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From the Counseling Center: Confronting Jealousy Before It Becomes a Monster

By Virgil Roberson, L.P., M. Div., NCPsyA, Executive Director of The Counseling Center

March 6, 2024: It’s human nature to occasionally have “pangs of jealousy” for what others have accomplished, enjoyed, or acquired.  In fact, it could be argued that our culture encourages us to compare ourselves to others in ways that can provoke our jealousy.  Anyone who spends time on social media or has waited for college admission results knows the feeling. In an affluent area like Westchester, it can be challenging to stay grounded in your own self-worth, to value your vacation to the Pocono’s while being thrilled for your friend who is vacationing in Barbados.

One of the first clues that jealousy is at work is the feeling that someone else has what you can’t have.  For example: “Wow, George has a shiny new Tesla.  Not like my beat-up car with over 100,000 miles on it. Some people get all the luck!”  Or, “The Phillips got to go on a ten-day vacation to the Caribbean. Wish I could have time off like that.  He doesn’t have to work like I do.”  Or even, “When I see kids on the playground, I well up with tears, wishing I could have had kids. I guess that’s for other people but not for me.”

When jealousy is not acknowledged and processed, it can become repressed in shame and morph into unconscious, damaging resentments.  A very human “I want” becomes an angry, “I cannot have,” or even, “I’ll have it and you can’t.”

Sometimes anger masks envy.  Take, for example, people who are furious because they were deprived of what others have. “I never got to meet someone who would date me,” or “I can’t trust anyone because they’ll take advantage of me like the others have,” or “They treat me like this. Well, at least I’m not short and heavy like them.”  People like this see themselves as victims while they project their own feelings onto others.

Once the shame and resentment that spring from jealousy have begun to influence our behavior in unconscious ways, it becomes more difficult to untangle those hidden impulses, which can reveal themselves in disguise. The father who deflates his child’s accomplishment by saying the child probably didn’t do his best may not be aware of his unconscious envy—of his child’s talents, perhaps, or even of his child’s potential, youth, and long future.   

Feelings of jealousy are natural and understandable, but it’s important to recognize them as projections of our own desires.  We should acknowledge our jealousy, consider it, not run from it. When we sit gently with our jealous feelings, we can process them productively and let them go.  Here are some ways to do that.

First, examine your jealousy for useful clues about what you may want.  Have you been neglecting your needs and goals? Is it time to shift your priorities or find the courage to create change?

Then ask yourself if the jealousy you’re feeling is for want of superficial things or represents a deeper need. Sometimes a simple reframing can add a fresh perspective.  Someone envying a work colleague who’s progressed farther up the career ladder might begin to question his own level of career success.  Then he realizes that his job offers the flexibility that allows him to be present for his family, helping them to thrive.  He doesn’t need to measure his success against his colleague’s because his situation works for him.

Sometimes, though, examining jealousy can reveal emotional wounds that need healing. You may want to seek help from a professional to explore those hurts more deeply and find a way toward understanding and renewal.

Other times circumstances are beyond your control; an illness or disability, the needs of your family or limited resources might restrict your ability to meet all the desires of your heart.  Then it’s important to allow yourself to accept and grieve what you don’t have. 

Cultivating gratitude for all that you already have in life can be enormously helpful.  Once you list your many blessings, the things you envy may not be so important after all. 

Try to avoid the trap of “comparing and despairing.” Limit your exposure to social media, where others present curated versions of their lives, and don’t get caught up in the race to accumulate possessions or adopt a lifestyle that doesn’t reflect what you personally value and desire. 

Remember: you don’t need to attain what others have to find fulfillment within yourself. Your own goals and values are the meaningful measures for you.

Jealousy is a common feeling, and we shouldn’t underestimate its potential to become destructive.  By acknowledging the green-eyed monster, by examining what it arouses in you and where it comes from, you can steal its power and release it, defanged and harmless. Maintaining (or regaining!) a sense of your own self-worth and being wise to where true fulfillment lies will be the reward.


The Counseling Center in Bronxville offers therapy for individuals, couples, and families, both in person and through telehealth (online or by phone). Please feel free to reach out if we can help, by calling Dr. Jennifer Klein, 914 793, 3388. To keep abreast of ongoing information and activities at The Counseling Center, please visit our website at https://counselingcenter.org/.









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