Hello Jealousy My Old Friend

Let’s talk about jealousy, and dismantle the stigma surrounding it. Jealousy has become a big no-no, almost an offence. “Oh, you’re the jealous type”, and there goes the label. Hence, people who feel jealous tend to keep it to themselves, hiding it as if it were something wrong, or bad. Yet jealousy is a universal phenomenon, one that can be experienced by anyone towards anyone –  or anything for that matter. Jealousy is also multidimensional: it can thus apply to romantic relationships as well as platonic ones. People can feel jealous for all sorts of reasons: someone having something they do not have and wish to have, but also things they already have and wish to have more of. This could be looks, wealth, success, or even happiness.

Despite jealousy’s bad reputation, this common experience can sometimes be a driving force that pushes people to do better. “How?”, you may ask. Take fear as an example. Evolutionary speaking, fear is a survival skill that signals danger and allows animals and humans alike to prepare their body and respond to a perceived threat. In that sense, jealousy too is a form of self-protection. It allows animals to “guard” their mate and protect themselves from infidelity. Hence, jealousy is not destructive in itself. It appears as an adaptive reaction to a situation that is interpreted as threatening. The feeling is not maladaptive in itself, but the reaction to it and how one copes with it could be.

Here, it becomes important to differentiate between the acceptable kind of jealousy and envy, the maladaptive kind. Imagine jealousy as a spectrum, varying in terms of intensity, how much one feels jealous, and in terms of quality, the way in which one feels jealous. Of course, the less one is prone to these feelings, the better, as jealousy is already an intense and distressing feeling in itself. So what is the difference between jealousy and envy? Although both terms are used interchangeably, the concepts and their ramifications are quite different.

When one feels jealous, it can push them to do better. For instance, if I am jealous of a colleague’s position, this could motivate me to do better at work, regardless of my colleague’s success. If I’m feeling envious however, I would wish for my colleague to be less successful so that I can shine brighter. Envy is when I don’t celebrate my colleague’s success, wishing they would fail so that I can take their position. In other words, when experiencing jealousy, one can use an external factor – people, an idea, a situation – to work on themselves and improve while in envy, that external factor becomes their end goal – the effort, time and energy are directed outwards and the intention is harmful. While envy is counterproductive, jealousy is a dynamic process that can sometimes be productive.

Jealousy is already an unpleasurable feeling in itself. So instead of self-stigmatizing for feeling that way, let’s try to channel it by using these simple steps:

1- Use jealousy as a driving force to improve.

Think of what is generating feelings of jealousy. More often than not, it is a signal of dissatisfaction in an aspect of oneself – the physical, the contextual, the social surrounding, among other components of one’s life. Jealousy is a draining feeling that can be counterproductive if not addressed, so consider jealousy as an ache. Just like you would treat your stomachache differently than your headache, understand what exactly is hurting when it comes to jealousy in order to find the right solution.

2- Communicate with your partner if you feel jealous.

Not only will communication strengthen your bond, but it can also help you get another perspective on the situation that is giving rise to feelings of jealousy. We tend to interpret situations differently than others. Therefore, knowing what is going on in your partner’s mind and remembering their intention can be reassuring in moments of doubt. 

3- Take a break from social media.

People tend to compare themselves to what they are exposed to on social media, sometimes questioning their identity, body image, and even definition of happiness. However, online beauty standards are unrealistic and people tend to present the best version of themselves on social media. So it’s important to remember that the virtual world does not correspond to reality. A short break can help you reconnect with yourself, rather than focus on others.

4- Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

If you feel like you are on the high end of the spectrum, or that your feelings of jealousy are overwhelming, consulting a professional might be beneficial for you.

Bottom line: jealousy is not something we can necessarily control. What we can control, however, is our reaction to it and how we cope with it. We all have our own toolbox that we can use to self-actualize and become a better version of ourselves. Now is your time to use yours.

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