Envy Vs. Jealousy: What’s the Difference?

Lifestyle
23 Nov 2023
9 min read
Jealousy Vs. Envy - The Difference and How to Manage Them

Jealousy vs envy… Well, you know that both are not happy, positive emotions. Generally, people who are consumed by envy and jealousy lead miserable lives, making them feel inadequate, suffer from lower self-esteem, and have difficulty with relationships, even with good friends.

While both jealousy and envy can have the same impact on a person’s mental well-being, they are very different feelings. Most people don’t understand the difference and use these terms interchangeably. So, it’s a good time to explain the different meanings of the terms.

 

“Envy is usually between two people, and it’s wanting something that someone else has. Jealousy is normally between three people, and it’s a fear of losing something you already have to someone else.”

Brene Brown, emotions researcher and bestselling author

Brene Brown just nailed that difference between envy and jealousy in the video below. Now you understand envy vs jealousy. You also know that envy and jealousy, while both potentially destructive emotions and impacting quality of life, are totally different. And everything left to do is to give more details about envy and jealousy and provide you with some tips to manage these feelings.

What Is Envy

The shortest definition of envy is a strong feeling of wanting what someone else has – their possessions, their lifestyle, their income, their status, their career success, and so forth.

You feel envy when you want some things and don’t feel that you can get them. These feelings can cause resentment of a co-worker, friend, or relative and even feelings of anger toward them for what they have.

When taken to an extreme, an envious person, always longing for what they do not have, will live a pretty miserable existence, never being satisfied with what they do have and what they have accomplished.

Example #1: Envy to a Friend

Imagine your friend buying a new car. Because this person is a friend, at first you feel admiration for their new possession. It’s a cool one, and you even go for a ride in it. You start happy that your friend has been able to get this.

But gradually, your feelings begin to change. Why can’t you afford that kind of vehicle? What makes your friend so great that he can get what you can’t? The resentment sets in, and you develop feelings of anger about the entire situation.

Soon, that emotion of anger is transferred to your feelings about your friend. Your relationship changes. You begin to avoid them, become less friendly, and almost have a sense of betrayal that they have achieved something you cannot.

Related reading: Realizing Your Relationship Was a Lie: An Action Plan

Example #2: Envy to a Co-Worker

You are in a great relationship with your work colleague. Being peers, you not only work together but even socialize outside of work. You are interested in each other’s lives and share many of your personal issues, challenges, and goals. It’s not just work – there are strong feelings of friendship with this person.

But all of a sudden, your colleague gets a promotion and a raise. Your first response is to congratulate them and express your feelings of joy for their good fortune. But then… envy sets in. Why them and not you?

Of course, your colleague is not responsible for your desire, and this is a question you should be asking the decision-makers at your work. But instead, you become envious of your colleague, wanting what someone else has. If you don’t stop here, that envy then turns to feelings of hostility toward that person.

Hopefully, these two examples have given you a clear picture of what the feeling of envy is. In short, it is wanting what someone else has. If it stops there, you are on the losing side of life – you will always be unhappy and feeling as if you have little power over your own existence. Only when you motivate yourself to get to work on yourself and focus on achieving what you desire, will you be able to dump the negative emotions.

By now, you may be getting the idea that being envious is focusing on what you do not have but want. Jealousy is a different matter, and we should understand envy vs jealousy difference clearly.

Jealousy vs envy: What's that all about?

What Is Jealousy

Jealousy is the fear of losing something you already possess. This could be someone or something that you already have, but usually, it relates to people in relationships.

In the envy vs jealousy dichotomy, an envious boyfriend will feel threatened by your career, but a jealous one will feel threatened when his partner receives attention from another guy. What can make jealousy worse is if that jealous boyfriend has lost partners in the past and has an overriding feeling of insecurity in his current relationship.

A jealous person lives in fear, and this is a horrible way to exist. Those jealous feelings affect all of their approaches to a current mate. It leads to some really negative behaviors, such as a need to control all of the activities of that partner. At the extreme, it leads to an anxiety disorder known as Pistanthrophobia.

Related reading: Relationship Anxiety = Relationship Killer

#1 Jealousy as Anxiety in Social Situations

Imagine that you and your love are going out for the evening – maybe a bar, a party, or even a wedding and reception. Your worry starts feeling like possible jealousy, with numerous questions crossing your mind:

  • How good will they look?
  • Will there be someone else there who is attracted to them?
  • Will they try to move in and talk or flirt with them?
  • How will my partner respond to this attention?

Note that you feel jealous even before anything happens. Because once you arrive, your fear increases, and you cannot leave your partner’s side. You keep surveying the room for possible competition and try to steer your partner in another direction. But the background for those feelings started long before you entered the room.

Related reading: Disorganized Attachment Style & Romantic Relationships

So when someone interested approaches and begins to talk with your love, you immediately feel jealousy. Your idea of two parties stuck together for the evening has now enlarged to three parties, and your emotion is no longer a small flame. You may be blinded by jealousy and envy so much that you can say angry words, make wrong conclusions, ruin your relationship, and lose the one you love.

