3 steps to help people overcome extreme jealousy
How to help your therapy clients deal with jealous obsession - by Mark Tyrrell
"It is not love that is blind, but jealousy"
Lawrence Durrell, Justine, 1957
Jealousy is a misuse of the imagination. We make stuff up and then believe it. We believe it because the imagination can do a pretty good impression of mimicking reality - think how often you've completely believed a dream was real... until you woke up.
Of course, sometimes people do have perfectly genuine and justifiable reasons to feel jealous. The problem is then situation related rather than psychology related.
But if someone is feeling jealous with no real cause, or if their jealousy has grown way out of proportion to any actual 'wrongdoing' of their partner, then they might need help.
So how, apart from emphasizing that imagination is not the same thing as reality, can we really make a difference to the jealous client who has at least been big enough to come looking for help?
1. Explore the past
I hate that expression.
'Exploring the past' is a phrase that conjures up all those things that are bad about certain forms of psychotherapy: focusing on past hurts at the expense of successes and resources; locking people into long term treatment with no proper goals or end in sight (the trouble with the past is that there tends to be an awful lot of it); holding on to the unfounded dogma that insight into the 'true origin' of a problem will be enough to dissolve it; and so on. (Right, that's enough ranting!)
However, we do, of course, need to know something of how patterns may have become established in order to clearly distinguish the past from the present.
A chronically jealous client will typically have felt bitterly betrayed in some past relationship. They may have been genuinely cheated on and let down.
Or they may have developed a 'materialistic' style of human relationships, seeing other people as 'possessions' to be used and controlled as they see fit.
Discovering where the jealous pattern may have originated is a first step to dealing with it.
2. Separate past from present
'Once bitten, twice shy' is the problem in a nutshell for many jealousy clients. Having been cheated on before, their expectation becomes that the next partner is going to do the same.
We might ask them to describe at length (and even write down) all the ways their current partner and situation is different from the past partner and circumstances.
This can be a very powerful intervention that gets them to appreciate that then is not now and to stop laying the past on their current partner.
3. Encourage 'good' use of the imagination
Making up damaging scenarios and believing them is a misuse of a most useful and potentially beneficial tool we humans have: our imagination.
Ask about times they get jealous - for example;
- seeing their partner talking to attractive colleagues at a social function
- when their partner has gone out for the night with their own friends
and hypnotically encourage them to see the situation, with their partner enjoying the company of other people, while feeling relaxed and calm.
In this way we can begin to separate out imagination from emotionality.
It's also useful to remind clients that no one ever 'makes a fool of you' by cheating only themselves.
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