How to Manage Envy and Jealousy in Your Relationships
Learn to recognize and cope with envy and jealousy
Posted Jan 02, 2021
While “jealousy” is often used synonymously with “envy,” they are in fact distinct emotions. Envy is a composite of a desire to have what the envied have, resentment of the envied for being on the receiving end of the good, and a feeling that they have done nothing special to deserve the good and certainly nothing more than you have.
Jealousy, by contrast, is a composite of a fear of losing what you have (i.e., a person's love, affection, or attention), resentment toward your rival for going after what you have, and resentment toward your partner for not keeping the rival at bay.
Jealousy and envy differ in their normative properties. While jealousy can be rational, this is not so for envy (except for some exceptional circumstances). Envy involves resentment toward the person you envy for their desired possession or advantage. But it's unlikely that the person you envy has acquired or received the desired possession or advantage in order to wrong you, hurt you, or make you envious. They most likely didn't think of you at all when they acquired or received the desired possession or advantage. So, envy is nearly always an irrational emotion. For example, you might envy your friend for the trust fund he received from his wealthy parents. But it's highly unlikely that his receiving the trust fund has anything to do with you.
It's not just jealousy that arises in romantic relationships, envy does too. If, say, your romantic partner spends more time with their best friend than you, and this makes you feel resentful, you are likely envious of your partner's best friend. In that case, you take the friend to receive your partner's attention and time—something you feel you are more entitled to receive.
Similarly, just as envy can arise in romantic relationships, so too can jealousy occur in friendships and familial relationships. Say your close friend recently has started spending more time with one of your new coworkers than she does with you. In that case, you may fear losing the unique friendship you take you and your close friend to have. This is jealousy. You may simultaneously envy the new coworker, because she receives more time and attention from your close friend that you do.
In very small doses, jealousy and envy can be perfectly natural components of romantic relationships, close friendships, and familial relationships. A teeny bit of jealousy can even add thrill and zest to a new romance.
When blown out of proportion, however, both envy and jealousy can be destructive. So, what to do when these toxic emotions threaten to destroy your romantic relationship, friendship or familial relationship?
Here are some strategies for how you can deal with your own envy or jealousy issues.
1. Refrain from Acting on Your Jealousy or Envy
Many of us are in the habit of acting as we feel. We smile when we feel happy, not when we are sad, irritated, or angry. Of course, we do sometimes put a lit on how we feel. Even if you were unceremoniously dumped by your long-term girlfriend the night before an important job interview, it's unlikely that you will walk into the job interview sulking and crying. The odds are that you walk in with a big smile. What this example illustrates, while acting against our emotions doesn't come naturally, we are able to do it every so often.
Intense and frequent bouts of jealousy and envy only threaten to cause havoc in your relationship when you act on them. So, if you frequently become intensely envious or jealous, you still have the power to prevent your toxic emotions from ruining your relationship. Feel, but don't act.
If the need arises, consider explaining your feelings to your romantic partner, friend, or family member. Perhaps they can help. But don't attempt to have this conversation when you are consumed by these destructive feelings. Wait till you feel calmer.
2. Regain Your Self-Confidence
Jealousy often goes hand in hand with low self-esteem and insecurity issues. If you don't take yourself to be worthy of your partner's, friend, or family member's love or care, you will constantly be seeking reassurance from them. Coming across as a needy person can ruin your relationship, and only feeling worthy of other people's love or care when they tell you that they love or care about you clearly isn't a healthy way to live.
If this sound like you, then you need to put some serious work into regaining your self-worth and self-confidence (or perhaps gaining them for the first time). If you cannot do it on your own, seek professional help.
3. Work on Your Narcissistic Tendencies
Whereas proneness toward jealousy is tied to a low self-esteem, a tendency toward envy is tied to narcissism. The higher your levels of narcissism, the more entitled you will feel to the attention and admiration of the people around you.
If a narcissist doesn't get the attention they believe they deserve, they are highly prone to react with rage as a cover for their envy. The envy beneath their rage is one kind of "narcissistic injury." A narcissistic injury signals that the narcissist feels deeply uncomfortable when they don't get the full attention and admiration of others. The expression of rage in response to a narcissistic injury is also known as "narcissistic rage."
In tomorrow's post we offer some strategies for how to handle jealousy or envy in a partner, friend, or family member.
Brogaard, B. (2020). Hatred: Understanding Our Most Dangerous Emotion, Oxford University Press.