Psychotherapist and counsellor Deborah Odell explains that jealousy is a common occurrence even through our adult years. "As we age and our life circumstances change, we don't always progress in step with our friends and peers. This can create a lot of opportunity for us to witness at close range the ‘things' they have which we don't, and it can lure us into comparing ourselves, our lives and our achievements to those of our friends," she says.
1. Jealousy versus envy: Is there a difference?
While Odell acknowledges that feelings of jealousy are normal, she also points out that there is an important distinction between jealousy and envy. "One can be jealous of a friend's possessions (a car, a degree, a lifestyle), but one can also experience envy toward the friend who possesses these things," says Odell. We tend to feel jealous when there is something we want but don't have; we tend to feel envious when we are in competition with the person who has what we want. "Envy is by far the more intense emotion, and can also be the more painful and destructive reaction," she explains.
2. Why do we experience these feelings?
Unfortunately these natural feelings can be hard to trace back. Odell suggests that they may have surfaced in a person's early development, either with siblings or parents. As an adult, these feelings can be directed toward a specific person who we continue to measure ourselves against.
"In this case, we view the other person's achievement or acquisition with a pang of envy. In its most basic terms, this can feel like hatred of the other, but in fact these feelings stem from our own self-criticism and weakened self-esteem," she says.
Page 1 of 3 -- Learn why feelings of jealousy can be a danger, plus how to confront your issues of envy on page 2
3. When jealousy is dangerous
Unlike envy, which has more to do with the person that possesses what you want, jealousy simply has to do with wanting what we can't have. Odell explains: "For instance, if we are unhappy or frustrated with our own lives or circumstances, it's common practice to fantasize that if we just had that one thing we want, we would no longer be unhappy. We can think of it in broader terms as the 'greener grass' syndrome. If I just had a better career or was better looking, my life would be better."
4. Confront your fears
Odell suggests that these fantasies and daydreams are commonly a result of trying to escape your own issues or fears. "In other words, sometimes we find it's easier to fixate on what we don't or can't have, than to focus on fixing what might be wrong in our own lives," says Odell.
For instance, if you're having marriage problems you might convince yourself that if only you had a bigger house like your friend does, your marriage troubles would disappear. If you address your own issues at hand, chances are your feelings of jealousy will dissipate.
5. Dealing with the fallout from jealousy
Side effects of these feelings can result in lost friendships or decreased self-worth. Odell says it's extremely important to understand that there likely isn't a quick fix for whatever it is in your life that is inspiring these feelings.
If these feelings persist, she suggests talking to a therapist to help uncover the root of your dissatisfaction. Conversely, if it happens to be a friend or colleague flaunting their good fortune, Odell reminds us that this behaviour is not about you: "If you are happy with yourself, no amount of flaunting is going to have a lasting negative effect on you," she says.
Page 2 of 3 -- Find tips on how to approach jealousy in friendships with advice on page 2
6. Helping a friend who you think might be jealous of you
If you aren't the one with green feelings but are dealing with a friend who is showing signs of resentment toward you, it's important to tread these waters lightly, says Odell. "Calling someone out on their jealous behaviour can feel offensive and accusatory -- the jealous friend might feel they have no choice but to deny the accusation," says Odell.
She suggests that a more compassionate approach would be telling your friend that you've recently noticed some tension between the two of you. "This will open the door for her to share her feelings, but if she chooses not to then at least you will have let her know that you noticed something was wrong. This will actually increase your connectedness, because you will have shown her that you are attuned to her feelings, and it might also ease the sting of her jealousy."
Simply, there is nothing productive about jealousy or measuring your self-worth against the accomplishments and achievements of others. Try to tame that green monster by celebrating what you have, and focusing on your own self-improvement.
What about you? Do you ever have feelings of jealousy or envy? How do you deal with them?
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