I am 37 years old. I am a counsellor. I have seen many counsellors myself. I have done a lot of my own work, as we in the therapy world say. These days I can ride a lot of life’s waves with relative equanimity. But then there are those things, those certain situations or people, that still turn me inside out.
For me, jealousy is one of those certain situations. For me, jealousy feels like walking across an ocean floor filled with sharp rocks and barnacles, while biting on a fork, while experiencing tiny paper cuts in all the tender soft nooks of the body-like at the corner of the eye and in the bend of the elbow. Jealousy feels like stepping into a too hot bath, stubbing your toe, chewing on steel wool. It is profoundly uncomfortable, it is painful. It is anger and the intense fear of loss and hate and hurt and impulsivity. All in one. It makes me want to curl up into the fetal position and rock myself into oblivion.
But this is not a post about jealousy per se, rather this is a post about how to relate to our stickiest thickest emotions in a different way.
“If it’s hysterical, it’s historical”. I’m not sure who said this, but the basic gist (all historical weight of the word hysterical notwithstanding) is that disproportionally intense emotions usually stem from a past trauma. This in itself, is not so earth shattering. However, this simple insight can lead us in the direction of our past selves, where healing can happen.
When I feel jealous, I understand that the intensity of this emotion is being experienced, not by a 37-year-old me, but rather by a 14-year-old me. And so, I travel back in time to this girl; awkward, covered in pimples, with pants that are too tight and bangs that are too short, wearing a backwards Kango hat and a puffy down jacket with a Nike swoosh. She is almost always scared: scared of getting cancer, scared of being poked with a syringe jutting up from between the seats at the movie theatre, scared of talking in front of the class, scared of not being asked to dance when the slow songs come on, scared of the older girls who bully her and threaten to ‘kick her ass’, scared of men who ride the rails and might jump off the train onto the tracks that run behind her house and break into her bedroom and murder her in the middle of the night. And in the midst of all this fear, she experiences a trauma and this trauma teaches her that people close to you can’t be trusted. People close to you don’t stay.
So I travel back in time and I ask this 14-year-old girl what she needs to hear to feel safe, to feel okay.
You are going through a really hard time right now. This is really really difficult. You feel really really afraid and really really vulnerable. This is so hard. It feels so scary.
She tells me that she needs me to acknowledge her fears without trying to change them. She needs me to recognize that this shit is really really scary. She doesn’t need me to solve the problem. She just needs me to be with her, with kindness, with compassion, and with patience.
The next time you feel yourself overwhelmed by emotions, ask yourself: How old do I feel right now? What does this other part of me need in order to feel safe and okay? What words do they need to hear? Instead of self-flagellation, instead of coming down hard on yourself for feeling something you feel you shouldn’t feel, can you say these words like a mantra? Can you repeat these words with a gentle voice and in the spirit of radical self-care? Notice what happens to your intense present moment emotions when you give this historical part of yourself the thing they are craving.