In the alley of emotions that get a terrible rep, Jealousy is Queen. She sits on an evil throne right next to Anger. Jealousy is commonly considered bad. It “generally refers to the thoughts or feelings of insecurity, fear, and concern over a relative lack of possessions or safety.”
Typically, we can feel jealous when someone has something we don’t have but want to have, in all alleys of life. We can direct our jealousy toward material possessions like a beautiful house, or relationships, like having a partner. We can also feel jealous that someone displays traits we wished we had, like confidence, or runs the successful business we wished we could launch.
Jealousy can lead to terrible behaviors, especially when we’re not honest about what we’re feeling. Left unchecked, it can create a feeling of deep unfairness that everyone has it better than we do.
On the flip side, when we feel jealous and we recognize it, we not only feel terrible because of the underlying feelings of insecurity and lack, but we also tend to beat ourselves up because we’re jealous and judge ourselves for such emotion. We question our integrity and feel ashamed that we feel jealous. Talk about meta-levels of feeling terrible.
That happened to me a little while back, as I saw one of my best friends get married to a wonderful man. I knew I was over the moon for her, and that I wasn’t looking to get married anytime soon, but seeing the care and love between them triggered a feeling of jealousy. I wished I had that. Will I never have that? At that time, my own relationship with a guy moved to New York with, lived with, and thought I’d end up with was crashing pretty hard. But wait, isn’t it terrible that I’m feeling jealous? Shouldn’t I just be happy for her?
That’s when I came across a different way to look at jealousy.
Someone pointed out to me that while jealousy can be crippling when left wild and untamed, it’s a normal part of the span of human emotions, and that it can actually be an excellent signal to help us figure out what we want in life.
It’s a clear way to pick up on what we need, or at least what we think we need. When I felt jealousy toward my best friend’s lovely relationship, I wasn’t resenting her, nor wishing her any bad, nor desiring to exchange lives with her. It was merely the expression of the desire for such a delightful connection, in contrast with the failed one I was mourning with my soon-to-be ex-boyfriend.
The extraordinary thing with this perspective is the freedom it ultimately came with. After looking at it from the angle of a potentially unfulfilled need of mine, it helped me detach from the judgment of feeling jealous.
It enabled me to redirect that energy toward asking myself how much of a priority having a romantic partner was for me, and if it was the only way I could feel the way my friend felt with her husband.
The truth is, at that point, I was also simply lonely, having broken out of a relationship with someone who was my best friend and the center of my social circle in a city like New York where making friends is very difficult.
Jealousy became wholesome in this way.
By uncovering the actual need I had - feeling loved and connected - I saw that I actually had agency over putting in the work to fulfill that for myself, and having a partner was certainly not the only way to get there. I rolled up my sleeves and started creating a community around myself, which didn’t come easy and forced me to deal with rejections - yes, even with friends - but ultimately helped me feel at home here.
And funny enough, the initial feeling of jealousy just went away in the process. The superficial layer of wanting the exact same thing as what my friend had evaporated. It was never about getting married for me. The jealousy turned into a wholesome, helpful signal as to where I needed to invest more time.
Two years and one pandemic later, not only do I feel more loved and connected than ever, but I have deepened my relationship with myself to such a degree that I feel a delightful connection with my own self, and feel at home wherever I am.
I certainly will run into more feelings of insecurity and lack in the future. But I’m sure I’ll get helpful cues from my new friend, Wholesome Jealousy, to let me know what to focus on next.