This is the first of what will probably be a number of musings on the experience of jealousy, so, stay tuned ..(by Jeanna Eichenbaum)
I’ve spent much of the bulk of my free time the past few years thinking about polyamory. I think about it because it is a way of living and exploring that I have been experimenting with in my own life, and because about half of the clients in my psychotherapy practice identify as “poly” or “open” or something along that spectrum. If you think about polyamory for any stretch of time, you’re going to be forced to think about and consider some of its shadow material, most prominantly, of course, jealousy. As much as I read and learn about jealousy (and there’s some really good stuff out there, namely (from my perspective) writings from Thomas Moore, Kathy Labriola, and Deborah Anapol), when it hits me, it hits with the force of something hot and raw, and seems to have within it elements of pure, undigested and what can feel like undigestible experience. It feels, in a word, awful, at times close to unbearable.
And what can we do when hit by something that feels unbearable? Well, we can, first of all, remember to breathe. When we are under assault, one of the first things we seem to do is hold our breath, as we scan the situation and assess for threat. I imagine, from an evolutionary perspective, that this holding of one’s breath has some value, as a way of getting real quiet, and turning our attention outward, but like good meditators, in those situations, after assessing that there is no threat to actual physical safety, we might do better to turn our attention inward, and the breath is often a good anchor for that inward journey. Breathing distributes necessary nutrients that are present in oxygen throughout the body, and also removes carbon dioxide from the system, which keeps us in balance and helps avoid toxic buildup. Additionally, the process of breathing is a physical reminder that things come and go, air flows in and out, the belly rises and falls, things move through us, and when something unbearable comes along, we can start to feel that it will never move .. shift .. leave, so yes, please remember to breathe.
So, with the breath as an anchor, as a rope that ties us to our body as the elemental place of experience, as a place beyond thought, we can, perhaps, start to observe the thoughts and feelings that accompany the experience of jealousy. And, I want to do some of that exploring now, with you, as you read this. Looking at jealousy both more deeply, and more dispassionately.
What happens inside you as you experience the yucky mass of emotions and thoughts called jealousy? What happens in me are thoughts like, “I can’t believe this is happening”. “This isn’t what I want”. “That person (or persons) are going to take something that is mine, or something that I highly value”. The body sensations can be a tightening in the belly, clenching of fists and other muscles, shallow breathing, sweaty palms, rapid blinking of the eyes, a faraway look, in short, an activation of my ‘fight or flight’ system. Emotions might be anger, rage, fear, upset, fury, a desire to strike out and hurt others.
What are some of the physical sensations and emotions that happen in you? Can you spend some time observing, the next time you experience jealousy, with even just a little bit of curiosity, rather than getting completely swept up in the wave that is jealousy? This is all hard work, and any attempts you make to take a step back and look might be of help, if only to see that yes, this is one strong emotional state.