In my guidebook on overcoming retroactive jealousy, I emphasize that no thought can have power over you without your permission. When a jealous thought, or “mental movie” takes hold, some part of you is giving that thought power to disrupt your day.
When you let an unwanted thought get to you, on some level you are saying: “Even though you’re just a thought–transitory, fleeting, not particularly noteworthy or interesting–I’m handing my power over to you. I’m letting you impact my mood; I’m letting you dictate how I feel. You’re in the driver’s seat now, not me.”
A few days ago, myself and a few members of my “Inner Circle” discussion group were discussing this phenomenon, and how to “take back” the power jealous thoughts have over us. I think the best way to regain power over jealous thoughts is to not give unwanted thoughts power in the first place.
Now, I realize that you might be thinking: “OK Zach, that sounds great, but what does it look like in practice? How do I prevent jealous thoughts from having power over me?”
Here’s a very simple exercise I shared in the forum that you might also want to try:
Tell unwanted thoughts “No” as soon as they appear.
Say it out loud. I’m serious.
(Though perhaps say it quietly under your breath, if you’re in public. Otherwise, it could lead to some strange looks from the people around you. Or, if you find it embarrassing to vocalize, just say “No” in your head.)
A student in my course shared that when she feels a jealous thought coming on, she’ll ask herself: “Is this thought serving me, and my needs?”
So try it yourself: when a jealous thought appears, ask yourself if it’s serving your health, well-being, and happiness. If the answer is “No,” tell the thought “No” straight up.
Deny unwanted thoughts permission to intrude on your mood.
Get in the habit of catching negative thoughts moments after they appear, and telling them “No” right away. Don’t give them any time to take hold.
Sometimes you will have stubborn jealous thoughts that will reappear moments after you say “No.” In this case, say “No” again, and distract yourself by focusing on something that does serve you and your needs. This might be spending time with your children, reading a book, walking your dog, eating an ice cream cone, whatever.
Dr. Karen Kleiman from Psychology Today supports the view that distracting yourself from unwanted thoughts can reduce, or eliminate their power over you:
Distraction has been shown to temporarily interrupt the loop of negative thinking, which is not the same thing as avoidance or denial. Rather, it is essentially a way for you to remain in the stressful situation by coping with it.
Results from one study suggest that when thoughts were particularly repulsive, people were able to reduce their level of distress by intentionally engaging in distraction by focusing on a different thought...
By keeping your brain busy, you are less able to accommodate the anxiety. Keeping your brain busy requires dedicated effort — it is not be enough to turn on the TV and let your brain wander. It requires a calculated attempt to absorb yourself in an activity…
Teach your brain how much better it can feel to focus on something other than the thoughts that are scaring you. Read a magazine. Call a friend. Listen to music…
The fundamental principle is simply that an anxious state and a relaxed state are incompatible. Do your best to give yourself permission not to focus on the unwanted thoughts. This is not the same and pushing it away. Accept that they are there, do not give them power by attending to them.
Let me emphasize: you are so much more powerful than your thoughts. The only power thoughts can have over you is the power you give them. So make sure unwanted thoughts realize that you’re bigger than them by telling them “No,” and then turning your attention to something more rewarding and productive.
However, you don’t want get angry at jealous thoughts, as it defeats the purpose of the exercise. Don’t tell jealous thoughts to “F*** off;” just dismiss them. So, instead of “Go to hell!” tell an unwanted thought: “Nope, sorry. You’re not welcome here. Goodbye,” and carry on with your day. See the difference?
In my online course “Get Over Your Partner’s Past Fast” I emphasize how important your internal monologue is to your mood, your mental health, and your self-image.
In short: whether good or bad, our thoughts become things.
So if you start thinking “Oh God, this is debilitating… I’ll never be rid of retroactive jealousy!” you’ll probably never be rid of retroactive jealousy.
But if instead you force yourself to say “No” to the jealous thought, its power over you will be reduced because you never gave it power in the first place. And you’ll be more likely to start thinking “Hey, I can do this. I can beat this thing.” And you’ll probably be right. (If, of course, you put in the necessary work.)
So never, ever underestimate the importance of your internal monologue. Similarly, never underestimate your control over your internal monologue. Don’t think that negative thought patterns are permanent, even if you’ve been dealing with them some time.
Your thoughts are clouds passing overhead, nothing more. And telling jealous thoughts “No” might not eliminate them completely, but it’s an important first step.
. . .
Everyone can take something from this book be it techniques to quiet your mind or stop obsessing over a relationship your significant other once had with someone else. Stockill has a calming and sturdy voice that helps to assure the reader that what he says is true: with a bit of work and dedication you CAN change the way your brain and emotions react.
My favourite aspect of this book is the exercises. It isn’t narrative rhetoric..rather the book suggests simple and concrete exercises everyone is capable of doing that can alter your brain’s obsessive tendencies and emotional reactivity. I really wanted to chill myself out and learn to ask ‘is this really a big deal?’ And these exercises are simple enough to understand and very, very effective no matter what your specific issue may be…
I can’t recommend this book highly enough.
Thank-you so much, Alycia!