Dear Therapist: “My jealousy comes from childhood wounds”

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“Hello! I have an issue that you would like to discuss and figure out with your help. I am jealous of my man, mostly with regard to my sister. The thing is that they haven’t even met in person. 

After I got divorced 5 years ago, I fell in love with a man. It was an insane codependent relationship. He was constantly messing with me: first “I love you” – then “I don’t”, first “come over”- then “no need”. After one year of such rollercoasters, we finally broke up. But then his friend told me that he confided in him that, in reality, he really liked my sister. We all used to hang out together. As for me – he said that I was convenient and fun. I was really hurt then. I cried my eyes out in a church, for two hours. I felt so much hatred towards them both. 

So many hurtful memories from my childhood resurfaced when this happened… How my Mom used to tell me that she wanted to get an abortion, that she didn’t want to take me home from the hospital. But she loved my sister – she was her first daughter, the apple of her eye. Another thing is that my Dad used to cheat on my Mom with her sister, and they were fighting about it. I could hear it.  

Anyway, right now I have a new man, and we live together. I introduced him to my family and friends, but not to my sister. I am scared and ashamed for my fear and jealousy, at the same time. My Mom used to tell me that we should be helping each other, since we are sisters, etc. etc. 

I am not close to my sister; it has been like this for a long time. Perhaps, we are too different, or something… Our communication now is very minimal. I am angry at myself, at my parents, at my sister. I understand that only I can help myself, I need to go and see a therapist. But I am afraid to talk about these things with another person. Somehow, I think this is all bullshit, some minor things (like my mom used to tell me). I have been doing all the exercises from the app, reading articles, taking courses – it gets easier. But I understand that I need to deal with the underlying reason, not with the symptoms.  

And yes, my man knows about my jealousy. He didn’t give me any reason for it, and he stays cool. One time, when my sister and I had a fight at my parents’ place, I told him about it (he wasn’t there). He said that I am the best and he loves me. And I am so scared to ruin everything with my jealousy. Please help me to deal with my jealousy and let go of this situation.  Thank you!

Hello! I will answer you as I am reading your letter. 

  • “Hello! I have an issue that you would like to discuss and figure out with your help. I am jealous of my man, mostly with regard to my sister. The thing is that they haven’t even met in person. I got divorced 5 years ago and fell in love with this man. It was an insane codependent relationship. He was constantly messing with me: first “I love you” – then “I don’t”, first “come over”- then “no need”. After one year of such rollercoasters, we finally broke up. But then his friend told me that he confided in him that, in reality, he really liked my sister. We all used to hang out together.” 

For the future, you need to understand one thing: your partner may feel attracted to other people, and it is OK. We are all people, and we can fall in love, feel sexual attraction, and affection for someone even if we are seeing someone else. Therefore, your strong reaction shows us your own pain point. Can you imagine how many women may be attracted to Brad Pitt? All the while, they are happily married to their “Tony”. It just doesn’t happen that if a person is in a relationship, they stop feeling attracted to other people. What is important is that your man is with you. Here, perhaps, his instability and your strong attachment (insane codependency) could have made the matters worse for you. When you feel so strongly, it is hard to accept that your man may like someone else, especially your sister, in your case.  

  • “As for me – he said that I was convenient and fun.” 

Of course, this is not the most positive feedback on your relationship. And it is clear that the relationship was not very healthy (codependency from your side, and back-and-forth from his). From everything you’ve told us, it is not surprising, that it was simply convenient for him. Then again, these are just his words. The person rarely understands their real motives for entering and maintaining a relationship. He obviously recognizes that it was convenient for him. 

  • “I was really hurt then. I cried my eyes out in a church, for two hours. I felt so much hatred towards them both.”  

This reaction tells us that you were not so much hurt because of your man and your sister, but rather that you already had a predisposition of a traumatic experience of being abandoned and rejected. Such a strong reaction is a reason to see a psychologist. This feeling existed before the situation with your guy happened, otherwise you wouldn’t be so hurt. 

  • “So many hurtful memories from my childhood resurfaced… How my Mom used to tell me that she wanted to get an abortion, that she didn’t want to take me home from the hospital.” 

