Does any of this ring true for you? I know it certainly has from time-to-time for me. Honestly, in my professional opinion as a psychotherapist, I truly don’t think any of us escape feeling jealous, envy, or comparing ourselves to others during this whole human experience.
But contrary to popular belief, I don’t think this — jealousy — has to be such a bad thing. In fact, I think that jealousy can actually be a good thing and teach you something pretty important if you pay attention to it. So if you’d like to explore some ideas about how to view and harness jealousy into a positive versus a negative force in your life, keep reading…
What exactly *is* jealousy and why does it get such a bad rep?
Jealousy, according to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary is:
: an unhappy or angry feeling of wanting to have what someone else has.
My personal and professional interpretation of jealousy is that it’s a complex emotion containing shades of anger, fear, and longing that can be quite uncomfortable to experience but is, nonetheless, a nearly universal human emotion.
But despite its universality, jealousy – like so many other emotions labeled as “negative” – has long had a bad rep. From being listed as one of the seven deadly sins to pop culture references such as “Green Eyed Monster,” jealousy’s long been been viewed as “bad” and mythology and history have overflowed with examples of evil queens and murderous rivals who did awful things thanks to the roots of jealousy.
No wonder so many of us experience shame and humiliation when we admit to ourselves we’re jealous of what we see others having!
Let’s face it: jealousy doesn’t always feel good to feel but that doesn’t mean it’s a “bad” emotion.
A little re-frame.
If you’ve been a reader of my blog for any time, you probably know that I don’t think there’s any such thing as a “bad emotion.” Rather, all emotions are inherently neutral and they are signals in our body that call out for our attention and attentiveness.
Jealousy is no different.
Jealousy may not always be comfortable to feel, but like all emotions, it’s a signal in our emotional body that contains information and important clues for us to pay attention to in order to support ourselves to live a more enlivened life.
In fact, I truly believe that jealousy in particular provides three great opportunities for you to learn and grow if you’re willing to pay attention to it.
What jealousy can teach us.
Jealousy, like so many emotions, can be a good teacher. Here are three ways and ideas about how and what jealousy can teach you if you tune into this clue:
1) A clue towards your true desires.
Instead of shaming or blaming yourself for feeling jealousy, I invite you to consider that jealousy is actually trying to get your attention and make you aware of what you truly want, what your deep desires are, and possibly take action on those desires.
Late one Sunday night, a thirty-something woman named Kate is scrolling through Instagram and sees a photo of an old college friend vacationing in New Zealand. She immediately feels her stomach sink and a hot flush of jealousy and envy, wishing she could travel instead of saving her pennies for those monthly graduate school student loan repayments. New Zealand’s been on her bucket list forever and she’s feeling jealous that her friend got to experience this and not her.
In this example, Kate’s jealousy’s being triggered by her friend’s New Zealand travel photo. Is this comfortable for her? Probably not. But there’s a really important clue embedded in Kate’s jealousy: her longing to travel, maybe even her longing to return to items on her bucket list she’s chosen to/had to defer for financial reasons.
Does this mean Kate can or should immediately pack up and go to New Zealand? Who knows. But if travel is a deep desire for her, a longing that gets triggered through her jealous feelings when she sees photos of friends traveling, then it’s probably something that’s worth being curious and possibly actionable about in other ways.
For instance, could Kate begin some rigorous budgeting for a trip? Could she explore travel hacking? Or does she need to do some arm-chair traveling with a stream of travel documentaries? Who knows. Kate’s the expert of her experience and will know best what she needs and wants, but if she’s willing to acknowledge her jealousy and get curious about the essence of this longing – the clue contained in the feeling – it could help her to more consciously acknowledge her desires and choose to be actionable about this longing.
2) An opportunity to notice what’s going well.
As counterintuitive as it may seem, I actually think that jealousy can give you a chance to notice what’s actually working well in your life. Jealousy can actually provide a chance for us to practice gratitude if we’re willing to untwist our thinking and change our perception about the situation.
Let’s return to the example of Kate. In this instance, Kate’s feeling longing and jealousy and envy over her friend’s travel adventures and wishing she could be doing that, too. The core longing for Kate is travel and adventure, something she’s not had in quite some time. But if she can pause and reflect on her jealousy and notice what’s going well in her life even though she doesn’t have the thing she so dearly wants yet, she creates an opportunity to practice gratitude for what she does actually have.
For instance, she hasn’t traveled in a few years since she went to grad school, but she did travel before then and even had a few overseas trips in her twenties. She also now has a graduate degree now whereas she may not have if she’d spent money on travel versus her degree in these past few years. Maybe Kate can notice that her degree will ultimately afford her more income down the road and possibly more disposable income to travel with.
The point I’m trying to make is that when you acknowledge your feelings of jealousy and then are willing to do the simple but not easy work of changing your perception of the situation to notice what’s actually going well in your life, jealousy then becomes like a sort of trigger to practice gratitude for what actually is going well in your life.
3) A chance to practice being with what is.
Finally, I think that acknowledging and accepting our feelings of jealousy can give us the proverbially ultimate personal growth opportunity: a chance to practice being with what is.
What I mean by this is that, maybe for Kate, at the end of the day, even after noticing her true desires that jealousy points to and even after being willing to change her perception and notice what’s going well in her life, Kate may still feel awful having all those big feelings of jealousy and envy after seeing her friend’s photo. And that’s okay. It truly is.
She gets to feel jealous and she gets to feel envy. And she gets to now practice actually just being with what is for her: She’s jealous. She can sit with that and be with her actual feelings, her real experience, and maybe even expand her container for feeling those feelings.
This is the work – the real work we’re always aiming for in psychotherapy: expanding our emotional containers so that we can feel all the multitude of feelings life contains. This personal growth work isn’t about eliminating or numbing out certain emotions; it’s about practicing feeling all of them so we can live our most enlivened life.
At the end of the day, jealousy is a great opportunity for us to practice being with what is and expanding our capacity to tolerate uncomfortable feelings.
As we wrap up today I want you to take away a few key points:
Jealousy is universal, we ALL feel it. And it’s OKAY to feel it. It doesn’t make you a bad person and it doesn’t necessarily mean jealousy is a BAD emotion. In fact, jealousy can provide us with important information about our true desires, clues about where we might want to turn our attention and get actionable.
Jealousy also provides us with the opportunity to change our perception from what we lack to what’s actually going well in our lives. Jealousy provides a chance to practice gratitude. And finally, jealousy affords us the ultimate personal growth opportunity: the chance to be with what is and to feel ALL of our feelings, even the uncomfortably ones, so that we can expand our emotional container.
Now I’d love to hear from you: Are there any other ways jealousy is actually a teacher in your life? How have you learned to be with and find value in jealousy as you’ve experienced it in your life? Leave me a message in the comments below and I’ll be sure to respond.
Or if you live outside of these states, please consider enrolling in the waitlist for the Relational Trauma Recovery School – or my signature online course, Hard Families, Good Boundaries, designed to support you in healing your adverse early beginnings and create a beautiful adulthood for yourself, no matter where you started out in life.
And until next time, please take very good care of yourself. You’re so worth it.