How can we help clients who struggle with jealousy that stems from attachment trauma?
This can be a painful experience for your client, who may feel guilty, ashamed, and confused by their jealous emotions. They may not even understand why they’re feeling jealous.
In the video below, Ruth Lanius MD, PhD shares how she worked with one client whose trauma-induced jealousy was activated by the loving care she witnessed toward one of her grandchildren.
Plus, Ruth will describe how she approached the feelings of shame and self-blame this client experienced from her jealous reaction.
Have a look.
I am working with a woman who has a severe trauma history. She spent many years as an inpatient on a psychiatric unit. She has three wonderful children, and we did a lot of work on parenting her children and overcoming her own emotion dysregulation. And so, the children, I think, have really grown up as well as they could under very difficult circumstances. And recently my patient’s daughter had a little son. And so, my patient was absolutely thrilled about going to see him. She was so excited that she could now be a grandma and really watch his development. And she arrived shortly at her daughter’s house shortly after the birth. And what she noticed was that she began feeling intensely envious and jealous of the little grandson, especially after she was watching her daughter taking really good care of him, being really attuned with him and loving him.
And she couldn’t really get close to him. And she started really blaming herself for being such a horrible person and feeling all this envy and jealousy that she couldn’t really make meaning of. And after several days, she went back to her hometown, and she came to see me. And she was actually embarrassed to share this with me. And she said, God, Ruth, I’m uncomfortable telling you this and I feel ashamed telling you this, but all I felt was envy and jealousy. I had trouble feeling love towards him and I had trouble getting close to him. And I immediately said, “well, that makes complete sense to me. I wonder whether it has to do with that you saw your little grandson getting exactly what you didn’t get as a child. Does that resonate at all with you?”
And she said, oh my God. Yeah, you’re right. And immediately that shame she felt about feeling so envious and jealous really decreased. And so, I said to her I think this is such an important experience. And I wonder whether this really teaches us something about your own needs and especially the needs of that child within, that never got what it needed to get. She was so neglected, and she had a really malicious mother. And so, I said, “I wonder whether we can work on whenever you give love and affection and closeness to your grandson that you give the same love, closeness, and affection also to your child within. What would that be like? Do you think that would be possible?”
And she was right on board. It made sense to her right away, and this was really life changing for her. And she went back a couple of weeks later to be with her grandson and her feelings of envy and jealousy were minimal. And she was able to really give her grandson that love and compassion, but also give some of that love and compassion to the child within. And she felt relieved. She had made sense of the experience. And since this time, she’s had a wonderful relationship with her grandson. Now, what I want to stress here is that I’ve worked with her for a number of years and that she had a lot of the background therapy. And I think this is why she was able to change this so quickly, but still I think making meaning for her of the experience and validating what part of her and all of her never had, I think was critical.
If a childhood experience, a childhood injury really drives the experience of envy and jealousy, I think making meaning of that and helping the individual become aware that of course she would feel, or he, or she would feel envy or jealousy, if she’s exposed to a situation of something that she desperately needed as a child, but never received, like we saw in the case. So, helping make meaning, and then really helping the individual receive some of what he or she never received as a child.
To hear more strategies for working with intense jealousy and envy from Ruth and other top experts (including Thema Bryant, PhD; Richard Schwartz, PhD; Ron Siegel, PsyD; Janina Fisher, PhD; and more) check out How to Ease Damaging Patterns of Jealousy and Envy.
Now we’d like to hear from you. How have you addressed feelings of jealousy that are activated by past trauma? Let us know in the comments below.