Jealousy is a common human experience, something to which we will all fall prey at one point or another. For some people, it is rather fleeting. For others, it is one of our foremost character defects, something that takes hold of us time and time again despite our best intentions. This is especially true of addicts and alcoholics, as we tend to have trouble controlling some of our more primitive emotions. We let them flow freely, and this sometimes has negative consequences for both ourselves and those who care about us.
From a semantic point of view, there are some who might not actually know when they are exhibiting jealous behavior. This is because many people are unaware that there is a difference between jealousy and envy. The two may be linked in some cases, but they are far from being the same thing. The difference between these two emotional experiences is one of the things we hope to cover in this article, so that you may understand the difference between the harm caused by envy and the harm caused by jealousy.
Of course, we will also spend some time covering how this harm may be undone. Even if this harm cannot be undone completely—which may sometimes be the case—we can at least learn how to avoid letting jealousy get the better of us in the future. And like most things in recovery, it really isn’t as hard as some people may at first perceive it to be. In fact, all it really takes when everything is said and done is a genuine sense of willingness to change. If you have that, then you are already on the right path.
Discerning Jealousy from Envy
In our recent article about envy, we noted that envy is the sense of wanting what someone else has. This feeling will often cause us great pain, leading to depression or possibly anger. In the case of jealousy, anger is often a little more prevalent. Jealousy is essentially a need for control, a refusal to let go of the things we already have. We may jealously guard just about anything we perceive as ours, from material possessions to people we care about. In fact, relationships probably comprise the bulk of difficulties we will encounter as far as jealousy is concerned.
Think of the last time you were in a relationship, and absolutely hated it when the object of your affections had a friend with whom they seemed to flirt on occasion. Perhaps you felt some envy for the other man or woman in this scenario, but that was not the only thing that was at play. That internal sense of loss, that irritation at the thought that your relationship may not be as strong as you want it to be, is jealousy in action. Whether you stand the risk of losing the relationship itself or you are merely losing your perfect perception of it, you run the risk of becoming jealous.
One similarity between jealousy and envy is that the person causing you these feelings may be completely unaware of how you feel. Having no knowledge of the fact that you are currently harboring resentments, they will be completely surprised when their actions are suddenly met with anger. But even were they aware of your jealousy, it is unlikely that they would find it to be an attractive quality in you. In fact, it just may end the relationship that you are trying to defend through control.
We guard many other things through jealousy as well. We may jealously hoard money or other material possessions. We may hate the notion of somebody else driving our vehicles, or even riding as a passenger. Addicts and alcoholics are often people who like to keep our lives to ourselves, hidden from any outside intrusions. This is a lonely way to live, however, and loneliness does not lead to sobriety. If those who have entered recovery would truly like to remain sober, they must begin identifying the effects of their jealousy and learning ways to overcome this incredibly negative emotion.
The Effects of Jealous Behavior
As noted above, one of the major side effects of jealousy is that we may lose whatever or whoever we are trying to keep guarded. Addicts and alcoholics do not always have a great track record for their ability to process situations objectively. As far as we know, our jealousy may be completely unwarranted, yet our lack of inhibitions in responding to it may push away the person about whom we profess to care so much. Especially when they begin to wonder how much we could possibly care about them when we are not willing to let them live their own lives.
We will likely push away other people as well. Even if our jealousy does not affect our behavior toward a specific person in our lives, they will still be able to observe the way we behave toward others. Just because a person is not the object of our jealousy does not mean they will approve of the way we handle other relationships. Each and every action we perform, as well as each and every word we speak, may be more on display than we are aware. Do not risk leading a life of isolation because you couldn’t help but push people away by trying to jealously hold them closer than they wanted to be.
Also bear in mind that we will not look great when jealously hoarding material possessions. Sure, everyone likes having money. But those who have more than they need yet refuse to help others will not come across very well. If we are stingy, miserly grumps, people will not exactly be lining up to make our acquaintance. And while the typical miser may not care about this, they should. After all, a bad reputation won’t exactly lead to a wide array of business deals down the line. And in time, we may be forced to do business only with people much like ourselves. In other words, people who cannot be trusted.
Perhaps we are not as likely to actually lose our possessions through jealously guarding them. But at the end of the day, they won’t bring us much happiness when we find ourselves living life alone, having cut ties with those who truly cared about us. And make no mistake—when people tire of our jealousy, they will leave. Perhaps they will not do so immediately, but it will happen in due time. Unless, of course, we learn to make a change for the better.
Learning to Let Go of Jealousy
Like all things, the first step to letting go of jealousy is simply to recognize it. We must learn to see that our views are sometimes paranoid, that people are not necessarily trying to wrong us. Those we love are allowed to have other friends. And while we may be right to be suspicious in some instances, we are also sometimes quite mistaken in regard to their intentions. If we truly feel as if our suspicions are fair, then we must confront the issue head-on. We must calmly and rationally ask if we have anything to worry about. More importantly, we must be able to sense when their responses are honest.
If we are indeed wronged, the correct course of action is not to respond with anger. Sometimes, the best thing to do is simply to accept the loss. Acceptance is often the answer in recovery, and this is truly no exception. We may not like the situation. It may hurt us in ways we can hardly imagine. But dealing with loss, learning to process grief, is something that every person will have to do in their lifetime. Addicts and alcoholics are no exception. The only difference for us is that we run the risk of hurting ourselves if we do not deal with grief properly.
Once we have learned to accept loss, we will be well on our way to overcoming our jealousy. We may still experience jealous feelings every once in a while, but we must remind ourselves that this is one of our more socially harmful character defects. If need be, we can discuss these feelings with friends and family in our support network. Talking through these feelings is inevitably much better than bottling them up and letting them explode in a show of emotion that will do more to distance us from our relationships than to keep them guarded.
In time, jealousy will be little more than a distant memory. We will learn to become more accepting of other people and their relationships. Through generosity and service work, we will learn not to be so stingy about our possessions. In general, we will have little reason to exhibit shows of jealousy in the future. If we cannot do this, then our negative emotions will likely cause us to relapse. But once we develop the humility to accept that we do not control everyone and everything else around us, jealousy should slip away easily, never again pushing the people we love out of our lives.