Dealing With Envy and Jealousy

Have you ever fallen prey to jealousy or envy? Pretty much everyone has at one time or another. A lucky few rarely experience these feelings, while others live with them on a regular basis. It’s quite human to have them, and while they’re not pleasant, these feelings can be learning experiences—and perhaps spur more positive emotions—if you’re willing to examine yourself and your life.

Envy and its Upside

First, it’s helpful to distinguish between envy and jealousy. Although many people use the words interchangeably, they’re not exactly the same. According to LeslieBeth (LB) Wish, EdD, LCSW, a licensed clinical psychotherapist and author in Sarasota, Florida, you can be envious of anyone, regardless of whether you know them or not. "[Envy is] wanting something or a personality quality or skill that you do not have but that exists in someone else," she says. High-end material possessions, an even disposition, a high-powered career, or a seemingly blissful romantic relationship commonly inspire envy in others.

Envy can make you feel that you’re worth less than you are. As you rumble into the office parking lot in a broken-down sedan while watching your boss glide by in his new sports car, you can start to feel pretty insignificant. "You can interpret your lack of having [a sports car] as a judgment on your quality—proof that you’re not worthy," says Wish.

According to Mary C. Lamia, PhD, a clinical psychologist in Kentfield, California, this kind of thinking can set a vulnerable person up for feelings of shame and insecurity. "Envy is a challenge to our self image," she points out.

Envy can have a real positive side, however, if it inspires you to do better: "You might be able to give yourself a kick in the pants to get yourself going," says Wish. How? At work, meet with higher-ups to discuss ways in which you can move up the career ladder and get a more prestigious position. Take classes that will increase your value. If it’s your romantic life that’s lacking, consider getting a makeover and going to more parties so you can meet new people. You might not get exactly what it is you’re envious of in someone else, but chances are you’ll improve your life and be happier with what you do get.

Coping With Jealousy

In contrast to envy, which can arise in a wide variety of situations, jealousy tends to be narrower. It has to do with interpersonal relationships and comes from our sense that our connections are threatened by others. "Usually, jealousy involves at least three people," says Wish, citing relationship triangles as a common cause of the emotion. For instance, you might feel jealous if your best friend or close coworker seems to be spending a lot of time with another pal, and this feeling could make you prone to unproductive or even irrational behavior.

"Unhealthy jealousy often leads a person to respond with an angry attack, [harbor] a fantasy of hurting others who are rivals, or behave in ways [so as] to control the person one might lose," says Lamia.

But there are better ways to deal with jealousy. If you feel that your bond with someone is unraveling because of a third party, don’t try to get between them. Instead, Wish suggests that you focus on strengthening your relationship with the person you care about by spending time with him or her one on one. "Establish a good base for a genuine connection," she says. Ask your friend out to lunch on a regular basis, continue to learn about her and remind her how important she is to you. It can take time to repair a relationship that may have been damaged or grown stale, but investing the time is well worth it.

LeslieBeth (LB) Wish, EdD, LCSW, reviewed this article.


Wish, LeslieBeth (LB). Phone conversation with source. July 10, 2015.

Lamia, Mary C., PhD. Email conversation with source. July 16, 2015.