How to handle jealousy in a healthy way

one woman is jealous of another person eating ice cream needs to learn how to stop being jealous

Experiencing a tinge of jealousy is something we're all familiar with. Maybe a coworker landed that coveted job you'd been hoping for, a friend bought a new car, or your partner has been been paying someone else a little too much attention. They don’t call it the green-eyed monster for nothing – jealousy is never a pleasant feeling, and it's all too easy for it to work its way into your life and your headspace.

So how do you get rid of jealousy? Well, as counterintuitive as this may seem, eliminating the emotion entirely is not the goal. Jealousy is a natural feeling that arises when you perceive you're at risk of losing something you care about. From an evolutionary perspective, emotions exist to protect the precious resources that help you survive. So, of course, your heart will race, your body will tense up and you will feel that rush of adrenaline - your body is revving up to guard that resource!

But not everything that makes you feel jealous has any rational basis. Not everything that appears to be a threat is one. And what’s more, it is never okay to yell at, stalk, accuse, control, or otherwise make someone miserable because you feel jealous.

The bottom line: jealousy is a normal, human emotion, but can wreak havoc if unmanaged. So how can you cope with jealousy in a healthy way? Read on to find out.

Table of contents
Jealousy vs envy
What is jealousy a sign of?
Where to find help with handling jealousy?
5 key steps to handling envy
How to stop being jealous in a relationship
How do you get rid of jealousy in a relationship?
How do I eliminate jealousy and envy? Coming to terms with common emotions

Jealousy vs envy

The first things to understand is that jealousy and envy are not the same things1. We may use the words interchangeably in everyday conversation, but at a psychological level, they are quite different emotions.

  • Jealousy is the desire to protect something you already have. For example, you might feel jealous when your best friend gets engaged and starts spending more time with her fiancé than with you. Jealousy arises because you value your relationship with your best friend, and you fear her fiancé might replace you.
  • Envy is wanting what someone else has or has achieved. Let’s flip the above situation to feelings of envy: you might feel envious when your best friend gets engaged, not because you fear your relationship with your friend is being threatened, but because you want what she has: a committed romantic relationship.

You can feel envious of an object, quality, relationship, or professional position that someone else has. Envy goes beyond mere desire because it has pain along with the feeling you have a rival for the perceived 'prize'.

In short, jealousy is about protecting what is yours; envy is about obtaining what is not yours. Knowing this crucial difference sheds light on the misunderstood emotion of jealousy and shows that it can actually be quite useful. Why? Because it protects the relationships you value.

Most often, we talk about jealousy in terms of romantic relationships, but it can exist in any type of relationship. You might feel jealous when your manager starts mentoring a new team member, if a stranger acts flirtatiously with your partner, or if a friend succeeds in something first that you've both been pursuing, such as a fitness goal.

Jealousy itself is not the problem. The problems are:

  1. Seeing a threat where no threat exists.
  2. Excessive jealousy and inappropriate behaviors that arise from it.

What is jealousy a sign of?

Most of the time, jealousy is a sign that you fear an important relationship might be taken away from you. Quite simply, it’s a sign of what you value.

However, research has also shown that jealousy can be a sign of:

  • Low self-esteem2
  • Loneliness
  • Low levels of trust3
  • Anxious attachment style3
  • Mental health issues4

Where to find help with handling jealousy?

If you get jealous easily and relate to the signs above, this is an opportunity to make some changes towards personal growth. The best version of you doesn't get bogged down by jealousy - you just need some help to get you there.

Fingerprint for Success is a personal development platform that provides free AI coaching. Get started by taking the free assessment. It's more than 90% accurate and based on 20+ years of research. Your results are shown alongside a visual ranking that demonstrates how important factors like power and control are to you, your level of skepticism, or how open-minded and tolerant you are.

f4s dashboard shows your motivations so you can stop being jealous
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The best part is, we help you understand how all of these traits can be helpful when harnessed in the right situations. For example, a level of skepticism is key to solving problems. But if left unchecked, it can lead to anxiety and burnout.

Once you have a better understanding of yourself, you can set a goal and we'll provide a personalized series of coaching programs to help get you there. Change like this doesn't happen overnight, however 90% of our users report achieving their goals in 4-9 weeks. By taking an honest look at yourself and putting in some time and effort, you can let go of some of those jealous tendencies.

