Even the most self-assured and confident people feel jealous at times, considering that jealousy is a natural human emotion that is nearly impossible to completely avoid. Like other difficult feelings, such as guilt or anger, a bit of jealousy can actually be a good thing if you respond to it thoughtfully.
How do you overcome jealousy? Ultimately, there is no definitive “cure” for this emotion.
That said, some people are able to handle feelings of jealousy and envy much more productively than others. This is an important distinction, because unchecked envy can contribute to chronic stress and a range of mental and physical health problems.
Below we’ll look at common reasons that people feel jealous, personality traits that tend to make it worse, plus tips for actually using it to your benefit.
What Is Jealousy?
Jealousy is defined as “feeling or showing an unhappy or angry desire to have what someone else has.” It’s also described as the state of resentment, bitterness or hostility toward someone because that person has something you don’t.
What is the emotion behind jealousy? According to an article published by Psychology Today, “Jealousy is a complex emotion that encompasses feelings ranging from suspicion to rage to fear to humiliation.”
Are jealousy and envy the same thing?
These two emotions are related but also a bit different. Jealousy usually involves a third party/person that feels like a threat, while envy is more about wanting what someone else has.
Most often, people are jealous in close relationships, but they’re more likely to feel envious about things such as someone else’s status, job, income, recognition or appearance.
As the website Good Therapy puts it, “While jealousy can be described as a fear that another person may take something that is yours or something you consider to be yours, envy is the desire for something that belongs to someone else.
Even though they are technically different, people tend to use these terms interchangeably. Plus, it’s possible to experience both at the same time.
Envy and jealousy also have common root causes, including insecurity, and tend to cause similar thoughts and behaviors — such as the fear of losing something or someone and the need to be overly attention-seeking, possessive and competitive.
What are examples of jealousy in action? Someone who feels jealous often displays some of these signs and behaviors:
- Constantly seeking validation and reassurance
- Interrogating a partner about friends, co-workers, etc.
- Obsessively monitoring others’ communication and whereabouts
- Making false accusations of others
- Trying to to isolate your partner or friends from other people that feel threatening
- Putting other people down in order to boost one’s own self-image
- Finding it hard to be happy for others
- Having a hard time trusting others
- Being fiercely competitive
- Blaming and criticizing others often
- Feeling angry, resentful toward others and easily irritated
- At times feeling sad, lonely or even depressed
What are the types of jealousy? Psychologists explain that feelings of jealousy can occur in all types of human relationships, including those that are romantic, platonic/friendships, career-oriented or familial (among spouses or siblings, for example).
Here are some common types of jealousy:
- In romantic relationships — Men and women can become jealous of their partners/significant others spending time with other people because they have an underlying fear of being replaced. Men and women both feel jealousy within relationships, however there’s some evidence that men seem to be more jealous about their partners having potential sexual connections with other people, while women fear their partners having emotional connections with others.
- Retrospective jealousy — This type involves someone feeling jealous about a partner’s past relationships, which can feel threatening to the current one.
- Platonic jealousy — This occurs between friends who may be competing for attention and recognition. It can affect people of all ages but is most common among adolescents and young adults, especially girls.
- Power and status — This is related to envy and often occurs in the workplace among co-workers.
- Sibling rivalry — This type describes one sibling becoming jealous of another, often due to lack of attention, recognition and so on. This might also occur when a new baby is born and demands the parents’ attention.
- Abnormal jealousy — Another name for this type is “pathological jealousy,” which involves having irrational worries about a partner’s faithfulness even though there is no evidence that the partner is being unfaithful.
What is the main cause of jealousy? At the root of jealousy and envy are often deep-down feelings of fear and insecurity.
People can become jealous for a wide range of reasons, but usually it occurs if someone’s status or relationship seems threatened, such as by a third party. (This is a common type of jealousy among boyfriends/girlfriends or sometimes spouses.)
While nearly everyone feels jealous from time to time, some people with certain personality traits are more prone to experiencing it than others.
Psychologists believe that underlying causes of jealousy can include:
- Having low self-esteem and insecurities
- Fear of abandonment and trust issues
- Being a perfectionist
- Feeling the need to be possessive of others in order to gain or maintain control
- Having anxiety, lots of fear about the unknown/future and high levels of neuroticism
- Being overly competitive and aggressive
- Having a history of certain mental health issues, such as schizophrenia, paranoia, psychosis, attachment issues with parents or borderline personality disorder
How It Negatively Affects Health
Jealousy and envy can both feel like painful experiences, which can contribute to overall feelings of stress.
Being jealous can also cause dissatisfaction within relationships, low self-esteem, and potentially loneliness if it causes someone to act unreasonably and severs connections.
