Jealousy can eat you up inside — or serve as a powerful tool that can teach you more about yourself.
You'd be hard pressed to find someone who has never been envious of anybody else. Whether we feel jealous because a co-worker has achieved a major accomplishment we feel we deserved, a tad green over a friend's weight loss or positively tortured over our partner's friendship with an attractive person of the opposite sex, jealousy can do a number on our emotional state. Worse — if acted upon, it can lead to unnecessary conflicts in your relationship that put a real dent in your mutual trust.
Sure, the long-term goal is to feel secure, confident and happy enough in our lives to never covet what someone else has, but until we all become flawless humans, it helps to have a game plan when envy rears its ugly head. We spoke with Dr. Eric Lifshitz, a psychiatrist at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, CA, about the root cause of jealousy and ways we can kick it to the curb the second we feel it.
"At its core, jealousy is about a profound sense of unfairness,” Lifshitz told SheKnows. “On some level jealousy involves feelings that you were supposed to get or have something that someone else has gotten and that should have been yours."
People who often feel jealous may have started to feel that unfairness during childhood, perhaps as the result of how they were treated by others, Lifshitz says. There's a chance they were even robbed of their childhood in some way. Lifshitz uses the Academy Awards nominations as an example of how two nominees — one who tends to feel jealous and one who does not — experience and process the reality of losing the award.
"Everyone looks gracious but you’re going to imagine that some people genuinely are not going to feel jealous — disappointed maybe,” Lifshitz says. “But jealousy means you have in some way decided that you didn’t think you deserved to win and neither did the other person — that it was the luck of the draw. The nominees who aren’t jealous appreciate what they have — getting nominated is an honor in itself.”
Whatever someone's personal reason for feeling jealous, most people can probably agree it rarely leads to positive outcomes.
"It causes you to waste a lot of energy that could be spent forwarding yourself and you end up being consumed,” Lifshitz says. “At its core, jealousy repeats a message about yourself that you are less than. It comes from a place of a self-conceptualization of victimization and letting yourself get caught up in it only further propagates this victim idea."
Lifshitz offers three ways to get past jealousy and let it serve as a motivator, rather than an obstacle, to accomplishing your own goals.
Don’t pretend you aren’t jealous. Appreciate feelings of anger that might come from an event that could trigger jealousy — like a colleague's job promotion or a partner giving attention to someone else. "It’s okay to feel upset, but catch yourself when you're conceptualizing a storyline," Lifshitz says. "View it as an opportunity to learn and grow. If something is happening in a relationship that makes you feel jealous it forces you to look at what is making you feel insecure."
When you redirect your anger toward someone other than your partner or the person with whom you feel envy, it’s really about something you’re carrying within yourself, Lifshitz says. In a romantic relationship, the source of jealous feelings could be because you had an expectation of your partner that wasn’t agreed to by them. “People have different ideas about what it means to be in a relationship,” Lifshitz says.
If you’re jealous about something your partner did (like getting too close to someone who isn’t you), Lifshitz warns against bringing it up in a way that insinuates your partner did something wrong, which he says will only lead to him/her reacting defensively and it will make you feel more victimized, to boot. A better way to handle the talk? “Some version of 'something happened that is making me feel insecure' is much more of a bridging way because it invites your partner to join you and be on your team," Lifshitz says.
No one can make you feel jealous without your consent. Jealousy can be a motivator to the extent that you can use it to help you get to a place where you recognize the power lies in you and there isn’t some outward force working against you, Lifshitz says.
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