There have probably been thousands of articles written on jealousy in polyamorous relationships. And I’m sure I’ve read every single one. But most leave me feeling like something is missing. So here’s my detailed analysis based on my own research, education and experience in the matter.
Jealousy is normal
First off, let’s just normalize the emotion. When you first get into this lifestyle you hear a lot of “if you trusted your partner, you shouldn’t feel jealousy” or “if you’re uncomfortable sharing your partner it’s 100% because you’re insecure” or several other equally ridiculous statements. But I’m here to tell you that jealousy and insecurity are normal emotions! It’s ok to feel that way! It doesn’t (necessarily) mean you’re not cut out for polyamory or that you have some deep seated emotional issues or insecurities that you need to work through. With that said, just because it’s normal, it still is unpleasant and something you probably want to work towards reducing. It also doesn’t give you a free pass to get crazy and try to control your partner.
Jealousy is an emotion that arises when you believe scenarios in your mind that are not true. The story you make up in your mind that then makes you feel jealous is an awesome place to start seeing where your core psychological wounds are and where to start working on healing yourself.
How insecurities are created
We are all born with our natural human qualities such as love, peace, curiosity, neediness etc. As we grow up an interact with our parents/caregivers, our personalities start to develop, including our psychological defenses. Even if your parents were not abusive or neglectful, it’s still humanly impossible to meet all of our needs every moment of every day. As our needs are not met, we feel pain and we make up a story about ourselves to explain why this happened to us. We’ll call this our “cracked identity” and it encompasses all of the “bad” qualities (for lack of a better term) that we believe we possess.
No one wants to continually face these “bad” qualities so we start to create defense mechanisms. We’ll call this our “compensatory identity” that just creates the exact opposite of all the qualities in our cracked identity. The qualities of the compensatory identity are imitations of our essential human qualities. For example, if our cracked identity believes “my needs are too much” then our compensatory identity would be overly independent which is an imitation of our essential quality of autonomy.
Insecurity comes from the cracked identity’s false belief of being “not good enough”. When we think that this false belief is true, rather than just an image in our minds, we create self rejection in our minds. The emotional result of self rejection is a feeling of unworthiness, insecurity, fear, and unhappiness.
In order to overcome the emotion generated from this negative false image, we choose to focus on our perceived positive qualities. From these qualities we create a more positive false image (compensatory identity) of ourselves which is easier to look at but still not entirely true because these qualities are just an imitation of the qualities of our true nature. This compensatory identity is how we want to be seen. The emotional result of focusing on this compensatory identity is less self rejection and no feelings of unworthiness. Because there is greater acceptance for ourselves, we feel more love and happiness. Notice that nothing has changed, we are just holding on to a different image in our mind depending on the moment.
The cracked identity beliefs become the triggers of unhappiness while the compensatory identity beliefs are the triggers of more pleasant emotions. It is important to note that both images are false. Both images are in our mind and neither one is really us. We are the ones that is creating and reacting to the images in our imaginations.
How these false beliefs are maintained
Often these compensatory identity beliefs are rewarded by the people in our lives. They encourage these beliefs and this feels good to us. We start to associate our positive feelings associated with the compensatory identity with the people who are encouraging them especially our closest partners.
Then we make the false assumption that “she makes me happy” or that we “need” our partner to be happy. It only appears this way because we are associating our partner with our emotional state. When the we can recognize that our partner is only a trigger and that our own expression of acceptance and love is what changes our emotional states, then we can know that we don’t “need” our partner in order to be happy. But more on that later.
Criticism and blame: The second arrow
After a jealousy and anger incident, there is an opportunity to look at and analyze the events. For the jealous person, this time can often be more painful emotionally. This is when his self judgment can be at its worst. Some call this the second arrow. The first arrow is the pain of the emotion itself; the second is the judgement and evaluation of yourself as a person for having that emotion.
After a fight involving jealousy with our partner(s), we usually play the event over and over in our mind and if we’ve done some work on not blaming others, we focus on our own behavior of anger and control. However, now it is reviewed from the view point of the inner critic. The inner critic does the analysis and condemns us. The inner critic specifically holds up the compensatory identity, or all the qualities we want to be and then points out all the ways we failed to live up to that standard. Based on this standard, we can only conclude are a total failure and not good enough.
The anger incident, when viewed by the inner critic is “evidence” that we are actually the person that fits the cracked identity description, or in other words, all the qualities we don’t want to admit that we are. Accepting and believing this judgment, results in feeling unworthy, guilty, and shameful and reinforces our false beliefs in ourselves.
Why saying your positive affirmations isn’t enough
Even when we pull off being the perfect compensatory identity and we can tell people see us this way, we still aren’t satisfied because the cracked identity beliefs will have part of us feeling like a fraud. According to the cracked identity beliefs we are not really “perfect” nor “worthy.” This will cause us to feel inauthentic because of these conflicting beliefs. The feeling of being a fraud often happens when our successes or strengths are being praised by others. That’s why we often dismiss compliments from people. The more success and recognition we receive that fits the compensatory identity, the more pronounced the cracked identity push up doubts in our minds.
Building strong positive beliefs and a positive self image can help to diminish the reaction side, but only to a limited extent. It is a patch that can help for some but still bases identity in a false image and not in authenticity and doesn’t acknowledge the qualities of our true essential nature. It does not do anything to address the emotions that come from the cracked identity or beliefs of unworthiness that are at the core of the behavior. These often become buried in the sub-conscious (i.e. the “shadow”) and resurface later during times of stress when they are most destructive, and we are least able to deal with them or they just stay in our dreams.
So what should we do? Stay tuned for my next article for practical tips on how to deal with jealousy in open relationships.