Difference between Jealousy and Envy: Distinguishing the Difference

difference between jealousy and envyJealousy and envy are both emotions that we have most likely experienced at one point or another in our lives.  The problem is, do we really know which emotion we experienced when?  Jealousy and envy are often times two emotions that are confused with one another.  Odds are that if you ask a few people to tell you the difference between the two, they would probably give you different definitions of how these two emotions differ.  I’ll give you my take on the two emotions and then my explanations as to why I describe them the way that I do.

Jealousy occurs when something that we have or are a part of is threatened by an outside source, such as another person, so jealousy is usually a 3 way involvement.  It’s basically an emotional reaction to the threat of losing that something or someone that we care about.  Are you the jealous type?  If you are then odds are that you have probably ruined one, or maybe even a few relationships because of the anger, fear, and insecurity that you have projected on your relationships.  Overcoming Jealousy is a nine part series that will support you and teach you to develop new responses to jealousy.  Envy is more of a two person situation- we feel envy when we want what someone else has.  To paraphrase, we may feel jealous when we feel that we may lose something, or someone to an outside source.  We may experience envy when we want something that someone else has, in other words, it’s something that we are lacking.  Learn to be happy with what you have regardless of your past or present circumstances.  Success, Happiness and Fulfillment is a great course that will set you on the road to keeping you happy.

It is my personal opinion that jealousy usually has stronger emotions attached to it.  The first uses of the word ‘jealous’ in the English language were attached to biblical devotion, and then to lovers.  This lesson also applies in a secular sense. In James 3:14-15 of the bible you can find “But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth.  This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.”  If you have, or had something or someone special that you are trying to protect from something or someone else, than you will feel jealous is it is threatened by an outside source.

An example of a scenario when one may experience jealousy would be if your neighbor got a new pool and asked your husband to go for a swim.  Your brain may begin to race with questions like “Why didn’t she ask me to go for a swim as well?”, “Does she want something with my husband?”.  Your emotions begin to kick in and you feel jealous, threatened that this neighbor is trying to come in between your relationship with your husband.  An outside source, in this case the neighbor, has made you feel insecure about your relationship.  Another unfortunate thing that may occur is that you may even begin to project your feelings of jealousy on your husband, when in reality he has not done anything wrong.  You may also have heard jealousy being referred to as the green eyed monster.  This reference came about in Othello which was written by Shakespeare.  The idea however that jealousy is green eyed is most likely older than Shakespeare, but Shakespeare is our earliest reference in print so I’m going to take his word on it.  He most likely made the comparison due to the fact that during the Renaissance era Englishmen paired their emotions with colors or personal qualities.  Both green and yellow are symbolic of jealousy and green is also symbolic of envy.  Here’s how lago describes jealousy in Othello Act 3, scene 3, 165-171,

Lago: O, beware, my lord, of jealousy;

It is the green-ey’d monster, which doth mock

The meat it feeds on.  That cuckold lives in bliss,

Who, certain of his fate, loves not his wronger:

But O, what damned minutes tells he o’er

Who dotes, yet doubts, suspects, yet strongly loves!

The jist of what lago is trying to say is that the lucky man knows that his wife is cheating, the unfortunate man only suspects it and is caught between his feelings of love and anxiety over his suspicions.

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difference between jealousy and envyThe swimming pool situation that we have described above can also be used to describe the feeling of envy.  Let’s say that you have been wanting to build a pool in your backyard from the day that you moved in.  Seeing that your neighbor has built one, may make you feel envious of them.  You want her new pool and you wish you were the one who would be able to go swimming in it this summer.  You feel envy because you want something that someone else has.  The bible also speaks of envy, Proverbs 14:30 states “A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot.”

Another common issue when trying to differentiate the two feelings is that both of these emotions often go hand in hand.  To put it simply you feel threatened by an outside source usually because they have something that you don’t have.  Think about the traits that your partner may find attractive and why you feel jealous when he speaks or interacts with someone with these traits.  It is most likely because that person that you feel threatened by has a quality that you lack, therefore making you envious of them.  So, you have probably felt both envy and jealousy simultaneously at some point in your life.  That, however, doesn’t make them any easier to distinguish.  Envy, as insecure and bad as it may make you feel doesn’t usually make you feel a small (or large) sense of betrayal and anger towards others, oftentimes your mate.  Jealousy, on the other hand, is capable of making people do crazy things.

You may feel envy about something that you don’t have but want, like that pool.  You feel jealousy over something that you already have but are afraid of losing, like your husband with the neighbor.

Now that we’ve identified the differences between the two emotions, we should try and focus on not letting either one of them overpower us.  A few ways to prevent the green eyed monster and envy from appearing and taking a hold of your life are to work on your sense of self.  Be secure in who you are, and your relationships in order to avoid feeling jealous when your partner talks or does things with others.  A strong relationship and open communication will help you to prevent these issues from ruining your relationship, or blowing things out of proportion and causing unnecessary arguments.  Mastering Emotions in Everyday Conversations will teach you the four step process to communicate effectively with others on a day to day basis.  Don’t let envy ruin you by being content with what you have and learning to set goals for yourself.  If you want the pool, create a realistic plan to save for one.