two sides of the same coin?
While the two terms are often used interchangeably, there is a thin line between them. Possessiveness falls under the umbrella term of jealousy and goes hand in hand, echoes Vasunia. “If you look at jealousy as a spectrum, possessiveness is one of the ways of feeling jealousy. Of course, you can feel this emotion for someone but how it comes across is crucial,” she adds.
In case it is a passing emotion, there’s nothing to worry about. But if you or someone you know exhibits symptoms of intense and persistent jealousy in romantic relationships (or other relationships), it is a cause for concern.
“There are some people who turn obsessive over a period of time. Despite having faithful partners, they always have the fear of infidelity looming over their minds,” says Linn Heed, psychologist, psychotherapist and sexologist at Coupleness, a relationship tool for couples. “The feelings of possessiveness overpower them to an extent that they need to constantly check in with their partner,” she adds.
It’s important to face the fact that in the long run, controlling a partner is impossible, even if you'd like to. This is what triggers anxiety in most people, points Vasunia. “The idea of someone being submissive throughout is not only improbable, but also highly dangerous. In such cases, the dynamic isn’t really equitable or fair – it becomes toxic, abusive, or emotionally unhealthy,” she asserts.
Should the emotion be suppressed?
Not at all. It is important to emotionally validate your jealousy, advises Singh. Instead of brushing it under the carpet, acknowledging the emotion and reminding yourself that it’s normal will help you process it better. “Emotions are simply messages indicating a deeper concern,” she adds.
In an age where independence in romantic relationships or other dynamics is glorified, individuals often choose to suppress their feelings. This is a dangerous trend and could further result in destructive or passive aggressive behaviours – from name-calling, blaming, and threats before moving onto emotional and physical abuse.
Contrary to general perception, there’s really no reason to be guilt-ridden if you feel jealousy. Vasunia reiterates that there’s always a solution in sight, if an individual is willing to work on themselves.
“Jealousy is a very inward facing emotion; it’s really about how you feel. It isn’t necessarily about taking stock of the situation or looking at it from a holistic perspective. Sometimes, it can indicate concerns pertaining to boundaries,” she elaborates.
How to navigate jealousy in romantic relationships
Most people believe that they are inherently jealous or possessive in romantic relationships, but that’s not true. Here’s where the problem lies – several couples go into the ‘nesting phase’ in the initial few months of the relationship. During this time, they often distance themselves from their friends. When changes occur within the romantic partnership sooner or later, jealousy, panic and similar feelings become prominent, because the other support systems are weaker, says Vasunia.
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“Ensuring other interactions remain strong is extremely important. In case nothing helps, you could also look at couple’s therapy. It may not be everyone’s first choice, but if jealousy becomes a frequent concern, it’s better to address it,” she advises.
Furthermore, Heed believes it is equally essential to work on your self-esteem, if feelings of jealousy seem to chase you all the time. “There are tons of books and apps available online. They might not give you an in-depth answer to why you have bad self-esteem, but you can learn some tips on how to handle jealousy,” she shares.
Being vulnerable with your partner is non-negotiable. Choose a time that you are comfortable with and pour your heart out to them, asking for any kind of support that you require. “Reflect on your past experiences to understand the source of these feelings. You could also journal your thoughts to release the negative emotions,” recommends Singh.
In a nutshell, there’s really no way to escape jealousy. If you feel it, face it. If you push it away, it returns as a strong boomerang, concludes Heed.
Geetika Sachdev is a writer and journalist
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