“Oh, beware, my lord, of jealousy.”
William Shakespeare has always been regarded as a prescient author, but this line from “Othello” rings especially true in today’s era of social media and seemingly constant comparison.
Long before and long since the playwright dubbed this emotion the “green-eyed monster,” jealousy has been affecting humans in profound and complex ways. To understand more about its origins, effects and methods for treatment – HealthLinks turned to Kelly Quarles, a nationally certified trauma therapist working in the Charleston area.
“We need to remember that jealousy is a feeling, not a diagnosis,” said Quarles. “We have tools to work with and through it.”
While the feeling of jealousy has many synonyms – resentment and envy being among the most common – it is an emotion that stands entirely on its own. While resentment can stem from being wronged in some way, jealousy is more closely associated with envy, the feeling of discontent or longing brought on by someone else’s good fortune.
Envy and jealousy may be closely-related terms, but, as Quarles clarified, “jealousy is more deeply rooted in the psyche than envy is, and it can lead to maladaptive behaviors.”
Quarles, who has been a therapist since 2008, believes that normalizing the emotion of jealousy is one of the first crucial steps to reducing its more negative effects.
“Jealousy is common, and knowing the emotion can actually be helpful,” she explained. “When we talk about the feelings and normalize them in therapy, then the feelings don’t have so much power over us.”
In a clinical setting, Quarles emphasized, “the first thing we want to do is look at the origin of the jealousy.”
Often associated with feelings of anger, possessiveness and fear, jealousy is actually more commonly rooted in self-esteem and self-worth issues.
“Low self-esteem, insecurity, a low sense of self-worth … they really are fueling jealousy in such a big way,” Quarles stated.
Facing the origins of one’s jealousy can be a vulnerable, even humbling process. Patients may find themselves facing difficult questions, ranging from analyzing their own insecurities to examining the maladaptive or extreme ways they may have dealt with jealousy in the past. Therapy requires patients to not only look at the origin of jealousy, but also, Quarles added, “to look at how it has infiltrated different parts of one’s life.”
While Quarles primarily works with adolescents who have experienced some sort of trauma, she emphasized that jealousy is an emotion that turns up in a multitude of relationships, including, but not limited to, romantic, familial, platonic and work-based relationships.
“One thing we’ll do to support patients is help them discern healthy versus unhealthy levels of jealousy,” Quarles added. “Is the jealousy creating anxiety, aggression or other maladaptive behavioral functions?”
Though there are a variety of practices that can benefit those suffering from extreme jealousy, Quarles said she often employs mindfulness techniques to better support her patients. These techniques can address both the physical and the mental effects of jealousy; they allow the patient to develop impulse control skills as well as unlearn unhealthy physical and mental habits. Quarles employs physical calming techniques such as deep breathing and muscle relaxation exercises to teach patients to slow themselves down physically.
“We also do a lot of work to try to stay in the moment,” Quarles stated, mentioning that part of her job is to encourage her patients to examine situations logically instead of emotionally. “Look at the evidence you have in your life right now. Just because something happened to you in the past does not mean it’s happening to you now.”
While jealousy can be difficult to confront even on the best of days, one of the most difficult hurdles for those feeling it can be the shame and stigma associated with the emotion. An emotion with that much baggage can be hard to accept, let alone address.
“It is important that we reduce the shame around jealousy,” said Quarles, adding that the very act of keeping it private often translates to those aforementioned maladaptive behaviors.
Quarles’s advice for those struggling to manage the emotion of jealousy?
“Have compassion with yourself. And when the emotion seems too big to handle, reach out to a third party or a therapist,” she said.
Jealousy, that green-eyed monster of old, has caused its fair share of hardship over the years. However, not all of its effects are bad. Though jealousy is often perceived as a negative emotion, addressing it in responsible ways can lead to important, even positive, breakthroughs.
“When you begin to address jealousy, you begin to identify and address unmet needs,” said Quarles.
By Catherine Kauffman