Jealousy: How to Work Through It

Your best friend gets a ribbon at an art festival. You’ve got a booth, too, and don’t get a mention, much less a ribbon. You secretly think your work is better than hers. You congratulate her, but the words feel like sawdust in your mouth. Then you begin to feel bad about yourself. You like your friend, and you are jealous of her success.

That emotion dragging your ego around the house is jealousy–a mix of fear and anger, or, your feeling of lack and attack. Fear (lack) that you are not enough to win and anger (attack) that you are being deprived of something that should be yours.

Whether it’s a friend and a prize, or a colleague who gets a promotion, jealousy is a common problem in a culture that values competition.

Jealousy and envy cause similar anguish, but they have different meanings. Jealousy is an emotional resentment of the success of someone who is in the same profession or in the same office. Jealousy is an emotional reaction to behavior or achievement of someone else.

Envy is the feeling of wanting to have what someone else has, and it belongs in a different post.  This post is about feeling jealousy and working on overcoming it.

What to do with these powerful emotions? The first part is the hardest:

Admit to yourself that what you feel is jealousy, not righteous anger or a fit of fairness. Once you admit that you are feeling jealous, you can start to work on what’s bothering you. You can’t solve a problem until you admit you have one. What we resit, persists.

Concentrate on what you feel and where. Is it a sinking feeling in your chest? A tightening in your throat? A burning feeling in your head? Try to remember if you have felt this before. See if you can find the link between the two events. Is your predominant feeling anger? (“They always get. . . .” “It’s so unfair. . .” ) Or fear? (Why don’t I ever get noticed? Does the boss think I’m incompetent?)

Grab your journal. This is for the morning-pages, real-life journal you keep. It’s not for the art journal until you have processed it a lot further. Write down everything you feel. Write down why you feel this way. Don’t try to be rational until you have written down the anger and disappointment and fear.

Once you have cleared the lack and attack, keep writing. You may be surprised what you discover about yourself, including some reasons you feel so weak and helpless. The reason you don’t want anyone else you know well to do better than you.

Talk to a trusted friend or relative. Someone who already knows you are jealous. Ask them not to give you advice, but to witness your emotions. That means choosing someone truly trusted.  You may be surprised that what you say is not what you wrote. Note any differences in your explanations. See where you place blame. See what shortcomings you mention, both in the other person and in yourself. The ones you attribute to the other person are the ones you blame yourself for, whether you want to admit it or not.

Be by yourself. Make a list of the attributes you admire and wish you had that the other person has. Dig deep, and see where you exhibit those attributes, too. Because you do, and you need to honor those attributes instead of being scared of them. The most likely source of jealousy is not feeling certain of skills, talents and gifts. Or feeling that if you have them, you will be responsible for exhibiting them flawlessly.

Make a plan to support and exhibit those positive traits more often. Start by noticing them. If you ignore them, you can’t nurture them. Start to exercise the positive traits when you notice yourself in action. Emphasize them. Then choose to use them.

Be realistic. Other people will win. Others will get praised. It’s a big world with many people. You won’t get all the attention. Choose the characteristic you want to be noticed for and act accordingly.

Keep your mouth shut. Don’t bad mouth others if they win. Even if they win unfairly. Don’t complain to your friends. Don’t try to make yourself feel better by running others down.

The more you learn to depend on your own skills and talents, the less jealous you will feel. If you don’t win this time, you will know you have done your best, and you will know your next move. That’s already one step ahead.

-Quinn McDonald knows about lack and attack. She knows her inner critic and knows she has inner heroes, too.  Photos: Quinn McDonald, Cloud Series, © All rights reserved, 2012.

26 thoughts on “Jealousy: How to Work Through It

  1. I have felt jealousy. I do feel jealousy. And I am also proud to say that I have worked through much of the steps you outline to discover what is behind it. Mine is definately inspired by lack and attack. I feel worse about my jealousy when it is a friend I am jealous of, and not just another general body.

    That feeds into the shame of jealousy and makes me feel worse. Addressing it, and acepting it, also helps me genuinely move past it, rather than just pretend it never happened, until the next time. It stopped the spiral and so it was not any more or less than what it was. It also didn’t say anything about me as a person or my character.

