In today’s video, I’m going to answer the question: “Is the exposure technique applicable when it comes to retroactive jealousy?”
Read or watch below to learn more about my thoughts about a common retroactive jealousy exposure technique.
Zachary Stockill: If you are currently struggling with any kind of symptoms relating to anxiety, or retroactive jealousy, and you’ve done some Googling around, there’s a good chance that you’ve encountered something called the exposure technique.
The exposure technique is frequently recommended by cognitive behavioral therapists as one of the best tools you can use to combat anxiety. But is the exposure technique appropriate or applicable when it comes to retroactive jealousy? In today’s video, I’m going to try to answer that question.
Given all the research, given all the literature, it’s clear that, in general, exposing yourself voluntarily to what ails you or what you’re afraid of is a good idea. In general, the exposure technique and exposure-related activities are very helpful. I talk about this on the channel all the time: what we resist persists.
If we’re afraid of something…
One of the best ways to get a handle on that is to first identify exactly what it is we’re fearful of.
And then as much as we can, to make peace with it, try to expose ourselves to it voluntarily, and try to kind of “make friends” with our fear.
Ironically, doing this helps us to transcend fear. So in general, I am 100% on board with the exposure technique, especially for things like anxiety.
However, where this becomes more complicated is when retroactive jealousy sufferers attempt something of their own exposure technique, which is actually counterproductive.
For first-time viewers on my channel: the term retroactive jealousy refers to unwanted intrusive thoughts, and obsessive curiosity, relating to a partner’s past relationships and/or sexual history.
And for many people struggling with this strange disorder we call retroactive jealousy, their version of the exposure technique is to ask their partner 18 million questions about their partner’s past. And, getting every single nitty-gritty little detail about their partner’s past. Or perhaps stalking their partner’s past on social media, or stalking their partner’s ex on social media…
For many retroactive jealousy sufferers, this is their exposure technique. And I’m here to tell you that this particular exposure technique is not effective in the long run.
In fact, this particular exposure technique is almost guaranteed to prolong your suffering indefinitely.
This kind of exposure is going to do nothing but lead to more questions, more anxiety, more attempts at reassurance, more stalking, and more snooping.
And more of the exact kind of behaviors that we’re trying to transcend and let go of if we’re struggling with retroactive jealousy.
So in my strong opinion, which is informed by ten years of working on the issue of retroactive jealousy, any retroactive jealousy sufferers watching this: Do not attempt this version of the exposure technique.
Over the long term, it is completely ineffective. I speak from experience. And I speak based on 10 years of working with hundreds of clients from around the world.
So what is the retroactive jealousy version, or at least my recommended version, of the exposure technique? Number one, remember our mammalian nature. Remember that human beings are animals, we’re not saints, and we’re not gods or goddesses. We’re not above the animal kingdom. We might be at the top of the food chain, but we’re certainly not outside the food chain. We are animals, animals have sex…
And I think in particular, for male retroactive jealousy sufferers, it’s good to expose yourself to this idea. You can watch nature shows, you can watch David Attenborough.
It may sound silly. But, in my experience, and in the experience of many of my clients, learning more about the animal kingdom and the function of sex through evolutionary history… This stuff can be very helpful in incorporating some more grounded, realistic ideas about human sexuality.
Remembering that human beings are mammals, and mammals have sex, is a very good way to start letting go of some of the emotional baggage that you may be carrying around your partner’s past.
Another tip in particular for male retroactive jealousy sufferers. That could be a kind of “exposure technique.” Start increasing your empathy when it comes to the female experience in the world, when it comes to how women think and feel about sex relationships, dating, and sexuality.
Read books written by women. Listen to a women’s podcast, and have conversations with friends who you trust. Try to get a better understanding of what dating sex and relationships are like from the female point of view.
And by the way, for the women watching this …If you are having questions about your boyfriend or your husband’s sexual history, it’s a good idea to do the same thing only with regard to men. Start asking your male friends questions about their experience of women and dating,
Try to get a handle on the other side of the story; try to get a handle on what it’s like for the opposite sex, to go through dating to go through relationships and all these things.
And needless to say, for same-sex couples, increasing empathy is helpful regardless of sexual orientation, regardless of your gender, or anything like that.
The point is, don’t assume everyone in the world thinks and acts and perceives the world the same way you do.
Because we’re all different. We all see and process the world differently. And, for men, and in particular, for retroactive jealousy sufferers, it’s helpful to start exposing yourself to some new ideas about sex, dating, and sexuality.
Remember that dating, sex, sexuality, and figuring out all of these things, is equally difficult for women. It’s tough out there for all of us. And I think increasing your empathy can be good when it comes to overcoming retroactive jealousy.
Point number three is to learn more about the history of sex, dating, relationships, and marriage, and really go deep into the history of all these social constructs.
We live in a very, very confusing time.
In many ways, we’re living in what I call the “hangover” of the sexual revolution. So in the 1960s and 1970s, there was this massive cultural and social awakening in the Western world. It influenced other parts of the world, where men started owning more of their feminine traits and women started entering the workplace more. And the pill is invented… So everyone’s having more sex, more casual sex, and we are still enduring the consequences of that movement. We are still enduring the ripple effects of the 1960s and 1970s Sexual Revolution.
And it is a very confusing time for all of us.
I think we’re in the very, very early stages of many men and women figuring out that casual sex, casual dating hookup culture, Tinder…
All these things aren’t necessarily making us happier. They aren’t necessarily leading to better relationships.
And maybe we should start being a little more mindful and conscious of where we put our sexual energy. And also on what kind of dating we should be engaging in. I think we’re in the very early stages of transcending this hangover from the sexual revolution.
And all this is to say, it’s a very confusing time out there for everyone. And I think again, coming back to empathy, increasing your empathy and understanding in this regard is a very good way to start transcending retroactive jealousy.
Finally, with regard to retroactive jealousy and my version of the exposure technique: remember that idealism and perfectionism are antithetical to long-term peace of mind and happiness.
A lot of retroactive jealousy sufferers have some antiquated and very idealized notions about women and men, sex, dating and relationships. A lot of retroactive jealousy sufferers have very unrealistic ideas about unattainable standards, perfectionism, and all these kinds of things.
And I think it’s very important to expose yourself to ideas such as: we’re all going to die one day, and none of this is going to matter. All of our problems in this current moment are not going to matter at all when we’re dead and buried in the ground, whenever that day comes.
Furthermore, on that note: every relationship ends, everyone dies, and everyone gets sick and gets old. Other people don’t even make it to old age. All this is to say is that life is inherently uncertain, relationships are inherently uncertain.
There is no such thing as a sure thing. There is no such thing as perfection. And there is no such thing as a “perfect” partner with a “perfect” past.
All of these notions hold you back from real peace of mind and real happiness. So I think it’s important to start exposing yourself to more realistic, grounded views on life love, and human beings and relationships.
In conclusion, I would encourage you to start looking for different perspectives.
And anytime you feel any kind of fear associated with anxiety, fear about the future, fear about the past, fear relating to your partner’s past, fear relating to a relationship, always pause and check in with yourself. In these moments, breathe deeply and try to identify exactly what you’re afraid of.
I go into much more breadth and detail in one of my online courses called “The Overcoming Jealousy Blueprint”. There are all kinds of exercises in there that are really going to help you get a handle on my recommended exposure techniques when it comes to transcending retroactive jealousy.