Is it envy or jealousy?

In the world of psychotherapy we distinguish between ‘envy’ and ‘jealousy’.

As the reader, check out the energy within your own body and compare how you feel with each of the examples below:

When you have something that I like, and I also want to have that characteristic or achievement, I would regard this as envy, and think it is perfectly acceptable to say something like:

  • “Wow! How fantastic that you got your diploma! I am envious; I would like to accomplish that too!” Or
  • “I envy your shoes; they look so pretty and comfortable. Can you tell me where you bought them so I can also have a pair?”

This kind of thinking and relating can bring us closer to one another.

In contrast, jealousy sets walls between us, it separates us. For example:

  • “Look how thin that woman has gotten. I do not want to starve like she did. She is crazy!” Or
  • “I am so jealous! I wish it would have me who won that vacation…”

When we feel envious about something or someone, we automatically convert that something or someone into our mentors: they become role models for us.

If we want to attain similar goals to what they attained or live in a similar way to the way they live, we feel enticed to work hard to attain those goals. This dream may facilitate our personal growth and we may become better people.

In the process, we may find ways to change patterns of behaviour that do not serve us anymore. We may develop new ones that best work for us. Thus envy may catalyze our sense of achievement: “I too can do this, I too can get there!”

If we think and feel this way, we may co-create groups, we collaborate, we foster a sense of community and belonging.

During my studies of Bioenergetic Therapy and my therapeutic experience (Lowen, 1975), I have observed that jealousy on the other hand is a negative, dark energy. It is derived from a deep sense of inadequacy. We see our neighbour, look at our colleagues, acquaintances, family members, and we compare ourselves to them in a detrimental way. We think that they are better or have something better than we have.

This sets us up into the ‘victim’ role that says: “I am not as good as s/he, I cannot do that.” We are overcome by a sense of shame. We consequently do not want to feel the pain that shame triggers in us and therefore would rather them not exist anywhere near us. We can even think evil like thoughts and wish that some misfortune would befall them. If this happens, we do not have to witness what we perceive as being their having success or being successful.

When we feel jealous our bodies contract: we tend to frown and make fists with our hands; our blood circulation decreases all over our tissues including our brain; and the limbic system’s efficiency lessens, therefore our cleansing diminishes and the level of toxins increase. Little by little we auto-destroy ourselves.

In doing this, we also destroy our relationships, we marginalise people and scapegoat them, we form cliques, cults, and politicise. We separate. In order to suppress our negative feelings and thoughts we tend to paint ‘the other’ in a very dark shade, and we assign them the ‘villain’ role. Once ‘the other’ is regarded as a villain, we have permission to make fun of them, to bully, attack and even to kill (either in terms of their life chances or even in its literal sense). We therefore create a vicious cycle, and sadly we all end up losing. We all end up feeling like aliens and lonely. A part of us is missing. We are incomplete.

Next time we criticize someone or something, let us check with ourselves if it is envy or jealousy.

If it is envy, we have the opportunity to consider strategizing about how we too can accomplish something similar to what we admire, or to consider how we can accept our own reality and also be able celebrate that of our fellow human being.

If it is jealousy, CHOOSE to RESPECT and consider how it would be simply to be envious.

I want to leave you with a simple yet deep poem. This ancient Tibetan Buddhist blessing that has served me as an inspiration at various times in my life and especially when I am feeling ‘less than’:

“May I filled with loving kindness
May I be well
May I be peaceful and at ease
May I be happy”

Lowen, Alexander, M.D., (1975). “Bioenergetics” The revolutionary therapy that uses the body to heal the problems of the mind. Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, Inc. USA.