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2 Reasons Your Jealous Emotions Feel Out of Control

anxiety brain emotions insecurity jealousy marriage relationships Jul 08, 2023

One thing I hear often is you feel very out of control of your emotions when you’re in the heat of a jealous rant.  It’s almost like an out of body experience where controlling what is coming out of your mouth or what you’re doing seems impossible to control.

Once you’ve spewed your venom of opinionated disgust at your partner, the guilt and shame of the seemingly uncontrollable outburst is setting in.  You feel awful and now, in addition to dealing with whatever you were jealous of to begin with, you have the compounded problem of your behavior and a very angry, hurt partner to contend with.

What took over your body and your mouth?  Why do you feel so out of control? And more importantly, how CAN you control it?

Meet the Amygdala

I sat down with author of Rewire Your Anxious Brain and Taming Your Amygdala, Dr. Catherine Pittman who says, you’re right…you can’t control it.  It’s your amygdala at work, doing its job.

Ah, the amygdala! That sneaky part of our brain that operates silently but holds immense power.  The amygdala, bless its little heart, is a master at detecting threats. It scans your surroundings, playing the role of an overzealous bodyguard, always on the lookout for danger. But here's the kicker – it gets information before you do!

Dr. Pittman gives many examples of the amygdala at work on episode 38 of the Top Self Podcast but one example she gave was if you were in the shower and you jump suddenly as you catch a glimpse of a dark brown hairy looking thing in the corner of the shower.  You reacted before you were able to fully process that oh… it’s just a little wad of hair, not a spider. 

But, that little brown wad of hair looked enough like a spider to the amygdala to increase your heart rate, make your muscles tense and produce a reaction in your body producing a fight, flight or freeze response.

The Amygdala's Trigger Game:

You don't have control over your amygdala and your amygdala, if it detects a threat, it will create all these changes in your body that you have no control over. Just in the way you don't have any control over what's happening exactly in your brain.

The amygdala is not shooting for accuracy.  Its mantra is, if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it assumes it’s a duck.  And thank goodness for its generalization. Part of our survival DNA is for the amygdala to be over cautious when deciding what requires action or not.  It was much safer for us to think it was a snake and it be a stick than assume it’s a stick.

That’s great is life survival situations but Dr. Pittman shares “your amygdala reacts to things on the basis of past experiences that form certain triggers that the amygdala stores in memory.”  Understanding this is important when you feel a jealous meltdown come on or high intense feelings.  The amygdala’s language of association means that this was present in a situation where something bad happened to me and now it’s a trigger for me to feel I’m in danger.

Just because you and your partner met at work and started dating doesn’t mean anyone new at work is a potential threat.  But your amygdala may have you think so.

Remember, it’s generalizing so just because your amygdala is telling you it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck doesn’t mean it’s a duck.

Enter the Amygdala’s Partner, the Cortex

Unfortunately, there's a slight delay between what your amygdala perceives and what your cortex fully comprehends. So, in a fraction of a second, your amygdala can create an emotional response, leaving you wondering why you're feeling a certain way without even knowing what triggered it.

Your cortex, the part that is a bit more detailed, seeing things more clearly and processing oh, that’s just a spider, I’m not in danger.

Here's a fun fact: Dr. Catherine Pittman explains “your amygdala watches "Cortex Television." It eagerly monitors the thoughts, sights, and sounds swirling around your cortex, hoping to catch any signs of danger.

That means your thoughts matter. And if you’re on “the worry channel and you're just generating all these thoughts about what could be happening, you have no evidence for this. You are scaring your amygdala.”

So, you get your amygdala all riled up when it was just chilling looking around, thinking everything is fine and safe.  You get your thoughts going and now everyone is up in arms and unfortunately, your amygdala doesn’t know the difference if it’s really happening or not, so it will create all those same responses in your body, increased heart rate, muscle tension and feelings of anxiousness.

Lying Little Sneaks

I always tell my clients, before you spend time worry if your partner is lying to you, worry about the lies you are telling yourself.

Both the amygdala and the cortex can be little sneaky liars.  The amygdala is overly cautious and will make us think we are in danger even when we’re not.  That’s just the way it was made so we need to pull in our cortex for more information so we can process it fully and come to our own conclusions on whether we need to defend ourselves or not.

The cortex though can also be a little troublemaker.  As a defense, you may get started on the train of negative thoughts, creating scenarios in your head that you “think” might happen because you feel like it might better prepare you if something bad happens in the future. 

When you start that thought train and images are swirling around in your head, you are telling yourself untruths.  Made up scenarios that haven’t actually happened in real life. But guess what?  Your amygdala doesn’t know that so here come all the physical ailments causing havoc on your body and it’s all lies!  It’s most likely not even true.

How Do I Control This?

It’s important to know which of these two parts of your brain are responsible for your state of anxiety to know which approach is best.

Calming the Amygdala

Dr. Pittman assures us there is absolutely no reasoning with the amygdala.  The amygdala calms down by having the experience in your body of calmness. This sends a message to the amygdala that everything’s ok, giving it permission to calm down since it can’t understand you telling it to calm down.   

  • deep breathing exercise
  • regular exercise program
  • healthy sleep routine

This will take your amygdala down a notch even if nothing changed in your circumstance whatsoever. And yet you feel calmer.

Managing the Cortex

Your cortex is a bit easier to manage but telling it to stop thinking about something and stop playing the mental images isn’t going to work.  If you’re still in your head about it, you’re still on that same worry channel as Dr. Pittman likes to call it. 

  • You have to change the channel.

This is NOT the time to call your friend and tell them all about it or talk it out with them.  It’s a time to completely shift gears and start cleaning the house, clean out your car, go to the store, better yet, go to the gym or for a run.  Change the channel completely and remind yourself, if you keep it on that channel, you’re going to involve the amygdala too and the flood gates will open.

The good news is your amygdala can learn by experimenting with trust.  Trust in a situation that nothing bad will happen and then… see what happens.  The more you see that most of the things we worry ourselves over, never actually come to fruition anyway.

Listen to my full interview with Dr. Catherine Pittman on the Top Self podcast.

Grab a copy of Dr. Catherine Pittman’s books by clicking the link below:

Many or all products here on the Top Self website and the Untangle the Wires Blog are from our partners who compensate us.  This could influence the way products are displayed on a page but in no way influences recommendations, evaluations, or opinions of these products. 

Rewire Your Anxious Brain

Taming Your Amygdala

Rewire Your OCD Brain

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