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Your jealousy isn’t a bad thing. It’s an important clue and opportunity.

Your jealousy isn't a bad thing. It’s an important clue and opportunity. | Annie Wright, LMFT | www.anniewright.com

Ever scroll through Facebook and Instagram perusing the snapshots of your friends’ weddings, engagement rings, beachy vacations, book launches, or job promotions and feel like you’re far behind/falling behind your peers?

Does living in a city where if you haven’t sold your startup/app for millions by 22/retired by 25/helicoptered skied over your winter break (I‘m looking at *you*, Bay Area) make you feel very less than?

Do you often feel like everyone else has their life together but not you? Ever catch yourself in a relentless mental loop wishing you could have what they’re having?

Your jealousy isn't a bad thing. It’s an important clue and opportunity. | Annie Wright, LMFT | www.anniewright.com

Your jealousy isn’t a bad thing. It’s an important clue and opportunity.

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.

For example:

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.

Wrapping up.

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.

If you would like additional support right now and you live in California or Florida, please feel free to reach out to me directly to explore therapy together.

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.

Warmly, Annie

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  1. Jon F. Gasper on  

    I am not exactly how to say this, but here goes. Your take on jealousy is a viewpoint I have never considered. The first thing I have done whenever I found “something” either material or immaterial, I have asked myself “Is this something that will assist me in my goals?” I have been goal oriented for decades. I keep the perpetual “To Do” list. Is it for everyone? No! Does it always work? Yes and no. Yes if you can keep yourself on track. No it fails when communication with your business or personal partner fails. It is also completely disrupted and must be set aside for later when you deal with the sudden death of a family member. Grief occurs but you must get back to a sense of direction, which I have eventually done.
    Now the first thing on my “To Do” list is the one item that has remained there for decades. When people ask me “Jon what are you trying to do?” I always tell them the same thing, “I am trying to stay away from dumb people.” By dumb I mean those who have closed their mind to the world.

    • Annie on  


      I’m glad to know my take on jealousy was a new and possibly helpful perspective for you to consider.

      Warmly, Annie

  2. Wendy Lessard on  

    Another amazingly well timed, thought provoking gem Annie. I feel like I can both make myself more open and more vulnerable, with all the growth and appreciation those can bring, when I read your perspective. Thanks for sharing this.

    • Annie on  


      Thank you so much for your kind and generous feedback. I’m so happy to know my post helped you feel more expansive and think differently about my perspective on jealousy. I appreciate you taking the time to read this post and for stopping by to share your feedback. Thank you!

      Warmly, Annie

  3. Julie on  

    What a great article! Thank you Annie. I surprised myself starting being jealous for the first time with my current partner. I never felt jealousy before him and overall I’m not an envious person. I do compare myself to others but I think I’m way too self-critical to actually be jealous of others. The irony is that I do attract jealous friends, especially women. I would start thinking that I’m the one being jealous but I’ve come to realize that it’s a mere projection of their feelings, and those aren’t actually mine. Anyway, with my partner, it has been different. He has arose within myself very dark feelings and I’m happy to read that jealousy as any other emotions is not bad per se, although it hurts so bad. I’m not sure if jealousy is the same as possessiveness but I couldn’t stand him talking with another woman for too long, especially laughing with another woman or him having so many girlfriends, they’re just friends he used to tell me. I spent really bad moments just caught into my jealousy and the worst was that my partner wouldn’t understand me, he made feel as I was overreacted, and I just felt trapped, isolated, very angry and then just sad. The jealousy hasn’t disappeared but I’ve learned to just acknowledge it and then look at another direction. I don’t stay caught in it for too long now. I’ve learned to affirm to myself that I’m enough and that I have it all. It has smoothed me, and when my deep dark jealous feelings show up, they might spice my life up and show me that I’m passionate and that I care.

    • Annie on  

      Hi Julie,

      I’m glad to know that the way I reframed the emotion of jealousy in this post felt helpful to you in some way. I think jealousy while in relationship can be a particularly frustrating and challenging experience and I hope that you and your partner are able to talk to each other (or seek the help of a facilitator) to help you work through this if needed.

      Again, thank you for taking the time to read my post and I’m so glad to know it felt helpful in some small way.

      Warmly, Annie

  4. Robin on  

    I had never really experienced jelousy until my first encounter with an important woman in my life.

    I suppose it started by me, dishonestly, trying to find acceptance through her. And I never really did, until I sort of figured out that my problem didn’t lie in my surroundings. I was just on the run. Away from my past. And my outer locust of control I had to unlearn. For this reason, I think that jealousy, as you might have said, could be a dichotomy between desperation and fear to change.

    So, as far as I can tell, it was the undigested experiences in my life that kept me from that change. And my emotional container has expanded, ever so often, since I learned to properly – and truthfully, seek help and guidance from family and friends.

    Thank you for sharing this educational piece, Annie. I really appreciate your perspective!

    • Annie on  

      Hi Robin, you’re so welcome! I’m pleased that this post resonated with you. It sounds like you’ve done and continue to do a lot of personal healing work, and I’m so proud of you.

      If you’re interested in putting a more intensive, trauma-informed lens on this type of work, the waitlist to my forthcoming Relational Trauma Recovery School is now open. If you feel like this could be supportive to you, I’ll look forward to seeing you inside and working with you personally. In the meantime, take such good care of yourself. Warmly, Annie

  5. Tara Lee on  

    What a fabulous article. I discovered it at exactly the moment I needed it. ‘The universe is trying to get my attention’. So much wisdom here. Thank you. ❤️

    • Annie on  

      Hi Tara, you’re so welcome. I’m happy this post resonated with you and found you when it did! I’m wishing you all my best and hope you can find additional supports in my library of essays.

      Or if either of my online courses – Hard Families, Good Boundaries, or the forthcoming Relational Trauma Recovery School – could be of support to you, I’ll look forward to seeing you inside and working with you personally. Take such good care of yourself. Warmly, Annie

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