What is Jealousy?
Jealousy is a complex emotion that can include feelings of rage, fear, or even humiliation. Perceiving a threat – real or perceived – to a close personal relationship is the primary reason jealousy occurs. Some confuse jealousy with “envy,” but there are clear differences between the two. Envy is about a thing, a situation, or a position that you want but don’t have, whereas jealousy is about a person, and you perceive a threat to your relationship with that person. Jealousy is specific to people; it’s that “I might lose you” feeling.
Jealousy is typically thought of as a negative emotion, but it is very natural to experience jealousy in a close relationship. As Dr. Baland Jalal, a researcher at Harvard University, puts it, “jealousy is hard-wired in all of us.” Jealousy can occur in different types of relationships, such as siblings, friends, co-workers, or neighbors.
In close relationships, jealousy can signify that there is something you need to work on – either in the relationship or within yourself. Dr. Robin Stern, an associate director for the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, talked about jealousy for NBC News BETTER and explained that jealousy needs to be assessed. If jealousy is left unchecked, it can consume your relationship and become toxic, said Dr. Stern.
Gender Differences in Jealousy
Both men and women feel jealousy. Evidence suggests that men feel greater jealousy about sexual infidelity, whereas women feel greater jealousy about an emotional affair. This means that women are more worried that their partners will develop feelings for another person, whereas men are more worried that their partner will have sexual relations with someone else.
Types of Jealousy
There are different types of jealousy depending on what triggers it and what feelings come with feeling jealous. Dr. Gonzalez-Berrios, a psychiatrist, describes the different kinds of jealousy as:
occurs when there is reasonable doubt that there is a problem in the relationship, or you feel you might lose this person.
is most common between siblings. For example, a sibling could feel jealous of another sibling if the other sibling gets more attention from their parents.
is irrational jealousy. This type of jealousy surfaces from an underlying mental health condition like anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or schizophrenia.
is when you fear that your partner has been unfaithful to you. From this, you become suspicious.
can come from a real or perceived threat to a romantic relationship. This results in jealous thoughts or actions.
comes from personal insecurity. You could be jealous of someone because they have something you want. A good example of this is when a co-worker or colleague receives a promotion, and you become jealous.
Jealousy can be caused by a range of situations and circumstances between you and another person. Some people are more prone to jealousy due to their attachment style and personality. For example, having high dependence on a close relationship is more likely to result in jealousy.
Letting Go of Jealousy
Jealousy is an emotion that can tell you things, like how you feel about yourself or your relationships. To let go of jealousy, you have to face it head-on. To start this, trace your jealousy back to its source. Your jealousy could be caused by past relationship patterns, insecurities, or a fear of not being good enough. Wherever your jealousy comes from, it is important to recognize its source.
You can also voice your concerns when your jealous feelings occur. For example, if your partner goes out with friends and you become jealous, have a conversation with your partner about how you feel when they go out. Try to make the conversation productive for both of you. Feeling jealous doesn’t always need to end in a fight. Another option is talking to a friend. Jealousy can often make you feel other extreme emotions like anger or sadness, so talking it out with a friend can help you gain perspective.
Other ways to let go of jealousy involve looking inward. When you feel jealous, practice in-the-moment coping strategies such as mindfulness and deep breathing. Practice gratitude for what you have with this person rather than focusing on what you don’t have.
Frequently Ask Questions
Dr. Jalal, an evolutionary psychologist, emphasizes that jealousy helps you identify potential troubles in a relationship while also helping to motivate you to maintain your relationships. It is a feeling meant to be a call to action.
Jealousy may be hurting your relationship, but you have the power to identify what is causing your jealousy and take control of it. The best thing to do for your relationship is to be honest and have a productive conversation about any concerns or problems that may emerge.
One way is to look inward as to why you may feel jealous of your partner’s past relationships. Seeking support from someone outside of your relationship, like a friend or therapist, could also help you talk through the issue. A therapist can help you learn proper coping strategies to deal with your jealous feelings.
The information on this page, or elsewhere on this site, is not intended to take the place of diagnosis, treatment or informed advice from a qualified mental health professional. You should not take or avoid any action without consultation with the latter.
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DiGiulio, S. (2019, May 9). What your jealous feelings are telling you (and what you should do about them). NBC News. https://www.nbcnews.com/better/lifestyle/what-your-jealous-feelings-are-telling-you-what-you-should-ncna1002411
Psychology Today. (n.d.). Jealousy. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/jealousy
Raypole, C. (2019, October 31). 12 Ways to let go of jealousy. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/how-to-not-be-jealous
Sheppard, S. (2021, September 12). What is jealousy? VeryWellMind. https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-jealousy-5190471