The Differences Between Jealousy and Envy, And How To Combat Both

Most people use the words interchangeably, but they’re not synonymous.

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

Yesterday I learned the difference between jealousy and envy.

Most people use the words interchangeably, but they’re not synonymous. You could chalk their differences up to semantics. However, both words exist for a purpose, and imbue varying consequences.

Basically, jealousy is the fear of someone taking what you have, whereas envy refers to wanting what someone else has. You feel jealous when your partner smiles at people, a parent favors your sibling, or your best friend spends more time with other friends. On the other hand, you’ll envy someone more attractive, funny, successful, or happier than you. Jealousy encompass rivalry, and envy epitomizes desire.

I’m guilty of both. What’s mine is mine and what’s not mine… well, I’d like to be mine. Both jealousy and envy stem out of insecurity, but of a disparate nature. I feel jealous when I’m doubting my worth. If I were confident in relationship, I wouldn’t worry about my partner engaging with others, because no one could replace me. However, I experience envy when I feel as though my worth doesn’t amount to someone else’s. I’ve envied girls with slimmer bodies than me — some who were my friends.

I’ve also been the recipient of both. When I was a college freshman, I met a sophomore who took me under her wing. She ushered me into her social circle and invited me to every party, until second semester, when our roles reversed. That’s when her jealousy unfolded and I began to hear rumors about myself, involving information only my friend knew. According to her roommate, my friend resented that our peers liked me more than her. She didn’t envy anything about me, specifically — from her perspective, I “wasn’t even that pretty” and didn’t deserve the attention I received — but my presence shifted her from the spotlight. I don’t think anyone actually preferred me over her, but she felt jealous at the prospect. In spite of our bond, she abandoned our friendship entirely.

Envy is equally palpable, and I’ve maintained friendships riddled with it. I used to think the feeling was inevitable — I mean, I possessed traits my friends lack, and vice versa — but envy isn’t admiration. Envy is to admiration like a pigeon is to a dove — a similar animal, but ugly. Envy burdens the envier and envied, mutually. I hated when I couldn’t feel happy for certain friends because I craved such opportunities for myself, and I’ve also abstained from divulging positive news with friends whom I knew wouldn’t rejoice. Envy isn’t adoration, and it’s also not motivation. The latter will bring out the best in you, but envy will bring out the worst.

Unlike envy, though, jealousy involves ownership. Some folks think the sentiment is worse because it elicits more emotion. After all, “jealous” comes from “zealous,” which means “ardent devotion.” Think of every horror movie you’ve seen, where the possessive partner isolates and kills everyone in their loved one’s life. Take a modern example like Tonya Harding. A gifted figure skater herself, but she felt threatened by Nancy Kerrigan and was privy to her husband’s attack. Jealousy elicits fervent protection and envy imbues an intense longing — devoid of zeal — but this doesn’t lessen envy’s pain. In my opinion, envy is darker. If you’re not careful, it’ll consume you.

Although jealousy might be more intimate, I think it’s easier to tame. While envy centers around your inabilities, jealousy targets your capabilities — which, as your subconscious convinces you, might not be enough. What prompts these feelings? Is it some unacknowledged trauma? Did your parents instill a competitive mindset, which you now project in every encounter? Or, is your jealousy a result of your own shortcomings; do you recognize that you don’t work as diligently as an acquaintance? You can’t change what you don’t acknowledge; if you unearth your jealousy’s root, you’ll overcome it.

Envy is a verb while jealous is an adjective. Yes, “envious” is the adjective form, but the verb counterpart doesn’t exist for jealousy. Jealousy is a mind state, but envy is an action, one that requires as much effort as thinking. There’s a reason envy is one of the seven deadly sins — thou shalt not covet — and you don’t have to be religious to agree that the list summarizes decent moral guidelines. If envy is your default action, it’ll become your default reaction. You’ll always find someone who embodies qualities you don’t. How will you reconcile your “deficiencies” when you find one on every corner?

They say if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree it’ll live its life believing that it’s stupid.

I count on my fingers and gag whenever I see blood. What would I gain from envying an accountant or doctor, except further confirmation that I’m inferior? In the same vein, envying someone in your field won’t improve your own craft. When I find myself envying writers more successful than me, I question my reasons. Why am I drawn to their work? Is their prose stronger than mine? Instead of imitating their voice, can I extract pointers that’ll sharpen mine? Instead of envying their success, can I study their blueprint and could follow similar steps in my own career? Disregard what you lack and enhance what you have. Energy is a nonrenewable resource and envy exhausts it. Cliché as it sounds, you will never be someone other than yourself. The epiphany will either motivate or discourage you — depending on how you respond.

Jealousy and envy only have as much power as you permit. Both emotions are burdens. The sooner you perceive their arrival, the sooner you’ll release their weight, and the sooner you’ll be free.

poetry, prose, coffee.

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