    This summary is pure genius…as soon as I read it I thought a loud yes! And had another realisation that I hadn’t come to yet in my journaling. Thank you.

    “The most likely source of jealousy is not feeling certain of skills, talents and gifts. Or feeling that if you have them, you will be responsible for exhibiting them flawlessly.”

  2. T’aint this the truth. I just shared this on FB telling my friends how relevant it is to me (funny enough, that’s yet another place where I get jealous when I see no one ever likes or comments on my statuses save once in a blue moon-even when it’s an innocent question.)

    I’ve felt nothing BUT jealousy since I got deeper into YouTube as an animator. It’s hard to NOT be jealous when you spend months on a 350 frame project that caps at 250,000 views and Nyan cat’s 1-2 frame loop is over 23 million. It’s kind of damaging cause I’ve even stopped supporting other successful YT animators, rather than be inspired that they went from unknowns in my shoes to internet celebrities, my jealously gets in the way.

    I also do theater (I picked the wrong fields for jealously didn’t I) and have definitely been on the, “How did this person who can’t sing/act get a lead?” side of the fence.

    I don’t know but I’ll definitely give this list a try. Certainly puts a whole different perspective on things. Thanks.

    • You have picked two fields where jealousy is rampant, driven by competition. I’ve done a lot of work with people around competition, too. It’s hard to work on jealousy, and I’m no stranger to it, but the way I learned to handle it does seem to work. Most of the time.

  3. I love this, Quinn, thank you. Perfect timing, as always. I am suddenly in the throes of “author jealousy” again (and you know what I mean LOL) during a time that has been lovely, calm and flowing. Thought I was clear of this particular demon. Not! I will be following these steps… so looking forward to meeting with you this week.
    Big hugs,

  4. Quinn,
    I appreciate your comprehensive approach in dealing with jealousy. We often feel it in our ‘bones’ and it’s good to be aware of these feelings. Knowing our predominant emotions is often key to discovering where they came from and why. Recording our positive attributes in connection with the ones we’re jealous of in another is a insightful way to see what we already have going and how we can incorporate more of it deliberately. Now, that’s personal power!

    I have chosen your post, Jealousy: How to Work Through It, for the #JournalChat Pick of the Day on 7/16/12 for all things journaling on Twitter;
    I will post a link on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, my blog and website Refresh with Dawn Herring, and in Refresh Journal, my weekly e-journal:

    #JournalChat Live is every Thursday, 5 EST/2 PST for all things journaling on Twitter; our topic this week is Your Journaling: A Trouble Transitioned.

    Thanks again, Quinn, for giving such vital solutions with working through jealousy. It’s a great way to get a fresh perspective.

    Be refreshed,
    Dawn Herring
    Host of #JournalChat Live and Links Edition on Twitter
    Author of The Birthday Wall: Create a Collage to Celebrate Your Child

  5. I thought this post was wonderful Quinn. I used to feel jealousy but seldom do now and I wonder if that’s because I’m getting older and have gained more of an appreciation as to what effort it takes to be successful. If I don’t feel ‘lack’ I don’t need to ‘attack’ do I? And any anger that I feel is more likely to be righteous anger in response to indifference or injustice. I’m not saying I’m immune – just don’t experience those pangs to any extent.
    I don’t feel envious as much either – I need little and feel enough just as myself. What envy I do feel acts as a motivator. I wonder, with a little positive reframing, is that a purpose of envy?

    • Envy can often be reframed as gratitude. Lack and attack are both feeling we experience–we lack [talent, courage, money] and feel attacked because we [aren’t enough, someone wants what we have]. It’s the inner critic running wild.

