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The Root of Jealousy

Understanding more about this difficult emotion can help you discover what you really need to feel content
Written by 
Canyon Ranch Staff
Canyon Ranch Reviewer: 
Updated on: 
October 7, 2014

Jealousy is an emotion that can be difficult to sit with. It’s an uncomfortable feeling—one that can surface at different times and for different reasons. And for many of us, though we may recognize it when it pops up, jealousy isn’t something that’s easy to get past. “We compare ourselves to others—we want our teeth to be whiter, our clothes to be nicer, our houses to be bigger, and so on,” says Ann Pardo, M.A., L.P.C., B.C.C., director of life management at Canyon Ranch in Tucson. “And the feeling is ego-driven. Suddenly, our comfort zone doesn’t seem good enough.”

Mentally, you’re in a competition that leaves you feeling bad about yourself. Your body is under pressure, too. When you’re jealous, your levels of cortisol—a stress hormone—begin to rise the same way they do when you experience other negative emotions, like anger or sadness. The combination can affect your ability to focus, work and engage in everyday activities.

Clearly, it’s hard to ignore feelings (and the impact) of jealousy. But getting to the root of the emotion could help you shift your attention. “Jealousy and envy, which I believe can be used interchangeably, are really about repairing your self-esteem,” notes Pardo. Feeling envious comes from feeling ‘lesser-than,’ she adds, and that’s what we need to look at when trying to overcome it.

Ask yourself, What am I trying to prove? Why do I need my backyard to be larger than my neighbor’s? Why do I need to have a more expensive car than my friend?

The truth is, you don’t really need those things. That can be hard to believe in today’s society…even harder if you’re caught up in the consuming world of comparisons. However, if you’re able to take an honest step back, you may start to realize what brings you true value.

“What we really need is to know that we are beloved,” says Pardo. “If you feel beloved, it doesn’t matter if you have your sweatpants on or how much square footage your home has,” she says. Feeling that connection with others is what rebuilds you and makes you feel content with who you are and how you’ve built your life—just as it is. It’s also what can help you better cope with feeling envious about more meaningful things, like good health or loving marriage.

Finding fulfillment can help competitiveness you might be holding onto to fall away. Practicing everyday mindfulness is another way to get out of that I-have-to-be-better mentality. You’ll probably worry less about what you think you ‘need’ to do, say, wear or buy next if you’re more aware of what’s happening in the present moment. Enjoy the beautiful weather, your morning cup of coffee, the people you spend time with.

You may still experience jealous moments from time to time, but these shifts in focus can go a long way in making many of them fleeting.