What is jealousy? Understanding the emotion and overcoming it

Jealousy is an emotional state in which an individual desires something that someone else has and they do not. It’s rooted in comparison — it most commonly occurs when someone is comparing themselves and their life situation to another. People can experience jealousy in a variety of areas of their lives, from relationships to possessions to work. 

In many cases, jealousy is a normal reaction to a perceived or real deficit in one’s life. However, jealousy can become harmful when it consumes your life or causes you to take negative actions against others.

What Are Some Signs of Jealousy?

There are a variety of signs that you or someone you know is jealous. These can include:

  • A hyperfixation on one’s real or perceived deficits
  • A hyperfixation on other people’s relationships, possessions, lifestyle
  • Difficulty finding joy or fulfillment in one’s own life
  • Attempts to mimic the possessions, choices, or other aspects of someone else’s life
  • Low self-esteem or emotional insecurity
  • Increased sense of competition 
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty focusing

Exploring the Nature of Jealousy: Understanding Its Triggers and Manifestations

At its root, jealousy is caused by a desire to achieve or obtain something that’s been demonstrated by someone else. Jealous thought patterns are caused by a stimulus that is deemed desirable and that causes someone to identify a deficit in one’s own life. This deficit can be real or perceived, and is often related to a person’s existing insecurities. 

Once you begin to feel jealous, it’s easy to become consumed by jealous thoughts. Jealousy can also be accompanied by feelings of self-consciousness — if someone sees that another person has something they don’t, it can cause them to wonder if others notice this deficit, too as well as “looping” thought patterns that are self-critical. 

What Triggers Jealousy?

Triggers for jealousy are specific to each person and situation. However, jealousy is more easily triggered in close interpersonal relationships. 

For example, you might be jealous of your neighbor buying a new, expensive car. However, you would probably be much more jealous if someone close to you bought a new car, like a family member or close friend. The more time you spend with someone, the more often you’re exposed to their fortunes and achievements. Then, we tend to compare — assessing whether we measure up.

In addition, you’re more likely to feel a sense of competition with those close to you. It’s easier to become envious of someone who you share similarities with. It may make you wonder what you’re doing wrong to not have the same things as them. 

What Roles Do Self-Esteem and Insecurity Play in Jealousy?

Self-esteem and insecurity play a significant role in jealousy. If someone feels insecure about themselves or their life, they are more likely to experience jealousy. Low self-esteem can also make jealousy more outwardly apparent — if someone has low self-esteem, their jealousy tends to be more easily picked up on by others.

The Impact of Jealousy on Relationships: Communication, Trust, and Intimacy

Occasional jealousy is to be expected even in healthy relationships. However, jealousy in relationships often has a major negative impact on the connection between partners, and can be destructive if it isn’t handled properly. Feelings of jealousy or envy are usually due to possessiveness, or attached to fears that a partner is cheating or will cheat in the future. 

Jealousy in relationships can quickly cause trust issues, which can lead to a breakdown in communication between partners. It can also isolate partners and make it harder to connect, which can eventually diminish the emotional intimacy that’s crucial in a romantic relationship. 

Since jealousy often involves hyperfixation, it will only get worse over time if it’s left to fester. If you experience any feelings of jealousy in a relationship, it’s important to address them as soon as you can. The first step is awareness and holding yourself accountable to have a plan to cope with these thoughts and feelings.

Coping Strategies for Overcoming Jealousy and Fostering Healthy Connections

There are several steps you can take to cope with jealousy. If you’re feeling jealous, you should consider doing the following things: 

  1. Admit that you have a problem. It’s important to be willing and ready to identify feelings of envy and recognize how they might be affecting your relationship. There is no harm in admitting that you’re jealous — after all, it’s a natural human emotion. 
  2. Acknowledge triggers or stressors. Recognizing (and avoiding) things that cause jealousy is crucial to diminishing those reactions. For example, if you feel jealous when your partner interacts with people on social media, it might be a good idea to spend less time on such platforms. 
  3. Communicate with your partner. Telling your partner when you feel jealous can not only make you feel better, but it can also allow you to create a plan for resolving jealousy. 
  4. Practice gratitude. Paying attention to the things you have, rather than what you don’t have, can dispel feelings of envy.
  5. Work towards growth. Jealousy can make it easy to feel helpless — however, setting goals for self-improvement can help improve your self-confidence and make you feel better. Taking steps to improve any area of your life will help you regain a sense of control. You can involve trusted loved ones in this process, too. You don’t (and shouldn’t) have to cope and grow all alone.

Communication can be hard to initiate, especially when it comes to expressing jealous thoughts. Many people feel embarrassed or ashamed of their feelings or are afraid of the emotional vulnerability that comes with open communication. Here are some tips for how to foster healthy communication:

  • Communicate your feelings as soon as you identify them. The longer you hold your feelings in, the more intense they will become over time. 
  • Listen to and consider the feelings of your partner. Hearing what your partner has to say will not only strengthen your communication but will hopefully encourage them to do the same for you.
  • Use “I” statements. For example, instead of saying, “You were flirting with a coworker,” try saying, “I feel insecure when I feel that you’ve crossed certain boundaries with your coworker.” Framing your conversation this way will help you avoid being accusatory and focus on what really matters: the way you feel. 

You can cope with jealousy by admitting you're feeling jealousy, acknowleding the cause, and more

How Can Therapy Help with Jealousy and Other Issues?

Therapy provides a space where you can communicate your feelings openly and without judgment. It promotes not only healthy expression but also healthy reception of feedback and challenges. 

Whether you go to therapy yourself or with your partner, a therapist will guide you and provide you with the tools to sort through the issues that arise from jealousy in a healthy and constructive way. They can help you identify problems that you believe are latent or simply don’t have the words for and equip you with the skills to face such challenges.

If you’re struggling with how to ease jealous thoughts, consider scheduling an appointment with a therapist or counselor today. Our expert clinicians provide a variety of therapy services — from individual therapy to couples therapy — and are ready to help you overcome jealousy and learn to appreciate yourself and your life. 

Table of contents

What Are Some Signs of Jealousy?

Exploring the Nature of Jealousy: Understanding Its Triggers and Manifestations

What Triggers Jealousy?

What Roles Do Self-Esteem and Insecurity Play in Jealousy?

The Impact of Jealousy on Relationships: Communication, Trust, and Intimacy

Coping Strategies for Overcoming Jealousy and Fostering Healthy Connections

How Can Therapy Help with Jealousy and Other Issues?

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