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Evolutionary biologists blame jealousy on our hunter-gatherer ancestors, who presumably developed the drive to protect their family from external threat. But that doesn't mean you're a slave to the irate caveperson within. There are options! Like controlling your physical response to jealousy with "Body-Oriented Psychotherapy", also known as "somatic" therapy. Somatic therapy focuses on the role our bodies play in the way we relate to our environment and how we can heal from trauma, says Brynn Wallace—a clinical social worker who treats couples. Whereas talk therapy is about dialogue, somatic therapy involves physical exercises like deep breathing and relaxation techniques to ease tension. To be clear, although it's been around for decades, somatic therapy is still largely considered "alternative." But it's becoming more popular with the backing of neuroscience research showing the benefits from mindfulness and body-based therapies.
Wallace says awareness of the mind-body connection can be highly effective in dealing with any emotion that has a negative impact on your life and relationships. "If jealousy is starting to take up a lot of space in your mind and body, or hurting your relationships, then it's a problem," she says. "You can understand intellectually why something is happening, or that you shouldn't be doing something, and your body might still be responding to it."
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The first thing we have to do is "notice that the [jealousy] is there," Wallace says. "There's a part of you that's jealous, and a part of you that's aware of it. So if there's this mindful awareness that's witnessing the jealous reaction, you can relate to that feeling as opposed to being overtaken by it."
Next up, pause and let that physical response play itself out. "'What thoughts are running through my mind? What's happening in my body?' Get curious about these feelings. In the body, a jealous response can manifest differently in every individual." Reactions can include everything from heat, tingling, restlessness and constriction—you have to learn what "jealousy" translates to for you. Sometimes, she says, emotions are just meant to come through the body, to pass through and leave, "kind of like a burp." "If you don't feed the emotion with more thoughts and stories, it will often just pass. Let the emotions move through your body as a physiological process, let yourself fully feel them."
Here's something very important: Don't judge yourself. Part of being able to let feelings pass through is recognising that our emotional and physical responses to different triggers are natural, Wallace explains. "Our brain and body protect us and try to save our lives in stressful situations. Understanding that can reduce shame or judgement we might have for ourselves.
"Be compassionate with it. Jealousy is a really uncomfortable thing to feel, it means you're scared you can lose someone important to you. Bringing awareness and empathy to the feeling can help shift the pattern, rather than being totally inside of it and saying, 'I have to attack.'"
Finally, once you've done all this self-assessment and you're more aware and in control of how you're reacting, "maybe you want to talk to your partner about it," Wallace says. "Let them know something was hard for you or that you want more information. But you'll want to do it collaboratively rather than make accusations."