This article originally appeared on The Good Men Project and has been republished with permission.
Jealousy, the belief that someone is taking something that is “yours,” is a natural protective response commonly seen throughout the animal kingdom. Recently, a study conducted by Christine Harris, Jealousy in Dogs, indicated that even dogs become jealous when their owners give others attention. The similarities between human and animal jealousy shed light on the differences, and understanding them can lead us to healthier relationships.
Animals display jealousy when there is a direct threat to something that is important to them in terms of affection, resources and time. The main differences between their jealous responses and ours are that they only display jealousy towards the threat, and only when there is an actual threat, not a perceived or imagined threat. For example, Fido might push or even snap at another dog (even a stuffed animal) if you were showing it attention, but wouldn’t be jealous of you petting another dog in a dream, or of you doing so where Fido couldn’t see (at least as far as we are currently aware).
This major difference is caused by our ability to use our imagination and the difficulty of our mind to separate it from reality. Thinking of something causes emotions and our brains have a hard time differentiating those emotions from emotions caused by real events. It’s similar as to when you jump at a scary part in a movie, or have a hard time sleeping after watching one. There’s no real reason to be scared, but your thoughts create very real emotions and effects to your mind and body.
The reaction may become even more intense if you’ve experienced a real life situation similar to what you are imagining. It is more real to you due to the past events (memories), and creates a greater emotional response. This is why if you’ve been cheated on or hurt in past relationships you may be prone to greater amounts of jealousy.
Most of the time, unlike in animals, the brunt of your jealousy is placed on the partner. You unfairly blame your partner because it seems he or she is the reason why you are jealous, so you attempt to make your partner change. This often leads to resentment and negativity because your partner isn’t the real reason for your jealousy. The culprit is your imagination and pre-programming from life experiences, and that’s where you need to focus your attention.
The only sure-fire way to combat jealousy is to strengthen your self-confidence, minimizing what is a threat, and to program your mind to identify the difference between a real, perceived and imagined threat to your relationship.
How to strengthen your self-confidence:
- Self-efficacy, the belief in your own abilities. Build greater levels of self-efficacy by setting and accomplishing goals; daily and long-term, increasing your levels of independence throughout your relationships and life, and through continuing education (reading, seminars, etc.) focused on personal growth.
- Self-esteem, your perception of yourself. Start tracking how your “talk” to yourself, both the negative and positive. Review and begin to eliminate the negative self-talk by rephrasing it to positive.
How to realize the difference between real, perceived and imagined threats:
- Base jealousy off of facts. Tell yourself that the only time you can be jealous is if you have the right to be, and that requires evidence.
- Assume the best. Give your partner the benefit of the doubt. View actions that make you insecure from your partner’s perspective.
- Communicate without accusing. Ask questions, listen to the answers. Anger and fear are the face of jealousy and will lead you to defensiveness. Curiosity will lead you to facts.
- Examine your feelings. Ask yourself what is causing your jealousy, and use it to find the root cause, usually fear, hurt, or anger, underlie jealousy, and the causes of those emotions are easier (and less embarrassing) to address. Stay aware of the source of your emotions, are they based off of facts, your past, or imagination.
Animals have the right idea in terms of jealousy. A direct attack on your resources should be defended, but a perceived or imaginary one should be ignored or examined for the underlying cause. Your partner is not at fault for your imagination, your assumptions or how you perceive a situation. It comes down to you, your self-confidence, and your ability to realize the difference between reality and your perception of reality. Jealousy is an emotion created by thoughts, and it’s important to remember that you ultimately have control over your thoughts; it may just take a little work and reprogramming.
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