Jealousy is not a diagnosis; it is an emotion. But when someone experiences extreme jealousy, they may find the emotion negatively affects their life and may even contribute to the development of mental health conditions such as depression and generalized anxiety.
If you feel troubled by feelings of jealousy, consulting with a licensed therapist or counselor may help you explore and address the cause of these feelings.
Jealousy can have dangerous implications: It is the third most common motive for murder. Though it is an emotion that can often be checked, especially with communication, its potentially overpowering nature is demonstrated by the fact that some people who experience extreme jealousy attempt to harm romantic rivals, wayward spouses, or workplace competitors.
Psychotherapy is often an effective treatment for jealousy. A person who experiences jealousy might benefit from working with a therapist to process painful emotions and reframe negative, damaging thoughts that affect their behavior. A therapist may support someone who wishes to overcome jealousy by helping them:
- Tell the difference between normal/productive and harmful/unproductive jealousy.
- Build relationship and communication skills.
- Identify cognitive distortions that contribute to feelings of jealousy.
- Learn skills for emotional regulation.
- Use mindfulness to handle sudden feelings of jealousy.
- Focus on self-care. Focusing on taking care of oneself and one’s own relationships can help people feel more confident and less dependent, decreasing their likelihood to feel jealous.
Cognitive behavioral therapy may be used to help people work through jealous feelings, as it may make it easier for people to identify underlying beliefs that contribute to those feelings. Temporary treatment with psychoactive drugs may also help jealousy, but this approach is generally only used when jealousy causes or is caused by other mental health conditions such as schizophrenia.
Couples experiencing mutual jealousy may benefit from marital or couples counseling. If an affair or infidelity has not occurred, a couples therapist may work with both people in the relationship to address the feelings, insecurities, and vulnerabilities of each.
Couples therapy for jealousy may include both individual and joint sessions so that each member of the relationship feels heard. The therapist might ask when the jealous feelings entered the relationship to pinpoint what is causing them. In therapy, the couple might also be asked how their relationship was going when the feelings of jealousy began. For instance, was one partner particularly busy at work during that time?
Once the couple identifies when and how the jealousy began, the therapist may help them explore each other’s experiences and viewpoints. This process may help both partners in the relationship minimize unhealthy feelings of jealousy while strengthening their bond.
If you are dealing with feelings of jealousy and don’t want to feel that way, you are not alone. While jealousy can be an unpleasant emotion, taking healthy steps to resolve it is often enough to help. Some tips to help you overcome jealousy include:
- Talking it out: If your feelings of jealousy come from fear of losing a relationship with a loved one, sharing how you feel may help. Open communication can be especially helpful within an intimate relationship.
- Stepping back: Try looking at the situation you’re in from an outsider’s perspective. Do you have any reason to think your loved one will leave you for another person if the opportunity presents itself? If the answer is “no,” addressing why you feel this way by yourself or with a therapist may be a helpful next move.
- Learning to embrace ambiguity: If you experience jealousy that stems from a need to be in control, learning to let go may help dispel those feelings. Exercises that allow people to focus on the present, such as meditation, could help.
People who wish to avoid problematic jealousy in their relationships may find honest communication with partners to be helpful. Trust in a relationship can be strengthened when partners share their insecurities, discuss any vulnerable feelings they may have, and have open discussions about close friendships with people the other partner might perceive as a threat.
Fearing the loss of a partner: Feng, 43, enters therapy when he begins to experience difficulty eating and sleeping as a result of anxiety, which stems from his belief that his partner, Angus, who is seven years younger, is going to leave him for someone younger and more attractive. Feng tells his therapist that he worries Angus might meet someone else on one of his business trips, which he takes once or twice each month. Feng, who has not discussed his worries with Angus for fear of sounding accusatory or distrustful, admits he has no reason to suspect infidelity and that he trusts Angus but feels that he is getting old and becoming unattractive. After a few sessions with his therapist, Feng's sense of self-worth has increased, and he is able to accept the fact that, although Angus might meet younger, attractive men, he will not necessarily be interested in any of them. Feng's therapist suggests some techniques to relieve his anxiety, and Feng's insomnia is greatly relieved. Eventually, he is able to have a successful discussion with Angus, who encourages Feng to communicate any future insecurities or concerns.
- Leahy, R. L. & Tirch, D. (2008). Cognitive behavioral therapy for jealousy. International Journal of Cognitive Therapy, 1(1), 18-32. doi: 10.1521/ijct.2008.1.1.18
- Scheinkman, M. & Werneck, D. (2010). Disarming jealousy in couples relationships: A multidimensional approach. Family Process, 4(49), 486-502. Retrieved from https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/a6d0/b4d25a4005c2993bd8e023de85a635e8f176.pdf