We’re raised to think of jealousy as something to avoid. If we’re jealous of someone else’s life, it must mean we aren’t grateful for our own — right?
Jealousy can in fact be a positive emotion, and an opportunity to shift our perspective. When we’re jealous of someone, it’s usually not so much about what they have, but about what we perceive ourselves as not having. As Julia Cameron wrote in her creativity guidebook, “The Artist’s Way”:
Jealousy is always a mask for fear: fear that we aren’t able to get what we want; frustration that somebody else seems to be getting what’s rightfully ours even if we are too frightened to reach for it.
3 questions to ask about your jealousy
The next time you feel yourself becoming jealous, consider it an opportunity to ask yourself:
- What am I afraid of?
- What do I really want?
- Why do I want that?
Granted, these aren’t always easy questions to ask ourselves. And the answers may not come immediately. But with practice, we can teach ourselves to welcome jealousy as an opportunity to understand ourselves better (rather than getting stuck focusing on someone else). Self-knowledge can be uncomfortable, but seeing a situation clearly is the first step to being able to make it better.
Putting these questions into practice
Let’s see how it might look to put the questions above into practice. Let’s say you’re jealous of a coworker, Jane, who seems to be the apple of your boss’s eye. Everything Jane does gets complimented, it seems. The next time you find yourself filling up with envy, pause and go down the checklist:
- What am I afraid of? I’m afraid my boss doesn’t see the value of my contributions.
- What do I really want? I want my talent and hard work to be recognized.
- Why do I want that? Because the economy is shaky, and I need to know my job is secure so I can provide for my family.
Turns out, the jealousy wasn’t really about Jane; it was about your fear of not being able to provide for your family. That’s a hard fear to face up to, but now you can begin a process of working through that fear in constructive ways. You can ask your boss for feedback; maybe she thinks highly of you. If she doesn’t, better to find out sooner rather than later and begin working to address her concerns. You can also begin updating your resume so it’s ready to go should the need arise.
After a while, when the familiar (and, let’s face it, icky) feeling of envy sets in, rather than dwell on it, you’ll recognize it for what it really is: an invitation to uncover your fear and address it head on. And you’ll come to see that jealousy, rather than a burden, is a gift in disguise.
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