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3 Ways to Transform Jealousy into Personal Growth

Jealousy can sow seeds of personal transformation.

Just about everyone experiences a negative emotion or two during the course of the day – impatience when the line at the coffee shop is longer than you like, frustration when you cannot find a parking space close enough to your destination, or jealousy when someone gets something you wanted for yourself. Unlike envy, which is just coveting something someone else has, jealousy includes the fear that you are losing something to someone when they get what you want. You might be jealous when your spouse has friends who are the same gender you are because you worry about friendships turning into romantic attractions. Or when your long-time best friend finds out she has a lot in common with your new friend, you may feel jealous that the budding relationship will undermine your own friendships with the two others. Or if a toddler wants “only daddy,” it can make a “mommy” jealous of the special parent-child relationship that exists, but does not include her. Jealousy is one of the most “organic” responses to perceived threats to a scarcity of resources – in fact, sibling rivalry is perhaps the earliest form of jealousy as we witness our caregivers giving their affection to our siblings.

Articles and books abound that encourage us to transform our negative emotions into positive experiences or outcomes, but what would this look like with jealousy?

1. Embrace the Upside of Jealousy

Can you find an “upside” to jealousy? Does this relationship thundercloud even have a silver lining? Well, it very well might if you are able to use jealousy’s appearance in your life as a means to enhance your self-understanding and personal “insecurity analysis.” I’ve known clients who seek counseling to complain about relationships that have fizzled out or gone flat. Client may be unsure whether to try and rev up or ditch the stalled out relationship. More than once, I’ve seen this decision become many times easier when a spark of jealousy has been ignited. There’s an old saying that you don’t know how much you value something until you lose it. In relationships, sometimes you don’t know what you’ve got until you feel the threat of or potential for loss. Thus, jealousy can help you recognize the authentic value you place on something, whether a relationship or status.

When it comes to achievements, if you are jealous of another’s financial status, you may want to explore exactly what you believe having more money in your own bank account would mean for you. Say you’re jealous that a friend called on someone else when she was in need? That may be a sign that you value being able to help others. You’re jealous of someone’s amazing vacation – does this reflect your own feeling that you are missing out on the joys life has to offer?

Jealousy is a personal response that tells us more about ourselves than the circumstances of another. True, jealousy is a difficult emotion to tease apart in search of a positive component, but it can certainly give onlookers a window into what another person’s value system looks like.

2. Turn Jealousy into a Force of Positive Transformation

Simply put, jealousy is motivated by fear. When fear is driving your behaviors, it is essential to tune into the cognitive components that accompany the fear. When jealousy kicks into gear, try to figure out what it is that you are fearful of losing . . . a relationship? A status? A sense of control? It can be one of a million different things, depending on who you are and what you value. Unpacking that fear is the key to figuring out where your insecurities reside – which is necessary in determining how best to overcome them. By growing awareness of what you most value in life, you are given the opportunity to pause and reflect on the richness present in your life.

Rather than giving into negative or destructive emotions, use these feelings as triggers for self-reflection. Sure, it is easier to dissolve into a heap of despair when you believe something you value is being threatened, but there is much to be gained in exploring the fear and insecurity that are being stirred up by the threat. Listen to your fears as they can shine light on the weaker links in your mindset and emotional stability, but don’t let your fear immobilize you. Let jealousy be a trigger to identify and deconstruct the insecurities that are getting in the way of a happier life before it guides you to take action in ways that threaten the relationships or roles you most deeply cherish and want to protect.

3. Personal Transformation can also arise when someone is Jealous of You

I once received a letter from a friend who was undergoing significant challenges in her own life and she listed all of the things I possessed of which she was “jealous.” From a station wagon to a second child to an employed spouse, the list was a much more comprehensive listing of items for which I should be grateful than I might have been able to create at that very harried time in my life.

Rather than allowing the unsettling letter to end the friendship, I read and re-read it, recognizing that it represented my friend’s perspective about what she really felt was wrong in her own life. Knowing there was little I could do of significant assistance, I decided that I would send her a thank-you note letting her know how much I appreciated the gift she had given me via her letter. I communicated appreciation for her ability to help me recognize the good fortune I had in my life and that her external perspective was a great “wake-up call” about what was going right in my life, even though I may get “hung up” on what I felt was not going the way I wanted.

This friendship endured that crisis a couple of decades ago and has continued across the miles as our lives have taken diverse paths. However, that incident remains with me as a reminder to explore the root cause of any prickling of jealousy that arise for me and to use these as cues to check back in with what I feel is lacking in my own life.

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