The Jealousy Addiction! What Can You Do
When Good Things Happen to Bad People?
Hi podcast fans! Thanks for your wonderful support in 2020. You helped us hit our three millionth download. I wanted to give a shout out to my fantastic hostess, Dr. Rhonda Barovsky, who has brought magic to the Feeling Good Podcast!
This is our first podcast of 2021. It is a really good one, I think. A tremendous amount of work has gone into it, both in the weeks prior to the podcast, as well as in the creation of the detailed show notes for those who want to study and understand exactly how TEAM therapy works for the thorny and almost universal problems of jealousy and anger. Much violence in the world, especially in couples, results from these feelings.
I want to thank Bridget for her tremendous courage in giving us all this wonderful gift to kick off the new year! For therapists and therapy students, this show, with the show notes, should be a rich source of learning.
And, I, Rhonda wants to thank Dr. Burns for the incredible contribution he has made to the field of mental health treatment and for the honor of being part of the Feeling Good Podcast!
Bridget asks: Can you help me with my feelings of intense jealousy?
Hello David & Rhonda,
I’ve had this issue for a while now, and I’m wondering if others deal with it as well. If I find out that someone I dislike has something good happen in their life, I get extremely upset, frustrated, angry, jealous, & resentful. It will eat away at me, sometimes for weeks.
The thing is I’m happy with my life & wouldn’t actually want to trade places with these other people, but it’s like just the fact that they get to be happy when they are a “bad person” & don’t deserve it upsets me. By “bad person” I mean people who are manipulative, liars, cheaters, etc.
I’ve always been a person who is big on justice. I don’t want to focus on these other people anymore. I don’t want to care. Any help would be greatly appreciated.
I was pleased to receive this email, as jealousy IS a big problem, and one I have not focused on specifically in my books or podcasts. I exchanged several emails with Bridget who graciously gave me permission to feature her work in today’s podcast.
When people share their vulnerabilities openly, it is a gift to the rest of us, since the teaching and learning potential is great. In addition, most of us feel close to people who open up and share the inner feelings and insecurities that most of us hide. This is an action that requires great courage, and often results in even greater rewards.
Bridget is also interesting because some fans have criticized me for featuring mental health professionals when I’m doing personal work. I do that because I’m no longer in private practice, and do not carry liability insurance. When I do personal work with therapists, it is in the context of their training, and is not considered an ongoing therapeutic relationship.
But today, I have decided to bring you some really challenging work with someone who is not a therapist, but a married woman who works as a product manager for a high-tech company. Of course, I have disguised her identity. The emotions she is asking for help with, jealousy and anger, are the toughest emotions to challenge, far harder than depression or anxiety. That’s because the thoughts that trigger depression and anxiety involve Self-Blame and self-criticism, so you tend to feel worthless or inferior. Crushing self-critical thoughts leads to relief and joy.
But the thoughts that trigger jealousy and anger typically involve Other-Blame and other-criticism, which is far tougher to defeat, because blaming others can be associated with exciting feelings of moral superiority.
(You will notice below that I am embedding the PDFs of Bridget’s work in the show notes, as opposed to linking to them as I usually do. Let me know which format you prefer. Thanks! david)
STEP 1: Record your negative thoughts and feelings at a specific moment
Here was my response to Bridget:
On the attached DML, fill out the event, circle and rate emotions, and record and rate belief in negative thoughts.
Scan back to me, and then I’ll have further instructions.
Hi Dr. Burns,
Here is my DML. Thanks!
Notice that the belief in the NTs are all high, and the negative feelings are intense.
STEP 2: Positive Reframing
You’re moving fast! Way to go! Great example!
Now list answers to these two questions about every category of negative feeling.
- What does this negative feeling show about you and your core values that’s’ positive and awesome?
- What are some benefits, or advantages, of this negative feeling?
You can also do this with a couple of your negative thoughts.
Hi Dr. Burns,
Some of these were difficult to find positives, but I do truly believe everything I wrote.
This is Bridget’s Positive Reframing Table. The items in caps were suggested by David, and she endorse these as well.
You did great work on Positive Reframing. I have added several more things in caps in the right-hand column. Delete or edit that are not valid or don’t ring true. Would love to see your edited version.
