How to Not Be Jealous & Harness Those Negative Emotions for Good Instead
Feeling jealous is not fun. Which is too bad, because it pops up often in relationships, friendships, careers—just about anywhere your situation is different than someone else’s. According to psychologist Dr. Robert Plutchik, humans experience six basic emotions: joy, love, fear, anger, sadness and surprise. Jealousy falls under the anger umbrella, right near irritability, disgust and resentment. It is not a good feeling, but it’s part of the human experience. It’s normal—meaning there’s no way to get rid of it completely. But if you’re wondering how to not be jealous, there are things you can do to mitigate envy’s effect on your mental, emotional and physical well-being. Read on.
When is jealousy bad?
As a negative emotion, it makes sense that jealousy isn’t the healthiest thing to feel regularly. The American Psychological Association reported on one study out of Pennsylvania State University that found teenagers and pre-teens who were prone to bouts of jealousy in friendships were also more likely to become physically aggressive with others. They also exhibited lower self-esteem than their peers. Jeffrey G. Parker, PhD, an associate psychology professor who worked on the study, noted many subjects felt so envious when close friends branched out to other social groups that they were unable to enjoy the time they did spend with friends.
Jealousy can lead to possessiveness, unfounded suspicion and resentment. It can prevent us from enjoying what we do have by shifting our focus to what we lack. In romantic relationships, uncontrolled jealousy can turn into full blown anger or physical violence. At work, we may see a co-worker’s success as our failure and shut them out. These are unhealthy results of jealousy.
When is jealousy good?
Yes, there are benefits to feeling jealous. Kate Monroe, a licensed professional clinical counselor, spoke with us about this aspect of envy. She says, “Feeling jealous does not have to equate to a negative experience, and it also does not make an individual ‘less than’ for experiencing jealousy.” She adds that jealousy is a nuanced reaction and should be treated as such (aka there are positive takeaways, too).
In his study, Parker used the word “motivation” when discussing jealousy in teens. Particularly in professional and work settings, envy over another’s promotion can be just the inspiration you need to ask for a raise or apply for a new position. As long as the goal isn’t to drag someone else down, this can be a healthy result of jealousy.
In terms of relationships—both romantic and platonic—jealousy can be an indicator that a bond needs attention. According to Frontiers Science News and a study on jealousy in social settings among primates, this emotion can be a sort of wake-up call. If you experience jealousy when your partner or friend spends time with others, your relationship may be in need of some TLC. It’s your brain’s way of nudging you to preserve important social connections.
How to not be jealous
Katie Monroe, a licensed professional clinical counselor, told us, “We feel jealous when our nervous system senses a threat to connection, which is then translated as a threat to self.” To mitigate this threat, we’ve outlined some actions Monroe and other experts recommend, along with resources you may find useful.
1. Acknowledge jealousy
Healing of any kind starts with acceptance. You’ve got to acknowledge the existence of your negative emotions. Do this out loud or in a journal. See if you can pinpoint exactly what triggered a jealous response. This may turn out to be more layered than you expected (again, jealousy is nuanced and influenced by many factors).
2. Bring yourself back to the moment
Scrolling through social media is a great (read: easy) way to accidentally fall into a bout of jealousy. A study from Kaspersky Lab found 60 percent of respondents felt jealous of others’ lives based on what they saw on social media. When envy pops up unexpectedly, Monroe advises doing anything to bring yourself back to the present moment. Close the app and meditate. Do some slow breathing exercises. Monroe even recommends holding an ice cube in your hand and simply focusing on the sensation.
3. Take a step away
Taking action immediately when you feel an intense negative emotion like jealousy can do more damage than you intended. Since jealousy can trigger our fight, flight, freeze or fa
wn responses, Monroe says it’s best to take a step away from the situation until the emotion is less raw and you’ve had time to consider it.
4. Reach out to a trusted friend
“Oftentimes, we can be expected to handle our feelings of jealousy on our own,” says Monroe. Remember, envy is a human emotion and we are humans! Commiserating with a friend uninvolved in the triggering event can alleviate those initial feelings of sadness and anger. On top of that, Monroe encourages the ideas behind co-regulation, which is when one person’s nervous system soothes another’s by sympathetically engaging with each other. Simply making eye contact, breathing together, or holding hands can help decrease jealous feelings.
5. Look at the facts
Jealousy in romantic relationships often leads to fears of infidelity. It’s easy to jump to conclusions, but it’s important to look at the facts. By this we do not mean snoop through emails, DMs, or texts (see below)! Rather, consider only what you have witnessed firsthand. Did you actually see your partner kiss someone else? Or did they simply arrive home later than they said they would? Avoid any and all speculation or assumptions.
6. Do not indulge jealousy
Jealousy in romantic relationships is especially prone to indulgence. Do not let it take over. This means no sneaking peeks at text messages or scanning your partner’s emails. Don’t log into their social accounts and look at deleted DMs. This behavior will only intensify jealousy and destroy trust, even if you don’t find anything incriminating!
