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Jealousy

"I'm Not Jealous—I Just Hate You"

The truth about jealousy and how to manage it.

Key points

  • Jealousy and its companion, envy, are important emotions that most of us would happily never feel.
  • Feelings have a purpose, even when they're complicated and hard to process.
  • Talking about feelings can lead to greater self-understanding and can make complex emotions easier to manage.

Laurie* was furious with her longtime, closest friend Cheryl*. "I can't believe her," Laurie said. "She accused me of being jealous because she's going to Mexico on vacation. I'm not jealous. I just hate her."

I think jealousy and its companion envy are important emotions that most of us would happily never feel. I've written about some of the issues in other Psychology Today posts, in articles in journals for therapists, and in my book about women's friendships.

Feelings have a purpose.

Like many of my colleagues, I think that feelings tell us important information, and it's often useful to try to sort out what we're feeling and why in order to know what the feelings are trying to do for us. Sue Johnson is one of many clinicians who believe that our feelings motivate us to take action, problem-solve, and change behaviors.

I knew from previous discussions with Laurie about her relationship with Cheryl that something important was happening, not just between the two women but also in Laurie's personal emotional development. I wondered what had inspired Cheryl to accuse Laurie of being jealous: What had happened to make Laurie feel that she hated Cheryl?

What is jealousy?

Before we can talk about what was going on for Laurie, I think it would be useful to talk for a minute about what we mean when we say someone is jealous. One of the best definitions of jealousy that I have ever found comes from Wikipedia:

Jealousy generally refers to the thoughts or feelings of insecurity, fear, and concern over a relative lack of possessions or safety. Jealousy can consist of one or more emotions such as anger, resentment, inadequacy, helplessness or disgust.

Talking about feelings can lead to greater self-understanding and can make complex emotions easier to manage. I believe that one of the most important activities for change in psychotherapy is the process of putting feelings and ideas into words in an interaction with another person who is interested in and curious about what you feel and think.

Jealousy is a complex, complicated feeling and isn't always easy to talk about.

Jealousy is very hard to put into words, in part because it is made up of so many other emotions. Jealousy is often a response to feeling inadequate, insecure, or ashamed of our own accomplishments. But the feeling itself has many negative connotations in our world, which means that feeling jealous can make us feel more insecure and more ashamed of ourselves.

All of this complexity and difficulty often means that we fight off feelings of jealousy with every ounce of our psychological capability. Sometimes it's easier to talk about some of the emotions that go into jealousy before you can talk about the jealousy itself.

I said some of these things to Laurie and asked her if she could talk a little about hating Cheryl. "Oh sure," she said. "She's just so narcissistic. I keep forgetting that about her. She's my closest friend in the world, and I love her, and sometimes I forget how selfish and self-centered she can be."

"So when she surprises you with her selfishness, that's when you start to hate her?"

"Yes," Laurie said. "In fact, I was jealous of her. She's going to Mexico on a fabulous vacation that I wish I could go on. And she's going with another friend. She did ask me if I wanted to go, but I can't get off work right now, and I don't have the kind of money she and this other friend have. So even if I could go, I'd always be worried about not being able to pay for some of the stuff they want to do and feeling like I was stopping them from having a good time."

"So you were feeling a kind of double whammy—bad about yourself and bad about not being able to go with them," I said.

She nodded. "And the truth is, I was and am jealous of her. But when she accused me of being jealous, like I was this awful person for feeling that way, it was like, of course, I'm jealous, and I'm sad and hurt and wishing I could go, too, and feeling like a failure because I don't have the kind of job you have and I don't make the kind of money you make. And here you are, going on and on about what a great time you're going to have and all the things you're so excited about, and you're not thinking about what I'm feeling at all. So right now, I just hate you."

"Sounds like you were feeling really hurt and angry that she wasn't recognizing that her going on and on about her trip was making you feel bad," I said.

Laurie was silent for a beat. "I think it was more than that," she said. "I think I also felt like she was trying to hurt me. Maybe… huh, I didn't think about this before, but maybe I didn't do such a good job of explaining why I wasn't able to go with her on this trip. Maybe her feelings were hurt because I made a couple of negative comments about going to Mexico right now, given the political climate. So she was showing me what a great time they were going to have and what I was missing out on."

Laurie was doing a great job of sorting out the multiple confusing and even conflicting feelings that were contained in the words "jealous" and "hate." We had to end that session at that point, but the next week, she started by telling me that she had been thinking a lot about our discussion.

Source: diego_cervo/123RF
Source: diego_cervo/123RF

"And I told Cheryl about it. I told her that I really did want to go on this trip with her, but I didn't have the money, and I was embarrassed to admit that. I said I thought she looked down on my work, and I didn't want to make her think even less of me."

Cheryl, who really was a good friend, told Laurie that she was so grateful to her for having explained. "She said her feelings had been hurt by what she thought was my rejection of her trip plans. And we decided that we would start planning a trip when I can take time off—a trip that I can afford and that we both will enjoy. Oh, and by the way, she told me that she didn't look down on my work. She said that she really admires what I do."

*names and identifying info changed to protect privacy

Copyright @fdbarth 2023

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