Most people view jealousy and envy as very negative emotions, and with good reason. Who could possibly enjoy the terrible gnawing feeling in their gut as a loved one flirts with another suitor, or a colleague appears to be in line to take your job, or a friend starts spending less time with you because he’s hanging out with another friend?
In fact, researchers believe there’s more to jealousy and envy than just a lack of control over one’s emotions. They theorize that these feelings are rooted deep in the evolution of the human species, and as such, form a fundamental part of human nature. Understanding and overcoming your jealousy and envy can be a way of better understanding yourself and what drives you, and ultimately can make you a healthier, more well-rounded person.
Jealousy and Envy: What’s the Difference?
The words jealousy and envy are often used interchangeably, but they are two very different emotions:
· Jealousy involves a perceived or actual rivalry in which two people are vying for an object of longing – a love interest, a promotion at work, or a good friend
, for example. The jealous person feels a sense of betrayal and also a sense of potential loss, because his rival stands to gain something he will lose.
· Envy involves looking with longing at someone whose circumstances appear better than your own. There’s no rivalry involved; rather, you just wish you had what the other person has. The person experiencing envy has an intense sense of deprivation, and ruminates over the unfairness of his situation.
Self-esteem is at the root of both emotions. A person reacts with jealousy when his self-esteem
is threatened by a potential loss of something or someone he holds dear, and with envy when his self-worth is threatened by comparing his situation with that of someone enjoying better circumstances.
Researchers also believe there is an evolutionary component to human jealousy and envy. Mammals survive and succeed when they are able to gather enough resources to provide them better health and longer life. They are able to pass on their genetic traits when they best their rivals for a desired mate. These feelings have not left us, even though we have become more sophisticated in our development.
Unfortunately, this embedded and inherited “green-eyed monster” can wreak havoc on our lives and relationships if not controlled:
· Romantic partners may feel threatened or frightened by a person’s jealousy – and with good reason, since jealousy often is cited as a reason for abuse
of partners or spouses. A jealous person may end up losing the person he loves through uncontrolled jealousy, as his significant other reacts to his possessiveness by pulling away.
· Colleagues at work can develop a lot of ill will toward a person who is envious of their success or jealous of their relative advancement. The jealous or envious person tends to be peevish and brittle. He tends to spread negative gossip about the person toward whom he feels jealousy or envy, in an attempt to “take them down a peg.” A jealous or envious person also may become boastful, trying to inflate himself to mask his insecurity.
· Friends often find themselves unable to maintain their relationship with a jealous person. They become disturbed by the constant sniping at other friends with whom they spend time, or by the possessiveness of the jealous person. They come to view the jealous person as negative, unpleasant, and out of control.
Coping With Jealousy and Envy
Overcoming jealousy and envy means involves a lot of self-awareness. When feeling these emotions, you should:
· Take a step back. Start by understanding that these are normal and natural emotions, hard-wired into our being. Acknowledge that you are feeling jealous or envious. Also understand that this is ultimately your problem, not anyone else’s, as it is your own threatened self-esteem that’s prompting the emotions. Overcoming jealousy is up to you.
· Figure out the reason for your jealousy or envy. Is it another suitor threatening your relationship with your lover? Is it a work competitor about to best you for a coveted promotion? Keep in mind that just these things may not be real; they may just be something you’ve perceived.
· Be aware of the potential negative actions your jealousy or envy could inspire. Resist the urge to control or stalk your romantic partner, “trash-talk” your rival, or become sullen and bitter over the unfairness of it all. These are all tempting options in the throes of jealousy, but could ultimately cost you the object of your desire.
· Take positive action to solve the source of your jealousy or envy.Communicate your jealousy to your partner, so he knows where you’re coming from and can tell you if your feelings are groundless. You might also take steps to make your loved one more desirous of you, by figuring out and addressing the things she needs that your rival might be providing and you aren’t (romance, conversation, attention). At work, figure out what the person you envy is doing to enjoy his success, and try to emulate or even improve upon those actions. In both cases, you are removing the need for jealousy or envy by improving yourself.
Jealousy and envy are incredibly strong emotions, and aren’t easily dealt with. But by tackling these feelings with open communication and a desire to improve and better yourself, you can use them to spur you on to success, rather than mire you in bitterness.