Synopsis: Knowing how to tell the difference between envy and jealousy; the biology of jealousy and envy; understanding the purpose and use of jealousy and envy in love relationships.
The DifferenceDid you know envy and jealousy are two very different things? Simply put, envy means you want something ‘like’ somebody else has. Jealousy means you want everyone else ‘NOT’ to have that something, and you want it for yourself alone. At least that is a way to understand the overt difference between the two. There are covert things to understand also.
Psychologically, envy can be a good thing in spite of the fact it is listed as ‘one of the seven deadly sins’. If you envy two people who have a very happy, loving relationship your envy can be seen as giving you the guidance message “get a love like they have”. Envy could guide you to study and copy what those two, happy, loving people are doing right and if you accomplish a similar relationship then envy served you well.
Remember, the trick in any emotion is to understand that emotion’s guidance message. (For more about this read the entry “Dealing With Love Hurts: Pain’s Crucial Guidance”) Envy tries to tell you someone else has something that may be good for you to have also, therefore, get something similar. Envy is especially good in a democracy where everyone is free to go after versions of what anyone else has. In the days of dominant monarchy it was not considered good for the peons to envy what the royals had because they might steal it from the them or otherwise go after it and get it. Then they might not be peons anymore. Hence, it seems envy’s benefits were not perceived or understood.
Jealousy’s BiologyJealousy is very different from envy. One way we know this is through biology and more exactly neurophysiology and neurochemistry. For those who like to know things a little more exactly here are some particulars. With jealousy our brain’s amygdala insula and interior cingulate cortex become strongly activated causing us to feel quite insecure and fearful, followed by disgust and then anger. The anger helps counterbalance the feeling of insecurity, plus it gives us more emotional power.
Envy does not cause these changes in our brain functioning, and envy’s all over effect is usually much milder than is jealousy’s. Also with jealousy our amygdala triggers our ‘fight or flight response’ and increases the amount of adrenaline in our system. This tends to result in a loss of appetite and often gives us upset stomach responses, but with the additional adrenaline temporarily there is more physical power. Envy sometimes can cause a small upset stomach response but it usually doesn’t, and there is little or no increase in physical power.
Jealousy quickens our heartbeat, spikes our blood pressure, and sometimes makes for strong chest pains. Heart attacks and strokes are possible. With jealousy self-control is lessened and impulsive, and even violent actions, become more likely. Envy without anger slows our heartbeat and can produce a general sluggishness. Envy is more likely to be accompanied by a certain amount of mild sadness than by anger or rage. Jealousy is much more likely to produce overt, self-defeating, regressive behavior while envy is more likely to produce covert, egocentric and subtle acquirement behavior.
With strong jealousy our sympathetic nervous system can become quite imbalanced which in turn makes for cognitive dysfunction or, in other words, the inability to think straight. ‘Awfulizing’, over-interpretation, misinterpretation, and fear-based misperception often are the result of jealousy, along with generalized distress. Envy is more likely to produce wishful thinking, planning and, when well used, motivation for improvement.
When we are jealous our eyesight tends to automatically focus on sources of possible threat with a certain amount of accompanying blindness, or ‘tunnel vision’ to other visual stimuli. This can make for accident proneness.
Strong envy can come with some feelings of frustration and anger but, handled well, it just may cause determination to acquire or improve something. Strong jealousy can be accompanied by violence, rage and extremely dangerous action, often followed by severe depression.
Understanding the Purpose of BothAuthorities differ on the purpose of jealousy. The original anthropological guidance message of jealousy probably went something like this. Someone superior and more desirable than you is about to attract or take someone you want away from you. Therefore, use all your power to prevent that from occurring. The more inferior your subconscious perceived you to be the more often you needed jealousy to help you keep a ‘breeding mate’ around. That way you could ensure your progeny might carry your genes into the future. Some suspect there is a second underlying reason for jealousy to have evolved. That is to help you drive off your breeding mate to a new, superior, other person, thus, keeping the ‘inferior you’ out of the gene pool. Think about it, this, indeed, seems to be the quite common outcome for the highly jealous.
A newer understanding of jealousy says that it can be used to help you work to make your own attraction power greater. When we do this, jealousy tends to diminish because increased attraction power keeps a loved one around far better than does restrictive, possessive jealousy. The same holds true for increasing your mental, emotional, sexual attraction power when jealousy sends the message to work on those areas.
Envy has a simple purpose and its useful, guidance message is rather clear. Envy guides you to observe more fully and desire what someone else has, that may be good for you to also have. Then the guidance message is best interpreted as ‘see if you can get something similar, or even better compared to what you have observed and desired’. The caveat is be sure it’s worth getting. Is the envy pointing at something you may have been programmed to think may be good to have, or is it pointing to something your inner self knows will be good for you.
Envy can be quite useful in healthy self-love and lover love development, when it’s well understood. In fact envy is potentially useful in every kind of love. If you envy the people who have great friends, learn to do friendship love better with more people. If you envy healthy, self-loving, highly confident people start working on your own version of doing what they do. If you envy super, sexy lovers see if you can get yourself and your beloved into the ways of the super sexy, super loving.
So, in summary, use envy in motivating yourself to add desired things, people, experiences, etc. to your life, and let jealousy guide you to add to your attraction power instead of triggering efforts to repress, possess and control another.
Hopefully these ideas will add to your success in love. For more, important information on jealousy go to the entry “Does Jealousy Prove Love”.
As always – Grow and Go in Love
Dr. J. Richard Cookerly
♥ Love Success Question Are you likely to give-in to a pressuring, jealous lover or mate and, therefore, reward them for using jealousy to control you, thus, increasing the likelihood of them being more jealous, not less? Remember, rewarded behavior tends to continue and expand.