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How to Deal With Your Jealous Streak

Your partner has seemed a little too receptive to the (oddly handsy) barista lately. Your best friend is suddenly spending all their time with someone they met at their job. WTF. Are you being replaced? Left behind? Are you not good enough? Why are you suddenly so jelly?! And how can you deal with this jealousy?

Listen, we all get jealous. And while it’s not a very fun emotion to feel, it’s a wildly common one. It’s also not necessarily a bad thing. Experts say jealousy can actually be an agent of clarity in your life—helping bring into focus the goals and values that matter most to you, and motivating you to go for the things you want. But if you’re seeing green more than you’re comfortable with lately, here’s how to deal


What even is jealousy, and why does it happen?

Jealousy crops up when you experience a threat—real or perceived—that someone or something important to you could be taken away, says Jen Douglas, PhD, a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University School of Medicine. Like the threat of a partner leaving you for that barista, the threat of a friend being pulled away by someone new, or the threat of that new colleague being given all the cool projects that should be yours. 

Unlike envy (where someone has something you want, but isn’t actively taking something away from you), jealousy is a three-person emotion, says Jaimie Krems, PhD, a social psychology researcher and assistant professor of psychology at Oklahoma State University. “Jealousy feels like a mix of anxiety, betrayal, sadness, and anger,” she adds. It makes us feel crappy and “less than,” or like we are at risk of being replaced. 

But, let’s say it again louder for the people in the back: Jealousy is universal. “Humans are not the only beings that experience jealousy. Animals do as well,” says Raquel Martin, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist, professor, and scientist. Even literal babies get jelly. “A number of studies have found evidence that infants as young as 6 months old display behaviors that appear to indicate jealousy in studies that involved the infant, their mom, and another infant,” says Dr. Martin.

Almost anyone will be jealous in specific circumstances, but some people may be more predisposed to feeling it, says Dr. Douglas, like people who’ve experienced serious loss in their past, infidelity in a relationship, or emotional trauma or abuse. And, maybe not surprisingly, people who struggle with low self-esteem are also more prone to being jealous, she says.

Here’s how to deal with jealousy when it pops up. 

Unchecked jealousy can be like walking around with a caseless phone—it’s risky and a bit dangerous. Jealousy has a way of clouding your judgment and making you act out of impulse. Like spending hours going down a social media rabbit hole looking up every post your partner has ever commented on, or picking a fight with them even though they weren’t in control of what made you jealous (like if they had to work late and couldn’t spend time with you, or someone flirted with them.) “If we let our jealousy control our actions, we may end up driving away others even if what we want is to keep them in our lives,” says Dr. Douglas.

So, instead of just letting your jealousy run the show, try to get curious and figure out what needs or wants this jealousy is signaling to you. To help with that, here are some expert-backed ways for how to deal with your jealousy the next time it pops up.

1. First, do nothing. 

“When we feel jealousy our brain can go into fight/flight/freeze mode,” says Dr. Douglas. At that point, logic leaves the building and you’re basically in survival mode. The goal is to combat jealousy with logic, but before you can do that, you need to get out of that desperate emotional place. So Dr. Douglas advises her clients to do, well, nothing about the jealousy in the moment. 

Instead, do something else to regulate your emotions when jealousy flares. That could look like taking a break and doing something unrelated to the jealousy—like reading, exercising, or literally cooling yourself down by sucking on a piece of ice (as weird as it sounds, this can both distract you and activate the calming effects of the parasympathetic nervous system). Then, you can return to a sense of safety before addressing the jealousy head on. “Remind yourself that you are physically safe, even if the jealousy turns out to be well-founded,” she says. “Even if I am jealous that a coworker is surpassing me at work, or the barista just flirted with my partner—I am physically, in this moment, safe.” 

2. Ask yourself what you need to feel less jealous.

Once you’re out of the heat of the moment, check in with yourself. Do you need reassurance from your partner that they love you and aren’t going anywhere? Do you need to take steps to shine on the job? Maybe it’s more than that. Maybe you realize you need to work through some trauma from your childhood that’s leading to your jealousy. Or maybe it’s that you always need to be the most successful person in the room—in which case you might want to do some inner work with the help of a therapist so jealousy doesn’t keep plaguing you.

3. If this is about your partner, talk about it. 

If your jealousy is centered around your relationship, whatever you do, don’t hide it and let it fester. Instead, communicate your needs when you are out of fight/flight/freeze mode. Your partner may even reassure you that your jealousy was unwarranted. Either way, the jealousy will usually just get worse if you push it down and ignore it, Dr. Douglas says.

What if you’ve talked to your partner about it but you feel like you’re always in the same jealous scenario ? “Then it may be helpful to take a step back and see if it really is about your reaction, versus a situation that your partner continuously puts you in,” says Dr. Martin.

4. Consider if it’s your environment that’s making you a jealous person. 

“It’s important to address the possibility of environmental scenarios pushing these feelings on you as well,” Dr. Martin points out. Does a competitive work culture constantly pit you against your colleagues? If so, recognize that that’s the vibe they're creating and that your feelings are to be expected. When it comes to those “less-than” imposter syndrome-esque feelings, Dr. Martin encourages people to survey the situation as well as their own emotions. For instance, ask yourself: “Am I feeling like I don't belong in this environment because of internal driving forces, or is my environment hostile towards me as a Black woman and I am feeling that?” she suggests.

5. Do some deeper reflection (maybe with a therapist). 

Say your jealousy is really messing with your head or interfering with your life. It’s probably time to get to the root of the problem, and talking to a therapist can be a great place to start.

Learning emotional regulation skills (like taking yourself out of a heated or anxiety-filled situation) can help you manage negative emotions like jealousy in the moment, says Dr. Douglas. But if the theme keeps coming up again and again, it’s likely a sign of a deeper issue that you deserve to heal. For example, if you’ve felt intense jealousy with every partner you’ve been with, that might be a sign there is a deeper theme at play, which a therapist could help you work through. 

“You will have to do some inner work and possibly outer work as well,” says Dr. Martin. The inner part starts with pinpointing what patterns, scenarios, and relationships are fueling your jealousy, identifying your reactions to that jealousy, and preparing yourself for all of it, she says. That might mean keeping your distance from that coworker you’re usually jealous of or coming up with a plan to foster your growth at work so that you care less about hers.The bottom line: You’re not weird or broken for getting jealous—it happens to the best of us. The next time you get jealous, take a beat to think about what it’s trying to tell you, rather than acting on it immediately. And if you find yourself seething with jealousy a lot of the time, talking to a mental health professional might help you get to the root of that so you can work through those jealous feels more effectively.

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