Do you know the difference between jealousy and envy?
WORK with many clients who have difficulty managing their emotions. Their emotions may be intense and confusing and when they act on them impulsively, it can lead to all sorts of problems.
Two emotions that often get mixed up are envy and jealousy. Do you know the difference? I still have to think about it for a moment to make sure I get them the right way round.
In a nutshell, we experience envy when others have something we want or need but don’t have. We experience jealousy when we have something that we want or need, but somebody else threatens to take that away.
A person feels envy towards someone who has more money, more friends, a better job or lifestyle. Whereas, a person feels jealousy towards someone who threatens their relationships, lifestyle or social status.
As a society we often receive messages that we should be less emotional and more rational in order to function at our best. It’s important to remember that we have emotions for a reason – we need them to survive – and that in some circumstances, jealousy and envy can serve us well.
Feeling jealousy or envy communicates important information to ourselves (through thoughts, bodily sensations and urges) and others (through our body language and behaviour).
One of the key functions of any emotion is to prompt us into action and organise our behaviour. For example, if I envy someone who has more money than me, this might prompt me to work hard for a promotion. If I feel jealous of someone who is flirting with my partner, this might prompt me to pay more attention to my partner and make sure they are happy in the relationship.
Part of my job is helping my clients to work out when to act on their emotions. When our emotions are warranted, they are incredibly useful. Problems arise when our emotions don’t fit the reality of the situation, or when they get in the way of achieving our goals or living our lives in accordance with our values.
Signs that envy has become problematic include feeling bitter and resentful, whereas unwarranted jealousy may lead to being overpossessive, defensive or mistrustful in relationships.