  6. Hmm. I think of jealousy and envy differently; to me envy is wanting what someone has or gets, while jealousy is fear that THEY want (or will take) what I have. I may have it wrong though; it has been repeatedly explained to me that I apparently didn’t do very well in the training course prior to living in close proximity to you humans. 🙂

  7. You hit the nail on the head with this post! We all feel jealousy, feel badly for feeling it and get hung up on moving past it. What to do? You are so correct in advising one to sit down and write about how they feel, where it affects them, how they feel they are going to proceed. I admit that I always feel that I am less of a person when I look at the person I am jealous of and go around in circles chasing my tail trying to find out the cause. I can accept that someone is a better baker, housekeeper, artist, writer, but I am still jealous, I want to do better and get my wheels stuck in the mud trying to move on past these feelings. I am getting better at handling these feelings. At one point I would end up in bed feeling like my world had crashed, now I admit to the feeling, try to see why and do I really care about the situation as much as I think that I do. Many times it’s a tempest in a teapot! Yes, I’d like to be perfect at everything I do, but you know, I can be happy just being the best that I can be. Where I go off the rails is when someone starts nattering at me, telling me that I’m not good, that another person is ever so much better, that they can do X without even breaking a sweat. Comments along these lines could put me in a dismal state for days until I realized that doing and being the best you can be is all you can ask of yourself. Be happy your friend or other person did so well in whatever the challenge was and maybe your time will come next, the time when you are acknowledged for having done such a wonderful job. It’s taken me a long time to get to this realization, I still backslide, but for the most part, I can accept who and what I am.

    • I STILL have issues with jealousy–real flare ups. Ugh. Then I hate myself for feeling so small. Those steps are how I work on it. One attack at a time. I keep trying and I keep working on it. After all, what else do I have to do with my life except work on my weaknesses to make them less weak?

      • Thank you for being so dang honest. I hate myself for being so petty about another person’s well earned prize or award, too, and then I get angry at myself because I;m not good enough, I didn;t work hard enough, etc.

        I soooo appreciate the steps you outlined. And since my afternoon photoshoot canceled an hour before I was supposed to be there, I have an afternoon free. Great time to try out that writing exercise… Thank you.

  8. Quinn,
    What a beautiful post on something that happens so often but is usually so cloaked in shame that we refuse to even admit we feel it.
    This is so important – kudos to you for writing about something nobody wants to talk about and offering useful advice on how to handle it!!
    Best, tj

    • Thanks, TJ, it’s because I know the feeling soooooo well. And I keep working on it. It IS about shame, you are right. I’ve tried these steps and they are helpful. I will always have flare ups, but at least I can work on them now. I have tools!

  9. Quinn – absolutely it is a mixture of fear and anger – always at ourselves – why am i not good enough – what am i doing wrong – and somewhere in our childhood most likely something happened to start this feeling. what a beautiful way to work thru it. I feel very thankful that i have 2 friends whom i trust enough to talk thru issues like this – and what i love about them both is wthat i will get a different perspective which only allows me to think more about my feelings.

    something i do think we need to realize that evey as we work thru those feelings – they may continue to arise in different situations – and that just requires us to pull off another layer of the onion and take the issue a little deeper – part of our learning here on this plane of existence.

    • We never get rid of our weaknesses. They are part of our strengths. I learned that a long time ago. Trying to rip out your weaknesses will damage your strengths. That’s why it’s important to address them, see where they also do you good. You are lucky, indeed, to have good friends.

        • Lots of ways:1. Sometimes jealousy drives us into saying, “I could do THAT!” and inspires us to work harder. Not the best motive, but any kick in the pants is better than none. 2. Jealousy to allow us to take a deep, honest look at our skills. Sometimes we can’t do what we thought, but then again, we think of something we can excel at. 3. When we congratulate someone on an honor won, and are feeling jealous, we learn self discipline and overcome our ego. When we see them smile, we realize that congratulating someone cost us nothing and was a great act of kindness.

  10. not your usual LOTS of comments yet, but maybe I got here early. Jealousy is so destructive. Whether it is the show ribbon, feeling your work is better, the girl/boy friend thing, or just plain feeling that you are never RECOGNIZED. Could his be it? after all the hard work, nothing, nada, zilch. This too, shall pass. press on, the rewards will come.

    • It’s hard to comment on this post. Everyone feels jealousy, but who wants to admit it? We all yearn for recognition and love. When someone else gets it, we think “Why them?” but, as my very long article says, it’s a mix of fear and anger at ourselves.

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