Because it can contribute to stress, relationship dysfunction, conflict and low self-esteem, being jealous may have some of the following negative health effects:
- Feelings of social isolation
- Trouble sleeping
- Daytime fatigue
- Anxiety symptoms tied to high stress levels, like high blood pressure, inflammation, headaches, stomachaches and a suppressed immune system
- Potentially issues like overeating, under-eating or weight fluctuations if food is used to cope with stress
- Higher risk for depression and substance abuse, including alcoholism
How to Overcome Jealousy
Here are some tips for dealing with these difficult feelings and even allowing them to deepen your connections to others:
1. Consider Jealousy to Be a Helpful Signal
Even though society often makes it seem that experiencing any negative emotion is a bad thing — a concept that’s referred to as “toxic positivity” — it’s not necessarily a problem to feel jealous.
Although jealousy can feel uncomfortable and cause conflict with other people if it leads to certain behaviors, it doesn’t have to have damaging effects on your life if you learn to handle it properly.
Anthropologists believe that humans actually developed the capacity to feel jealous because it helps us preserve social bonds and motivates us to improve ourselves. In this way, you can think of jealousy as an adaptive trait that might wind up leading you to become a better version of yourself.
Jealousy can also be a signal that a relationship is drifting apart and needs repairing.
Psychologists recommend that we start by viewing envious feelings as an opportunity for self-exploration and personal growth. The first step is to practice mindfulness/self-awareness and look closely at what and whom causes you to feel jealous.
The more specific you can be in identifying what is bothering you, the easier it will be to come up with solutions to solve your dilemma.
Journaling about your feelings can be very a helpful way to gain insight. You probably already know whom you’re jealous of (or maybe you don’t), but try to go deeper by asking yourself these questions:
- What exactly do I feel like I’m lacking that someone else has?
- Do I in fact want what that person has? Why?
- What does my jealousy say about what I prioritize and value?
- Have they earned what they have, and do they deserve it?
- Is there something productive I can do to earn the same things?
After exploring these questions, notice if solutions become a bit clearer. If not, it can be helpful to speak with a therapist if you find that your jealousy interferes with the overall quality of your life or if it continues to be damaging to your relationships.
2. Be Honest with Whomever Is the Root of Your Jealousy
If you’re experiencing jealousy with a partner, sibling, co-worker, etc, ask yourself if it would be helpful to talk to that person about it. This is actually an opportunity to deepen and improve your relationship and potentially help you get more of what you need (attention, affection, reassurance, compassion, etc.).
If someone else’s actions make you feel overlooked, unappreciated or upset, if possible work on negotiating boundaries that make you feel better. It might feel awkward or embarrassing to admit that you’re envious, but chances are your honesty will help.
Having productive conversations about your relationships can help you identify what is lacking and how to repair your connection.
3. Reduce Exposure to Triggers, such as by Decreasing Social Media Use
According to Paula Durlofsky, Ph.D. and licensed psychologist, “…be aware that unhealthy social media comparisons, known as upward comparisons, often cause feelings of destructive envy.”
Upward comparisons occur when we compare ourselves to people we believe are better than or superior to us. This often leads to feelings of low self-confidence, resentment, envy and shame.
Today, one way in which unhealthy comparisons are constantly made is via the use of social media. For example, a 2017 revealed that imaged-focused Instagram “is considered the social media platform most likely to cause young people to feel depressed, anxious and lonely.”
If you find yourself feeling envious and insecure when using social media often, intentionally limit your exposure to it. Rather than scrolling social media, reading magazines that make you feel insecure or watching TV shows that trigger you, spend more time doing things that lift you up.
Try connecting with people you feel comfortable with in person more often, getting outdoors, exercising, being creative and practicing other habits on a regular basis that help decrease negative feelings, such as meditation, reading and journaling. Participating in volunteer and social programs can also help boost your mood and self-image and give you a sense of purpose.
4. Practice Gratitude
Feeling grateful is basically the opposite of feeling jealous. The definition of gratitude is the quality of being thankful for something. It’s related to a readiness to show appreciation for something and the ability to return kindness to others.
When you’re happy and content in your own life, and confident with what you have to offer the world, you naturally feel less need to be jealous of others.
How can you practice more gratitude? Try journaling about things you’re thankful for, being as present as possible when doing things you love, pouring energy into healthy relationships in your life and improving your confidence by learning new things.
Other ways to feel more grateful include:
- expressing your appreciation to others in your life, such as by writing letters/emails or complimenting them
- praying and meditating to practice being more present and optimistic
- making an effort to bring things to mind each day that make you feel warm and happy, such as by reflecting on fun experiences and accomplishments
- Jealousy is a universal human emotion that describes an unhappy or angry desire to have what someone else has. It’s similar to envy but usually involves a third party/person that feels like a threat, while envy is more about wanting what someone else has, such as money, status or recognition.
- Although it can be painful, it isn’t necessarily bad to feel this way because it can help motivate you to improve yourself and deepen your connection to others by being more honest, present, appreciative and vulnerable.
- Gratitude is basically the opposite of jealousy. It’s defined as “the quality of being thankful,” and it’s been shown to boost happiness, positivity, self-esteem, relationships and self-care.
- Other ways to cope with this feeling include being more mindful about what you appreciate in others, being present when engaging in things you enjoy, reducing social media use, journaling, mediating to gain self-awareness and speaking with a therapist.