When you have faced a loss, whether it is the death of someone you love or the loss of simple, uncomplicated health, there are many steps in the process of grieving that loss. I talk with clients at all stages of the grieving process. We explore complicated and frequently uncomfortable feelings. And one feeling comes up over and over again–it is one that most of my patients have some degree of shame or self-blame about. They label this feeling “jealousy.” It is the feeling of intense pain when you are faced with someone who has the thing that you have just lost. This could be a healthy person complaining about sore knees to someone with arthritis. It could be a co-worker upset over difficult morning sickness when you’ve just had a miscarriage. It could be a friend talking about a tough moment in their relationship after you have been through a painful breakup. Any of these situations can lead to a sense of intense longing for your own lost state, and even some feelings of anger or resentment at the person who has those things–especially if he or she seems to be taking them for granted.
Now, most clients discuss this with me reluctantly. They see the “jealousy” as a shameful thing. They understand that the happiness of others does not take away from the happiness available to us. And “jealous” is a feeling that we often expect ourselves to outgrow when we leave puberty. They are doing some considerable self-blame & shaming, and I think they expect me to join right in.
I have engaged people about this issue many times, and I try to remind them that they are allowed to have all of their feelings, even the difficult ones. It is particularly hard to own feelings that have baggage attached. And “jealousy” definitely has baggage. We feel guilty. We feel ashamed. We feel childish. We feel dark. All of those feelings pile in on top of the pain of our grief, and they can be entirely overwhelming.
While I’ve had this discussion many times, it was during a recent talk with one of my sisters-in-law that I got a new perspective. We were sitting with a family member in pain, and my sister-in-law said this sentence:
And that sentence perfectly captured what I have been trying to reach with clients all along. What has been labeled as “jealousy” may not be that at all. Yes, it is a feeling of pain when you are confronted with those things that you have lost. But instead of being jealous, maybe your pain and hurt are simply another aspect of grief. Maybe you just feel the pain of wanting to have something good, something that has currently eluded you.
And you are allowed to want good things. You are allowed to want a body that is healthy, or a relationship that is healthy, or the experience of becoming a parent. So, we can talk on other days on how that wanting can take us off track (hint: it’s important not to get trapped in a story of “what should have been”). But for today, consider this. Maybe you aren’t jealous. Maybe you just want something good–and you are allowed to want good things.
Image Credit: Brave Girls Club