Therapy and resources to fight the green-eyed monster?
March 29, 2021 10:48 AM   Subscribe

After a long period of denial and rationalisation, I’ve come to the painful realisation that I have control and jealousy issues that are long overdue for being addressed. But I don’t know where or how to start.

I’ve been a crappy, jealous and controlling spouse. With time, these issues are getting worse instead of better and I realise I will need to do a lot of work to fix them. I’m willing to do all it takes but I feel completely overwhelmed when it comes to creating an action plan. Therapy is my number one priority but I don’t know how or where to start looking for a professional. Is there a kind of therapy that is best for such issues? Are there professionals that specialize in control/jealousy issues that I should look for?

Until I manage to get the therapy part going, do you have any resources to recommend for me to start reading on my own? Bonus points if you’ve dealt with this before and can speak to your own experience. Any input will be greatly appreciated.
posted by Riverside to Human Relations (14 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe a little self-reflection would help... WHY are you jealous /envious? What do you lack that she/he/they have? Why do you need it? How would having it make you happy?
posted by kschang at 11:18 AM on March 29 [1 favorite]

IAAT, IANYT. If a friend came to me with this question, I'd advise them to find someone who uses one or more of the following to describe their approach: Internal Family Systems (IFS), Narrative, Gestalt, or Somatic Experiencing. The common thread I see across these approaches is that they're useful for getting at different parts of who you are--the part that recognizes jealousy and controlling behaviors as destructive, and the part(s) that relies on those habits and patterns for homeostasis in some way (feeling safe, feeling seen, feeling important enough, etc.). We don't do destructive or harmful things randomly, and figuring out what function the destructive behavior serves, how it started, and what positive behaviors could replace it can help us to make meaningful and lasting changes that benefit our loved ones AND meet the needs we were trying to meet in the first place.

You can google "IFS therapist near [town]" or you can go to a therapist directory like Psychology Today and filter by therapeutic approach.
posted by theotherdurassister at 11:30 AM on March 29 [10 favorites]

Response by poster: Maybe a little self-reflection would help... WHY are you jealous /envious? What do you lack that she/he/they have? Why do you need it? How would having it make you happy?

These are great questions and I’m only addressing them because I realise that they will add some context and hopefully make my question more coherent.

I think that realising and accepting that my behaviour is problematic is the extent of how far self-reflection will bring me. I can identify and pinpoint some of the root causes of my behaviour but that has not been enough to make me stop.

I used to rationalise specific scenarios to myself by thinking “well, everyone would feel this way in my shoes” or “I’m only behaving this way because this very specific person/scenario is triggering this response in me because of x past experience”. But with time it became obvious that the underlying circumstances don’t matter, that the issues are primarily mine and they keep coming up. And with this realisation it has also become obvious to me that I will need a lot of external help to change things, like therapy etc. because the self- reflection alone has been a dead end so far.
posted by Riverside at 11:36 AM on March 29 [1 favorite]

There isn't any particular kind of therapy specifically meant to treat jealousy. Jealousy is not a psychological condition like a phobia or personality disorder, nor is it a specialized niche within therapy circles like attachment or trauma. Jealousy is an example of a pretty common emotional issue with several different possible root causes, which occasionally threatens to spiral into dysfunctional behavior patterns, which is what you're describing. You just need to look for a therapist, and it can be almost any therapist other than, like, a child psychologist, yeah? According to almost every major study to date, the effectiveness of therapy is not dependent upon modality and therapist qualifications but rather on the rapport between you and the therapist.

So go on, put in your location and your insurance network, get a few names and numbers, and start calling them. You can speak to, say, 3 therapists on the phone. After an appointment with a couple of different therapists, you should go with your gut and pick the one you felt the most comfortable talking to.
posted by MiraK at 11:36 AM on March 29 [6 favorites]

These aren't questions you need to answer here, but I think there is some more self-reflection that can be done in order to diagram the set of feelings you identify as "jealousy" and what the origins of those feelings are.

I put jealousy in quotes there because it's kind of an oversimplified word for a really complex culturally-variable concept. Many people are culturally or religiously trained from early on that experiencing an injustice or unfairness (on small or large scales, such as general poverty) is "jealousy" if it challenges the dominant power structure. People who are traumatized by scarcity imposed irrationally (like an unpredictable parent might impose, or racist/sexist/classist school administrations) are often scolded for "jealousy".

Like, make sure you're not actually experiencing the force of dominant power systems, and legitimate unfairness, before you try to eradicate your feelings about them.

But if you mean this more in the sense of focusing too much on other people's success or comparing yourself inappropriately to other people, at the end of the day that's more a mental muscle that needs strengthening. You should be able to address that - the re-framing of a damaging thought pattern - via most common modalities. At that point, just find a therapist that's taking new patients and seems amenable to your therapy goals, and go from there. That's a difficult enough challenge at this point.

I do think that almost all general emotional discomforts like this are rooted in some form of anxiety, and there's lots of books and workbooks out there that kind of do a CBT 101 process, which might be a place for you to start, maybe something like The Mindfulness and Acceptance Workbook for Anxiety. If nothing else, having gone through a workbook like this before you start therapy with someone can give you a better idea of your goals and a conversation starter for therapy. And the Acceptance framework might be useful in particular with issues comparing yourself to others or feeling as if you are lacking in some way.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:06 PM on March 29 [7 favorites]

I found this resource, which agrees with everyone above that jealousy is complicated but the page does have some concrete ideas for coping.

