Although most people don’t like admitting it, everyone feels jealous sometimes. Jealousy is an emotional experience like any other, but the green-eyed monster rarely does any good to anyone.
Jealousy is not a nice feeling, but it’s a part of life. Luckily, since jealousy is a feeling like any other, it can be regulated and overcome. While accepting jealousy can seem counterproductive, you can’t entirely cut jealousy out of your life. What you can do, however, is to choose how you behave when jealous feelings arise, and that is how you overcome jealousy.
In this article, I will take a look at what jealousy is, why it exists and how to overcome it.
What is jealousy?
Like with all psychological phenomena, there are countless theories of what jealousy is. However, there is some common ground between different theories: everyone seems to agree that jealousy involves some sort of social triangle.
Jealousy is the emotional state that arises when an important interpersonal relationship is being threatened by an interloper. The threat may only be imagined, but the feelings of insecurity and threat are definitely real.
A cliché example of jealousy is when someone tries to stop their significant other from hanging out with friends of the opposite sex. But jealousy doesn’t only occur in romantic relationships.
A child may feel jealous when their parents seem to pay more attention to their siblings. Similarly, feelings of jealousy may arise when our best friend is suddenly spending more time with someone else.
Jealousy vs envy
In everyday contexts, jealousy is often used interchangeably with envy, while research often distinguishes between these two feelings. If jealousy is related to threats, envy is the emotional state that occurs when you desire what someone else possesses.
Jealousy often includes feelings of ill will towards the other and negative feelings about the self.
Why do we need jealousy?
Many people have examples of how jealousy has ruined or damaged relationships. For example, a friend’s jealous tantrum may push you away instead of bringing you closer together.
Stalking the social media of your partner’s ex may raise more questions than answers, which only fuels your jealousy. Jealousy is often a result of comparing ourselves to others, which generally does more harm than good.
The purpose of jealousy
But just like every other negative feeling, jealousy has a purpose. According to a 2018 paper, the primary motivations behind jealousy are to monitor the situation where there is a potential threat to a relationship and break up the threatening liaison through any means possible.
Jealousy presumably evolved because it often produced effective solutions to securing one’s relationship and the rewards that tend to come with that, like the possibility to pass on one’s genetic material.
Acting on jealousy too aggressively can ruin the relationship, but moderate and measured action when your relationship is threatened ensures that you don’t lose your partner.
If this seems counterintuitive, it’s important to remember that our brains and emotional systems evolved to benefit our genes, not our mental state. Jealousy may not be a nice feeling, but the temporary discomfort is outweighed by the chance to pass on our genes.
So in a way, jealousy can be useful emotion for your survival. But this website is not about surviving, it's about being happy. Therefore, we are going to look at ways on how you can overcome jealousy instead.
Studies on overcoming jealousy
There is evidence that infants display behaviors that appear indicative of jealousy in situations where their mother seems to be interacting with another infant.
In a 2002 study, mothers of 6-month-old infants ignored their babies while attending to what appeared to be another infant, but was a realistic-looking doll or while reading a book. The infants exhibited greater negative effects when their mothers interacted with a lifelike baby doll. Importantly, they did not show the same responses when their mothers interacted with the nonsocial item, suggesting that it was not just the loss of attention, but rather the fact that someone else received the attention, that was upsetting.
This simple, core form of jealousy develops into a more elaborate form that includes more sophisticated appraisals and strategies, as we grow up. For example, if infants can only cry when they feel that their mother is paying too much attention to someone else, older children and adults can assess each jealousy-inducing situation and weigh the possible costs and rewards of different actions.
So if jealousy is so hardwired that it’s already present in infants, can we ever completely overcome it?
We can never completely shut jealousy off or eliminate it entirely. As long as we have important relationships, we are also susceptible to jealousy. What we can change and eliminate, though, are behaviors that do more harm than good to our relationships.
How to overcome jealousy
Dealing with jealousy is very similar to dealing with other negative emotions like anxiety, sadness, or anger. Here are a few simple tips for learning how to better control the green-eyed monster.
1. Give it time
It’s normal to be more protective at the beginning of the relationship. Over time, we learn to trust our partner, and feelings of jealousy tend to become less intense.
This does not mean that intense jealousy can’t arise 10 years into a relationship. But if you’re worried about being too protective over your new relationship, keep in mind that time can also heal things.
2. Accept the jealousy
Jealousy and uncertainty will always be a part of any relationship. We can trust our partner completely, and still feel jealous when they spend too much time with someone else (especially if that person is attractive!)
Remember, jealousy has evolved to protect our relationships and make sure that our genes get passed on. There is no point in trying to battle the feeling of jealousy. Accept it as a part of life, and try not to take irrational actions based on these feelings.
3. Change the behavior
Instead of fighting the feeling of jealousy, pay attention to how it makes you behave. Although your thoughts may be telling you to verbally - or even physically - attack the interloper or your partner, do you give in to that urge?
Or maybe you do the opposite and give your partner the silent treatment for giving someone else too much attention? In essence, try to practice self-awareness and see what these emotions are doing to you.
Although we don’t have control over our feelings, we always have control over our behavior and how we react to those feelings. Here are some jealous behaviors and what to do instead:
- Giving your partner the silent treatment -> talk to your partner.
- Trying to control your partner’s social circle -> talk to them about what certain relationships mean to them.
- Checking the social media of your partner’s ex-s often -> block those people/spend time on other apps or sites.
- Withholding physical/emotional closeness and care from your partner -> doing something fun together that you both enjoy.
- Beating yourself up because you feel jealousy -> accept jealousy, be kind to yourself, and practice self-care.
4. Evaluate your relationship
Although jealousy is normal, excessive jealousy or jealous behavior can be an indicator of problems in the relationship or just the fact that you and your partner have different expectations.
If this is the case, jealousy can only be overcome if you work on your relationship. A good place to start is a relationship audit.
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Jealousy is undoubtedly an uncomfortable feeling, but it does have a purpose in protecting our important relationships from potential threats. While we can never eliminate it completely, we can change jealous behaviors that do more harm than good, and through this behavioral change, we can learn to control and overcome jealousy.
Have you ever felt particularly jealous without knowing what to do about it? Do you want to share your own tips on how to deal with jealous feelings? I'd love to know in the comments below!