Jealousy: the lack of “constancy of the object”
Jealousy is often a destructive self refusal, an aversion to parts of oneself that will not be processed since responsibility for any pain will be attributed to the partner. As in any self-fulfilling prophecy, the partner may choose to break the bond for another relationship, which on the one hand will relieve the jealous subject from confrontation with those parts of himself, on the other will strengthen, in the face of failure, his hatred for himself.
Advertising message Paola is exasperated: she sees rivals everywhere. He comes to me in the studio with the aim of healing with psychotherapy from his devouring jealousy, which is removing his beloved from her.
He is 31 years old, works in a firm of accountants and lives with Massimo, a lawyer. It appears devastated and deeply pained. She tells me that she has always been jealous, but never like with her current boyfriend (whom she loves very much). She goes through unsustainable states of anxiety if Massimo does not answer her on the phone in a short time, or if from the reports it emerges of the day that he has interacted with female colleagues or clients. At that point the anguish is so strong that Paola submits him to long and exhausting interrogations on the type of interaction, on the beauty of these alleged “rivals” and on any perceptions or experiences of the partner. Massimo cheers her up for how much she loves her and the irrationality of her illusions, but it never seems enough to appease her. Paola also created a fake Instagram account through which she monitors the girls who have expressed appreciation for the photos of her partner and obsessively checks the contents published by these girls looking for clues to possible exchanges between them and Massimo (as appreciation by him at their photos or comments). Recently, Massimo has started to get angry at what he considers “unnecessary aggression and paranoia” and appears more distant and tired to her. Obviously, this makes Paola increasingly insecure and frightened by the idea of a possible woman whom he could approach in this moment of disappointment, not realizing that the only “enemy” of their relationship at the moment is herself, or rather , the part of her so deeply insecure and jealous. Our goal is not so much to eliminate aggression towards the partner as to work on what it nourishes towards itself. Because jealousy is often a destructive self refusal, an aversion to parts of oneself that will not be processed since responsibility for any pain will be attributed to the partner. As in any self-fulfilling prophecy, the partner will probably choose to break the bond for another relationship, which on the one hand will relieve the jealous subject from confrontation with those parts of himself, on the other will strengthen, in the face of failure, his hatred for himself. an aversion to parts of oneself that will not be processed since responsibility for all pain will be attributed to the partner. As in any self-fulfilling prophecy, the partner will probably choose to break the bond for another relationship, which on the one hand will relieve the jealous subject from confrontation with those parts of himself, on the other will strengthen, in the face of failure, his hatred for himself. an aversion to parts of oneself that will not be processed since responsibility for all pain will be attributed to the partner. As in any self-fulfilling prophecy, the partner will probably choose to break the bond for another relationship, which on the one hand will relieve the jealous subject from confrontation with those parts of himself, on the other will strengthen, in the face of failure, his hatred for himself.
Freud (1923) has already wondered about jealousy, who traced this feeling in the oedipal phase of the child, who yearns for the attention and love of the parent of the opposite sex and lives the other parent as “rival”.
According to Klein (1969), the infant develops two images of the mother: the idealized one that satisfies him (the “good breast”) and that he would like to possess, and the hated one that does not respond to his needs (the “bad breast”) and that you would like to destroy. Subsequently, the child learns to reunite the two parts into a “whole object” and, wanting to have it all for himself, becomes jealous. According to Klein and Riviere (1969), jealousy is linked to the need to accumulate evidence and reassurance of love against the internal void and destructive impulses.
Jealousy would also seem to be connected to the process that Mahler (1978) describes as differentiation from the mother: the baby goes through 4 phases to arrive at the separation and individuation that allow him to perceive his independence as an individual. The last phase, the “constancy of the object” (around 3 years), is the one thanks to which the child feels truly separated from the mother because he has a stable and internal representation of her that allows him to endure his distance. Jealousy could therefore be read as a failure to reach this fourth stage, which would allow one to acquire the perception of the “constancy” of the love object within oneself (therefore the awareness that the caregiver exists and will return, even if at the moment he can being physically absent).
