Ruby Answers: Jealousy and comparison

Dear Ruby,

I have developed these weird feelings of jealousy and find myself constantly comparing myself to others. I have never ever felt that way before but now I do. It’s like my brain can convince me that I can feel jealous of even a disabled person. I feel very jealous and whenever I look at someone beautiful, my brain instantly remembers that someone might be feeling jealous of this person and I constantly put myself in that someone’s shoes and make my life miserable. I am not sure whether it’s a type of mental disorder but I hate it. Before, I used to think that I’ll explore the world and have fun but now when I think about it, my brain tells me that there are a lot of other beautiful girls than you who are loved more as I suddenly start feeling depressed. I would really appreciate any help regarding this ruby:)

Sincerely,

That Jealous Person

Dear Jealous,

If there’s something you should know about me, it’s that I love Star Wars. I’d say 50% of the answers to life’s questions can be answered by Star Wars. But if you try hard enough, that number jumps up to 100%. So, let me try really hard here. 

When I read your note, I thought of a line from Star Wars: A New Hope. Obi-Wan is telling Luke the story of Darth Vader, providing him with some context about how Vader ended up the way he did. “He’s more machine now, than man,” he says. 

I think our brains are unbelievably amazing. In fact, they’re so intricate and complex, that we know less about the human brain than almost anything else in the world. One of the coolest things about our brains, is they do so many things without our conscious awareness, permission, or consent. Our brains are the commanding machines that keep us alive. They tell our lungs to inflate, our hearts to pump blood, our hands to recoil when we touch a hot stove. They do all these things without any prompt, direction, or conscious thought from us. Like Obi-Wan suggests: machines. Truly. 

Just like our brains can captain our functioning bodies in an automatic, mechanical way, they also captain our thoughts, and this process is so often similarly automatic, that it frequently happens without our consent or awareness. And I think what you’re describing is the perfect example of this wiry, instinctual process. And this process? Well, let’s just say that if we don’t check it for ourselves, we wreck it for ourselves. Let me explain.

If I were to tell you, “Hey Jealous, feel happy right now,” could you do it? What about if I commanded you to feel sadness, or excitement, or anger, or yes, even jealousy? The truth is, you can’t just elicit feelings and emotions to appear by waving a magic wand. We only experience a feeling after we experience a thought. You’re not going to feel jealousy unless you first have a thought about how someone or something is better than you. I know this may seem obvious, but the truth is, it isn’t something we think about very often. In fact, because emotions are so much more powerful than thoughts, we often don’t even notice that a preemptive thought has even occurred. We feel anger and sadness and jealousy in our bones, but the thoughts that cause those feelings? We usually skip right over them.

Why does this matter? Because it means automatic thoughts, like electricity, are passing through our neural componentry and causing explosive emotional reactions to things that feel seemingly out of our control. This very thing is happening to you, right? It’s probably happening to all of us all of the time. And I think that if you pause to notice those automatic thoughts, you will be surprised by how often they’re happening, and you can begin the process of rewiring your brain to think differently. 

Unfortunately, there isn’t a magic formula that fixes or rewrites our internal narratives without a lot of conscious work. It’s hard, and it takes a lot of practice. For years, even decades, your thoughts have been like a rushing river, carving its way through slabs of canyon granite, and crashing over trees and boulders. And now, the water, like your thoughts, is cascading down the deep canyon walls with ease, because there is an obvious, unchallenged path for the water, or your thoughts, to take.

But what happens when you notice one thought, and change it one time? It’s like picking up a small, sturdy stick and drawing a line from the edge of the river into its adjacent bank. If you do this once, the water will do nothing but wash the sandy line away. But if you do this 100 times, a small outflow might start to form. And if 100 people do this 100 times, a slightly larger, trickling stream. And so forth. This is how trails are forged, how roads are created, and how rivers are corralled. And this is how we start to take control of our automatic thoughts. 

So, no, I don’t think you have a “type of mental disorder.” I just think you have a really powerful brain. And I think that with a little help, your powerful brain can start to work for you in all the right ways. Most people can’t do this on their own, because it’s usually really, really hard. Perhaps it makes sense for you to establish care with a mental health therapist or licensed clinical social worker–someone who is professionally trained to help you teach your brain to carve out a new path. This person can also help you uncover essential values of self-love and self-compassion, because you’re undoubtedly wonderful and kind and beautiful, and you deserve to feel that way, even if it takes a little digging through the mud.

Thoughts, like water, can be destructive, messy, and unbelievably powerful. But they can also be refreshing, and clarifying, and reflect a lot of light. You need both to survive . . . you just have to notice when you’re starting to feel thirsty.

Always,

Ruby

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