Once you are done, use the % Goal column at top of emotions table to do the following. Imagine you had a Magic Button, and if you pressed it, all your negative thoughts and feelings would vanish, and you’d be euphoric with no effort. However, all these benefits and beautiful things about you would go down the drain at the same time.
So, answer this question: Why in the world would you want to do that?
Then, answer this question for each negative feeling: “Given that there are many genuine benefits of this feeling, would there be some level I could dial this feeling down to if I had a Magic Dial? For example, my unhappiness is at 100%. Would there be some ideal level of unhappiness that would be less painful, but would still allow me to have the benefits and positives associated with this feeling? Would 40% be enough, for example? Or maybe even 20%”
If this makes sense, fill in the %Goal column for each negative feeling.
STEP 3: Magic Dial
Hi Dr. Burns,
Thank you! I actually really liked & agreed with everything you added. Those all seem true to me, so I left them on there and did not change it. I put in percentages for my goals on the daily mood log. I think it’s good to keep quite a bit of those feelings after seeing the benefits.
STEP 4: Positive Thoughts
Perfect, and you are moving fast. So cool!
Now I want you to choose one thought to work on first. Identify the distortions in it with abbreviations in the Distortion column.
Then see if you can generate a positive thought with the help of the attached booklet, which is for your eyes only. Please do not send to anyone! It is written for therapists but will be great for you, too, hopefully!
Please note the Necessary and Sufficient Conditions for an effective and helpful Positive Thought:
- It has to be 100% true.
- It has to reduce your belief in the Negative Thought.
Reach out if you need help or if something isn’t clear.
Hi Dr. Burns,
I was able to reduce the belief in the thought to 50%. Just because she lives in a nice house in a warm location doesn’t mean that’s guaranteed happiness. There’s a lot of factors involved that could change at any moment.
As you can see at the link, she believes the PT 100%, and this reduced her belief in the NT to 50%.
Well done! If 50% is low enough, we can move on to another thought. Another distortion in the thought is Mind-Reading, since our assumptions about how other people feel are rarely valid. My research has shown that shrinks cannot even know how their patients feel, even at the end of a therapy session. So, we don’t actually know how she feels most of the time, or at any specific time.
In addition, you are saying that it’s unfair that people with poor character can have lots of money and nice things, and this is a source of anger. That’s the “should” telling yourself this “should not” happen. It is so EASY and ENTICING to feel this way. And we certainly see lots and lots of ugly, repulsive, mean-spirited people with tons of money and stuff! It’s unfortunate.
Albert Ellis used to point out that we may not like certain things, but it’s not true that they “should not” happen. For example, we don’t like the fact that our cats like to capture, play with, and kill little creatures. But it’s not true that they “should not” do that because it’s their nature.
For myself, I’d rather hang out with people I like and respect and feel comfortable with, as opposed to these “hot shot” types. I’ve treated some very wealthy narcissistic individuals, one in particular, and it was incredibly unpleasant. I had no longing at all to live his lifestyle—in a mansion in Southern California filled with priceless antiques and stuff—but miserable relationships with other people he was trying to control since it seemed like his only thing—brag and try to manipulate people. I prefer people who are more on the humble side!
Just some babbling.
If 50 is good enough—since there IS truth in the thought, time to tackle another. You’re doing great!
Hi Dr. Burns,
I worked my way through all my negative thoughts, & I ended up surpassing all of my goals for my negative emotions. Some of the thoughts were hard to challenge. I think the “shoulds” do get in the way a lot for me. And I also do a lot of fortune telling I noticed.
I did some cognitive flooding and imagined her being hand fed grapes by the pool, her husband telling her how wonderful she is, her saying “I just love my life”, and it all seemed so ridiculous then. There’s no way that’s how the majority of anybody’s days are. I feel much better about it now. Let me know if you have any other thoughts.
Notice that she believed all of her PTs 100%, and there was a nice reduction in her belief in the NTs,
along with a reduction in her negative feelings. But was this enough? Had we gone far enough. Only Bridget can answer this question!
This is fantastic, thanks! Can I use all this great work in an Ask David? We might record it Friday, tomorrow.
