4 Ways Jealousy Showed Up in Me Recently
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The word jealousy has been popping up in random places around me recently. In pop culture I've consumed (S2E7 of My Unorthodox Life, Wednesday, Bad Moms Christmas, and Almost Christmas), in conversations with others, and in me.
I’ve been finding myself jealous of others at times, especially as the holidays rolled around. Which is normal, I guess, though not always healthy. It reminds me that there are things I still desire not yet within reach that I can work toward. It shows me where there is lack and scarcity in my life. A reminder that it’s not the emotions themselves that are bad, but how we express and act on them.
I haven’t studied the emotion of jealousy in scholarly literature yet. I’ve read psychology articles here and there but haven’t dived deep. Instead, I decided to study how jealousy has been showing up in me. Where do I feel it? How does it move me? What thoughts are associated with it, how does it make me behave, etc? Since I was seeing it in others around me, I had to recognize that some of it was showing up in me too, which can be difficult to admit to, for different reasons.
We’ve all had people in our lives who were jealous of us at one moment or another. Like others, I can sometimes focus on them, claiming they are the haters, this that, and the other. It is easier to see others as jealous. Jealousy, like resentment, envy, or shame, is framed by society as a negative emotion that makes us bad people if we feel or express it. Women especially are viewed negatively if they come off as jealous or resentful. In men, we frame it as “healthy competition.” When women do it, we’re told we’re being “catty,” animalistic, childish even. So, most of us shy away from these emotions, or we pretend we don’t ever feel them at all. Even when it’s clear as day that we do.
Because I study shame and other difficult emotions, I wanted to pay attention to how jealousy shows up in me. Here are the four patterns I’ve identified so far.
1) We may want something someone else has, but it’s not always about wanting what they have specifically or exactly, at least not in the same way.
I was watching My Unorthodox Life recently with Julia Haart and her family and started to notice some jealousy showing up in me. What I learned is that it’s not what they had specifically that I wanted. For example, I felt some type of way when she said in the early episodes of the new season that choosing her children was without a doubt something she will always do. “Aww, must be nice,” I passive aggressively commented to myself.
But here’s the thing, I wouldn’t want my mom to choose her children and divorce her husband, not at all. I don’t want the same thing as what made me feel some type of way. However, there was a sense of, “huh, so mothers do choose their children over men, must be nice.” Petty, I know. You can’t even be happy for others because it becomes about you and your unhealed wounds. Jealousy does that. Even when we don’t want that specific outcome, our internal stuff shows up and makes us feel a sense of grief, a void, a loss.
Another example was the care Robert was getting after his surgery. “Hmm, must be nice he’s getting spoon fed by someone who loves him. Whenever I’m sick, I take care of myself,” I found myself thinking. Again, I don’t want anyone to literally spoon feed me. It’s not about wanting the same exact thing. But something about the situation strikes me as something I never had but would like to experience. I want to know what it’s like to be taken care of in that same way.
It showed me that I’m not usually jealous of material things in others. I don’t care for what purse, clothes, or shoes you have. Maybe the trips you take or the homes you live in and the food you eat. I mostly get jealous of emotional support. I feel lack when I see others being shown up for. I get jealous when I see people in community being loved on and taken care of. I feel some type of way when I see other women being protected, defended, dotted on and spoiled. That is where I learned my jealousy lies, which is important to note. Because being conscious and aware shifts how I engage with the negative self-thoughts. It allows me to move into being happy for others rather than my stuff always showing up.
This is important because we sometimes think that jealousy is about wanting the same thing someone else has, and it’s really not. (Envy is different, I’ll get into that in another blog). Someone can have more than someone else, and still be jealous of something. It's more about what that thing represents. It’s the meaning we give it. It’s how it makes us feel a sense of loss, lack, or scarcity.
2) We start catching an attitude toward the person
When I feel jealousy of someone, everything they do starts to annoy me, and for no good reason. We start to get mean or passive-aggressive, maybe even outright aggressive with them. We might get petty or try to one-up them. We may dehumanize them, see them less as humans, and disconnect from them on a human and empathic level. We start minimizing them and dismissing things they do. We might make them feel small, so we feel bigger about ourselves. Shame works in this same way. Not being able to access what they have might bring up a sense of shame, so we operate in similar ways as when we’re in shame. This could be like what Brené Brown calls, “shame moving us against others.” Jealousy functions in a similar way.
I called Robert a baby for needing to be taken care of, for example.
3) We start comparing ourselves with the person we are jealous of
Here, not only is nothing they do good enough, but we think we can do it better. I’m sure you’ve done this too. Where you start competing with them out of nowhere as if they even care. This might look like, “oppression Olympics.”
For example, someone who lives with pelvic pain is jealous of another person who also lives with it, but is getting care and attention they never got. They might say to them, “boo ho, I have more fibroids than you, mine are much bigger, I bled profusely for 365 days of the year, really bad, so bad, then I had 500 million children, and still worked a billion hours, and took care of everyone but me and I didn’t need a care team, I pushed through on my own. Why can’t you?” It becomes this competition you didn’t even know you were in. The comparison makes us feel better about not having that thing we’re jealous of. It ties into the previous point of minimizing that person. Making them feel small so we feel big.
4) We start to project
This is similar to the previous point of comparison, but here, we’re specifically interjecting our experiences onto that person. Psychology Today defines projection as “the process of displacing one’s feelings onto a different person.” So, rather than admit we’re jealous of the person, we might accuse them of being jealous of us. So, the pelvic pain example in the previous point, here it might look like calling the person weak, when in actuality, we might have felt weak. We might still feel weak for not advocating for ourselves in the same way. Seeing them get the support we never got brings up feelings of weakness in us, so, instead, we call the other person weak.
All of this is meant to distract us from the real underlying issues at hand, which is a sense of loss, scarcity, and lack within. It distracts us from having to do the work on ourselves. We focus on the other person instead.
Jealousy and Shame
There is a sense of shame that comes with catching myself feeling jealous of someone else. “I shouldn’t want what others have,” I tell myself. “If I were in a place of abundance, I wouldn’t be jealous, this makes me a bad person.” These can be the scripts we recite to ourselves.
Rather than feel shame about it, recognize that jealousy is an emotion, it will pass. And if it doesn’t that might mean there are lessons to be learned. It might be an invitation to work things out with someone. Repressing it won’t work in this case. Ask yourself questions like, “what about this makes me feel jealous?” “Where am I feeling this jealousy in my body?” “What is this jealousy telling me?” “What am I missing in my own life?” “What needs are not being met” “How can I meet those needs?”
Lastly, it’s important to recognize that a lot of these emotions we interact with are tied to the socio-political. Yes, I’m bringing up the white supremacist capitalist patriarchy, it loves to see us jealous of each other.
Marketing, advertising, and capitalism are meant to make you jealous and want what they are selling. You’re supposed to be jealous of that person with that latest version of whatever is being sold. The emotion drives you to buy it. So, we compete with one another. Do whatever we can to one-up the other.
Try to see jealously not only as an individual emotion, but rather, as something tied to the structural and systemic. It’s like shame in this way. Who does it serve to be jealous? Don’t forget to like, subscribe, and share.
Until next time, in solidarity.