Your jealousy can inform you about your relationship with yourself.

The emotion of jealously feels so terrible that it might seem counter-intuitive that you can learn anything from it. The fear, anxiety, and anger about a potential loss that jealousy evokes can be experienced as negatively as the loss itself, and sometimes worse given the torturous nature of the unknown.

Jessica, for example, always bristled when her partner would comment about another woman expressing interest in him, and she didn’t like his lunches with female business associates. She had a hard time trusting that he was truly loyal to her, and found herself occasionally looking for evidence that would confirm her fear.

First of all, a woman or man in Jessica’s situation should learn that jealousy is not always about you. It is entirely possible that the personality characteristics of a partner may lead him to provoke you to become jealous, and, in doing so, he secures his tie to you. Such behavior is typical of people withpersonality disorders. Narcissistic and borderline personalities are so fearful of abandonment that they evoke jealous reactions in a partner and then blame their partner for being jealous. In this case, Jessica would become so preoccupied with her own security that she wouldn’t consider her partner’s own abandonment fears.

There are other variations on the theme of jealously not being about you, but instead belonging to a partner who evokes jealousy in you. A partner might be jealous about his previous partner, but instead evoke that jealously in his present partner. Jealousy, as you may have experienced, tends to cause intense negativity or anger in a person toward the object of that jealousy. How convenient it is when someone can evoke rage in a present partner about the behavior of a previous partner, all the while remaining neutral and even sympathetic toward the previous partner.

However, in Jessica’s case, her jealously wasn’t limited to her partner. When a female friend talked about a shared experience with a mutual friend of theirs she felt jealous as well. It could very well be that Jessica’s choice of friends unfortunately resembled the personality disordered characteristics of her romantic partner, but let’s assume that not to be the case. Thus, we are assuming that Jessica is prone to have jealous responses when people in her life express closeness to anyone else.

Jealousy, when it does belong to you, represents a threat to your connection with another person that is experienced as anxiety and fear that someone else can and will take your place. In evolutionary terms, securing your tie to a partner would have enormous benefits, and thus, jealously and the responses it evokes serve to protect one’s self-interest in a partnership. A rival, in caveman days, might meet a dreadful fate. But in contemporary society, for the most part, jealously tends to make the jealous party appear and feel weak, insecure, inferior, needy, and lacking in self-esteem. The jealous person is often plagued by uncertainty and quietly lonely. However, sometimes a jealous partner is aggressive and offensive. In any case, one who is jealous has a few things to learn.

Jealousy does trigger a negative, self-protective response, but it can also inform you. So if you experience jealousy you have an opportunity to learn about yourself by asking yourself some questions: Are you perceiving that you are lacking in some quality that you would like to develop for yourself? Are you experiencing jealously because, actually, you want something more from your relationship that you are unable to obtain from that person, whether it is passion, intellectual stimulation, or intimacy? What do you think of yourself and who do you want to be? What experiences of loss and abandonment in your life have led you to fear that it will happen again? Being close to others can trigger the emotion of jealousy, especially if you do not value yourself or have experiencedchildhood loss or abandonment. However, you must recognize that your feelings have more to do with your relationship with yourself than your relationship with someone else.

Like jealously, envy is a social emotion that is evoked in relationships. Where jealousy is evoked in three-way relationships, the experience of envy involves your relationship with another person. Envy will be the topic of my next blog.

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This blog is in no way intended as a substitute for medical or psychological counseling. If expert assistance or counseling is needed, the services of a competent professional should be sought.

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Dr. Mary Lamia is a clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst who works with adults, couples, adolescents, and preteens in her Marin County private practice. She is a professor at the Wright Institute in Berkeley, California. Extending psychological knowledge to the public has been her endeavor for thirty years. Dr. Lamia’s opinion has been sought in hundreds of television, radio, and print media interviews and discussions, and for nearly a decade she hosted a weekly call-in talk show, KidTalk with Dr. Mary, on Radio Disney stations. Her books include: Emotions! Making Sense of Your Feelings; Understanding Myself: A Kid’s Guide to Intense Emotions and Strong Feelings: and, The White Knight Syndrome: Rescuing Yourself From Your Need to Rescue Others.