Are you satisfied with where you’re at now? If you want to bring feelings down further, we can attack a couple of the thoughts that are still at 50%, but not necessary.
The question will be how many of the negative feelings you want to retain, and it’s cool that you have surpassed your goals! Very cool, and might be helpful to others. let me know if you give permission to use this personal but terrific material in a podcast. Tons of jealousy in the world!
Hi Dr. Burns,
Yes, you can definitely use everything we did here. I think it will help others. I think I’m ok with leaving the thoughts at 50% for those 2.
STEP 5: Additional Methods
While jogging, I realized that I forgot to comment on your creative use of flooding. I had thought of that also as another useful technique, and there you went and did it before I had the chance to suggest it!
You are probably the first person in the world to use flooding for jealousy—usually it is for anxiety, as you likely know. I’ve attached a flooding flowsheet if you do more. The goal would be to see if you can work your jealousy up to higher and higher levels, and keep it as high as possible.
I also thought of a ton of additional techniques we could use in challenging any of your negative thoughts, like the Individual and Interpersonal Downward Arrow, to get at the core beliefs underneath the jealousy, and lots more cool techniques. But we may not need any more techniques! Like scheduling time each day to make yourself as jealous as possible, say for one minute, or five minutes, or whatever.
I was also curious about your prior experiences with this woman. I’m sure there’s a story behind your negative feelings
Hi Dr. Burns,
I actually haven’t ever met this woman personally. I guess I’ve seen her as the enemy ever since I started dating my husband. I saw all their old pictures on Facebook & messages between them, & I had this intense rage about it. My husband told me that she had not been faithful to him throughout their entire relationship, but he kept sticking it out with her.
So anyways, I had this intense desire to find out more information constantly. I was looking her up online all the time, trying to find out more. It was an obsession at times. At first I thought I just needed to know what it was about her that he liked so much that he was willing to be with her all those years despite everything she had done.
Eventually I realized I was doing it to prove to myself that she was not better than me, that her life was not better. But then it’s like I was finding out the opposite. I found out about her marrying into that rich family, saw pictures of her and her husband traveling the world together, then buying this big beautiful home. I was filled with jealousy and rage. I thought here she strung my husband along for years and stole his prime years from me, and now she’s living it up! Never paying the price. So yeah I suppose that’s the long back story behind it.
Wow thanks, Bridget, I really appreciate your candor! It all makes sense now. I’m so sorry she has been haunting you and making your life unhappy at times.
She sounds, to me, like a pretty unhappy person, bitter and tortured and maybe trying to impress people with her “things.”. Not my kind of folk at any rate!
When I was in grammar school, someone asked me if I was going to any Halloween parties, and I said I hadn’t been invited to any. I told my mother, if memory is correct, and she said why don’t I have a Halloween party?
So, the next day at school I said if anyone hadn’t been invited to a Halloween party, they can come to my Halloween party.
I had an older sister who helped prepare it to be this really neat party, but I didn’t know if anyone would come as I didn’t feel like I was one of the “popular” people. I might have been more of an intellectual nerd or something like that, and I wasn’t very attractive. But I was really happy when practically the whole class came, and we had the best party ever.
Ever since then, I think I’ve kind of preferred the “unpopular” people, and to this day it is the same. I have tons of friends I totally love in low places.
Anger and jealousy are, to my way of thinking, by far the hardest emotions to get rid of. It can be done, as you’ve shown, but it ain’t always easy. And what you’re doing totally rocks! Kudos! It was hard for me to shake it in the early days of my career. Now, these emotions never bother me, although I am joyfully angry from time to time!
And thanks, too, for such rapid responses!
I love the humorous imaging you created of her sitting around the pool being fed grapes, exotic wines, and rare chocolates by her dutiful slave husband, and perhaps a couple servants as well!
Happy Thanksgiving, and thank you for giving of yourself!!
Hi Dr. Burns,
That is a great story. I hope I can one day rid myself of those emotions like you were able to. I really appreciate you taking the time to work with me & spend so much time on this issue. I am just so grateful! I look forward to the podcast.
Hi Dr. Burns,
Thank you! I actually got the idea by using that cheat sheet for the recovery circle from your new book Feeling Great, which by the way I love. It’s like the Bible of cognitive therapy. I have so many spots bookmarked and go back to it all the time.
