I was seething with self-contempt while in the midst of an acute attack of emotional jealousy.
I have always loved the word pathogenesis. It’s got that sexy Latin sound, so well used in academia, and an open-ended, story-to-tell kind of mystique.
The word refers to the mechanism by which a dis-ease is caused; in yogic terms we might call it the “path” a condition took to manifest. It’s a strong word with gritty possibilities. Saunders Comprehensive Veterinary Dictionary, third edition, defines it as:
“The development of morbid conditions or of disease. Includes the study of the relationship between the cause and the lesions, and that between the lesion and the clinical signs.”
I like to use the word quite liberally.
So when I came up against my least favorite feeling—jealousy—again recently, I decided the best way I could move through it, and the eruption of ugliness that came along for the ride, was to understand its pathogenesis better, both in emotional and biological terms.
We were at dinner, in a New York City restaurant, somewhere in the LES, celebrating a friend’s 40th birthday…
(Now, the caveat to sharing this story is the reality that I live on a tiny island and there’s a good chance the people involved in this story will remember exactly what I’m about to describe. It’s entirely possible that I am throwing myself under the bus. But I’m ready now to hold myself accountable and tell the nasty, stinky, ugly truth of it all.)
So, back to New York, and back to dinner.
When we walked through the door to the restaurant, I was feeling pretty good about myself; I had been practicing a lot of yoga, going regularly to therapy, digging into my work with the Handel Group and taking some pretty big steps in my relationship with my partner. I had just taught a workshop in Providence the night before, and I was excited to be in NYC for the weekend with my boyfriend. I was feeling on top of my game, happy and grateful.
The chef’s table at Sauce was crowded with wine glasses, bubbly, gifts and friends, most of whom had traveled quite a distance to be there to celebrate my partner’s BFF. I was just as game as anyone to revel with her, if perhaps less integral to the group’s many years of friendship: a newcomer to the fold, if you will.
In any event, there was much celebrating and many toasts. I was genuinely impressed by the outpouring of love this woman inspired in her friends, and was beginning to let my guard down when something absolutely awful happened.
My partner got up to speak.
Within a few moments my palms were sweating, my heart was in my throat and I could feel a persistent shaking in my legs. I won’t attempt to reiterate the contents of his speech; suffice it to say that it was one of, if not the most beautiful spontaneous speeches I’ve ever heard anyone give in another person’s honor. One might argue that my partner is naturally gifted at this kind of thing, and that this speech was no different than any other he might give in a similar circumstance to someone of similar value.
Unfortunately, though, there is no one else in his life whom I perceive to be of similar value, except maybe me.
Though I could have gracefully absorbed the sweetly nostalgic references to their romantic history, boxing their consummated courtship comfortably into a rear partition of my brain reserved for all-things-past, the sincerity and depth of my partner’s love for the birthday girl as it existed in that moment ignited a flame of jealousy that unexpectedly overwhelmed me. No sooner had he said, “You are one of the most beautiful women I have ever been lucky enough to know” (or something very similar) than I was thrown into a painful experience of myself as unequal and under-deserving.
“Jealousy injures us with the dagger of self-doubt.”
~ Terri Guillemets
Questions ensued: Why was his toast making my heart race? Why was I feeling so insecure? WTF kind of yogi was I anyway? And why weren’t the tenets of my practice supporting me in my sincere desire to be happy for this woman and the friendship she has shared with my partner for almost 20 years?
The answer: I was in the midst of an acute attack of what biologists refer to as emotional jealousy, and it was fucking ugly.
Not only did I feel jealous, I was seething with self-contempt for feeling it.
Jealousy has been defined as “a complex of thoughts, feelings and actions which follow threats to self-esteem and/or threats to the existence or reality of the relationship, when those threats are generated by the perception of a real or potential attraction between one’s partner and a (perhaps imaginary) rival” (White & Mullen, 1989, p.24).
It’s a complicated mouthful.
After riffing on his shared past with his friend, and on her amazingness, for what felt to me like an eternity (probably three minutes), my partner sat down and put his hand on my thigh. I saw myself shrink away and flinch before it even happened. I backed my chair away from the table. He, of course, asked immediately what was wrong and I, of course, taking a big swig of wine, protested that nothing was in fact wrong at all.
Looking around the table, I could see that my partner’s display of affection for his former girlfriend was uncomfortable only for me. Only I was feeling threatened. Only my stomach was doing flips beneath my napkin. Only I was thinking of her as the ex-girlfriend. And I was the only one who was no longer at the table. I was far away—stuck in some deep dark place in my head.
Was I in the middle of experiencing an attraction between my partner and his ex? No. Was I in the middle of a situation that was threatening my sense of self-esteem? Absolutely, and for a few hot seconds I watched myself grapple with doubt and self-worth all over again. How disappointing it was for me, and probably for my man too.
“Jealousy would be far less torturous if we understood that love is a passion entirely unrelated to our merits.”
