Now Reading
Is it Envy or Jealousy? What’s the Difference Between the Two and What Can We Do to Overcome it?

Is it Envy or Jealousy? What’s the Difference Between the Two and What Can We Do to Overcome it?

  • The antidote to envy is to practice what the Buddhists call “Mudita or Sympathetic Joy,” which involves deriving vicarious joy in the well-being of others.

Recently, I vacationed in Spain and Portugal and a friend commented in a friendly, fun way, “That sounds amazing. I am so jealous.” But is it really jealousy or something else?

A client reports that she and her friend both applied for a much-coveted promotion and she got it. And now the relationship with the friend has changed dramatically. She wonders if the friend is jealous of her and resentful.

A husband complains that his wife is overly attached to her family of origin and that when they take family vacations, she completely ignores him and spends every minute with her family and extended family. He feels left out and jealous.

We tend to overuse the word “jealous,” “jelly,” or “J” to describe the feelings of both envy and jealousy. However, it turns out that they are two very different emotions and the dynamics of how they operate differ quite significantly.

Brene Brown in her detailed mapping of emotions in the book “Atlas of the Heart” breaks down the key differences between these two very uncomfortable and intense emotions.

Envyaccording to Brene, occurs when we want something that another person has. It, therefore, involves two people where one lacks something enjoyed by another. The target of envy may be a person or a group of persons, but the focus of envy is that one lacks something compared to another. For instance, you may be envious that your friend has a vibrant social group that she belongs to while you struggle with making and keeping friends.

Based on Brene’s research, most episodes of envy can be attributed to three categories:

1. Attraction (physical, romantic, social);

2. Competence (intelligence, knowledge, skill); and

3. Wealth (financial status, lifestyle).

In a more toxic manifestation of envy, it gets combined with hostility and a desire for denigration.

For example, I have an extended family member who not only wants the best things in the world for themselves but also wants you to be suffering in some way. It is a strange and cruel intention for others where the mind goes “I want that, and I don’t want you to have it. I also want you to be pulled down, pushed down, and suffer humiliation.”Often what would happen is that this relative would have such a hard time owning this emotion that they would then come to you with false piety and mock compassion, offering their help and prayers. To be fair, who would have the courage to own up to this kind of toxic envy?

Jealousy on the other hand typically involves three people. It occurs when we fear losing a relationship or a valued part of a relationship to another person. Interestingly, Brene’s research indicates that jealousy is not a singular emotion but a cognitive evaluation in response to feelings of anger, sadness, and/or fear. What she means to say is that we think of jealousy in response to how we feel.

In jealousy, there is usually a third wheel in the relationship which leads to the loss of a loved one’s attention, affection, or resources to another. This third wheel can be another person such as in an affair, but it can also be work, golf, a friendship group, a sick family member, and so on.

When we think of jealousy, we immediately assume romantic relationships. However, jealousy can occur in parent/child relationships, sibling relationships, friendships, co-worker relationships, spiritual and religious relationships, and so on.

A father may be jealous that the children are closer to the mother. A child may be jealous that her troubled sibling gets all the parental attention. A wife may be jealous because she caught her husband flirting with another person at a party. A friend may be jealous because she thinks her best friend may have found a new friend who appears very cool and interesting.

Interestingly, we might even feel pangs of jealousy when our partner or a friend spends a lot of time in solitude doing something that does not involve us. My grandmother was so jealous that my grandfather gave himself permission to spend many hours in solitude, reading, meditating, and praying. She saw this as a rejection of her and taking time away from their intimacy.

When we think of jealous thoughts, we feel anger, sadness, fear, shame, and resentment. We feel this way because we think that something or someone is a threat to our intimacy in a relationship with a loved one and take time away from what should be invested in us.

While jealousy is a more socially accepted emotion, it can also have dire consequences when mixed with substances. For example, when jealousy is mixed with drinking, it can lead to domestic violence in intimate relationships.

Brene notes that her research indicates that people who are more satisfied in their romantic relationships are less likely to be jealous about potential threats but more likely to react negatively to actual relationship breaches.

Why do we resist using the word “envious”?

As we have seen, envy and jealousy are two very different emotions and yet we use jealousy very generically to indicate both states. Brene wonders if it is because of two reasons. Firstly, envy has the toxic add-on of hostility which makes it uncomfortable to own. Secondly, perhaps unconsciously we resist using it as envy is one of the “seven deadly sins” and it may be quite possible that we experience culturally sanctioned shame around our envy.

How comfortable would I feel when a friend says jokingly, “Your Spain pics are amazing. I am so jealous” and I translate it in my head as her saying, “I want that vacation, I don’t want you to have such vacations, and I hope you go broke”. Yikes!!!!

What can we do when we do feel these emotions?

Firstly, we want to use the following questions to understand the nuances between these two feelings.

See Also

a. Am I fearful of losing something I value to another person? (Jealousy), or,

b. Do I want something someone else has? (Envy)

c. If I want something someone else has, do I want to see them lose it? (Envy with Hostility), or,

d. Is it not about that? (Envy without Hostility)

e. If I am scared that I am losing something important to me, what kind of conversation do I need to have with that person? (Addressing Jealousy)

Antidote to Envy:

In my experience, the most effective antidote to envy is to practice what the Buddhists call “Mudita or Sympathetic Joy.” Briefly, the practice of Mudita involves a vicarious joy in the well-being of others. Such joy is devoid of hostility or ill will. Mudita arises when we connect to an abundance mindset rather than a poverty mindset. When we believe that this is an abundant universe, there is enough joy and well-being for all of us, and that we are all connected to one source, then we can rejoice in the good fortune of others because we believe that what benefits one, benefits all. As an added bonus, the practice of sympathetic joy is so good for our body filling us with light and love and is a natural immunity booster.

Antidotes to Jealousy:

Antidotes to jealousy may involve developing a healthy core self and self-esteem. It may require us to address the underlying feelings of sadness, anger, and/or fear. Anger typically involves boundary crossing and may require us to set some healthy boundaries with the other. Whatever may be the feeling, it is important for us to communicate those to our loved ones in a vulnerable and kind way to address those needs that are not being met in the relationship. As Brene often says — in relationships, we need to choose discomfort over resentment. Discomfort arises when we have to lean into these difficult and challenging conversations. But if we avoid them in the short-term, it leads to resentment in the long run which can be toxic to the health of the relationship.

As always, whether it is envy or jealousy, if it causes suffering, you owe it to yourself to work on the underlying root causes either through introspection, sharing with a trusted friend, or getting counseling from a therapist, or a spiritual director. Otherwise, we suffer and so do the others involved with us.

(Top illustration, courtesy of Cleveland Clinic)

Vinutha Mohan is a California-based licensed marriage and family therapist specializing in trauma. Before her avatar as a therapist, she spent over 15 years in the corporate world.

What's Your Reaction?
In Love
Not Sure
View Comments (0)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

© 2020 American Kahani LLC. All rights reserved.

The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of American Kahani.
Scroll To Top