I did the Downward Arrow technique, & it helped reduce my beliefs in the thoughts even more. I don’t think that I made the wrong choices in life just because I have to work hard to get by. If I had made other choices, then I might never have met my husband or adopted my cats or maybe I would’ve never even discovered your books and connected with you which changed my life. I was able to reduce my belief in the thought “It’s not fair I have to work so hard just to get by” to 20%.
For my other thought “She gets to live this happy life after how she’s manipulated and treated people poorly for years” I also did the Downward Arrow. That made a big difference as well. Just because she is happy doesn’t mean that me doing the right thing has been for nothing. I’m glad I can confidently say I believe I’m a good-hearted, caring person. Her happiness will never change that about me. That thought is also now reduced to 20%.
I’m feeling pretty dang good right now! I think I will take your advice and continue to do the cognitive flooding a little each day until the thought has no merit anymore.
Thanks for all the positive feedback and hard work. I have more ideas, a lot more actually, if you want to push things further at some point, but doesn’t hurt to take a breather when you have climbed to the top of a mountain! Warmly, david
Hi Dr. Burns,
I’m always open to more ideas to try. Wouldn’t hurt. Maybe I could even get my belief in the thoughts to 0 eventually.
* * *
I offered to send Bridget a copy of my video, “Overcoming Toxic Shame,” since she was feeling some shame about carrying this burden alone.
* * *
Hi Dr. Burns,
Yes, you are the only person I’ve ever told this to. I definitely fear being judged & rejected in this situation. I feel like I shouldn’t care so much what everyone else is doing in their lives & just focus on my own life. I feel ashamed & embarrassed of my online stalking too. The thing is that when I “play detective” & find out new information about her online I get this sort of high off it. It can be exciting, but then it always just ends up leading to me feeling bad about myself. So, as you can see there are advantages & disadvantages to doing it.
I have done online stalking with other people too & told my husband about it when I would find out something upsetting or just interesting information. Sometimes he would make a face & say why would you be looking them up. And then I’d feel ashamed. I just feel like he does not approve of that behavior, & I can’t blame him. If the roles were reversed, it might make me a little suspicious of his intentions. Maybe even a little concerned.
I do have a DVD player & would be very interested in seeing that video you mentioned.
STEP 6: A New Idea: Is this actually a habit / addiction?
Your video is ready for shipping, and the next mail package pick up at our house will be tomorrow or Wednesday. It will come express mail, so you should get it later this week.
I had one other thought. If your habit of checking up on people gives you a high, but also leads to negative feelings, one could view this problem in the context of habits and addictions. You would have to think about that and see if it is valid or not. I don’t know for sure.
But if it is, then abstinence might be helpful, too, since continually re-engaging with your checking up on people might keep fueling your feelings of jealousy.
So, giving up this habit might be a price you’d have to pay to escape completely from this problem. Again, just speculation.
At any rate, two chapters on habits were not included in my new book due to length, but they are available for free on the home page of my website. It offers one unpublished chapter, but there are actually two.
If you are interested in this approach, download the chapters and see what you think, and maybe do some of the written exercises like the Triple Paradox, for example, and let me know what you think, too!
Hello Dr. Burns,
I read the extra chapters, and they are great. It’s too bad they couldn’t have been included in the book because I bet they would help so many people. I did all of the exercises & found them very helpful. I especially loved using the decision-making tool for this. I would never think to compare disadvantages of 2 situations like that. I was actually surprised at how much of a “slam dunk” the option of “stop checking up on people entirely” was. I didn’t expect that.
I want to change because I’m tired of comparing myself & my life to other people. I also don’t want to sit around waiting for justice then getting upset when the opposite happens. I spend too much of my free time thinking about these people I don’t even like. I’m letting them win by caring. I also don’t want to feel like I’m keeping secrets from my husband. The less I know, the better. All signs point to stopping the behavior. I just hope I can do it!
Attached are the exercises I did. Would love your thoughts/feedback.
You can link to Bridget’s Triple Paradox and work with the Devil’s Advocate tool. If you’re interested, you can also review her work with the powerful Decision-Making Tool that I created 40 years ago. For more information, you can download the two free unpublished chapters on Habits and Addictions that I omitted from my new book, Feeling Great, due to length. You will find those chapters for free on the homepage of my website, http://www.feelinggood.com.