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If you get jealous easily—as in, you feel jealous even when you have no real evidence of a threat—here are some coaching programs that might help:

  1. If you have low self-esteem: Personal Power
  2. If you are lonely: Vital Wellbeing
  3. If you have trust issues: Trust Your Gut
  4. If you have an anxious attachment style: Reflection and Patience
  5. If you have an underlying physical or mental health issue that needs to be addressed, seek professional help or learn more about how a life coach can help

5 key steps to handling envy

If you’re Googling “how to stop being jealous of others,” what you're experiencing is probably not jealousy, but rather, envy. The quick way to find out is to answer the question: Does the thing I desire rightfully belong to me? If the answer is yes, that’s jealousy. But if the answer is no, that’s envy.

Again, jealousy would be if your partner starts spending time with someone you know is interested in them, and you feel threatened that this outsider might interfere in your relationship. But envy would be if your partner went on a lavish vacation with their family, and you feel pained because you wish your family could afford getaways like that.

So if you’re talking about envy, here are some ways to stop being envious of others:

Step 1: Accept the emotion

Contrary to popular belief, acceptance doesn’t mean you enjoy the feeling or approve of it; it simply means you don’t shame yourself for experiencing something you can’t control. When you deny that the envy is there, an act known as suppression, you may actually make the emotion stronger while simultaneously damaging your mental health.

In his book Opening Up: The Healing Power of Expressing Emotions, psychologist James W. Pennebaker shares his research confirming that suppressing emotions can suppress your immune system5. In one study, participants who were instructed to write about emotional or non-emotional topics and suppress their thoughts had lower levels of lymphocytes (white blood cells that are part of the immune system) after the exercise6. On the other hand, participants who did not suppress thoughts during the exercise showed a boost in lymphocytes.

Another study found that bottling up emotions can increase aggression7. Researcher Kathleen D. Vohs and colleagues had participants watch a "notoriously disgusting" scene from a movie and then either express themselves freely or hide their reaction to the scene. Those who were instructed to show no reaction displayed more aggressive behavior afterward than the subjects who were free to express their revulsion.

The lesson here? Suppressing your emotions isn’t healthy. But lashing out isn’t healthy either. Instead, try journaling about your envy or talking it out with a confidant.

Step 2: Cultivate gratitude for what you have

Since envy focuses on what someone else has, one way to stop it in its tracks is to cultivate gratitude for what you have. The next time you find yourself pining after something that belongs to someone else, push the 'stop' button in your mind and redirect your attention to the things you’re thankful for. List three things you’re grateful for and spend some time thinking about why you appreciate them.

Step 3: Practice empathy for the person you’re envious of

Empathy has a special way of pouring water on the flames of envy. Envy involves another person whom you may see as a rival. Try, instead, to see them as the human being they are, with their own scars, struggles and stories. That makes it extremely difficult to feel pain over what they have.

Step 4: Ask yourself: would you really switch lives?

Often, when we’re mired in envy towards another person, we have a false belief that if we could only switch lives, we'd be happy. The reality is, everyone has challenges in their life, even if it seems perfect from the outside—hello social media. A curated life isn't as authentic as it might seem.

Plus, if you switched lives, think of all the people you love who would no longer be in your life. The unique being that is you would no longer exist. By focusing on what you have, and being grateful for it (even the challenging parts), you may just feel the envy melt away.

Step 5: Give it time

Still feeling envious of someone? That’s okay. Just give it time. No, really. Research shows that often the best remedy for envy is the passage of time.

Researchers at The University of Chicago conducted four studies related to time and envy, and made two fascinating discoveries8: First, people are more envious of future events than past events. For example, subjects' envy about Valentine's Day rose as the holiday approached, but quickly plateaued as soon as February 14th had passed.

Second, time dulls the pain of envy. In the research paper concludes, "Other people's good lives sting less if they have already lived them."

To give yourself some perspective, try to remember: this will sting a whole lot less eventually.

How to stop being jealous in a relationship

As we read in the section on envy, emotion and thought suppression do not work in the long run. However, if jealousy is not handled in healthy ways, it can ruin relationships and be extremely harmful to your partner.

So what can you do about it?

Talk to your partner

Do not use this as an opportunity to blame your partner. Instead, use it as an opportunity to open the lines of communication so you can have an honest conversation. This can improve emotional intimacy, which is a key part of trust in a relationship. Focus on how you feel and the facts at hand, not on how you assume your partner feels or any unfounded suspicions you have about them. Your partner may be able to offer you reassurance, and you may be able to apologize for your past jealousy-fueled harmful behaviors.

