Updated: Feb 14, 2022
Can we talk about jealousy and envy?
Jealousy and envy are two words that are used interchangeably but are actually quite different. At Can We Talk, we often talk about the importance of language; the need to understand the words we assign to things, and what they mean.
According to Dr. Richard H. Smith: Envy occurs when we lack a desired attribute enjoyed by another. Jealousy occurs when something we already possess (usually a special relationship) is threatened by a third person. And so envy is a two-person situation whereas jealousy is a three-person situation. Envy is a reaction to lacking something.
Jealousy is a reaction to the threat of losing something or someone.
For instance: Envy is a feeling that would arise if Jackie desired the type of accomplishments that Jill was experiencing in her life. Jealousy is what would arise if Jackie desired the type of attention and recognition that Jill received in the workplace from management.
According to Dr. Richard H. Smith, the confusion between the two words comes from: semantics and how the words are used in speech and expression and; the fact that these emotions often “travel together”.
Jealousy and envy are emotions that not many people speak about because of the negative connotations that are attached to them. Religious teachings on the subject don’t help in demystifying these emotions. The teachings we see often shame and even go as far as quantifying these emotions as sins.
A quick search for sayings and quotes about jealousy and envy will have you cowering away from acknowledging emotions that are simply human.
Jealousy, envy and emotions
As if the extent of their power is not enough, jealousy and envy bring with them a whole slew of other emotions that affect our mental health: a sense of inferiority, resentment, self-reproach, low self-esteem, social anxiety and when left unchecked even hostility.
These emotions also create a pit within us because of the sense of lack and emptiness that they evoke which no one is willing to openly speak about because of the vulnerable position it leaves us in.
Jealousy, envy and past experiences
If your childhood was filled with instances in which you experienced comparison and heard statements like:
“Why can’t you be as hardworking or as eloquent or as smart as your cousin?”
“Your brother was always top of his class. What happened to you?”
“When I was your age, I had a stable job, 3 children and a house in my name.”
You could end up dealing with a perpetual sense of comparison in which you are always pitting everyone against yourself in order to prove your worth and experiencing the unnerving feelings of lack.
If, in addition to comparison, validation is something that you did not experience as children, you subconsciously get triggered to feel jealous or envious because you also desire to be seen, heard or appreciated.
These emotions will sometimes make you incapable of standing in your agency as an individual (with unique needs, wants, interests and dreams) or incapable of experiencing contentment because when you were younger, you were always compared to other people and never validated when you did achieve your very best.
They also cloud our perception of what we want by refocusing our vision on other people’s paths.
For instance, because Jackie (who is a photographer) notices that Jill (who works a corporate job) is living her best life, she may decide to betray her life’s dream to pursue Jill’s path even when it’s not a good fit.
Envy in friendship
So much of life is made up of milestones that we are conditioned to hit or achieve. With the embrace of social media, the pressure to hit certain milestones and live certain types of lives have grown profusely. It’s especially harder to watch our friends who in some cases have had the same backgrounds we have, grow exponentially while we remain stuck or stagnant.
When jealousy and envy becomes a problem
We’re not theologians here, but we would like to assume that the reason why envy is seen as a sin is because of the path it leads a lot of people down. We notice that envy has become a problem:
When you’re unable to celebrate another person’s success.
When you start to dismiss or poke holes in other people’s wins, calling it constructive criticism.
When you tend to provide backhanded comments or insults in the guise of humour.
When you can’t see the abundance of blessings in your own life.
When you turn friends into your competition and always want to draw the attention back to yourself.
When jealousy and envy turn into bitterness and hostility towards other people.
So your friend is envious of you...now what?
If you have a friend who opens up to you about how they are feeling envious of you, here are a few things that you can do to help them through these emotions.
Be open about what you have had to go through or the work that you have had to put in to build the career you have and to accumulate the material things you own. Be open about how so much has gone into getting to where you are. Be open about not everything is rosy.
By being open, we give a clearer picture of this thing that your friend is desiring. Sometimes, all a person needs to let go of envy is to realise that so much of your life is actually not what they desire for themselves.
Envy clouds our eyes to the abundance that we have within our own worlds. If your friend has opened up about their feelings of envy, remind them about their talents, abilities and accomplishments. We sometimes get so accustomed to what comes naturally to us that we forget that what we do is like small acts of magic to other people.