#2 Jealousy as the Urge to Stalk

Stalking is one of the most serious types of jealousy in action:

  • You almost have an obsession with following your partner’s behaviors on social media
  • You get into their phone and check phone calls and messages
  • You are even tempted to install some spyware for continuous monitoring. You could have a GPS tracker placed on their car so you can track where they go and are at all times.

If your jealousy has become unmanageable and controlling many aspects of your life, it’s an extreme case that needs some therapy. This is not how you want to live – always worried and afraid that someone else will come between you and your partner. If you do nothing with your jealousy, these emotions are no longer “cute” but leading you down a path to your relationship’s end.

4 Steps to Manage Jealousy

If you experience jealousy and envy, either one or both, you are going to have to figure out how to at least temper these emotions. Sometimes, your task becomes harder as you need to cope with both envy and jealousy simultaneously.

We are here to assist you. Let’s start small – and take a look at these tips that just may make a difference and let you curb your jealousy.

1. Recognize That Jealousy Is Both a Feeling and an Emotion

There is nothing really rational about our feelings and emotional reactions. Rationality is based on evidence and fact – the reality of a situation. So, there are two situations here:

  1. Your boyfriend or girlfriend has actually carried on with someone else (reality)
  2. You are fearing that they are or will (emotions)

In both of these cases, an adult conversation is in order:

  1. If your mate has really cheated: Stick to that fact. You need to explain that your trust is gone, your jealousy was obviously grounded in fact, and, to move forward, trust will have to be rebuilt over time. That is, of course, if you both want to move forward.
  2. If your jealousy is not based on fact: You must explain what you are dealing with and how you perceive things whenever something real happens. Explain that you know you are too possessive, and it may push them away – something you don’t want, of course. Ask them to help you generate some ideas that will help curb this emotion. Offer to seek counseling if they are beginning to feel smothered.

2. Identify Where the Jealousy is Coming From

In most cases, being jealous today is a product of betrayal in the past. Back then, you poured yourself into a partnership only to be cheated on and dumped. So now, you lack trust and feel insecure in the present partnership.

If your current love is understanding, they will try to find ways to reassure you, perhaps with some simple moves – they may call you when they are late with an explanation instead of letting your imagination run wild. As another option, they may include you in any conversation they have with a member of the opposite sex they know at social events you attend.

3. Accept That Your Imagination Is Not the Real World

“My life has been full of terrible misfortunes, most of which never happened.”

Michel de Montaigne, French essayist

As Cornell University researchers have found out, about 85% of what we worry about never comes to pass. And this is true for our mental jealousy:

  • We let our imaginations take us to very negative places when we are jealous,
  • We play scenarios in our heads of being cheated on and betrayed,
  • We imagine being dumped for someone else.

When we let our imagination take hold, we either become negative, depressed, and anxious or become accusatory. But all of this has no basis in fact.

If this is what you are doing, you have to train your mind to use your imagination for positivity. Imagine yourself having all that you desire in life and love. This takes time and practice, but you can do it.

4. Think of the Worst-Case Scenario

So, this person betrays and dumps you. Are you still standing? Do you still have many other things in your life that make you who you are? Of course, you do – family, colleagues, career, hobbies & interests, strengths, skills, and talents, etc.

You do not identify yourself only by the person you love. Once you see this, you will be much more willing to give that person far more freedom and independence, and they will not be feeling so smothered.

How to Manage Envy

Envy is wanting something another person has that you do not. You can be envious of their career, wealth, status. etc. If the envy gets to the point that you are angry, depressed, and somewhat unable to find much joy, then you are envious of a fault and must do something about it.

Before you start coping with envy, ask yourself these questions:

  • What exactly are you envious of?
  • Is the person or persons better looking?
  • Do they have more money than you?
  • Do they have a better career or more and better possessions?

Take a moment or two to list these sources. It will help you proceed to the next steps of coping with your envy.

Then, remind yourself of your skills, talents, and the ability to achieve anything you desire if you are willing to do the work.

Use envy as a source to motivate yourself:

  • Does your friend have a better career? Go back to school and get yourself fit for one.
  • Does your buddy have social skills that make them the life of the party? Take a course in boosting self-esteem, getting outside of yourself, and learning how to make others gravitate to you.
  • Do you want a new vehicle? Plan how to save to afford one.

Yes, it takes some work and practice. But that’s better than self-destruction, right? When you are just envious, you stall and lose yourself. Make a better choice – use envy and jealousy as fuel for self-improvement. You will thank these feelings afterward.

Related reading: How To Maintain Your Individuality While In a Relationship

Whenever you feel envy or jealous in the moment, don't let this ruin your life

Envy vs. Jealousy – a Wrap

Now you know the difference between envy and jealousy and recognize that you can be jealous and envious simultaneously. Some forms can be normal and even healthy, while you can sometimes ruin your life by feeling jealous.

But when either or both of these begin to consume you, it’s time for action. If you find yourself unable to curb the excess, get with a therapist. You deserve to live a full and happy life.

Relationships Author
Geoffrey Williams
After taking a required Intro to Psychology course as an undergrad, I have never looked back. Since my doctoral program, I have specialized in adult relationship therapy. Through my studies and clinicals, I wrote several articles for professional journals and currently in the midst of writing a book.
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