Try the Boredom Technique

Here’s a tip from psychologist Robert Leahy, author of The Jealousy Cure: Repeatedly tell yourself that the thing you fear is possible. It's a way of habituating yourself to the thought so it no longer controls you.

In an interview on 'The Psychology Podcast,' Leahy gives this example9: He had a client who was consumed with the idea that his wife might be unfaithful to him while she was away on business trips despite having no evidence to support this. So Leahy had his client learn to accept that infidelity was a possibility, but not a fact. To do this, his client had to tell himself over and over, “It’s always possible my wife could be unfaithful to me,” until the idea became so boring to him that he no longer feared it. Leahy calls this The Boredom Technique.

Schedule 'jealousy time'

Another tip Leahy suggests for stopping jealousy is to schedule time to acknowledge your jealousy each day. For instance, you might schedule a 'jealousy appointment' at 10am; this is your chance to focus on your jealous thoughts, write them down, and then put them off until later that day. Then, at 2pm, revisit those jealous thoughts you wrote down. What you’ll typically find is that the intensity of the jealousy has faded, granting you relief and perspective that the next time you feel jealous, this too shall pass.

Lay ground rules for jealousy

Earlier, we highlighted how important it is to keep communication open with your partner. Leahy also suggests laying ground rules for jealousy. What should your partner do the next time you’re feeling jealous? Would it be helpful for them to call it out? By deciding ahead of time what each of you should do in response to jealousy, you set your relationship up for success by helping each other cope.

Address the root of your jealousy in therapy

Sometimes, excessive jealousy has nothing to do with your partner. There may be underlying issues at the root of your jealousy. For instance, if you’ve been cheated on in the past, it may make it harder for you to trust someone again—even if that person has never given you a reason not to trust them.

Jealous reactions can ruin a relationship; it can make your life and your significant other’s life miserable. You owe it to yourself and your loved one to talk to a professional about healthy ways to manage this powerful emotion. Speak to a licensed mental health professional about what you can do to get help.

How do you get rid of jealousy in a relationship?

It's unlikely you can completely eliminate all feelings of jealousy in a relationship. Even healthy relationships are bound to a twinge of jealousy. Yet you can eliminate the inappropriate behaviors attached to it.

By using some of the exercises listed above, you and your partner can cope with jealousy with healthy communication and not let it undermine your relationship.

However, if jealousy turns your relationship into an unhealthy, toxic one - it may be time to leave. It is never okay for a partner to accuse you, stalk you or try to control you. If you need help getting out of an abusive relationship, the National Domestic Violence Hotline (USA) is available 24/7, and is completely free.

How do I eliminate jealousy and envy? Coming to terms with common emotions

The answer is you can’t – jealousy and envy are natural emotions. The better question to ask is, How can I manage them in healthy ways? By putting the above tips into action the next time jealousy or envy rear their head, you'll be well on your way.

Understand your traits so you can experience less jealousy

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1. Smith, R H. (2014) 'What Is the Difference Between Envy and Jealousy?' Available at Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/joy-and-pain/201401/what-is-the-difference-between-envy-and-jealousy

2. Dittmann, M. (2005) 'Study links jealousy with aggression, low self-esteem'. Available at American Psychological Association.
https://www.apa.org/monitor/feb05/jealousy
3. Rodriguez, L M; DiBello, A M; Overup, C S; Neighbors, C; (2015) 'The Price of Distrust: Trust, Anxious Attachment, Jealousy, and Partner Abuse'. Available at National Library of Medicine'. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5380380/
4. Somasundaram, O. (2010) 'Facets of morbid jealousy: With an anecdote from a historical Tamil romance'. Available at National Library of Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2990838/
5. Pennebaker, J W. (1997) Opening Up, Second Edition: The Healing Power of Expressing Emotions. Available at Guilford Press.
6. Petrie, K J; Booth, R J; Pennebaker, J W. (1998) 'The immunological effects of thought suppression'. Available at American Psychological Association. https://psycnet.apa.org/doiLanding?doi=10.1037%2F0022-3514.75.5.1264
7. (2011) 'Psychologists find the meaning of aggression: 'Monty Python' scene helps research'. Available at Science Daily.
https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/03/110323105202.htm
8. Kristal, A C; O'Brien, E. (2019) 'Yesterday's News: A Temporal Discontinuity in the Sting of Inferiority'. Available at Sage Journals.
https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0956797619839689
9. (2018) 'The Jealousy Cure with Robert Leahy'. Available at The Psychology Podcast. https://scottbarrykaufman.com/podcast/jealousy-cure-robert-leahy/

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