I have been on both ends of this behavior, and it's ugly. I'm now very much reformed and my husband is the least jealous human I've ever met so this shit can get better! In my own experience, I've found it helpful to focus on the harmful effects of controlling and jealous behavior. It's an understatement to say that it sucks to be partnered with someone who acts out in that way. When you act out or give voice to that green-eyed monster, it really hurts the person (or people) on the receiving end. So one really effective solution is to keep those destructive feelings and thoughts away from your partner(s) or anyone else you might hurt. When your worst self pops up and starts throwing a tantrum, shut it down. Take breath and remember what kind of partner you want to be. Feel your feelings (and +1 to Lyn Never's note to please make sure you're not experiencing insecurity because your relationship dynamic is inherently unfair) but process those feelings through therapy or on your own or literally anywhere but at the people you love.

I think the fact that you're asking this means you're further along on your path of getting over it than you might realize. You can do it!
posted by RobinofFrocksley at 12:24 PM on March 29 [3 favorites]

The above suggestion for IFS, narrative, Gestalt, and SE therapies is a good one. Another alternative you might consider is relational psychodynamic therapy, which utilize the therapy relationship itself as a change factor. Since your jealousy issue sounds like it occurs in the context of an intimate relationship ("spouse"), this may be worth exploring. There are various forms too, such as Time-Limited Dynamic Psychotherapy (TLDP) and Intensive Short-term Dynamic Psychotherapy (ISDP), so it's not necessarily going to be a years-long undertaking.

There are also uses here for short-term mainstream CBT/DBT approaches, which may help on a much faster timeline to slow or temporarily halt the damage being done to your relationship(s) by your acting on your jealousy. Since these therapies are aimed more at symptom reduction/suppression, their effects tend to wear off over time when durable change is not addressed (say, via one of the above mentioned alternatives). But to prevent the worsening of your relationship(s) has value here too.
posted by obliterati at 12:54 PM on March 29 [1 favorite]

I've struggled with jealousy etc. in my own relationship due to some baggage i've been hauling around, and have found Esther Perel's podcast (and her talks on youtube + books) super helpful. She has given me a lot more vocabulary and ways to talk about stuff that makes me feel hella vulnerable.

Also John+Julie Gottman's work is really dope and accessible. Small things often is another podcast that has very concrete stuff that I've been able to apply in my relationship(s), and seen positive results pretty much immediately, which makes you wanna me wanna step up even more. They've written some solid books that are recommended often for a reason, and also have a free app called Gottman card deck, which is quite dandy!

Just wanted to add that i think it's dope you're taking steps to work on your relationship & yourself. It's not for the faint of heart, so yeah, i'm rooting for you!
posted by speakeasy at 1:05 PM on March 29 [1 favorite]

Well, to quote G.I. Joe, "knowing is half the battle". Being aware of your problem is a step in solving it, but only a step.
posted by kschang at 1:19 PM on March 29

If you feel like you have insight into your thoughts and behaviors but would like to change your thoughts and behaviors and insight alone hasn’t accomplished this, you might pick up a DBT or CBT workbook as something you can do before you get into therapy. These help you develop strategies to change thoughts and behaviors and are less insight focused.
posted by Waiting for Pierce Inverarity at 2:47 PM on March 29

If you feel like you have insight into your thoughts and behaviors but would like to change your thoughts and behaviors and insight alone hasn’t accomplished this, you might pick up a DBT or CBT workbook as something you can do before you get into therapy. These help you develop strategies to change thoughts and behaviors and are less insight focused.

Seconding this, was coming here to say it!
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 5:29 PM on March 29

I often recommend Harriet Lerner's books, especially The Dance of Connection.

I think there's a lot of good advice here. I'd also recommend from my own experience...there are kind of three prongs to changing relationship behaviour. One is getting at the root causes, which therapy is great for exploring. Second is developing ways to handle the feelings/causes, which is kind of the behaviour part.

But for me one that was the most important was the part where I just decided that I could not do XYZ bad behaviour again. (As an example, yelling.) Deciding that yelling is violent, damaging, and not okay is what kept me going until I found what worked. I realized that I never, ever (ever ever ever) yelled at work, for example.

So I could control it, or leave before I started yelling. I had just absorbed toxic habits that it was okay in some circumstances or not in others. And once I realized that, I kind of realized that I had a lot of work to do, I needed help and strategies, yes, but also...I was capable and already doing it. Just not all the time.

It sounds like you are getting there. But I just wanted to underline that holding yourself accountable is a big step.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:44 PM on March 29 [6 favorites]

People said good things already. Chiming in to emphasize, deal with your attachment sh*t, because that's what Internal Family Systems will reveal irregardless.

Fwiw, if you can't find a therapist, read up on IFS for yourself. IME I found it helpful to read things for myself, because here in humanitarian Utopia of Western Society, counselors and therapists don't grow on trees anymore than money does. Read up on IFS, then maybe, if you can't connect the dots between your altars and the caregiver voices you heard during your toddler years, then yes, definitely connect with a therapist who will help you do this work.

Good on you for identifying and taking steps to uproot this problem -- your future self will appreciate this work.
posted by human ecologist at 9:58 AM on March 30

For me, jealousy instantly evaporated once I was in a healthy relationship. So consider looking at the problem from multiple levels before deciding your feelings are the problem.

I used to think I was a jealous and controlling partner, but then I met someone who is as committed to and engaged in the relationship as I am, and I can now see my jealousy as a function of my previous relationships, and my response to being with people who genuinely were not meeting my needs or respecting my personhood.
posted by spindrifter at 2:00 AM on April 4 [1 favorite]

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