Jealousy and Envy – A Rational Emotion?
By Emily Cheyne
Jealousy is an internal emotion where the individual fears losing something they have or possess. Individuals think that they should have something. Envy however is more or a desire or want for something.
Fundamentally jealousy is caused by fear. This is fear that we are not good enough, fear we are going to lose someone, fear we will be excluded and so on. The main triggers for jealousy are:
The common feelings produced by jealousy and envy include:
- Infuriation and anger that may bottle up inside
- Hurt and upset
- Bitterness and resentment
- A sense of inadequacy, failure, breakdown or humiliation
- A sense of powerlessness, loss of control or frustration
Many people suffering from jealousy are because of fear and a lack of self-esteem. They feel:
- Other people have qualities or possessions or achievements that they also want, believing that if they had those qualities they would be a more successful or attractive person
- They desperately want validation, approval, respect or attention from someone else (usually someone very close to them) and therefore fear they may lose this person when they give attention to someone else
What are the types of jealousy?
Different relationships will generate different emotional reactions. The jealousy you feel for a partner will stimulate a different jealousy or envy you have for a colleague.
There are typically five types of jealousy:
- Competition jealousy
- Egotism jealousy
- Exclusion jealousy
- Possessive jealousy
- Fear jealousy
Competitive jealousy is predominately seen in the workplace and in sport. It’s the want to show others that you have desirable characteristics and can be successful in your career or sporting path too. This type of jealousy is not aimed at other individuals who may appear to be doing better, but tends to be a self-inflicted anger and frustration for either not possessing the same qualities, or not pushing themselves to improve or be noticed. Envy in this situation can be a positive emotion and it can motivate the individual.
This type of jealousy can also be apparent in friendship circles and with siblings. Friends compare and compete with one another in a similar way to siblings comparing each other by attractiveness, intelligence and success. Friendship jealousy is first apparent in school, where competition to be popular and liked is critical. It is here that we learn that excelling in certain socially accepted areas can make us popular. This then stems into adult life, where we have learned whilst growing up that success means a family, being popular and being financially secure. We then take these areas and compare against one another as a measure of being happy. This is a learned ideal from when we were growing up; and one that we find hard to challenge.
Egotism jealousy is about the need for identity and worth. This jealousy supports Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs where the need for esteem and respect from others must be satisfied. When an individual experiences egotism jealousy and does not satisfy this need, then they will feel frustrated with themselves and often socially weak and inferior.
Exclusion jealousy is when an individual feels that they are purposely being left out of something. We first experience this when we are growing up, where siblings or school children may exclude us from games and sport. This then develops into adulthood, where individuals may feel that colleagues purposely exclude them.
Possessive jealousy and fear jealousy are normally associated with partners and lovers. Individuals feel possessive over someone who is connected and a large part of their life. They fear losing control of the other person. Here abandonment issues come into play. Women feel very jealous when their partner displays an interest in another woman. Their self-esteem and confidence issues become heightened, and they fear losing control and abandonment. The sense of losing this security and self-consciousness becomes a feature.
How can you deal with jealousy?
Change inappropriate thoughts for appropriate ones
It’s the beliefs that individuals have about certain events that leads them to be jealous. This does not mean that these beliefs are right. Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT) uses and ABC model to help put clients into perspective and challenge them with more accurate and realistic thoughts. For example, A is the activating event. B is the beliefs and C is the consequences.
So a wife may see her husband talking to a pretty female (this is the activating situation). She believes that her husband is attracted to the female and prefers the looks of this stranger instead of hers (this is the belief that is going through her mind). She then acts as a result of these inappropriate thoughts, and the reaction is jealousy.
The individual can learn to control these jealous emotions if they challenge inappropriate thoughts with more balanced and rational ones.
Stop making comparisons
Often individuals get so caught up in comparing themselves to others that they can end up not living in the present but instead living their lives through comparison and competition. Differences are positive, and goals and dreams should be individual and personal.
Address fears and insecurities head on
Emotion (Photo credit: rexquisite)
By tackling our fears and insecurities head on, we can begin to understand them, challenge them and over come them by setting clear goals and objectives. Often we try to pacify and ignore our fears, but this causes the irrational beliefs and jealousy.
It is important to be are honest with yourself and recognise when you are acting in a way that is unreasonable or irrational. However, it is equally important that you don’t take all the blame if you feel you are in a situation where another person’s behaviour is genuinely contributing to problems
Improve self esteem and self confidence
Working to improve self-esteem and self-confidence will help to lessen the jealousy emotion. One way to increase esteem and confidence is by setting realistic achievable goals that you work towards and achieve. Recognise and value your own worth. Take a moment to reflect parts of your life that are not dependent on the attention or opinion of someone else. Be proud of these areas of your life.
Learn to control emotions
Jealousy in an emotion triggered by fear. You can control this fear and jealousy in the same way that anger can be controlled. The first thing to do is to calm down by controlling breathing, and adopting other relaxation techniques that work for you. Then take an honest look at the situation and do not allow yourself to react. This will make you feel better in the long run. Focus on reaching a solution rather than just venting your feelings and reacting.
Recognise the problems that your jealousy is causing
I work with my clients to help them recognise and write down the ways they act when they are jealous. I then get them to identify the problems this causes – both to themselves and to the third parties involved. By writing this down you are committing to recognise the problem. We then talk about how the client would like to act instead. This is a powerful exercise, and one that empowers and motivates the client to take action.
Is jealousy irrational or natural?
Jealousy is a reactive natural and normal emotion that is prompted by fear and perceived threat. However, when jealousy becomes irrational or out of control, then this jealousy is abnormal and problems arise.
“Normal” jealousy however, can help the individual identify certain issues and deal with some of problems and issues. This is not an irrational emotion.
Irrational jealousy does exist. This is jealousy prompted by imagined or perceived events, or when the mind creates beliefs that are not appropriate to the situation. Individuals suffering from an irrational jealousy rely heavily on their feelings that something is wrong even though there are no real signs that these feelings have merit.
Jealousy is a natural emotion, but it can also be influenced by other factors including how we were brought up as children. Our childhood plays a huge role in developing our beliefs and perception and thus influences our tendency to feel jealous or envious:
- Strong beliefs about cultural or gender rules that you were encouraged by influential adults or by relating to how people of a certain gender should act or more particularly how partners in a relationship should act. Many women become self critical comparing themselves to these rules
- A lack of security or stability in your childhood or problems will lead to low self esteem in the future and a belief that someone worthwhile will not value or love you
- Carer role models who acted in jealous ways as you were growing up – for example, a jealous father and/or a mother
- Influential people in your childhood putting a pressure on you to succeed in various ways – this can heighten your envy emotion
Similarly, recent experiences in your life could affect your jealous emotion and reaction. In the past you may not have felt jealous in certain situations, but after a recent event or situation you may feel jealousy more commonly. These situations may include:
- An important relationship where you felt your trust undermined by the person you cared for
- A stressful or traumatic experience that has now made it difficult for you to trust in relationships
- A sense of guilt in yourself about the way you have acted in a past relationship that may lead you to fear that a new partner will act in a similar way that you have done in the past
- Feeling failure or bitterness about not reaching the success you imagined you would in your career or relationship
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