4 Healthy Ways to Deal with Jealousy
This article is part of a series on how to cope with common feelings that can be tough to experience. Here, experts provide simple strategies for acknowledging and managing feelings of jealousy.
Maybe something uncomfortable stirred inside you when your partner complimented your friend on her shoes but didn’t even notice your new haircut. Or perhaps you feel a bit replaced when your newly engaged best friend spends more time with their fiancé.
Jealousy like this is a completely natural feeling and not necessarily bad, though it can be emotionally painful. “It’s an emotion that all humans will feel at some point,” says Pauline Peck, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist in Santa Barbara, California. But learning how to deal with jealousy in healthy ways is an important part of maintaining both good relationships and good mental well‑being.
What Is Jealousy?
“Jealousy is an experience of feeling threatened [when] a beloved object, person, or pet is in danger of being taken away by a perceived (real or imagined) competitor,” says Lisa Bahar, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Newport Beach, California. It’s important to note that jealousy is often confused with envy. Envy is the feeling of wanting what someone else has—like a flashy new car, or their own easygoing relationship with their parents.
When you feel like your status is being threatened, it can sometimes lead to issues like possessiveness, control, or mistrust. And these can cause significant tension in relationships and make a couple (or friends or family members) more likely to fight, says Kathy Nickerson, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist who practices in Orange County, California.
“The more we fight, the more a relationship breaks down, and the more anger, sadness, or fear we feel,” she says. It’s a vicious cycle that may lead to feelings of isolation along with feelings of anxiety and low mood.
So, it helps to know how to deal with jealousy when it arises.
How to Deal with Jealousy
Here are four expert-backed tips for dealing with jealousy.
1. Raise Your Concerns
If someone’s actions lead you to feel jealous, discuss it with them. “Jealousy can be such a private experience that naming it, out loud, can be freeing and also give other people the opportunity to share alternate perspectives or ways of looking at something that may free your mind up a bit,” says Dena DiNardo, Psy.D., a licensed clinical psychologist based in Philadelphia.
Bring up the topic when you have time to talk it out, not as you’re heading out of the house or about to go to bed. This way, you can give the conversation the attention it deserves.
2. Look Deeper
Jealousy is often a knee-jerk reaction to comparing ourselves to someone else and coming up short. “But it can also be an opportunity to know yourself better,” says Tamar E. Chansky, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist in Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania.
Nickerson suggests asking yourself deeper questions when you notice jealous feelings coming up: “Why is this situation or person making me feel jealous? What’s the deeper fear or pain underneath this? And what am I craving [like reassurance or greater connection] to feel better?”
3. Use Jealousy as a Motivator
Good can come from these feelings, too. Look at jealousy as highlighting something that you're afraid to lose, like your status in a relationship. Use those emotions to guide your next steps, such as organizing a long overdue family gathering or a date night. “Take it as a sign to take action,” Nickerson says.
4. Connect Rather Than Compare
It may help ease jealousy if you extend an olive branch. If you try to connect with someone who inspires jealousy in you, you may find there’s no threat there at all.
“A lot of times, we let our jealousy make a barrier between us [and the people we’re jealous of], keeping those feelings of inadequacy and self-rejection in place,” Chanksy says. “Instead, get to know the person you feel jealous of—say hello, even compliment or congratulate them. You’ll feel more included, and they will, too.”
When to Seek Help
“We really need to be compassionate when we find ourselves feeling jealous,” Nickerson says. “The jealousy is showing us where we are hurting and have some healing to do.”
For some people, that self-compassion may involve speaking with a mental health professional about jealousy, especially when it becomes an obstacle in relationships and life in general. Seek out help if you’re living consistently with jealousy, you feel anxious most of the time, you’re suspicious and spying on another person, or you’re asking others about the person, Bahar says.
“Because jealousy can be complex and speak to our deeper values and desires, exploring why it is coming up for you and what it means could be extremely beneficial,” Peck notes.
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