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Black Tie International Magazine: Wellness
The Grass is Always Greener - Or is it?

THE GRASS IS ALWAYS GREENER - OR IS IT ? 

There is a famous proverb that says, "The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence". On the one hand, this saying reflects the human tendency to see things from a very limited perspective, and to imagine that others have a much better life than we do. It also points to the nagging sense that something is indeed missing in our lives, and the desire to have more; in particular, what others possess.
 
Jealousy, also known as the "green-eyed monster", is an emotion that has been the scourge of mankind from time immemorial. Along with its emotional twin, envy, it can wreak havoc in our personal and professional lives, making us feel unhappy and miserable about who we are and what we have. Furthermore, it can also cause feelings of outrage and fury, leading to impulsive behavior and out-of-control reactions to situations, which we all probably come to regret sooner or later. Indeed, how many tragic crimes have we read about, that have been committed needlessly in the name of love, but ultimately were related to feelings of jealousy?
 
Jealousy is an emotional experience that appears to be as old as civilization itself. In the Bible, we read about the untimely death of Abel at the murderous hands of his brother Cain, due to his jealous rage over feelings that Abel was God's favored child. In Greek mythology, Hera, the jealous wife of the god Zeus, frequently takes revenge upon women whom she fears are rivals for her husband's affections. Similarly, in Shakespeare's Othello, the title character suffers emotionally from jealousy, preoccupied with the thought of losing his beloved Desdemona to another suitor.
 
In these economically uncertain times, it is very easy to find oneself caught in a never-ending cycle of of frustration and bitterness about one's life circumstances, along with resentment, jealousy and envy over what others have- or at least our perception of the superior quality of their lives. So how can we get beyond the temptation to enter this negative mindset, and to regain our sense of composure and joy in our life? How do we avoid falling into the "jealousy trap", and not let it diminish our sense of pleasure and delight in all that we do possess and have accomplished in our lives?
 
The question remains as to how and why jealousy maintains such a powerful grip on our mind and emotions? Is it somehow a built-in survival mechanism of sorts in or collective psyche, or is it the result of our acculturation process over the centuries? Indeed, the very fact that so many societal and religious taboos surround the act of jealousy points to its ever present lingerings in our soul. But why should this be so?
 
As we ponder the nature of physical reality, it becomes evident that biological survival is predicated on the presence of "boundaries". From the single-celled amoeba to the ever-complex human structure, living creatures maintain their sense of integrity by the presence of protective walls. On the micro level,  cells have their membrane  or 'cell wall' structure, just as on the macro level, animals and humans have skin. Even fruits have skin and trees have bark as a form of protection from the outside.
 
In a similar vein, the human brain is geared for survival, by the presence of an emotional " warning system" that protects us from the incursion of predators that may be a potential threat to us. Our emotional life can thus be viewed as Nature's way of letting us know if we are safe or endangered by our current surroundings. Thus, jealousy may be way to alert us of a potential threat to our survival, by arousing in us a need to protect that which we  perceive as essential to our survival, whether physical or emotional in nature. For example, imagine being at a party, and a man approaches your wife and starts to flirt with her. Your jealous emotional reaction can be seen as an early warning system of a potential threat to your marital harmony, arousing in you fears of loss and the need to defend and protect your family system from an outside intruder.
 
Psychologically speaking, there are apparent gender differences in the experience of jealousy. Females are more likely that males to admit to feelings of jealousy, while males are more likely to deny them. Furthermore, females are more prone to attempt to arouse jealousy in their partners. By doing so, they are likely to receive more attention from their partner, and thus feel better about themselves. Finally, men in general are more likely to react with anger and violence in response to feelings of jealousy, as well as to pursue relationships with other women as a result.
 
People tend to differ in terms of their proclivity to feelings of jealousy and envy. People who are dissatisfied with their lot in life, or who feel that they have failed to accomplish what they have set out to do are more likely to be jealous . Furthermore, people who place high value on characteristics such as wealth, fame and attractiveness will be more prone to feelings of envy. Finally, people suffering from feelings of low self esteem and inadequacy are more likely to feel insecure and jealous of their partner's relationships with others, regardless of how harmless such relationships may be in nature. Indeed, such partners tend to be highly clingy and controlling of their partner, fearing that they will lose them. Ironically, though,  such behavior may actually cause friction between the partners, and lead to the very negative consequences that the partner is trying to avoid (the loss of the relationship).
 
Getting a handle on feelings of jealousy and envy requires the awareness and recognition of the nature of our feelings and the willingness to explore what specific situations trigger them. Additionally, we need to become aware of the thought process underlying our feelings as well. For, beyond any negative feelings that we may have, lies a negative thought about our experience as well. Such dysfunctional , illogical thoughts may include the following :
 
  • My wife is enjoying the other man more than she enjoys being with me
  • She must be finding him more attractive/sexy/witty
    than me.
  • My wife should not find anyone else attractive other
    than me.
 
Such internal self-statements could easily provoke feelings of anxiety, insecurity and jealousy in any one of us.  If we find ourselves doing this, we must instantly dismantle and eliminate theses thoughts by challenging them and uprooting them from our minds. Furthermore, by additionally communicating our fears and insecurities to our partners, we may be able to get the emotional reassurance we need, and thus resolve our fears. Finally, working to improve our self-image can also help us feel more confident and secure in our relationships with others.
 
As we develop a sense of security about who we are, and our true self-worth, we begin to think less about others and what they have. It is therefore extremely important to think about all of our positive qualities and to appreciate the gifts that we have been given. By developing a healthy, appreciative attitude about all that we do have, and seeing the real blessing in it, can help us to stay focused , calm and content, even as we aspire to accomplish more and change the course of our lives.
 
Blessings of joy, grace, and serenity on your journey toward self-fulfillment.
 
Bennett Flaum, Psy.D.
Mitchell Flaum, Ph.D.
 

 


 




 

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