Provide guidance where possible
For instance, if your friend is looking for ways to advance in their career and you have made great strides in this area of your life, then you can provide guidance on: the skills they should invest in; the types of networks they should engage, the resources they need to get that scholarship or write that application.
Feelings of envy at their core are about happiness or the lack thereof. When Jackie sees Jill living her best life, she sees happiness. She then thinks about the lack in her life and assumes that: “If I had a bomb body, I would be happy” or “If I were married with a baby on the way, I would be happy” or “If I lived in a bigger house in a plush part of town, I would be happy.”
If Jackie came to Jill and spoke openly about her envy, Jill should consider asking, “What does happiness mean to you?” and give Jackie the space to dig deep about this. For the answers to each of these questions, Jackie needs to find out “the why”.
The core of this conversation might look like this: Jill: What does happiness mean to you? Jackie: I want to be married with a baby on the way. Jill: Why? Jackie: Because I want a family of my own. Jill: Why? Jackie: Because I want companionship, support and to feel loved by someone.
The conversation may not flow in this format but the point is to give more clarity to what a person’s wants or desires are and truly consider them before rushing onto a path that they aren’t ready or equipped for.
“When we aren’t clear on what will make us happy or what we really desire or how we experience joy, when we see other people experience their version of happiness.” Beatrice Kamau, The Self Love Fix
The best thing you can do for a friend who is being this vulnerable with you is to listen. Before jumping in with all the advice, with all the “just be positive” vibes, with the psychoanalysis, just sit and listen to your friend’s rants. Sometimes, that’s all a person needs.
How to overcome envy and jealousy
Acknowledge the feeling
Fighting it won’t help you get over it. Sit with the feeling. Be still with yourself. Realise the fact that you can be happy for someone and celebrate them genuinely and still desire what they have. Listen to what they are drawing your attention to. Jealousy and envy might be telling you that you’re not happy about where you are in life, it might be highlighting trauma you experienced. This calls for shadow work.
Keep a gratitude journal
Note down all the things you are grateful for. You don’t even have to journal everyday for this to be effective. Looking inwards at what you are doing in the world, the ways you are giving to others and your achievements just might fill the pit of lack in your spirit.
Block or unfollow
There’s no doubt that social media has made our sense of jealousy and envy worse. If the accounts you follow just make you feel bitter, lonely, unworthy, cause self-reproach, hit the block or unfollow button until you’re in a better mind space.
Yes, even if it’s a close friend’s account. You can’t keep consuming what makes you sad.
So, Jackie is envious of Jill who is getting fitter and hitting #bodygoals levels. Jackie also wants to be fit, built and healthier. But Jackie also has to be real and ask what she is doing to achieve this thing that she desires in Jill’s life.
How often is Jackie working out? Does she make time for exercise or prioritises other things in her life? What kinds of foods is she eating?
It’s one thing to envy someone else’s life or accomplishments, but are you willing to put in some form of work and sacrifice to get there?
Feelings of envy and jealousy cause feelings of low self-esteem. Because someone else is flourishing while we feel stuck and stagnant, we start to assume, “There’s something wrong with me. Why can’t I do big things too?” Getting to a place of self-compassion is realizing that someone else’s success is not a reflection of who we are. It also means understanding that just because you desire something doesn’t mean you need it. Your path is your own. Flourish in it!
“Expectations can make you believe that what you desire is what you need.” Expectations ~ Magic!
Reach out to your support system
Speak to people you trust or a therapist if you have one about your feelings.
How to make jealousy and envy serve you
Use jealousy and/or envy as a source of inspiration to achieve your own dreams. Tell yourself that if they can do it, so can you. It’s important to note that your version of achieving your dreams won’t look like that of the person you envy.
Identify the reason behind the feelings. Why are you envious? Why has seeing someone in their element or success made you feel this way? What parts of your subconscious has it triggered?
By understanding the root of your jealousy or envy, you could begin to consider what parts of your life you need to work on and if you are willing to put in the work to get to the place other people are in?
Use these feelings to truly figure out what your idea of happiness is, what work you need to do, what success looks like for you, what trauma you haven’t dealt with and so much more.
At our core, we all want to be seen and loved. We all want to feel fulfilled and experience joy. We all want to be happy. Feelings of jealousy and envy are tricksters that keep shifting what the goal post of happiness looks like for us. Contentment is taking that power back and affirming that you are happy even now.