Here, I really empathize with you. You Mom was very wrong when she shared such details about your birth with you. It tells us about her immaturity. And you, as a child, could have taken this information too personally into yourself. Most likely, you are feeling as if you are unwanted, abandoned, or that you are a bad person… If you have such feelings, they may be bringing a lot of pain to you. Because when a child comes into this world, she really needs to feel love, warmth, and care. Your mother’s words tell you that you were not welcome. It is very unpleasant. But, in general, such a situation can teach you a lot. You already came to this world and now you need to find a source of love and acceptance within yourself. 

  •  “But she loved my sister – she was her first daughter, the apple of her eye. “ 

I am truly sorry that your Mom didn’t have enough love for you both. In addition to the deficit of love, anger at the parents, the lack of self-acceptance, the child may also acquire the sister as a rival. In your family story, your sister plays the role of a dangerous person, a rival.  

  • “Another thing is that my Dad used to cheat on my Mom with her sister, and they were fighting about it. I could hear it. “ 

Yes, I can see how your sister may appear as a dangerous person, who can seduce and take your man. But this story is your parents’ story, not yours. 

  • “Anyway, right now I have a new man, and we live together. I introduced him to my family and friends, but not to my sister. I am scared and ashamed for my fear and jealousy, at the same time. My Mom used to tell me that we should be helping each other, since we are sisters, etc., etc. “ 

No matter what your parents used to say, you either want to maintain a relationship with your sister (and she with you) or you don’t. You have blood ties with your relatives, but this is not a reason to maintain communication or to build a relationship. Only if you want it and decide to do so. 

  • “I am not close to my sister; it has been like this for a long time. Perhaps, we are too different, or something… Our communication now is very minimal. I am angry at myself, at my parents, at my sister. I understand that only I can help myself, I need to go and see a therapist. But I am afraid to talk about these things with another person. Somehow, I think this is all bullshit, some minor things (like my Mom used to tell me). “ 

Things that appear minor to your Mom, can have a different significance for you. Only you can decide whether this is bullshit or not. Overall, your letter is very sincere. You tell us about your experiences and your pain. IMO, these are not minor things. You have an opportunity to resolve your situation, somehow. You noticed what is going on, and you are looking for a solution.  And this is great. 

  • “I have been doing all the exercises from the app, reading articles, taking courses – it gets easier. But I understand that I need to deal with the underlying reason, not with the symptoms.” 

Yes, you are right. Most likely, the root cause is in your childhood, and in some feeling of being unwanted (I am paraphrasing your letter and giving you the direction where to look). And the crux of the matter is not in your parents, but in how you will build your life after these events, and how you will find happiness and peace.  

  • “And yes, my man knows about my jealousy. He didn’t give me any reason for it, and he stays cool. One time, when my sister and I had a fight at my parents’ place, I told him about it (he wasn’t there). He said that I am the best and he loves me. And I am so scared to ruin everything with my jealousy. Please help me to deal with my jealousy and let go of this situation.” 

In the end, you answered your own question. Only therapy can help you, because the work needs to be very precise. 

In summary, let me say the following. 

Your jealousy is understandable and logical, based on your history. While you are still affected by your experiences, it will be very hard for you to react differently. You can try to work in the following directions: 

  • Love yourself, as if others would love you. Learn to accept yourself, care about yourself, close the old gaps. (Mother didn’t want to bring me home, so what, I am already here. She loved my sister more, but now I will love myself as much as I can, etc.) 
  • Accept that people experience different feelings towards different people. You can think of two people and describe your feelings towards them. These feelings will be different. When children are born, parents may have different feelings for them. These gaps can be filled only by the person themselves when they rethink what happened. Since it is hard to do this on your own, psychological help is needed in order to reevaluate your view on the situation. 
  • Realize that your reactions are the consequences of your thoughts. While you see your sister as dangerous, you may continue experiencing these feelings. 
  • Separate the situation of your Dad cheating on your Mom with her sister from your own reality. You are a different person. Your sister – is not your Mom’s sister. Your parents’ past – is not your present nor your future. Yes, it is possible that you are repeating a scenario from your parents’ family, but it is unlikely that your sister would go that far. And if she has such tendencies, then perhaps, you could keep her at a distance, away from your relationship. At least for now, while you are still dealing with the situation. 
  • Do not force yourself to communicate with her, if you don’t want to. 
  • Remember and accept that your Mom feels differently about your sister. You should not expect that this will change, somehow on its own. For now, these are the facts. If you remember about that and accept that, you will not feel so much unexpected pain that everything is repeating itself.