How do I work with jealousy?

“I have a client who struggles with jealousy. Her caring boyfriend gives her no reason to doubt his fidelity. However, her father left her mother for another woman when the client was only six months old, and she has no contact with him today. Her former boyfriend cheated on her. The client realizes that her feelings toward her present boyfriend might be old feelings toward her father and ex-boyfriend. How do you deal with jealousy in ISTDP since this client’s feelings towards her boyfriend are actually out of proportion, considering what he does— for instance participating in a Christmas dinner with co-workers. Should we focus on her old relationship with her ex-boyfriend and her non-existing relationship with her father?” Great question!

            Since her boyfriend is faithful, her jealousy is based on projection. She accuses him of a crime he did not commit. Then she punishes him for the crimes committed by her father and former boyfriend. Thus, exploring feelings toward the projection on the boyfriend would only increase her projection. Not a good idea!

            First identify and clarify her projection onto her boyfriend. 
Th: Is there any evidence your boyfriend is unfaithful?

Pt: No.

Th: So who was unfaithful? Who deserves your anger?

Pt: My ex-boyfriend.

Th: So shall we take a look at your feelings toward him, since he really was unfaithful? 

            Now let’s go on to the second defense.

Th: What is the feeling toward him for betraying you?

Pt: I’m so jealous of her for taking him away.

Th: That’s your feeling toward her, but he made the choice to leave you. So what is the feeling toward him?

            Notice that her jealousy of the other woman is a defense against the rage toward him. She can be jealous/angry with her, and thereby protect him from her rage.

            So let’s look at the triangle of conflict: rage toward the unfaithful ex-boyfriend; anxiety; defenses: rage and jealousy toward the other woman, projection onto the current boyfriend. Either way, the ex-boyfriend is protected from her rage. And, either way, she is punished for feeling rage toward him.

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