While scrolling through Instagram, you decide to peek in on your ex. You feel a familiar sinking in your stomach: Their latest post is a shot of them smiling with their new boo in some beautiful location.
Now you can’t sleep. In fact, you can’t do much of anything except doomscroll, caught in the cesspool of competition and comparison.
A familiar anxiety rises in your body: tightness in your chest, shallow breathing, racing thoughts. The green-eyed monster, Jealousy, is scratching at you from the inside.
We’ve all been here before and loathe how helpless it makes us feel.
Jealousy is such a beast because we assume it’s one emotion when actually it’s our own personal hell of many emotions, some of them contradictory and confusing.
So how do you slay the beast?
Name It To Tame It
Coined by Dr. Dan Siegel, professor of psychiatry at UCLA School of Medicine, “name it to tame it” describes how the arrow of your awareness finds the weak spot in jealousy’s underbelly. When you’re agitated your amygdala becomes active and you become reactive. Naming your feelings pierces jealousy’s hide by causing your brain to release soothing neurotransmitters to help calm you down. In my practice as a relationship coach, I refer to this as strengthening your Wise-Adult Consciousness, also known as the “witness” or “observer.”
Naming your feelings gives you a hair’s breadth more space in which to hold your emotions. It’s the leap from saying “I’m jealous,” in which you are the emotional state, to “I’m feeling jealousy,” in which your emotions are just one part of your overall experience.
Imagine a cup of tea. Pour in a teaspoon of salt then take a sip. Gross, right? Now imagine you are standing in a lake. Pour in a teaspoon of salt and take a sip. You won’t even notice the salt because now it’s in a bigger container. That’s what we want to do with our emotions. We create more space through the act of observing, and more space means we have a bigger container in which to disperse some of that salty jealousy.
One caveat: Make sure to stick to story-free feelings. It’s understandable to feel rejected, abandoned or betrayed, but those words come loaded with meaning and a fair amount of taking things personally. Telling life-draining stories about why someone did something to us makes us feel worse and provokes a downward emotional spiral.
Instead, recognize the components of those emotions: You may feel lonely, angry, confused, shocked, suspicious, embarrassed or vulnerable. Allow yourself to sit with these hard emotions instead of immediately problem-solving. When you’re agitated, trying to fix your agitation rather than feel it only exacerbates the release of stress hormones flooding through your body.
Naming your feelings gives you the space you need for what comes next.
Make a Plan for Fighting Jealousy
Now that you know what you feel, it’s time to figure out what you need.
We assume we feel jealous because someone did something wrong, otherwise we wouldn’t feel bad, right? Not necessarily. Sometimes that’s true—a promise is broken, lines get blurred or crossed, or there’s outright lying. But jealousy, like anger or sadness, is part of the human experience. We may never eradicate it but can learn to tolerate and learn from it. While it’s tempting to feed the beast with stories about how bad our partner is or our own perceived failings, we are aggravating what’s already a painful situation.
We need to intervene, and here’s how.
First, determine what helps you self-regulate. Physical interventions are key here, because they talk to your hijacked limbic system in a language it understands: sensation.
You can try:
- Drinking hot tea or ice-cold water, or switching between both
- Tapping on your body
- Compression, like a weighted blanket
You may need to go for a walk, take a nap or eat something. Make sure you are covering your body’s basic needs—jealousy is exhausting and you need energy to fight it.
You may need to build skills. If your jealousy stems from comparison and competition, you can learn to fight your feelings of being too much or not enough.
Notice none of the strategies I suggested require another person … yet. If you need someone else to help you regulate, you aren’t self-soothing—you’re avoiding your agitation by distracting yourself.
That doesn’t mean you have to go the whole way alone. Once you’ve centered yourself, you can determine if there's anything you’d like from somebody else. You may need to feel desired and important. For example, if you need frequent reassurance of someone’s love for you, they can write you a love letter to read anytime you need a reminder of their care. Maybe feelings around social humiliation have come up, which might require new agreements around PDAs and autonomy. If your jealousy is due to scarcity, you can call on friends to help you fill your need for quality time.
Jealousy is a normal part of the spectrum of emotions. It's OK to feel it. However, learning how to deal with jealousy can reduce stress, shift shame and strengthen relationships. Come up with your personal plan: Get familiar with your feelings and where they come from, develop your self-soothing techniques, make a plan for how to address the situation and know who you can to ask for help.
And quit monster-hunting in your ex’s Instagram feed.
Read more: Goldilocks and the Perfect Partner