7. Be vulnerable and use “I” statements
Instead of snooping or hate-scrolling, approach the person you are afraid of losing (remember, jealousy stems from a threat to connection) and let them know how you feel. Whether it’s your partner, friend, or family member, use “I” statements. Since you are the one experiencing the emotion, saying things like, “I feel jealous when…” opens up the conversation. Avoid accusations like, “You made me feel jealous because…” No one makes us feel jealousy; we feel it in response to another’s actions.
Emotions are hard—and not just the negative ones! Journaling regularly is a productive way to deal with the intensity of an emotion in the moment. A little introspection is healthy and can even help you develop your own methods for coping with jealousy. Studies have shown that writing down thoughts and feelings several times per week can lead to lower levels of anxiety and improved mental and emotional resilience over time. It may also help uncover specific triggers and the reasons behind them (more on this below).
9. Set boundaries for yourself
If you know looking at a specific social media account or spending time with a certain friend leaves you feeling jealous, set up strong boundaries to protect yourself from them. You cannot protect yourself from all negative emotions—nor should you—but you can limit your exposure to things that consistently lead to envy. Unfollow that account. Spend less time with that friend.
10. Set boundaries in your relationship
This requires vulnerable, honest and compassionate conversation with your partner, friend or family member. When it comes to romantic partners, if you feel jealous because your partner speaks with their ex regularly or mentions them often, you may need to put up a boundary in the relationship regarding exes. It’s also worth discussing each individual’s needs within the relationship. Jealousy can arise if one person feels the other is giving a third party the attention the relationship deserves. For instance, spending time catching up with an ex rather than getting to know a new partner.
11. Pinpoint your fears
OK, easier said than done. This one takes time, and therapy really helps (see below). There’s no cure for jealousy, but this is about as close as you’ll get. Why? Because once you understand the root cause of your jealousy (insecurity, past trauma, unmet needs), you can squash it—or at least deal with it. “We can feel jealousy due to some insecurity, but it is also important to look at what has caused that insecurity,” says Monroe. “They don’t just pop out from nowhere.”
12. See a therapist
Therapy is journaling with feedback from a professional. Everyone can benefit from therapy of some kind, and it’s especially helpful if you notice jealousy popping up regularly in your life. It’s a judgment-free zone that will help you examine what’s going on with your emotional, physical, and mental health. “In my work, we often look at the societal causes, internalized oppression, attachment issues, intergenerational trauma and personal trauma my clients have experienced,” says Monroe. It’s hard work you don’t have to do alone.
13. Make a plan
When you feel jealous because someone else got the promotion you wanted or starts a successful business or lands a role you auditioned for, make a plan. This is where that motivation factor comes in. Allow yourself to feel those initial feelings of sadness and rage (it’s healthy), then move on. Do something productive towards your own goals.
14. Focus on pride and gratitude
Write down a list of everything you are grateful for. Next, write down a list of things you are proud of. What do you like about yourself? What do you love about yourself? What are you good at? What are your goals? What is coming up in the future that excites you? The emotions opposite of jealousy and anger on Plutchik’s emotion wheel are pride, hope, and joy. Focus on these.
15. Do something selfless
Jealousy tends to be a very self-centered emotion. This is not bad! We need self-awareness and introspection to be healthy. However, doing something totally selfless is a great way to forget about our own preoccupations for a while. Donate to a cause you believe in or volunteer at a local charity. Offer to drive a friend to the airport or help them move. Dog-sitting, free of charge, can work wonders.
In addition to these actions, try out any of the resources below.
1. Where Should We Begin? by Esther Perel
Best for feeling jealous in a romantic relationship
Roughly 45 minutes per episode
Esther Perel is known around the world for her work in couples counseling. Each episode of this podcast explores a real couple’s unique relationship and the issues they face. A recent episode, S4 Ep1: Trapped in Their Own Story, discusses one couple’s infidelities and meeting each other’s needs.
2. Swoon Episode 26: “Hey Jealousy: Managing Jealousy and Insecurity in Relationships”
Best for jealousy in romantic relationships
This podcast is hosted by sex therapists Julie Jeske and Gina Senarighi. They discuss everything from managing a jealous reaction to turning jealousy into gratitude.
3. Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed by Lori Gottleib
Best for anyone new to therapy
This book covers one therapist’s own journey into therapy and the many questions human beings ask about how to live their best lives.
4. Stress Less Journal by CGD London
Best for anyone who needs structure in journaling
If you don’t know how or where to start journaling, try this Stress Less journal. It’s full of prompts, advice, and mood trackers (which is perfect for taking stock of your jealousy and when it pops up).
5. The Gottman Institute
Great for parents, professionals and couples
The Gottman Institute offers “a research-based approach to relationships.” It offers workshops for new parents, retreats for couples and much more.