BPD, Trauma, and Jealousy

Jealousy and insecurity are normal emotions that everyone experiences, but when someone has borderline personality disorder, BPD traits, past trauma, or emotional sensitivity, the intensity of these emotions can be so much stronger — to the point of feeling unbearable.

When a partner with any of these backgrounds is feeling jealous or insecure, even in the face of no real threat, it can be confusing for the other person in the couple.  This article invites you to have compassion for those who may be experiencing this and acting out on it, and if you’re the one experiencing jealousy and insecurity and having a rough time of it, may this article serve to encourage you.

So WHY is the experience of jealousy and insecurity so much more intense?

Whether the person with BPD, BPD traits, trauma, or emotional sensitivity experienced past abandonment, rejection, or betrayal in the form of a lover cheating, a parent not being present, or some other type of similar experience, or if they witnessed such things as a child between their caregivers, their nervous system remembers this.

Every time we act out on something, it serves a purpose. The key is to find the driving force is and learn new emotional skills and ways to meet those needs more effectively.

In an effort to protect us from even perceived threats, reacting to jealous and insecure thoughts serves us by creating the illusion that we are in control and protecting ourselves from some threat.

The problem is, if the threat is only the thoughts and the thoughts are unfounded (for example, you worry that your boyfriend is cheating on you and the fear is strong and the thoughts repetitive, but there’s no actual evidence) you’re suffering from the consequences of these rather uncomfortable emotion.

How so?

First, when we’re reacting to thoughts as if they are real
(because we’re afraid, have been hurt in the past, and don’t want to be hurt again),

but they’re not actually real (there’s no evidence, may be lots of evidence to the contrary, but we have a strong emotion and lots of thoughts accompanying it),

we’re not living in reality.  We’re living in the past trauma.

While we’re upset, we may even notice body sensations that were present when the original trauma occurred (tight stomach, racing heart).

Secondly, a consequence of repeated acting out on jealous feelings and insecure thoughts is the impact it has on the relationships that matter most.  Ironically, the behaviors that emotionally sensitive people sometimes act out when jealous or feeling insecure are the very behaviors that push away a partner, friend, or loved one rather than create the connectedness, closeness, and intimacy that the panicky emotions are driving them to try to protect.

Something that can be helpful in these moments is to bring yourself back to the present by grounding.  You can do this by using your senses and noticing what you see, hear, feel, touch, and taste in the moment.

You can also use soothing self-talk to help calm your nervous system, such as, “I am safe. I am grounded.  There is no real threat right now. Fear is moving through me. I am okay.”

In my online DBT class that starts soon, we’ll be focusing on a set of skills that help us tolerate emotional distress when triggered so we don’t make matters worse and damage our relationships while learning to take care of ourselves with a level of self-compassion we may have never received in the past.

And there’s no judgment.  We’ll work to apply the skills to situations that are meaningful to you in YOUR life, whether your jealousy stems from:

  • being triggered by
    •  your partner’s friends or followers on social media
    • partner’s co-worker relationships
    • a friend has a loving, stable family that you never had
    • your sibling’s relationship with other family members
    • witnessing people you know graduate from school, get married, have kids, and you’re feeling stuck dealing with your own mental health issues
    • thinking others are younger or more attractive than you and therefore a threat
    • thinking others are better than you at things you want to be great at
…or any other scenario.
Please know that you are NOT alone.  Take extra good care of yourself in these moments.  If jealousy and insecurity trigger urges to lash out, be sneaky, accuse, interrogate, or perhaps self-harm, this can then lead to shame and regret and a spiral of emotions. 
Please instead consider pausing and remembering to:
  • check the facts
  • ground and bring yourself into the present moment
  • find a way to distract yourself until the urge subsides
Doing this can help you to make the choices that will help you create the life you want to live and preserve the relationships you hold dear.
I hope this helps in some way.
In kindness,
Debbie is a DBT-trained certified life coach in recovery from borderline personality disorder. She teaches DBT skills weekly in an online class available worldwide.  

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