This is a tragedy, because jealousy and envy are essential for your social survival — you really need them! Luckily, you can work with jealousy and envy empathically and shield yourself from the deeply unfortunate things we’ve all been taught about these two vital emotions.
The poor training we receive in regard to jealousy and envy carries over into our language, because even though these emotions are quite distinct, most people lump them together. In many dictionaries, jealousy and envy are treated as synonyms for each other, but they’re different emotions!
Becoming empathically intelligent about jealousy and envy
From The Language of Emotions:
Jealousy and envy are separate emotional states, yet they share a similar purpose, which is to keep you safe and well-positioned in your social world:
Jealousy’s job is to watch over the stability of your intimate relationships, while envy’s job is to ensure your (and others’) access to resources or recognition. Both of these emotions help you create a safe and secure social world.
Both jealousy and envy contain a mixture of boundary-protecting anger (including hatred – so check your shadow!) and intuitive fear. Both exist to help you identify what you value and develop healthy connections and social skills.
If you can work empathically with these two emotions, they’ll contribute tremendous stability to your personality, your relationships, and your social awareness and strengths.
Let’s look at jealousy first
JEALOUSY: Relational Radar
GIFTS: Love ~ Commitment ~ Security ~ Intimacy ~ Connection ~ Loyalty ~ Fairness
WHAT YOUR JEALOUSY DOES: Jealousy arises in response to challenges that may destabilize your connection to love, mate-retention, or loyalty. These challenges may come from external sources, from an internal lack of self-worth, or both.
WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE: Listen to your jealousy and restore your boundaries before you act. Then, your actions can support healthy love and connections for all concerned.
THE INTERNAL QUESTIONS: What kinds of intimacy do I desire and want to offer? What betrayals must be recognized and healed?
When your jealousy works well, you won’t appear obsessively jealous or possessive — rather, your natural intuition and clear boundaries will help you instinctively choose and retain trustworthy mates and friends.
However, if you suppress your jealousy, you’ll have trouble identifying, attracting, or relating to reliable companions.
Welcoming the sociological emotions
I call jealousy and envy “the sociological emotions” because they can help you understand and brilliantly navigate your social world. Very few people share this view; most people think of these emotions as completely negative.
And people who express jealousy or envy are rarely honored; they are often called insanely jealous or green-eyed monsters, which throws these emotions into the shadows. That’s never a good idea, especially in regard to emotions that exist to support your social awareness and your connection to sources of love and security.
If you stifle your jealousy and envy, you not only lose your awareness of the situations that brought them forward, but you lose your emotional agility, your instincts, and your ability to navigate through the social world and your relationships.
Many psychologists and laypeople have classified jealousy and envy as “primitive” emotions more suited to Neanderthals than to modern-day people. This is silly. Classifying jealousy and envy as primitive and obsolete totally ignores the fact that jealousy and envy have value and purpose today (and every day).
The genius in jealousy
Jealousy is a combination of intuition (fear) and self-protection (anger) that arises to help you identify supportive and available partners, and it also arises when your most intimate and important relationships are challenged.
Intimacy – and security in intimate relationships – is incredibly important to your health and well-being, so much so that you’ll actually feel physically threatened when you sense challenges to your bond or betrayal from your mate. This sense of threat can certainly be traced back to earlier eras, when mate selection and retention ensured physical survival in harsh climates.
However, our intimate survival issues have not lessened in importance in the modern world, because each of us still faces present-day threats to our security and well-being.
Even when you’re physically and financially comfortable, you still require intimacy and security in your relationships, because dependable mates still help to ensure your social and material well-being. Dependable mates still nurture and protect your children and your family, and they still provide intimacy, love, security, companionship, sexual communion, friendship, and protection.
Healthy and committed relationships are vital to your social and emotional well-being, and in truth, they’re vital to your very survival.
If your mate is unreliable, or if your position as the primary focus of your mate is challenged, your jealousy will arise to help you face this very real threat to your security and well-being. There is no pathology in this – it’s a natural and healthy response. However, if you don’t listen to and honor your jealousy, it will tend to drag you into a feedback loop that can make your life very uncomfortable.
What to do about persistent jealousy
If persistent jealousy is a major stumbling block for you, please look into David Buss’s book on the sociological and biological necessity of jealousy, The Dangerous Passion: Why Jealousy is as Necessary as Love and Sex. It’s an eye-opening book that defends jealousy as a natural and accurate emotion – even while it’s honest about the horrific abuses people can create when they repress or incompetently express their jealousy.
One fascinating finding Buss presents is that follow-up studies on couples who entered therapy to deal with one partner’s “pathological” jealousy uncovered clear instances of hidden infidelity in an overwhelming percentage of the cases (and clear instances of crippling amounts of internal insecurity in the rest). In each case, the jealousy was pointing to a truly endangering situation of external or internal insecurity and acting exactly as it should have – to alert its owner to serious threats to intimacy, mate retention, and social well-being.
When jealousy arises, it does so for valid reasons. Your task is to acknowledge and welcome it rather than pretending that you don’t require security in your most important relationships.
Jealousy is an essential part of love and loving relationships.
The key to working with your jealousy is to identify when the risks you perceive come from a betrayal by your mate, and when they come from your own sense of unworthiness or insecurity in the relationship. Just as it is with every other emotion, there is no real alternative to channeling jealousy; the only way out is through.
Related post: The social genius of envy