Several studies (Buunk, BP, 1997; Kirkpatrick DJ and LA, 1997) confirm that adult jealousy is related to an insecure attachment in childhood. This construct (Bowlby, 1989) refers to children who have not had a secure attachment to the caregiver, that is, they felt that their needs were not fully considered or satisfied. This means that the child will become an adult constantly worried by the idea of not being important or of being abandoned. This is because this adult is unable to separate himself from what he still needs, namely unconditional acceptance that he has never experienced.
Advertising message Paola sometimes looks like a little girl who is afraid that her beloved toy will be stolen from her at any moment by a domineering child. Going to the origins of his story, a strong experience of rivalry emerges towards his brother, Ruggero, in his eyes the “favorite” of both parents. 5 years older, he seems to have been a particularly bright child (very good and popular at school) and quite strengthened and admired by his parents. Paola describes Ruggero as “a successful man who lacks nothing”: he works in a bank holding a role of great responsibility, he collects sports cars and real estate. It tends not to have stable relationships but to occasional and light visits. Using EMDR too,
In particular, a memory strikes me: she is 8 years old, her parents must accompany her to an afternoon party with her classmates. Paola, happy to have been invited, falls asleep after lunch and, when she wakes up, it’s late: the party is over. Her parents had forgotten to accompany her because they were too involved in a show that had improvised Roger, then 13 years old. The negative knowledge that Paola associates with this EMDR protocol is “I am not enough”. The image that comes straight to my heart is that of an unseen girl.
A strong conflict with his father also emerges from his story. What initially describes me as a “bad relationship” will reveal in the course of therapy a great love that has never felt reciprocated and that has buried under pounds of anger and behind an apparent “good relationship” with the mother. But the real object of love disputed (especially with his brother) appears to me more and more, his dad.
With Paola we work on the experience of inadequacy and on giving oneself value, what she has not felt recognized by her parents (in a wider context of insecure attachment). To live the life he wants, not the one he has carved out by resigning himself to the alleged inferiority towards his brother. Also assessing that, perhaps, that of his brother is not even the life that Paola would like. Working on this, during a session he will say to me: “I spent so much time hating my brother, dreaming of being like him and having what he has, that I never asked myself if he really was his way of being and I like doing. ” Riccardo’s way of seeing will change and he will be able to feel him as a person who has undergone excessive pressure and projections from his parents, probably not even living the life he wanted.
During therapy we work on the aforementioned “constancy of the object”, or on perceiving the Other as an object separate from oneself, within a relationship that remains intact even when the person is far away. To abandon the split in “good part” (which satisfies the need for confirmation) and “bad part” (which does not immediately respond or frustrate gratification needs) and embrace the “whole”.
By dissolving node after node, Paola will be increasingly free from the anxieties that she invested on her partner, but that actually concerned her, her internal world and her way of living the relationship. So much so that, at a certain point, she quit the accountancy firm (branch probably chosen to look a bit like her brother) and became a dog educator: a job that fascinates her. Paola finally feels adequate, compared to her work and beyond. The anxiety hijacked on his partner, his irrational suspicions and his insatiable hunger for confirmation have considerably diminished, with a consequent improvement in the relationship with Massimo. To date I see it for a follow up every 1-2 months through online therapy sessions (via Skype).
One of the hypnosis sessions done together that best returns the sense of our intense and satisfying work in repairing her “identity holes” is the one in which Paola imagined being in her child’s bedroom (in the country house): she combed a doll and sewed her a pretty dress by removing the old clothes she wore. During this guided fantasy, she imagined the doll so happy to come to life and leave, leaving the front door to go free and carefree into the beautiful countryside around the house.
Paola is also free now and far away the words of despair with which she confronted her alleged “rivals” in love play. Words that remind me of the sad and powerful verses of Anne Sexton (in the poem To my lover who returns to his wife), which wonderfully express the drama of jealousy and comparison, of feeling fragile and invisible.