Jealousy: The Ego’s Playground
- Tuesday, 27 October 2009
We've all been jealous at one time or another. But how do feelings of jealousy work? Where do they come from? Let’s take a closer look at the ego.
The ego I'm referring to isn't the self-important or conceited attitude (though this quality is certainly prevalent at times), but the definition borrowed from psychoanalysis, which defines the ego as “the part of the psychic apparatus that experiences and reacts to the outside world.” Think of the ego as the wizard in the Wizard of Oz, an elaborate and convincing mask that we often hide behind to guard our smallness, project our grandeur, and keep ourselves protected from perceived emotional dangers. On the one hand, the wizard can be likened to the overprotective parent whose intention is not all bad but goes way too far. On the other hand, his intent is similar to that of the controlling parent who wants us to believe that all our fears are true and must be thought about obsessively.
The ego is determined to prove itself right, and its hunger is relentless. The only way for it to prove itself is by convincing us of the illusions or fears that it has created. You have most certainly experienced this in your everyday life. It usually begins when you focus on something outside yourself. I had a client who had recurring nightmares of being cheated on by her boyfriend. Her nightmare invaded reality with one phone call. The girlfriend was studying for finals at home while the boyfriend attended a party. Everything seemed fine until he told her that his ex-girlfriend was there and they were catching up over a few drinks. Cue the ego into a state of panic, set up by the nightmares, tapping into deep-seated fears of abandonment. Her imagination went straight to catastrophizing, a common coping strategy. Within minutes, my client was convinced that her boyfriend and his ex had rekindled their love, consummated it, and were planning a nursery in their new house, even before she had hung up the phone. This is when the ego has got you by the throat, exactly where it wants you, believing every crazy thought. You are now outside of yourself with the ego in charge, which is very dangerous because if you believe strongly enough, you can manifest these thoughts.
Why does the ego dominate in this way? Why is it hell bent on making us feel so crummy?
The underlying truth is the ego’s interest is not about you at all. It only seeks to preserve itself by avoiding vulnerability. When we feel vulnerable or true compassion for others or ourselves, there can be no blame or finger to point. We are inside ourselves and that can be scary. The ego thrives on comparison. It may start in a good place; admiring someone’s art, noticing a beautiful house, congratulating a friend on his or her promotion or for having lost weight. It is usually not long before we start to wonder why we have not lost weight, bought a house, or created a breathtaking sculpture. Comparing is the ego’s playground. When the ego dominates, the end result is usually to bash you or the other person because the ego has no desire to admit to its own frailty. You may be sad, grumpy, or tired but the ego will instead have you believe that you are not good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, successful or creative enough. It keeps you locked in fear and away from love and self-love, where your actual relief awaits.
How to know when the ego is taking over:
Your reaction doesn’t seem congruent to the situation at hand.
You are building stories about what’s happening.
You are assuming what it means without anything to prove it so.
You feel disconnected from your body and spirit and maybe other people.
You can’t spend time alone or seem to sit still.
You don’t feel like yourself and can’t stop focusing on the external.
What to do to get some clarity:
Talk to a friend who can be unbiased.
Ask yourself if your thoughts are absolutely true and factual.
Make some time alone to sit with your feeling, allow yourself to cry, scream or anything in between.
Allow some space to clear your mind by: writing in a journal, talking to a therapist or getting into nature.
Taking time away from the situation nearly always allows for a fresh perspective.
Recognizing jealousy as an alarm bell is good. We should understand this signal as a warning to us that we are outside of ourselves, and a reminder that instead of looking externally, we need to be spending time within even if it may be uncomfortable. So, reign in that green-eyed monster and remember, it is always all about you.