How Do You Deal With Jealousy?

And does this brutal emotion even have a purpose?
Publish date:
May 21, 2013
jealousy, envy, Erfolgtraurigkeit, green-eyed monster, darker emotions

The other day, Lesley wrote about Erfolgtraurigkeit, the flagellation that some of us inflict on ourselves whenever someone else around us does well. When I read it, I started thinking about Julieanne's piece begging people to stop saying they HATE celebrities.

It feels, to me, like these are facets of jealousy -- or envy, which is technically about things people have instead of the people themselves. And then Emily sent around this link. It's a post from Hello Giggles about 10 people the author is jealous of -- and knows she shouldn't be. It made me wonder about jealousy, about the ways we give into it and the ways in which it makes our own lives harder.

I am not a particularly jealous person, though I definitely fall prey to that Erfolgtraurigkeit. Still, I rarely look at someone else and wish I were in their shoes.

This is largely because I have phenomenal shoes, y'all. (Just kidding. But not really.)

It's also because no matter how awesome someone else's life looks, I figure they have their own trials. No one has a perfect life and while I might not be able to imagine someone else's problems based on their image, odds are good I am spectacularly ill-equipped to deal with those issues. The Hello Giggles post acknowledges this, too.

Here is a thing that sometimes happens: I'm fat (as you might have noticed). And if a fat person is critical of a thin person (no matter what the reason), someone always takes the opportunity to say, "You're just jealous." It happens to other people, too -- it's called "sour grapes," right?

This is a pretty effective means of derailing criticism -- it dismisses any critique as invalid. It assumes that there are hierarchies in which jealousy is automatic; it assumes fat women will always be jealous of thin women, poor people will always be jealous of rich people, "regular" people will always be jealous of famous people, and single women will always be jealous of engaged women.

And that sets up or maybe just reinforces that some kinds of people are just better than other kinds of people.

I can't get behind that.

Let me back up though -- defining our terms is a thing, after all. Jealousy and envy are used pretty interchangeably at this point but technically jealousy is about human relationships (and the fear and insecurity that grows out of them), while envy is about possessions or positions and wishing both that you had a thing and that the other person lacked it.

All of that sounds like a recipe for being miserable and unhappy, honestly. I mean, it's hard enough to feel like you are somehow not measuring up to another person. What does it do to us if we are then sitting around feeling hateful about other people that we perceive as having things they don't deserve?

Doesn't that feel like we're using all our own energy on feeling unpleasant things about people instead of going out and doing things?

And where does all of this intersect with the completely valid anger that is felt against people participating in various oppressions?

My first therapist, back when I wasn't entirely sure I HAD feelings in the first place, was a real feel-your-feelings kind of person. And her approach to these sorts of things was to acknowledge that, yeah, that person has a thing that I want.

But instead of then focusing on that person, she had me figure out why I wanted that thing, what it stood for, what benefit it would supposedly do for me. That way I was taking a supposedly negative emotion and making it useful somehow.

In hindsight, I've been pretty thoroughly trained, haven't I? Maybe that's what I get for being so focused on process and avoiding being miserable.

Avoiding being miserable is pretty much my life goal.

By and large, I like the me I am now, and if I had a different life, I'd be a different me. That has a way of staving off jealousy as well, I suspect.

Are you a jealous person? How do you handle it? Are you convinced that emotions need to be useful the way I sometimes am?