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What Your Jealousy and Envy are Telling You

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 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

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.

Provide praise