I’ve always known it was wrong to be jealous of people.
I was taught as early as Sunday School to be content with what I had, to count my blessings and to keep myself from “coveting” the life or possessions of my neighbors. As a kid, I was dutifully obedient to this no-jealousy policy (or at least, when I was jealous, I kept it to myself) But as I got older, I realized it didn’t matter if I spoke my jealousy out loud or kept it to myself.
Jealousy was poisonous to my spirit. When I lived in a place of jealousy or comparison, I lost a little piece of myself.
Despite this knowledge, I had a really hard time quitting feeling jealous. I didn’t like the feelings. I didn’t want to compare myself to others. I could see it was destructive. But it also seemed to come naturally and without warning. When my friends in high school were all elected for student council positions or to nominated for “homecoming court,” the thoughts I had toward them would be angry and mean.
Later, toward the end of college, when all my friends were getting exciting jobs and internships or were accepted to prestigious graduate schools, I would lock myself in my dorm room and seethe. How was this fair? I didn’t even know what I wanted to do with my life, and it seemed like clarity and opportunities were being handed out like candy to my classmates. When I compared myself to them, I felt alone and isolated.
We’ve all been there at some point. Maybe you’re still single while it seems all your friends are getting engaged and married. Maybe you’re stuck in a mundane job and it seems like all your friends are living out their wildest dreams.
And as if jealousy in real life isn’t hard enough, enter Facebook, Instagram and so on. Now we have 2,000 new “friends” (with extra awesome meals and super-elaborate vacations) we can compare ourselves to constantly.
For me, I learned ways to manage and cope with my jealousy. I suppressed it as best I could, learned to avoid certain subjects with certain friends, didn’t allow myself to watch certain television shows or be a part of certain environments. And if all else failed, I could give up Facebook.
But none of that solved the problem.
In fact, all the rules were incredibly limiting. It wasn’t until I was in my mid-twenties I finally figured out what was going on.
One day, I realized: Jealousy feels an awful lot like fear. It sounds weird, but it’s really true. Think of this next time you find yourself comparing your life to someone else’s life, or when you feel jealousy begin to take over. Chances are, when you feel jealous of your friend’s opportunity, job or vacation, what you’re really feeling is fear—fear that you aren’t good enough, that they’re more valuable than you are, that you’re somehow missing out. It’s insecurity, really.
And if fear is the driving emotion behind jealousy, then the cure is easy: love.
As Dr. Caroline Leaf, who has been studying the way emotions take place in the brain for the last decade, wrote in her book Who Switched Off My Brain:
“There are only two kinds of emotions: love and fear. Out of the love branch comes emotions of joy, trust, caring, peace, contentment, patience, kindness, gentleness, etc. Fear-based emotions include bitterness, anger, hatred, rage, anxiety, guilt, shame, inadequacy, depression, confusion, etc.”
She goes on to explain how when we feel love, it actually pushes out the feelings of fear, and vice versa. When we feel fear, it pushes away feelings of love. So when we see someone who has something we want, we protect ourselves, wondering why they get something we feel we deserve more, or trying to pretend it doesn’t bother us. And yet, protecting ourselves never keeps us as safe as we think it does.
In fact, fear harms us more than it helps us. Fear drives out love.
As soon as I realized this, I changed my approach when I felt jealous. Rather than reprimanding myself for jealous feelings or trying to pretend I didn’t feel jealous when I did, I would ask myself: Why does that thought make me feel safe? And each time I did that, I realized jealousy wasn’t protecting me from anything. In fact, it was isolating me from the people I wanted to love.
Just a few months ago, I was standing in a group of friends and one friend complimented another on something she had recently done. The compliment was honest, appropriate and well-deserved, but for some reason, I felt a twinge of jealousy when she said it. But instead of beating myself up over the jealousy, I asked myself a list of clarifying questions:
Why are you comparing yourself to this person? Do you have any genuine concerns about the path you’re on? What do you really want? What are you afraid of?
As soon as I clarified those things for myself, I could honestly and genuinely join in the compliment. I didn’t feel jealous anymore. I didn’t need to compare myself. I could say,
“She’s right. You really did do a beautiful job. You should feel very proud.”
So for me, love was the cure for jealousy. Love for other people, rather than competition. Love for myself, rather than shame. The more I focused on love, the less jealousy I felt—regardless of what I had or didn’t have.
I don’t often feel those feelings anymore. I don’t have to avoid situations that used to make me feel jealous. I don’t have to stop watching certain shows or give up my Facebook account. I don’t have to work harder to earn more money so I can buy nicer stuff. I just have to love.
And love fills in all gaps. Love covers everything. Love heals from the inside out.
Allison Vesterfelt is a writer, speaker, thinker, dreamer, and the author of Packing Light: Thoughts on Living LIfe with Less Baggage (Moody, 2013). She travels often, but lives in Nashville, Tenn. with her husband, Darrell. You can follow her daily at her website or on Twitter.