Ego, fear, anger and jealousy 

Lesson 33 of Recovery Nation is about emotions. It poses three tasks.

1. While you have no doubt already deepened the awareness of your emotions…you now want to begin the process of mastering them. You want to make it a goal of yours to turn what was once a debilitating fault into one of your greatest strengths. That can’t be done by reading. It must be developed in your day-to-day life. And so, that is your assignment. To take this next week to seek out opportunities to deepen an awareness of your emotions — both as they occur and as they can be anticipated. Each day, find at least five opportunities to assess your emotions. Don’t do this retroactively…as in, you are about to go to bed and so, you review the day’s activities and how you felt about them…this must be done in the here and now.

Additionally, add a few opportunities for developing this awareness by anticipating, role playing common rituals surrounding your past behavior. Or possible future behavior. Consider your emotions at the height of a compulsive urge. On the death of a loved one. On the experience of a child’s birth. Think of the extremes.

The insights you are searching for throughout this exercise will be in relation to the finite qualities of emotion; the lack of fear/anxiety that comes with developing confidence in being able to anticipate emotional intensity; and the confidence that comes with the same.

2. Each day over the next three, share a few insights relating to these topics in your personal thread. Insights that you have gained from that particular day’s focus.

What is the emotion I have when I suspect a woman might be interested in me? Actually, there are perhaps two versions of this. One is when the woman, for no apparent reason, gives me attention. In this case, these days, I feel fear. I fear I will be in trouble with my wife if I don’t make every conscious effort to drive the woman away. What about ten or twenty years ago? What would I have felt in that situation? I think it was a different fear. I feared I would do something stupid that would drive the woman away. And, in fact, the times I recall that scenario really happening, I let the fear immobilize me.  

The second version is when the woman does not show interest in me, but rather I wonder whether she could potentially be interested in me based on the way she looks at me or talks to me. The emotion, I think, is confidence, from a little self-esteem boost caused by the possibility of her interest. When I walk away and nothing further happens, the feeling of confidence is replaced by nagging self-doubt, as I question whether I had been simply deluding myself. In the bad old days, I might have tried to flirt with that woman to try to stroke my ego again. These days, I walk away, count my blessings and remind myself what is important in life.

What is my emotional reaction when my wife expresses her fear, worry, anger, and self-doubt I caused through my infidelity? In the best case scenario, I feel compassion, and I express it by trying to be supportive. If my efforts are met with resistance, I think I feel frustration, as I am confounded by my inability to help the situation and my worry that it might get worse before it gets better.

I experienced intense fear when thinking about forced retirement and career change. Lately, we have developed an improved plan that gives me some hope. But, once in a while, in the worst moments, I feel panicked, worrying about how it might be difficult to find a new job.

It is not uncommon for me to feel stressed, or even panicked, when I start to think of a growing list of things to do at work or at home. The solution, it seems, is to remember the image of how to fit rocks, pebbles, and sand in a jar.

Sometimes someone cuts me off in traffic; knowingly or otherwise creates a bureaucratic labyrinth or obstacle; or generally treats me with disrespect, self-importance, or impatience. This makes me feel angry. In the first two examples, it helps to remember that it is not personal, no more so than when a stampeding cow tramples a flower. That is the same approach that helps in the third example, but it is challenging.

What about feeling jealous? I can’t believe I have never before researched this topic specifically. It is the main emotion I recall when I try to pinpoint the beginning of my adultery and unloving behavior. Before I continue, let me do a little reading on this. First, I found “Are you jealous of your partner’s past” in the March 12, 2012 publication of Psychologies. It says:

“‘What appears to be curiosity is an attempt to gain reassurance, says psychoanalyst Sophie Cadalen. ‘We want to know everything so that we can compare the place we have in our partner’s life with that of their ex.’ Love is unsettling and we’re always looking for benchmarks against which to measure our relationships. Even though we know it has the potential to torment us, we drag up the past by asking questions. We think, ‘If I knew how they lived before – the things my partner liked, I’ll be able to work out whether they like their life now’. Wanting to pick over your lover’s life in forensic detail can also be an indication of something else, says Abse. ‘I would suggest that this is really about you and your own fantasies about somebody else having a better time than you. Jealousy can often come from feelings of inadequacy.’ At the root of this is probably a childhood experience of not feeling special, she says.”

Then I read “Jealousy FAQ: How to get over your partner’s past,” by Jennifer on December 30, 2012. The author is far more religious than I, and far more grounded in reality than I was at the height of my jealousy. I mean that I was self-righteous and overlooked my own past, whereas this author was indeed a virgin. Nonetheless, it was comforting to read that jealousy is not so uncommon and that one can overcome it by focusing on the things that are truly important in life and the irreplaceable good traits about your mate. It was also comforting to see that often people with jealousy of their mate are, like me, coming from a markedly conservative religious, cultural, or family background. I went on to read a couple more pieces by this same author.

Then I found a book and website called Overcoming Retroactive Jealousy. It sounds promising, including this line: “I’ve received countless letters from RJ sufferers with… shall we say, very “colourful” pasts. Much more “colourful” than that of their partners… and these people still suffered from debilitating retroactive jealousy.”  

As you can see from my most recent post, over the past week or so I did quite a bit of thinking about jealousy.

3. At the end of the week, assess the level of effort you put into this task. Did you remember to consciously seek out such developmental opportunities each of the seven days? Post your assessment in your thread.

Maybe I got a bit side-tracked with my exploration of jealousy. Nonetheless, I think one benefit I got from this exercise is that it lead me to study that emotion that had troubled me for so long.

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