~ Paul Eldridge
According to an article by A.M. Pines and C.F. Bowes, published in Psychology Today (March, 1992), jealousy, one of the most common human emotions, is a biological defense mechanism that’s triggered when a person perceives a threat to his or her relationship. Additionally, their study showed that the majority of people who experience jealousy hate the way they act when they feel triggered.
It’s comforting to know I am in good company.
Yogi or not, everyone has suffered romantic jealousy at some point in their lives.
According to these guys, it’s part of our biological make-up.
While that may all be true, we shouldn’t need to read up on the biological imperatives of the female mammal to secure financial and emotional support through the employment of jealous power mechanisms in order to justify our unseemly behavior. We are an evolving group of mindfulness practitioners, yoga teachers and spiritual aspirants, damn it—and I’d be damned if I was going to ruin this woman’s 40th birthday party with my petty insecurities.
When the speeches were over, I excused myself from the table for a few moments and gathered myself in the ladies’ room. At first I tried to talk myself out of what I was feeling, but then I just surrendered to the feelings and allowed them to run their course through my body: not denying them, but not holding onto them either.
I returned to see my partner eyeing me with an uncomfortable mix of worry and despair. Silently, we put the moment on hold, knowing we’d revisit it later. A short while later, feeling relatively back in the game, I took his hand in mine.
This brings me back to the pathogenesis of jealousy.
Unlike envy, the roots of jealousy lie not in the wanting of something else, but rather in the fear of losing what we have or perceive we have.
My jealousies, the ones that keep biting me in the proverbial ass, are all rooted in the same backstory of betrayal, abuse, breaches of trust, the sudden death of a husband—and fearful projections of similar betrayals or losses into the future. They live in a place of deep insecurity and fear of abandonment, which I have been working to heal for some time.
“Whatever relationships you have attracted in your life at this moment are precisely the ones you need in your life at this moment. There is a hidden meaning behind all events, and this hidden meaning is serving your own evolution.”
~ Deepak Chopra
I think the first half of the healing process comes when we study the relationship between the cause and the development of our jealousies, and acknowledge them as part of who we are rather than denying them. Understanding where our darker patterns come from can help us release them.
The second, and perhaps more important, half comes when we hold an intention to cultivate a stronger relationship with ourselves—when we cultivate self-love. This will help us to feel more whole, and less inclined to look for love and validation from our partners. Aadil Palkhivala describes it this way:
“We must shatter the tabloid myth that another’s love is necessary for our survival. Only the love that comes from our deepest Self is essential. True love in a relationship is realized only when two people, each connected with his or her deepest Self, unite. Now we have a synergistic—not a draining—relationship. We love one another not because we need love, not because the other needs love, but because love overflows our cup and we must share. Then, rather than fall in love, we rise in love.”
If I accept that the path I’ve been on my whole life has brought me to my current partner, it is my responsibility to learn as much from him as from any of my other teachers or spiritual guides. Like Deepak says, the Universe has brought us together for a reason.
Our partners, like our family and friends, are mirrors, reflecting back to us the things we need most to examine. In my case, as perhaps in yours, I am still learning the art of self-love. As yogis, we have made a commitment to working towards self-realization for the sake of liberation (moksha) from suffering (samsara). In the process of learning to love ourselves more deeply, we begin to struggle less to hold tightly to others. When we find our true Self, through self-study, meditation and asana, we can feel the bliss that has been living inside us all this time.
“If you love someone, set them free.”
My partner has been involved with some pretty amazing women—strong, creative and beautiful—and most of them are still in his life. It is a testament to the kind of person he is that, despite the break-ups, they are still his friends. He’s a great guy, and it just so happens that he gives big, beautiful speeches that leave his subjects feeling bathed in warm, loving light. I know firsthand how good it feels. How could I not want that feeling for everyone?
“If we are in a relationship with another without being in a relationship with our Self, the relationship with the other will be a dharmic distraction. However, if we avoid a relationship because it exposes our vulnerabilities and discloses our fears, we are avoiding that which can reveal to us how far from Self we are. Nothing can stunt our growth like a relationship, yet nothing can help us blossom more.”
~ Aadil Palkhivala
Let’s step back from the fear of losing what we already have, return to the table, raise a glass and enjoy the celebration. In doing so, we can celebrate each other and our Selves.
Caitlin Marcoux is a yoga teacher, workshop producer, mother, dancer, massage therapist and writer. A former modern dancer, she fuses her passion for music and modern dance with yoga, keeping her flow creative, playful and fresh. Caitlin lives on the tiny Island of Nantucket, MA, year-round with her partner and 3 year-old satguru Griffin. She is an advocate of prenatal yoga, midwifery, elegant tattoos, rockin’ music, living mindfully and “eating like you give a damn.” She teaches a variety of regularly scheduled classes at The Yoga Room and has recently begun teaching workshops in the greater New England area. Caitlin blogs about her practice on and off the mat on her website, and you can find her on Facebook and on Twitter.
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Ed: Lynn Hasselberger
Asst. Ed.: Jayleigh Lewis