Forgot to write back, I thought all your work was awesome! Incredible. Thanks, and kudos!!
Hope you got or soon get the Melanie video.
Apology for slowness. We adopted an incredibly 6-year old cat at the Humane Society, but ran into some temporary complications and now all is well. Plan to integrate her with our 3-year old feral cat, Miss Misty, at the end of a week keeping them separated. The new lady is a purring machine!
Her owner died, and then she was adopted and returned, so she is terrified that she’s not “good enough” and fearful that we’ll send her back. We are totally in love with her, but had to take her back for a check-up for ring worm as the Humane Society called and said she had an accidental interaction with a ring worm cat.
But they didn’t find anything. It was super-traumatic, since we had to put her back in the carrying cage, and she was desperate, thinking we were returning her. It was heart breaking, once of the worst experiences of my life!
But now she’s back with us and looking forward to meeting her new “sister,” Miss Misty. Fortunately, she gets along really well with other cats. But we don’t know about Miss Misty!
Hi Dr. Burns,
Aww poor kitty! That is so awesome you decided to take in another cat. I love how passionate you are about them. I loved your story of Obie in your book and how you dedicated it to him. I could really identify with it.
We took in a feral kitten this past fall, and it went from him running away from us if we were within 10 feet of him outside to him being a permanent inside cat. Just last night he hopped on the couch next to me and laid on me purring while I put my arms around him like a teddy bear. It was so special!
I haven’t gotten the Melanie video yet, but I will definitely let you know once I receive it and watch it!
Thanks! Congrats on your kitten! Heaven!
Here are my random comments / observations.
- Bridget got a really rapid and fairly dramatic response. This was due, in large part, to the fact that she did all of her homework, and she did everything right away. When I worked with individuals when I was I private practice, doing homework was required, not optional. Many people want to just come and talk to their shrink once a week, but, at least in my experience, this has never once been effective.
- Bridget was motivated. She asked for help, and worked hard to get that help. Motivation is the key to overcoming depression, anxiety, relationship problems, and habits and addictions. Most religions have the concept of “ask and ye shall receive.” Without the asking, there will be little or no “receiving!”
- Bridget conquered two of the most challenging of all emotions on her own. I did provide some guidance via email comments, but she did the heavy listing.
- Over time, new insights develop. Therapy and self-help are fluid in this regard. The idea that this problem could be viewed as a habit or addiction suddenly popped into my mind and clicked, and provided another powerful tool for defeating this problem. Rigid formulaic treatment is less effective, but many therapists and many people in general are looking for “formulas” and secrets of overcoming this or that problem. Methods and tools are great, but formulas leave a lot to be desired.
- I don’t think that Bridget’s response was any slower than when I do live personal work sessions with therapists. It took longer, since we had to exchange a series of emails. But the total contact time was still in the range of an extended (two hour) therapy session. This demonstration may not satisfy the doubters, but it might at least help a little. The effective ingredient is TEAM, applied systematically with warmth and compassion.
- I am incredibly indebted to Bridget, and hope you also appreciate her brave contribution! It is not easy to bare your soul to the world, but the world deeply appreciates this type of openness, because most of us suffer in secret, adding loneliness to the equation. When you open up, your worst part sometimes gets magically transformed into your best part. It is a little like emotional alchemy, turning your emotional mud into gold!
I hope you enjoyed today’s podcast, and a got a feel for how a TEAM therapist might treat someone struggling with intense jealousy and anger. These are topics not often discussed in the psychotherapy world, so hopefully this podcast will be a useful contribution to a challenging topic!
Rhonda, Bridget, and David
You can reach Dr. Burns at firstname.lastname@example.org. Dr. Rhonda Barovsky practices in Walnut Creek, California, and has recently opened the Feeling Great Therapy Center, a collective of TEAM therapists, and can be reached at email@example.com. She is a Level 4 Certified TEAM-CBT therapist and trainer and specializes in the treatment of trauma, anxiety, depression, and relationship problems. She also does forensic work in family court, but finds TEAM-CBT to be way more rewarding!
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